In other news, people who say “I got my bachelor’s degree in medicine” are not getting jobs as doctors

The email below has been making the rounds. The APA should post it on their website, but I have not found it there. Since it says “FYI and distribution” I am taking the liberty myself.

As noted below, the data are only based on people who stopped at a bachelor’s degree (no grad school). The vast majority of undergrad psychology majors are just called “psychology.” Since people in the survey self-reported their major, I would speculate that a lot of the people claiming to have majored in “clinical psychology,” “social psychology,” etc. were just making it up to sound impressive.

From: Chairs of Councils of Directors of Training Councils [mailto:CCTC@LISTS.APA.ORG] On Behalf Of Belar, Cynthia
Sent: Saturday, November 12, 2011 11:32 AM
Subject: [CCTC] NPR report

FYI and distribution.

Unfortunately, a recent report on National Public Radio [SS: and now CBS] may be misleading regarding the employment status of undergraduate psychology majors, and confusing about the employment status of clinical psychologists.

On Nov 9, 2011 NPR reported graduates with majors in clinical psychology had the highest unemployment rate — nearly 20%. Although technically correct, these data are based on terminal bachelor’s degrees, not graduate degrees, so they have no relevance to the employment status of clinical psychologists for whom the doctoral degree is required. Nor does this report represent the employment status of undergraduate majors in psychology in general, as clinical psychology majors are only a miniscule subset (<1%) of the psychology majors reported in those data.

Since APA has received many inquiries from those interpreting the NPR report as reflecting poorly on the employment status of clinical psychologists and recipients of bachelor’s degrees in psychology in general, we have prepared the following information for clarification.

* The data NPR cited are from a table recently published by the Wall Street Journal entitled From College Major to Career.  They are self-report data from the American Community Survey (ACS) by the Census Bureau.

* There are eight undergraduate degrees in psychology reported: clinical psychology, cognitive science and biopsychology, counseling psychology, educational psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, miscellaneous psychology, psychology and social psychology.

* The category of “psychology” was the 5th most popular among all majors reported, with an unemployment rate for psychology of 6.1% that is not much different from biology (5.6%), computer science (5.6%), economics (6.3%) and geography (6.1%).

* The vast majority of undergraduate institutions that provide degrees in psychology either provide a BA or BS in psychology – not a degree in an area of specialization such as clinical (perhaps explaining why the popularity of clinical psychology as a major is ranked 168, while psychology as a major is ranked as 5)

* Data from the previous year’s Census Bureau survey are available on the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce website; see  These data also illustrate how unrepresentative the data on clinical psychology are of undergraduate psychology education in general.  As noted on page 170, clinical psychology represents less than one percent (0.76%) of the approximately 1.5 million psychology majors reported.  The authors also note: “Sample size was too small to be statistically valid.” Of interest was that the unemployment rate for clinical psychology bachelor’s degrees in that year was 5%.

* With respect to employment of individuals holding doctoral degrees in clinical psychology,  the data on 2009 degree recipients reveal that 3.8% were unemployed seeking employment:

Although the NPR report and its focus on clinical psychology has masked important information on the large number of undergraduate majors in psychology, it has brought to light the need for more public understanding of the undergraduate major in psychology.  According to the National Center on Educational Statistics, roughly 90,000 students graduate each year with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. The Wall Street Journal data and those from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce suggest that employment rates for psychology majors are similar to many other disciplines.  Moreover, the graduates are employed across multiple sectors as would be consistent with the goals of the undergraduate major in psychology.

APA has specific policies guiding the undergraduate major in psychology, including Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major and Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology.  We strongly encourage consumers of undergraduate education to use these guides in making choices among majors on their campuses.  We also wish to highlight that a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology is a miniscule subset of psychology majors, and that a doctoral degree is required for one to become a clinical psychologist.

We wish to acknowledge Jeff Strohl (Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce) and Joseph Light (Wall Street Journal) for their helpfulness in ensuring we had accurate data.

Cynthia D. Belar, PhD, ABPP | Executive Director

Education Directorate
American Psychological Association