Top 5 Highest-Paying Psychology Careers
For psychology majors, choosing among several types of psychology careers can seem overwhelming. As a whole, the role of a psychologist is expected to grow at an average rate of 6% between 2021 and 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). Each job opportunity, though, is unique, and professionals find joy in their work because of the specific populations they serve and the income earned.
Below are five high-paying jobs for psychology majors that can help people reduce their mental health struggles and live their best lives.
“There’s an increased recognition among employers and business owners that they can do better in the competitive marketplace if they focus on the psychology of the workplace,” says Dennis Stolle, senior director of applied psychology at the American Psychological Association (APA).
Enter the increased need for industrial psychologists to use their academic and professional understanding of the concepts of psychology and human behavior to understand workplace efficiency and productivity and improve life at work.
Corporations and businesses typically hire industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologists to perform assessments and make recommendations about best practices on productivity, employee morale, and work styles. They can also assist in the development of policy planning, employee screening or training, and organizational development.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the APA reports that I/O psychologists are helping to shape the future of work. In recent years, they’ve seen countless requests from all sectors regarding how they can support employees’ mental health and properly address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts within organizations.
Additionally, I/O psychologists can work in more traditional corporate roles such as the director of human resources, organizational development manager, or newly-named roles like chief people officer.
Industrial-organizational psychologists made a mean annual income of $113,320 in 2022, according to the BLS, and working in a top-paid field offered a significant bump in pay. For instance, those who worked in a local government setting earned a mean wage of $160,180, while those who worked in scientific research and development services earned $122,660.
Generally, industrial-organizational psychologists need a master’s degree, not a doctorate, though a doctorate is required to become board-certified. Some states require a license to practice as an I/O psychologist. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology lists licensing requirements by state.
Clinical and Counseling Psychologists
Clinical psychologists help others live their best lives as they deal with mental health issues. Day-to-day, they screen patients for depression, complete psychiatric evaluations and diagnostic tests, create medication management strategies, and counsel family members.
Given the world is living through a pandemic, this group of professionals is very busy. In 2022, the APA reported that 46% of their psychologists were unable to meet the demand for treatment, and 72% had waitlists longer than before the pandemic. They also stated there was a dramatic increase in clients seeking help for anxiety, depression, and trauma, an increase in the severity of symptoms, and an uptick of clients aged 13–17 and in healthcare workers by 46% each. “The national mental health crisis continues,” says APA’s CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr. Within it, clinical psychologists and counselors are working hard to maintain a balance and avoid burnout.
In the APA’s recent 2023 Trends Report, there’s a strong push toward psychologists contributing to population health and an evidence-based mention of how primary mental health care works as a standard of care. Also in the news is the expansion of telehealth services, new billing codes, and changes to “incident to” billing requirements that expand care capabilities.
All of this is to say that clinical psychologists are in great demand for the foreseeable future.
The BLS reports that clinical and counseling psychologists make the most in employment services and home health care services, with 2022 mean wages of $139,160 and $132,740, respectively. However, working with physicians, other health care practitioners, or within ambulatory health care services offers salaries between $106,00 and $109,560.
Clinical psychologists are required to have licenses and academic credentials — a Doctor of Psychology degree is the most common degree for clinical psychologists.
Forensic psychology, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena. Forensic psychologists work with judges, attorneys, crime victims, witnesses, and other legal specialists within the criminal justice and legal systems to explain and analyze the psychological aspects of individual cases.
According to the APA, their tasks can include “threat assessment for schools, child custody evaluations, competency evaluations of criminal defendants and of the elderly, counseling services to victims of crime, death notification procedures, screening and selection of law enforcement applicants, the assessment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the delivery and evaluation of intervention and treatment programs for juvenile and adult offenders. The practice of forensic psychology involves investigations, research studies, assessments, consultation, the design, and implementation of treatment programs and expert witness courtroom testimony.”
Professionals who earn the forensic psychologist title can also look into other roles in the judicial system, such as correctional counselor, jury consultant, case manager, correctional psychologist and more.
Forensic psychologists must have a doctoral degree in psychology. Some forensic psychologists choose to pursue legal training as well. The average salary for forensic psychologists is $74,805, according to PayScale. However, some of the highest salaries top $121,000.
In 2019, the APA provided a detailed look at the role of a clinical psychologist serving in each branch of the armed forces. In many ways, a military psychologist’s role is like that of other clinicians.
But, as Lt. Col. Deborah Engerran, PsyD, ABPP, and psychology consultant to the Army surgeon general says, “This job will call on you to expand yourself beyond the traditional duties of a clinician.” By this, she means an expansion of your mental and physical abilities and even role responsibilities.
Military psychologists can remain civilians or work as part of embedded healthcare teams. As such, they undergo officer and academic training for whichever branch they will serve and become enlisted members. Many also go through specific branch-level physical training. For instance, military psychologists working for the Air Force will learn airborne safety—including how to jump out of a plane during flight. You may study areas such as survival, evasion, resistance, escape tactics, and more.
This additional training enables psychologists to have a personal understanding of the unique culture and circumstances military personnel operate within. This helps them to better evaluate soldiers for assignments and is critical to success in treatment.
Military psychologists often dip into the areas of group and population health as well. They can be part of a multidisciplinary care team, tasked with creating preventative programs on areas of concern such as smoking cessation, or hold skills-training workshops on topics such as resiliency, executive coaching, goal-setting, and improving team dynamics. They’ve also acted as congressional liaisons and drafted policies.
The average enlisted psychologist’s salary depends on their rank and service record. Civilians can expect to work on the General Schedule between GS-6 and GS-15 levels. In 2021, the Veterans Health Administration had the most employees in psychology roles, and they had an average salary of $104,303.32.
The APA reported in 2019 that starting salaries were $80,000 plus benefits. But, added to this are yearly bonuses for licensure and board certification of $5,000 and $6,000, respectively, retention bonuses from $10,000 to $20,000 a year after two years of service, and an initial signing bonus of up to $60,000.
The psychiatrist role has earned top rankings in U.S. News & World Reports’ 2023 lists. It holds the No. 7 spot for Best Paying Jobs in 2023, No. 12 in Best Health Care Jobs, and No. 32 in Best 100 Jobs.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs or ODs) who specialize in mental health. Their education and clinical training equip them to evaluate, test, and diagnose patients, and to develop treatment plans that may include prescription medications.
The current need for psychiatrists in the U.S. is urgent. More than half of U.S. counties lack a single psychiatrist. In Nebraska, for instance, “you might have to wait months for an appointment — even for people who are fairly ill,” says Howard Liu, MD, MBA, a psychiatrist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha.
“We have a chronic shortage of psychiatrists, and it’s going to keep growing,” says Saul Levin, MD, CEO and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association. “People can’t get care. It affects their lives, their ability to work, to socialize, or even to get out of bed.”
In January of 2022, the Psychiatric Times reported the current shortage is expected to reach 14,280 and grow possibly as high as 31,109 by 2024. Without intervention, the shortage is projected to continue until 2050.
This comes at a time when the need for psychiatric care is reaching critical levels. For instance, in 2019, rates of sadness and hopelessness among high school students rose 40% in the course of a decade and there was a 51% increase in adolescent girls in the emergency room for attempted suicide.
Then, according to the AAMC, at the height of the pandemic, 40% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression — compared with 11% pre-COVID. While this percentage dipped to 33% in June 2022, it’s still triple the rate of pre-pandemic levels.
In addition to being in demand, psychiatrist positions are by far the highest-paying jobs for psychology majors. When you work where a majority of psychiatrists are employed — within an outpatient care center or within a physician’s office — the BLS reports 2022 mean salaries of $299,470 or $280,600, respectively.
To become a psychiatrist, you’ll complete medical school and take a written exam for a state license to practice medicine, and then complete four years of psychiatry residency.
Start Your Education
The skills learned in an online B.A. in Psychology program will give you a foundation in psychology to help you start your career in human services. The ability to understand others helps people become better communicators, leaders, and problem-solvers – skills that transfer to virtually any industry. Graduates are prepared to pursue careers in psychology that pay well. With a B.A. in Psychology, job opportunities are growing in nearly all human service settings. Graduates might also go on to obtain more education in an advanced degree program.