Do you find yourself thinking about thinking? The broad field of psychology studies human behavior and analyzes how we think, interact with others, and process information. Although many students will pursue psychology-related careers or graduate school, a major in psychology can be applied to nearly any job; as a recent graduate and business owner put it, “psychology is the business of life.” This month we spoke to Julia Brau, a rising senior at Southern New Hampshire University, about her passion for psychology and how it’s inspired a love of research.
Center for College Planning: Why did you choose a major in Psychology?
Julia Brau: I chose a major in psychology after taking my first psychology course as a freshman in college. I found myself completely fascinated by the theories, experiments, and assessments I was learning about. I quickly developed a greater curiosity for the subject and realized that it was something I wanted to study long-term. I enjoyed both the clinical and research applications of the discipline and realized that it could be applied to almost every aspect of human life. There is something really special about a subject that aims to understand the subjectivity of the human mind! I also enjoyed that there were so many different subfields of psychology to study, such as cognition, neuropsychology, development, psychopharmacology, and counseling. This major provides many different avenues for students to explore, many of which overlap with one another. This does not tie a student down to a specific area, but allows students to synthesize their learning around many different areas!
CCP: As a high school student, did you know what you wanted to study in college?
JB: As many young adults do, I thought I knew what I wanted to study in college, but it wasn't long before I discovered that my initial field of study wasn't for me. I was admitted to my university as a game art and development major, but through my general education courses, I determined that I was much more passionate about psychology. I found myself looking forward to my psychology course more than my major courses and realized that my curiosity was centered in a completely different area. Switching majors can be shocking and a difficult decision for many students, but I truly believe that the college experience is designed for students to make that kind of self-discovery. Without general education courses, I wouldn't have found my true passion. With this, I think it’s really important to know that your interests may change and that what you’re passionate about in high school may not be what you’re passionate about in the next few years. Taking a variety of different courses in different subjects that you may not have considered before can actually be really helpful in guiding you in the right direction, whether you realize it or not!
CCP: What can students expect from coursework in Psychology?
JB: Coursework in psychology can range from introductory courses in various topics of psychology from personality psychology to biopsychology. These courses are really designed to give you a solid background in these areas, depending on what you take. Many can be quite writing intensive, but this writing will help strengthen your critical thinking and analytical skills. There will also be courses in research methods that are often required, and these help you to learn and practice your skills in designing psychological experiments and studies. Many students also take on independent research studies, which I highly recommend! This will help you not only further your learning in a specific area that interests you, but will also allow you to apply the work you’ve learned in your courses and build valuable relationships with professors and peers. Many programs also require internships, which can be extremely important if you have an interest in clinical psychology. They can help you discover what population you want to work with in the future and provide resources in building rapport with future clients.
CCP: What has been the highlight of your career as a psych major?
JB: The highlight of my career as a psychology major has definitely been my independent research study that I conducted. I discovered that I had a love for psychological research through this project and was able to construct my own study from beginning to end. I think this strengthened my confidence as an aspiring scientist and allowed me to think critically about science and the work that I was doing. I used to be really nervous about the statistics that come from research methods, but jumping into something that made me uncomfortable helped me realize that I really wanted to work hard to become better at it! Getting involved in research and designing my own project made me feel like I had a place in a greater scientific community and helped me build skills beyond a required research methods course. I also found that beyond this, some of the biggest highlights of my career as a psych major came from being involved in things that were beyond my comfort zone. With the right support and encouragement, you are more than capable of doing hard things!
CCP: What advice do you have for students beginning the college search process?
JB: When searching for and visiting colleges and universities, do not be afraid to ask questions and reach out to people. It can be daunting, but more often than not, it will help you determine what school feels most like home. Specifically, for a major in psychology, you may want to see if there is a psychology club, or a Psi Chi International Honor Society chapter on campus. It would also be helpful to see what types of internships psychology students have had, and if there are any research labs that study concepts you may be interested in. Then, once you are on campus, you have an outline of the major organizations and people you may want to connect with! I also think it is important to choose a college that will sustain any changes you decide to make throughout your years there. For example, if you change your major, you may want to make sure there are other options available that you'd be interested in and that those departments have the best resources for you to succeed. Also, once you've entered college, do not be afraid to get involved and come out of your shell. Your comfort zone feels safe, but growth doesn't happen in there. Moving beyond that zone will shape you into the person you want to be, and college is a fantastic time to do that!