Best Colleges for Psychology Majors

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Psychology is the third most popular major in the United States after business and nursing. It is a versatile degree, and only a minority of majors go on to graduate school to become psychologists or therapists. With the major's focus on how we think and behave, it can be an excellent choice for careers in law enforcement, marketing, human resource management, social work, and many other options.

Hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States have excellent psychology programs. The schools below tend to top the national rankings because they have highly accomplished faculty members, exceptional campus facilities, challenging and diverse course offerings, and strong job and graduate school placement records.

Harvard University

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No university in the world has more name recognition than Harvard, and few schools are more selective. This prestigious member of the Ivy League is a research powerhouse, and the Department of Psychology is ranked #1 in the country for faculty scholarly productivity. That distinction creates many research opportunities for students, and the department maintains many labs across campus that are looking to hire psychology majors as research assistants.

Undergraduate psychology students can choose from three tracks: the popular and flexible general track, the cognitive science track, and the cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology track. Students who have a 3.5 GPA at the end of junior year can conduct an honors thesis, a year-long research project of the student's design. Psychology is among the most popular majors at Harvard, with about 90 students earning a bachelor's degree each year.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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MIT tends to top the rankings in many engineering fields, but the school has numerous strengths in psychology as well. The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences delivers an undergraduate education that is more technological and hands-on than most on this list, and students will do much more than take psychology classes. The study of the brain is often accomplished through working with computers, programming, and studying lab animals. Required coursework includes computer science and programming, neural computation, and statistics for brain and cognitive science.

Psychology students can pursue several paths, including cellular/molecular neuroscience, systems neuroscience, cognitive science, and computational neuroscience. Students who really want to dig in on the engineering side of cognitive science can major in Computation and Cognition, a program that works in collaboration with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Princeton University

Princeton University
Princeton University. Allen Grove

Housed within the Division of Natural Sciences, Princeton University's undergraduate psychology program introduces students to areas such as perception, language, social interaction, neuroscience, and statistics. Students who study psychology at Princeton can also earn a certificate in areas including neuroscience, cognitive science, applications of computing, gender and sexuality studies, language and culture, and linguistics.

Princeton's psychology program has a strong research focus, and all students must complete the course research methods in psychology by the end of junior year. Students are also required to complete independent work focused on empirical research. Students who want to begin research early in their academic careers are encouraged to reach out to faculty members and become research assistants in their labs.

Stanford University

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Stanford University's Department of Psychology frequently ranks #1 in the country. The major requires 70 units of coursework with options that include minds and machines, learning and memory, abnormal psychology, and cultural psychology. Students can choose to specialize in one of four tracks: cognitive sciences; health and development; mind, culture, and society; and neuroscience.

Like most schools on this list, research plays a big role in the undergraduate experience. Students can work with a faculty member to conduct independent research for course credit, or they can pursue one of many paid research assistant positions in psychology. Stanford's Psych-Summer Program gives students the opportunity to spend their summer working on research under the supervision of a psychology faculty member.

Outside of the classroom, the Stanford University Psychology Association provides additional opportunities for psychology majors. Events include alumni panels, dinners with faculty members, and social gatherings.

UC Berkeley

University of California Berkeley

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Every year, UC Berkeley's Department of Psychology graduates over 200 students, and the university graduates an additional 300 in cognitive science. The program features six major areas of research: behavioral and systems neuroscience, cognition, developmental psychology, clinical science, cognitive neuroscience, and social-personality psychology. Despite the program's size, it is a supportive environment with a Psychology Peer Advising Program and Faculty Fireside Chats.

Psychology majors at UC Berkeley have plenty of opportunities to conduct hands-on research through Psych 199 (independent study), Psych 197 (internships and field study), thesis work through the departmental honors program, and the Research Participation Program, in which undergraduate psychology students work side-by-side with graduate and faculty researches.

UCLA

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
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With nearly 1,000 majors graduating from UCLA's Psychology Department annually, the program is backed by a large faculty and impressive breadth of course offerings. Students can work towards a B.S. in Psychology, a B.S. in Cognitive Science, or a B.S. in Psychobiology. The program also offers minors in Applied Developmental Psychology and Cognitive Science.

The UCLA Department of Psychology is home to 13 centers and programs, including the Anxiety Disorders Research Center, UCLA Baby Lab, Center for Mental Health in Schools, Minority Mental Health Program, and UCLA Psychology Clinic. The university has numerous research opportunities for students to earn credit while assisting faculty members and graduate students in psychology and cognitive science.

Undergraduates can participate in the UCLA Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference and the UCLA Science Poster Day, and they can publish their research in the UCLA Undergraduate Psychology Journal and the UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal.

University of Michigan

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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The University of Michigan's Department of Psychology graduates about 600 students each year, and students can choose from two majors: Psychology and BCN (biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience). The program covers seven major areas of psychology: developmental, social, biopsychology, clinical, cognitive, and personality and social contexts.

All University of Michigan psychology majors have a research methods and experiential based lab requirement, and the program encourages student participation in research. The department maintains an online listing of research positions in labs seeking student assistants. The program is home to dozens of research laboratories.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, UIUC
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, UIUC. Christopher Schmidt / Flickr

UIUC's Department of Psychology takes pride in the high level of research activity among its undergraduates. Each semester, over 300 psychology students earn college credit working in research laboratories. PSYC 290-Research Experience, offers a starting point for introducing students to research, and serious students can move on to PSYC 494-Advanced Research, to gain more experience and responsibility in the lab. Students in the Honors Program take a three-semester sequence of courses and PSYC 494 to create a bachelor's thesis focused on a significant research project. Other students can participate in the Capstone Program and take a two-semester sequence of courses that leads to a thesis.

Psychology is the largest major at UIUC, and the program graduates over 400 students a year. Undergraduates have many concentration options: behavioral neuroscience, clinical/community psychology, cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, diversity science, intradisciplinary psychology, organizational psychology, personality psychology, and social psychology.

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania
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One of several Ivy League schools on this list, the University of Pennsylvania's psychology program has more graduate students than undergraduates. That ratio has an advantage in that undergraduate students will find plenty of opportunities to conduct research with graduate students and faculty members. All undergraduate psychology majors must fulfill a research requirement through either a research experience course or an independent study. Penn's independent studies are popular, and dozens of faculty members looking for research assistants post opportunities on the department website.

High achieving Penn psychology majors should also look into the Honors Program. To graduate with Honors, students must complete at least one year of research with a professor, attend a weekly Honors Seminar, present their research at the Undergraduate Research Fair, and make a brief oral presentation to the faculty and students.

Yale University

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Yale psychology majors can earn either a B.A. or B.S. degree. The major is interdisciplinary, and all students must complete two social science courses and two natural science courses. B.A. students typically write a nonempirical literature review in their senior year, and B.S. students must design an experiment in which they collect and analyze data to create a substantial research paper. Regardless of degree type, seniors must complete a written project of at least 5,000 words.

The Yale Department of Psychology offers students plenty of paid and unpaid research opportunities to complement their educations, and students are encouraged to get involved as freshmen and sophomores. Students can also take directed research courses, and Yale offers research fellowships for students who want to work with faculty members over the summer.