1995: APA Survey of 1992 Psychology Baccalaureate Recipients

Sislena Grocer and Jessica Kohout
APA Center for Workforce Studies
January 1997
Report Text


In July, 1991, the American Psychological Association held a one-time meeting of the Levels of Education and Training (LET) Task Force. The Task Force assigned staff the responsibility for gathering information in understudied areas of education and training. This survey is a first effort of the APA to gather information relevant to the undergraduate level of training in psychology including data on the education, employment, and career outcomes of program graduates.

This report presents information on the employment and education of psychology baccalaureates. It provides population demographics and explores data such as job activity, job search and job satisfaction, level of debt, salary and other relevant characteristics.


The 1992 Psychology Baccalaureate Survey is the first attempt by the APA to gather data relevant to the educational and career outcomes of baccalaureate degree recipients in psychology.

In December 1992, the chairs of 3,104 programs were asked to provide the names and addresses of individuals who had graduated or that they anticipated would graduate with a baccalaureate degree in psychology between January, 1992 and December, 1993. Three hundred and twenty-two schools responded providing 11,184 names and addresses which were entered into a database. A random sample of 2,500 graduates was selected. A letter requesting participation in the survey was mailed to the 2,500 graduates in August, 1994. Two hundred and fifty-two graduates indicated a willingness to participate for a response rate of approximately 10 percent. A reminder postcard was sent to nonrespondents in December, 1994, yielding an additional 11 percent (271). There were 1,581 non-responses, 5 refusal responses, 390 bad addresses and 1 deceased.

On May 26, 1995 a seven-page survey was sent to the 523 BA recipients who had agreed to participate. Additionally, in an effort to boost the response, the survey was also mailed to the 1,581 non-respondents identified earlier. Nineteen percent (315) responded to the first wave.

Overall, 791 questionnaires were returned for a response rate of 38 percent. Approximately 3 percent (24) indicated that they had not received a BA degree in psychology. This left 767 (36 percent) usable responses. This response rate varies from the typical Research Office survey response rate of 60-65 percent. We believe this to be a function of the population surveyed and the timing of the effort. Baccalaureate recipients are a transient group compared to the doctoral-level populations surveyed by this office and address decay is a particular problem. The lapse of almost three years between obtaining names from schools and mailing surveys contributed to a low response rate.

Demographic Characteristics


Table 1 indicates that almost 80 percent of responding 1992 baccalaureates in psychology were women. According to data from the 1995 Digest of Education Statistics (DOE, 1995), women represented 73 percent of baccalaureate recipients in psychology in 1992-93. For the past 16 years, the numbers of men receiving baccalaureate degrees in psychology have decreased, from 43 percent in 1977 to 27 percent in 1993. This gender distribution is also apparent among new doctorates in psychology, although less marked.


Eighty-seven percent of 1992 baccalaureate recipients were White. Less than five percent (4.4 percent) of the respondents were Black. Hispanic and Asian graduates each represented about 3 percent of the respondents. Under 1 percent were Native American or did not specify. The "other" category comprised less than 2 percent of baccalaureate recipients. This category represented those individuals who indicated that the categories provided did not describe their racial/ethnic background adequately, or those with a combination of racial or ethnic backgrounds. These data echo national-level data from the 1994 Digest of Education Statistics (DOE, 1994). In 1992, Whites represented 84 percent of baccalaureate degree recipients and Blacks represented 7 percent, while 4 percent were of Hispanic background. Three percent were Asian or Pacific Islanders and less than one percent were Native American or Alaskan Natives.


Over three-fourths of the respondents reported that they were younger than 25 years while 8 percent were between the ages of 26-30 and 4 percent were 31-35. About 6 percent of respondents were 36-45 years of age. Thirteen percent of baccalaureate degrees were awarded to students over 30 years of age which suggests that psychology students are attending college or returning to complete the baccalaureate at a later age.

Employment Patterns

Education and Employment Status

Table 1 indicates that half of the respondents were employed and not enrolled in school since graduation. Just over a quarter of the respondents were enrolled in a graduate program while working (28 percent). Fourteen percent were enrolled in a program but were not employed. Six percent were not employed and not enrolled in school. According to the 1991 Recent College Graduates Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education on 1989-90 baccalaureate recipients, about half of psychology baccalaureate recipients were not enrolled in school and 20 percent were enrolled and not working (NCES, 1993).

Degree Type

All respondents included in this survey were psychology baccalaureate degree recipients. However, Table 1 contains data on individuals reporting earning other types of degrees. Sixty-two percent of respondents received a Baccalaureate of Arts in psychology while the rest (38 percent) received Baccalaureate of Science (research) degrees in psychology. Sixteen percent of the respondents had earned Master's degrees and 5 percent received associate degrees. Less than one percent of baccalaureate recipients indicated having received another 4-year degree or a doctoral degree. About 3 percent reported earning some other type of degree.

Level of Employment

Table 2 provides information on the respondents' levels of employment. Full-time employment was defined as working 35 or more hours a week. Full-time temporary respondents were those who reported working at least 25 hours a week. Those respondents working less than 35 hours a week were classified as part-time employees.

Almost two-thirds of employed baccalaureate recipients were full-time permanent employees while about 11 percent were full-time temporary employees. Twenty-three percent of respondents were employed part time.

The 1991 Recent College Graduates Survey indicated that 74 percent of psychology majors were employed, 60 percent full time and 14 percent part time. The overall employment status for all fields was 74 percent employed full time and 11 percent employed part time. The "all fields" category included: professional fields such as business/management, education, engineering, health professions, public affairs/social services; and arts and sciences fields such as biological sciences, math, computer sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, humanities and history (NCES, 1993).

Full-time Employment

Table 2 contains data on primary work activity and employment pattern. Overall, 17 percent of respondents reported health or health-related service provision as their primary work activity, followed by education and teaching at 13 percent. Ten percent of baccalaureate recipients chose other services (trades, hotels/restaurants, law enforcement/military, etc.) as their primary work activity and 9 percent of respondents indicated that they worked as clerical or administrative assistants. Almost 8 percent worked as administrators and 6 percent were in sales. Six percent listed research as a primary activity.

The largest single proportion of full-time permanently employed baccalaureate recipients reported health or health-related service provision (18 percent) as a primary activity. Thirteen percent reported education and/or teaching activities. Eight percent of full-time respondents stated that they had primarily administrative duties while 9 percent reported doing mostly clerical/administrative work. Research and/or development was reported by 8 percent of full-time permanent employees. Non-health related professional services were reported by 7 percent and "other" services by approximately 8 percent. Small proportions were also found in management and in consulting, 3 percent each. The smallest proportion (2 percent) of full-time respondents chose reporting/statistical work and computing as their primary work activity.

The baccalaureate recipients employed full time in temporary positions were most often involved in education and teaching positions (20 percent) or health or health-related service provision (18 percent), followed by clerical and administrative assistant activities (13 percent).

The data reveal that 17 percent of respondents employed part time were in health or health-related positions. The next most frequent activity was other services (such as trades, hotel/restaurant, law enforcement/military, etc.) at 13 percent. Ten percent of part-time baccalaureate recipients indicated that education and teaching was their primary work activity (see Table 2).

Data from the 1991 Recent College Graduates Survey indicated that only 20 percent of the psychology graduates reported working in fields traditionally associated with psychology such as public affairs and social services. Other graduates indicated having jobs in administration/clerical (21 percent), education (14 percent), business/management (10 percent), sales (10 percent), service personnel (9 percent) health professions (5 percent), and biological and computer sciences at 3 percent each (NCES, 1993).

Job Satisfaction

Table 3 provides information on employed graduates' perception of the job market as well as information on methods used for the job search.

Perception of Job Market

Overall, one third of the respondents had a good or excellent perception of the job market. Just under 40 percent rated the job market as fair. Just over one fourth reported a poor or bleak perception of the job market.

Not surprisingly, none of the unemployed and not enrolled respondents rated the job market as excellent. This is likely to be the group seeking employment. Over half of this sub-group rated the job market poor while almost two-thirds indicated that they found the job market bleak.

Less than 6 percent of the respondents in both human services and educational settings indicated that their outlook on the job market was excellent. Just over one fourth of the respondents in each employment sector rated the job market bleak or poor.

In general the patterns of perception are remarkably similar across broad types of employment positions. However, there are two differences worth noting. Those in human services settings held a slightly less positive view of the marketplace than those in educational or other settings.

Job Search Methods

The data show that the most widely used job search method was newspaper or journal ads (65 percent). The second most popular method of job search was the informal network (family and friends (59 percent), followed by unsolicited resume/application (48 percent) and campus career services (43 percent). The methods used least often were "return to prior job" and "private employment agency" each which was mentioned by 11 percent. The patterns are the same across employment positions.

Not surprisingly the "top" or most successful job search method chosen by respondents was newspaper or journal ads (21 percent) followed by contacts from family or friends (19 percent).

Time to Job and Underemployment

Just over one fourth of the respondents were employed in positions prior to completing their degree. Over 70 percent of respondents were employed within 3 months of completing the degree. Approximately 10 percent of the respondents took more than 6 months to find their first position after graduation. Patterns are similar across position types (See Table 3).

The respondents appear to have been fairly mobile since graduation with almost two-thirds of baccalaureate recipients reporting 1 or more changes in job. Less than 20 percent were still employed in the same job since graduation. Baccalaureates employed in human service positions appear to be least likely to still be in the same position they obtained following or at graduation.

Burch (1990), suggests that, on average, a student leaving college today can expect to have three, four or five careers and 10, 11 or 12 jobs during a work life that will last 40 or 50 years. These estimates along with the data presented here appear to indicate an emerging career pattern that includes numerous job changes during the career span of today's graduate.

More than one third of respondents reported that they did not feel underemployed. Over one fifth of respondents felt as though their job was not commensurate with their level of training and indicated they are currently looking for a more commensurate position. One third indicated that they would like a more challenging job. Twenty-six percent of those employed in an educational position reported that the job was not in the field of psychology.

Level of Job Satisfaction

Table 4c presents data on the level of satisfaction across a variety of job-related categories. In general, graduates tended to associate a higher level of satisfaction with those items which were more personal (i.e. location, relationship with supervisor/coworkers, degree of freedom to work independently) and a lower level of satisfaction with those items which directly reflected characteristics of the position (promotion, advancement, fit, level of challenge). These data reflect attitudes that are consistent with findings from other Research Office surveys on doctoral-level populations.

Importance of Degree

Table 4 provides information on the importance of the baccalaureate degree and the psychology degree. Almost three fourths of respondents indicated that their baccalaureate degree was important or very important in attaining their present position. However, only 50 percent of the baccalaureates reported that the degree in psychology was at least important. At this level, it appears that the undergraduate degree in psychology is not seen as a specific benefit.

The data show that 55 percent of respondents indicated that their undergraduate education in psychology was at least "more or less" related to their current primary position. When asked whether their degree in psychology was related to their current position, 65 percent of baccalaureate recipients in the 1991 Recent College Graduates Survey responded affirmatively (NCES, 1993). Eighteen percent of 1992 psychology baccalaureates reported that their undergraduate education in psychology did not relate at all to their current primary position.

Courses and Skills

Importance of Psychology Courses and Skills Attained

Survey respondents were given a general course list to examine the extent to which experiences in certain courses were helpful in obtaining their primary position. As shown in Table 4b, courses in Field Placement (50 percent) and Computers (39 percent) received top rankings as the most helpful. Over half of the respondents indicated that statistics and research methods courses were not helpful.

Figure 1 represents an open-ended question which allowed respondents to list psychology courses they deemed important in obtaining their current primary positions. In descending order, the five courses listed most often are: clinical/abnormal, developmental/ child, social, personality psychology and learning. In descending order of frequency, other courses were statistics, counseling and guidance, research methods, general, industrial, comparative/experimental/physiological, memory and cognition, motivation and emotion, educational, and tests and measures.

Over half of the respondents indicated that communication skills were important to obtaining the current primary position. Some 40 percent mentioned writing as an important skill to obtaining their current primary position.

Figure 2 represents an open-ended question which allowed repondents to list psychology skills/knowledge most useful in their current primary position. Listed in order of frequency: communications (53.5 percent), writing (39.8 percent), analytical (15.5 percent), research and design (13.1 percent) other (7 percent) and computer skills (5.2 percent). While Table 4c reflects skills that were helpful in obtaining their current primary position, Figure 2 lists skills/knowlege that were most useful in their current primary position.

According to Branch (1995), nearly all jobs over the next decade will require computer literacy, compared with only 50 percent five years ago. Branch reported that Fortune 500 companies rely on adaptable, self-sufficient individuals and tend to value people with highly transferable skills, such as negotiation and conflict resolution. Also important will be knowledge of statistics and how to apply them.

A survey of 227 employers conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), revealed that the most highly sought skills by employers of recent graduates are oral communication skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork skills, flexibility skills, analytical skills, written communication skills, proficiency in a field of study, leadership and computer skills respectively (NACE, 1995). Consistent with its 1995 report, the 1997 NACE report indicated the top two skills are still oral communication and interpersonal skills. Also deemed important are technical skills, such as knowledge of computers and software. Employers prefer students who value teamwork and have obtained some prior professional experience either through co-ops, internships or part-time jobs.

In an article for the Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, Lorig, 1996, suggests that psychology majors are a smart match for the business world. Further, it is critical that psychology baccalaureate recipients impress upon employers that research skills provide a strong grounding which can add value to every project. Ware maintains that "skills are actually more important than course content." (Clay, 1996).

Financial Considerations

Sources of Support

Table 5 presents sources of financial support used by 1992 baccalaureate recipients in psychology. A comparison with sources of financial support reported in the 1991 and 1993 Doctorate Employment Surveys reveals that undergraduate students are less likely to receive university and federal funding than is the case for graduate students in psychology. In 1991 and 1993, over 70 percent of new doctorates reported using university sources with over 15 percent receiving federal sources of funding for their doctoral education. Forty-two percent of 1992 baccalaureates reported using university sources and 12 percent reported receiving federal support. Personal (own/family) resources are by and large the most widely used educational funding source for all students. Ninety-two percent of 1992 baccalaureate recipients in psychology used personal sources at some point during their undergraduate education. Educational grants and student loans were claimed by 45 percent of respondents, mostly Pell Grants or guaranteed student loans. When we focus on the primary source of support, a clear differentiation occurs and we see that undergraduate students rely mostly heavily on family resources, most likely parents (55 percent). Student loans are next most often (12 percent). University sources are third at 4 percent and employer reimbursements are last with less than one percent each.

Levels of Indebtedness

The cost of a college education is increasing at more than double the rate of inflation. Needless to say, money for education is an increasing concern among undergraduates. In 1995, the annual cost of tuition and fees was $12,432 at a 4-year private institution and $2,860 at 4-year public institutions. This price tag represents an onerous financial obligation for the new graduate (APA Monitor, September 1996).

Table 6 presents data on the level of debt related to undergraduate education by gender and minority status. Overall, half of the respondents reported having debt related to their undergraduate training. A little under one third of respondents stated that they had debt levels less than $5,000. About 30 percent reported debt between $6,000 and $10,000 and 39 percent reported incurring debt that exceeded $10,000 upon graduation.

The pattern of indebtedness of men and women did not differ substantially, although there is a very slight trend to find somewhat larger proportions of women than men owing more than $10,000 upon graduation.

A closer look at the data on sources of financial support and levels of indebtedness reveal that the sources of support reported by minorities vs. Whites are similar. Graduates in both categories were most apt to indicate that they relied on own or family resources during their undergraduate education. And both Whites and minorities used educational grants and loans and university support. However, the data indicate that more Whites used own and family resources to a greater extent than did minority students. The minority graduates relied more heavily on educational grants and student loans and university resources, some of which require payback after graduation and which may translate to greater education related debt following graduation.

Starting Salaries

Table 7 presents data on the annual salaries of full-time-employed 1992 baccalaureate recipients in psychology by position type. The reader should exercise caution when interpreting results with small Ns or large standard deviations. The overall median income was $20,000. Those employment settings which emphasize technical skills and computer capability appeared most lucrative. The highest median annual salary was in consulting ($27,000) followed by $25,000 for those employed in statistical and computer settings. Research and development, management and education and teaching and other were all above the overall median income ($21,000). Positions which were less likely to require proficiency in a specific skill and more likely to require additional on-the-job preparation were more likely to fall below the median annual salary for all activities. These include clerical and sales positions ($18,000), professional services (other than health related) and other services (e.g., trades, hotels/restaurant, law enforcement/military, etc. ($19,000)).

Data from the Money Guide suggests that psychology is one of the fastest growing occupations that require college degrees. The average starting pay for 1994 graduates was $20,270 (Money Guide, 1995). According to the College Placement Council (1993), new psychology graduates received offers of $20,180 in September of 1992 and $20,503 in July of 1993. The 1991 Recent College Graduates Survey reported that the average starting salary for 1989-90 psychology graduates was $19,200 (NCES, 1993).

Postgraduate Plans

Figure 3 presents data from a list of choices which allowed graduates to indicate activities reflecting their continued interest in psychology. Respondents could indicate all activities that applied.

Just over 80 percent indicated that they would use psychology in seeking to understand others. Activities which were geared toward understanding oneself, interpersonal relationships and group behavior were selected most often. The categories which were selected less frequently were those that included academic and scientific exercise. For example, less than one third of respondents indicated considering possible statistical design flaws (26 percent), enrolling in continuing education (27 percent) and writing personal observations (24 percent). Over 60 percent reported observing group dynamics. The least popular response was volunteer work while using psychology (19 percent).

Figure 3 provides information on plans for graduate study and the characteristics of current and completed graduate study of 1992 psychology baccalaureates. Respondents who were currently enrolled or who had completed graduate study were asked to list the fields in which they were pursuing graduate training and the level of study. The most frequent responses are reported.

More than two thirds of respondents reported plans to continue their education. Of these almost 84 percent planned to begin their graduate training within three years following their baccalaureate, while 16 percent reported they would wait more than three years post-graduation. Approximately 11 percent had no plans to continue and 22 percent were not sure.

Almost 40 percent of those who reported that they were continuing their education indicated that it was in psychology. Counseling (11 percent), education (10 percent), and social work (9 percent) also were popular choices. Smaller proportions chose medicine (7 percent), health science (2 percent) or business (2 percent), while 12 percent of respondents indicated some other field of graduate study.

Just under two thirds of respondents indicated that they were pursuing a masters degree. Almost 14 percent were seeking a professional degree, and 18 percent were pursuing a doctorate.


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The Psychology Baccalaureate Survey is a product of the APA Research Office, a unit within Central Programs. Special thanks to Research Office Interns Treviette Sauls and Jevon Nicholson for their diligence and data entry support and to Marlene Wicherski for comments on the manuscript. We are grateful for the support of Dr. Michael Honaker, Executive Director of Central Programs and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Association, and Dr. Raymond D. Fowler, Chief Executive Officer of the APA.

We also would like to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions that the baccalaureate recipients made to this research. The data will be available for use by psychology baccalaureate recipients and college students across the country in planning and understanding prospective career and educational outcomes of recent graduates.