How to Become a College Psychology Instructor

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The road to becoming a college-level psychology instructor starts with a comprehensive education, including a minimum of a master's degree in psychology. Many universities prefer to hire job candidates who have a doctorate degree in psychology. College-level psychology instructors often work as school counselors, clinical psychologists and researchers, in addition to their teaching responsibilities, according to Concordia University in Portland. Some colleges and universities hire psychology instructors who've had experience teaching at the postsecondary level, but work experience isn't always a prerequisite.

Education Gets the Ball Rolling

  • Complete an undergraduate program with a major in psychology or a related field. There's no need to specialize in a specific field of psychology at the undergraduate level. Attend graduate school and obtain a master's or a doctorate degree in psychology, psychology in education or clinical psychology. Strive to maintain a high grade point average so your resume stands out among others when you apply for university teaching positions. Coursework in psychotherapy, alcohol and drug dependency, coping with the death of a loved one, stress management, dealing with trauma, mental health, mental disorders, developmental psychology at various ages, and research methods is beneficial to the job and is often required to obtain an advanced degree in psychology.

Advanced Degrees Lead to Opportunities

  • Depending on your master's or doctoral program, you might be required to complete an internship or an extensive research project. For example, clinical psychologists must complete a residency to obtain a license to practice as a psychologist. Even though your goal is to work at an academic institution, you'll likely obtain credentials that qualify you to work as a psychologist or a counselor as part of your education. College-level psychology instructors don't need to obtain state-mandated teaching certifications at the K-12 level. Those credentials aren't required for postsecondary psychology instructor jobs.

Whistle While You Work

  • Gain college-level teaching experience by working as a psychology teaching assistant while you're in graduate school. You'll gain first-hand experience in the classroom and learn what's expected on the job. Consider participating in postdoctoral research projects for two or three years before you apply for psychology instructor jobs. Hands-on research experience can really beef up your resume. Short-term research jobs, often referred to as “post-docs," allow you to work as a psychology research associate in a university setting and gain valuable research experience at the same time. You might even land a full-time, permanent psychology instructor position at the college or university where you've conducted research.

Rely on Your Skills

  • Psychology instructors must have strong teaching skills and administrative abilities. Part of your job includes giving academic lectures, assigning coursework and projects, grading and assessing students' work, and conducting research. Even thought it's not absolutely necessary for college-level psychology instructors to have original published works in the field, they increase your credibility and resourcefulness. Publications in psychology journals and magazines or writing your own book will help you stand out as an expert in the field and a highly qualified job applicant.

Job Outlook and Financial Rewards

  • In 2012, the median annual wage for postsecondary teachers, including psychology instructors, was $68,970, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That average salary represents wages for instructors at community colleges as well as four-year colleges and graduate schools. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,670, and the top 10 percent earned more than $142,270. The BLS reports that employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, much higher than the average growth rate of 11 percent for all occupations. (Reference 4)

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