While an undergraduate psychology degree provides a broad-based, liberal arts background and insight into the human mind and behavior, those with advanced degrees enjoy greater opportunities. In fact, universities awarded over 90,000 psychology bachelor degrees in 2007, according to the American Psychological Association, compared with just over 5,100 doctorates. Earning a doctorate not only opens up more job opportunities but also higher starting salaries.
According to a 2011 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers are offering psychology bachelor's degree holders starting salaries of around $40,500 annually on average. In the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, such as states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Indiana, starting salaries average around $32,000 states a 2010-11 college hiring report from Midwest Colleges and Employers Association. Keep in mind that psychology bachelor's degree graduates do not always work in the psychology field directly. Many work in social services agencies as assistant case managers or family advocates, some work in sales, daycare centers, management, retail or public relations.
Individuals with a master's degree in psychology may be used as a steppingstone to further graduate study in the field. However, you can earn terminal master's degrees in fields like clinical psychology, human factors and educational psychology, among others. The APA Center for Workforce Studies' 2009 data indicates that individuals with a master's degree working in direct human services positions earn starting salaries around $37,000 annually. Individuals in applied fields like industrial-organizational psychology, human resources and organizational behavior earn higher average starting salaries, around $57,000, according to a 2010 report by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
Advanced psychology degree holders usually hold either the Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Psychology. Starting salaries for new doctorates vary according to specific fields and type of employer. For example, individuals working in research tend to earn more than those in clinical settings. According to a 2011 report from the APA Center for Workforce Studies, public university doctoral departments offered new doctorates average starting salaries of around $63,000 for the 2010-11 academic year. Psychologists in independent clinical practice earn around $54,000 to start, however, joining group practices increases these earnings. One of the highest-paid sub-specialties in psychology is clinical neuropsychology, where individuals earn average starting salaries around $75,000 to $80,000, according to 2010 report data by the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology.
The amount of education-related debt you amass during college usually moderates any salary you earn, as student loans must be repaid. As indicated by 2007 data from the APA Center for Workforce Studies, early career psychologists that reported undergraduate-related debt reported average debt levels around $10,000 to $20,000. This amount increases during psychology graduate school. According to the APA's 2007 "Doctorate Employment Survey," a large portion of doctoral program graduates report debt levels of between $80,000 and $100,000 or more.