Category Archives: College Majors

Crafting Your Ideal College List

With over 3500 colleges in the United States to choose from, it’s no surprise that many students struggle to decide which of them to apply to. This blog will provide a step-by-step guide to making this process effective and even fun! We recommend that you explore and visit colleges throughout junior year and finalize your college list in the summer before senior year.

Finding Your “Best-Fit” College Features

The most important aspect of the college admissions process is FIT. Which colleges will be the best fit for you as a unique individual? At which colleges will you be most able to grow academically, socially, and personally?

Start by thinking about your preferences. Here are some features to consider as you build your list of “best-fit” features:

  • Size. A small college (with fewer than 4000 students) tends to offer a more close-knit sense of community, with smaller, discussion-based classes, and closer relationships with professors. On the other hand, a large college (with more than 10,000 students) tends to offer more options of courses, specialized programs, clubs and organizations, and even friends. And a medium-sized college (with about 3,000 – 10,000 students) provides a blend of qualities of a small and large school.
  • Liberal Arts vs Specialized Programs. Smaller colleges tend to offer a “liberal arts” curriculum, with courses in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, such as psychology, history, and biology. On the other hand, larger universities often include specialized, pre-professional colleges within the school, and focus on areas such as business, engineering, communication, and architecture. Your academic interests and preferences for a certain size of college will help you decide which type of school is best for you.
  • Academics: Majors and Minors. What subjects interest you the most? Which classes have you most enjoyed? Research academic programs on colleges’ websites. See how many faculty members are in your areas of interest and review the departments’ courses and research opportunities. If you have a few different academic areas of interest, you will likely be able to pursue multiple subjects at college through a double-major or a major and minor. In colleges in the US, typically you can choose any combination of fields for a double-major or major/minor. For example, I have worked with students with a major in engineering and minor in studio art, a major in physics and minor in dance, and a major in Spanish and minor in biology!In addition, colleges are increasingly offering degrees in interdisciplinary areas, such as Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at University of Pennsylvania, biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis.  An academic area that has been growing at many universities is STEAM, the combination of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
  • Distribution Requirements. In addition to the courses in your academic major, think about whether you have a strong preference for being exposed to a broad-based curriculum, or having the freedom to construct your entire course of study. Most colleges require that you take 8-10 courses (about a third of your total coursework) in a variety of academic areas in order to receive a broad-based education. Colleges range from having no distribution requirements (such as Brown University) to having a prescribed core curriculum (Columbia University). Most colleges fall in between, offering choices of courses in a variety of categories. For example, Princeton University has distribution requirements in the areas of Epistemology and Cognition, Ethical thought and Moral Values, Historical Analysis, Literature and the Arts, Social Analysis, Quantitative Reasoning, and Science and Technology.
  • Study Abroad. Most colleges offer the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or year and provide credit for coursework at other universities. Some colleges, such as New York University, have developed their own programs abroad, staffed by their own faculty. How important is it to you to study abroad? If so, research colleges’ study abroad policies to see how feasible it would be given your intended major, and find out the percent of students who typically do study abroad to determine if it is part of the school’s culture.
  • Internships. Would you like to work for an organization for a semester or more during your college years? This opportunity can be an excellent supplement to your academic coursework and expose you to potential careers. Some colleges build internships into the curriculum by requiring that you participate in one or more “co-op” semesters. Additionally, internships are more available in cities than in remote areas.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Are there clubs and organizations that are very important to you in college? These might include a cappella groups, theater, athletic clubs and intramural teams, religious organizations, or community service opportunities.
  • Location. Do you prefer a certain location in the US or beyond? Do you want to be in or near a city, or do you prefer proximity to nature? Is it important for you to be close to home?
  • Social Life. What is your preference for the social life on campus? How important is it to have strong athletic spirit or the presence of Greek life?

What is your personality like? As you reflect on these features, take into consideration your personality! Are you more extraverted or introverted? Would you prefer meeting a lot of people or spending time with a small group of close friends? Do you prefer a more structured or laid-back environment? Do you like to learn from classroom instruction or do you prefer a more hand-on approach? The more you understand yourself, the better equipped you will be to find a college that is a good fit for you.

Making the Most of Your College Visits

Now that you have identified features that are important to you, what’s next?

Research colleges to decide where to visit:

  • Research colleges online. Look up their websites, and read about their academic programs, extracurricular activities, and college culture.
  • Read college guidebooks, such as The Princeton Review and The Fiske Guide.
  • Speak with college students.
  • Attend local information sessions of colleges.

Plan to visit colleges. Now that you have identified schools that could be a good fit for you, visit their admissions websites to see if you need to register in advance for a tour and information session. Plan to eat in the dining hall so that you can speak with students and get a feel for the culture of the school. Try to arrange meetings with professors in your fields of interest; you can ask them why they chose to teach at the college and how they would describe the student body. You can also meet with staff in specialized offices, such as honors programs or learning centers.

In gathering all this information during your visits, you will begin to discover your college preferences.

Creating Your College List

Now that you have visited colleges and evaluated whether they are a good fit for you, you can develop your college list. Keep evaluating their features to make sure that your colleges suit your needs. The goal is not only to be accepted, but to succeed and thrive at your colleges!

Decide on 10-12 colleges to apply to. We recommend that you end up with 10-12 colleges on your list, with a combination of reach, target, and safe colleges.  Generally speaking, here are your admissions chances at these categories of schools:

  • Safe: more than a 75% chance of acceptance
  • Target: about a 50% chance of being admitted (your profile matches the profile of admitted students)
  • Reach: less than a 25% chance of acceptance

Assess your candidacy!  The most important factors in college admission remain the numbers:

  • Grades, especially in the core curriculum courses of English, history, foreign language, math, and science;
  • Rigor of curriculum, evaluated within the context of what’s offered at your high school;
  • Standardized testing, including the ACT or SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB grades.

Learn about your high school’s admissions history. Most schools use Naviance, a web-based software program that presents the admissions outcomes of students from your school, based on their GPA and test scores. Compare your academic profile with students from your school who have been accepted to colleges in which you are interested.

Below is a scattergram of students who applied to Emory University from Schreiber High School in Port Washington.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the top right of the scattergram, near all the green squares of accepted students, you have a strong chance of being accepted, if you meet Emory’s other criteria.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the lower left below the icons of accepted students, Emory may be a reach for you, unless you have a strong admissions “hook,” such as being a recruited athlete, legacy, under-represented minority, or first-generation student.

Boost your candidacy through your personal qualities. Although colleges place significant emphasis on your grades and test scores in their evaluation of your candidacy, qualitative factors have increased in importance over the last decade.  Colleges are interested in all the ways that you will contribute to campus life outside the classroom. To that end,  engage in extracurricular activities that genuinely interest you.  These activities can play a positive role in the following aspects of your application:

  • Essays and Interviews: you can discuss your involvement in activities in your Personal Essay, colleges’ supplemental essays, and interviews;
  • Recommendations: you can ask for letters of recommendation from people outside the academic courses, such as research mentors, coaches, clergy, supervisors of employment or internships

Balancing “Reach” With “Realistic”

Keep in mind overall admissions trends. The numbers of students attending college has been increasing and is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. More students are applying to college, and each student is applying to an increasing number of colleges. As a result, admissions rates have declined, and selectivity has increased. It has become increasingly more important to have a realistic list.

Make sure your college list is balanced. In a typical college list of 12 colleges, about 5 should be “target” schools (you have about a 50% chance of being admitted), with about 3-4 each of “safe” schools (more than a 75% chance of acceptance), and “reach” schools (less than a 25% chance of acceptance).

Tailor your list. Each individual’s college list should be suited to their academic and personal needs. If you would like a very challenging academic environment and have a strong academic profile, you could have more reach schools. If you would like a more manageable course load, or are trying to manage learning, emotional, or psychological challenges, you may want to increase the number of safe schools.

The process of deciding which colleges to visit, which to apply to, and which college to attend is complex! If you would like individualized guidance, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

Majoring in Biology: How to Determine which Colleges Offer the Best Fit

Biology is a broad field, most basically defined as the study of living organisms. It covers the morphology, physiology, anatomy, behavior, origin, and distribution of every known species. As the field continues to evolve, so does education in biology. In the following blog we’ll provide information to help potential biology majors seek out the “best-fit program” for their course of study.

Should I Major in Biology?

Biology has often been considered an excellent major for students who plan to pursue future careers in the medical field, as most biology programs cover many of the medical school prerequisites. However, biology can be a difficult course of study, and no one should choose this path without first considering their high school grades in the subject area, as well as speaking to at least one student currently studying biology and one professor teaching it.

Biology majors, however, are not limited to practicing medicine. According to Duke University, about 40% of their biology majors will go on to medical school, and 30% will pursue biological graduate programs typically involving research. But the rest will pursue a variety of paths including secondary school education, law school, business, and volunteer work with the Peace Corps. 

Trends

The Growth of Genetics

One of the fastest growing fields in biology is genetics. Not only has our knowledge of the area increased, but the amount of people interested in pursuing genetics has grown as well.

Genetics is the study of genes and the way they behave. In more recent years, scientists have been able to use genetics as a way to make significant advancements in medicine and health. According to the American Society of Human Genetics, exciting career opportunities are expanding for geneticists in the following fields:

  • Basic and clinical research
  • Medical professions
  • Interdisciplinary fields, such as patent law
  • Laboratory geneticists
  • Clinical work
  • Bioinformatics

Genetics has also received a lot of public interest in recent years and there has been much controversy over topics like the stem cell debate, genetic testing, and genetic engineering.

Increasing Opportunity for Research

Research has become an integral part of undergraduate education for students majoring in the sciences. And justifiably so—it helps students not only gain a greater understanding of their field, but identify future career paths, learn to tolerate obstacles, and enhance data analysis and interpretation skills.

The number of biology students who choose to pursue independent research varies by school. At Brown University, over 50% of students pursue research, while at Stanford University, that number hits 90%. Most institutions, however, offer students the opportunity to do research. Some schools even offer courses where research is required.

Students interested in biology should search for universities that offer beneficial and rewarding research experiences during their undergraduate time. Some schools offer on-campus research with professors or peers. Other schools may offer off-campus opportunities to work with institutions near campus, such as zoos or research centers. The research offerings of each school can generally be found on its website.

If research is your passion, you should look closely at the types of research that professors are conducting in the biology departments of your top-choice schools to help decide which programs are right for your interests. It is also important to participate in research opportunities during high school. For example, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth lists many exciting opportunities for high school students to apply for during the summer.

Common Concentrations

Colleges vary in whether they offer or possibly even require that students choose a concentration within the biology major. Pursuing such specialization will enhance your education within this particular field of interest and better prepare you for a future career in this specific area.

General Biology

Most concentrations are very specific and focused—General Biology is just the opposite. It is generally a good choice for students who have a strong interest in multiple areas, or are not sure what they’d like to focus on. According to Cornell University, the flexibility of their general biology concentration allows for endless opportunities both in school and out of school.

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology 

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is a more specific concentration than general biology. The major areas in this concentration are functional morphology, foraging ecology, the adaptive significance of animal behavior, sexual selection, mating behavior, population genetics, phylogenetic, marine community ecology, theoretical population and community ecology, and ecosystem ecology.

Molecular and Cell Biology

The focus areas of Molecular and Cell Biology include molecular biology, genetics, genomics, and cell biology. The field has roots in the study of molecules and their interactions in the context of cells and tissues, which allows this field of biology to aid research for medicine and health purposes.

Other Possible Concentrations 

  • Neurobiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Anatomy/Physiology
  • Marine Biology
  • Computational Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Genetics/Genomics

Career Paths

A major in biology opens the door to a vast array of career paths. There are many types of biologists, such as Microbial and Cellular Biologist, Arborist, or Geneticist. There are also many options that do not involve research. For example, many doctors choose to major in biology as undergraduates, because the information is useful and relevant to their medical interests.

Teaching is another option for students who have a strong interest in the sciences, but don’t necessarily want to work in a lab. Depending on your level of education, biology could be taught at every level, from elementary to medical school.

There are also opportunities within government or law. In recent years, bioethics has moved into the public eye. Companies and government projects have been criticized for research, studies, and discoveries, and they often turn to professionals for protection. For students interested in both science and policy, bioethics is a great choice.

Profile of Top School

MIT is a top academic university all around, and the school is ranked #1 (in a tie with Harvard and Stanford) for undergraduate biology by US News. Their program strives to promote exploration and collaboration amongst their students. MIT offers a Bachelor of Science in Biology as well as a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Molecular Biology (offered jointly by MIT Biology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science).

Biology majors may also choose to focus their study on one of nine specific tracks or subfields within the biology curriculum:

  • General biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Cell, developmental, and molecular biology
  • Computational biology
  • Human biology
  • Microbiology
  • Neurobiology

All students take part in laboratory research, which fosters knowledge of experimental design, data evaluation, and scientific presentation. These skills are important to have for future careers and upper level education. MIT offers five affiliated labs and research centers for their students to explore their interests. Research is prized by the university, which helps to explain the high success rates of their graduates.

In researching your best-fit biology program, it is important to consider opportunities for student and professor interactions, class sizes, areas of research, laboratory technology, and available concentrations. You should speak with biology major graduates, current students, and professors if possible, to gain insight into their experience as a biology major at specific institutions. For further assistance in choosing your major, feel free to contact us! At Collegiate Gateway, we’re always happy to help.

3-2 Engineering Programs at Liberal Arts Colleges

The college experience is different for everyone. And for undergrads studying engineering, the best programs often found at big universities that focus on research, with large class sizes, and a more prescribed course sequence in math, science, and engineering.

Small liberal arts colleges, on the other hand, tend to offer small class sizes and a broad-based education emphasizing writing, critical thinking, and the expression of ideas. Students come to know their peers and professors well, and receive a more personalized education. However, liberal arts colleges are often more limited in their engineering offerings.

3-2 engineering programs are an interesting alternative in higher education, because they provide students both an intimate, well-rounded liberal arts program as well as allow them to attain a specialized engineering degree. 3-2 program participants typically pursue a bachelor’s degree in the sciences at a small liberal arts college for three years, then transfer to a partner engineering school to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering for two years. Usually, both bachelor’s degrees are awarded upon completion of all five years.

Where are 3-2 Dual Degree Programs Offered?

There are hundreds of 3-2 engineering programs, typically pairing a small liberal arts college with a larger research university that contains a school of engineering, such as Columbia University, Dartmouth, and Washington University in St. Louis. In fact, nearly every small liberal arts college that does not have an engineering major offers a 3-2 option.

Typically, students must fulfill specific pre-engineering requirements and meet minimum GPA requirements (both of which vary by program). These programs also differ in the timing of application (sophomore or junior year), and when each bachelor’s degree is granted. Sometimes, the engineering school reviews applications, and in other instances the engineering school provides an automatic admit if the student meets certain criteria and the liberal arts college grants approval.

Nearly all programs are 3-2, but Dartmouth offers a 2-1-1-1 alternative, in which students spend their first two years and fourth year in their home school, so that they can return for senior year.

Is a 3-2 Engineering Program Right For You?

While it might be appealing to experience two very different college environments (and pursue two bachelor’s degrees), 3-2 programs are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some students experience difficulty in adjusting to a new culture and social environment, especially since they are usually transitioning from a small, close-knit environment to a larger school.

Additionally, these programs lack the cohesive experience of a four-year undergraduate program, and students are sometimes frustrated that they are unable to gain leadership positions in activities, because of starting fresh at the new school. Most 3-2 students also cannot participate in study abroad programs.

The Benefits of a 3-2 Engineering Program

A 3-2 program typically begins at a small college, which offers a more personal and supportive environment that helps many students navigate the transition between high school and college. Additionally, students have the chance to ask more questions in small classes and receive more one-on-one help from professors in understanding course content. Many find that this helps prepare them for more difficult courses down the road.

On the flip side, students have access to the resources of a larger university during the latter two years of study. This gives applicants the opportunity to participate in a rigorous, possibly more selective engineering program that they may not have been prepared for or gained admission to as a freshman.

Finally, three years of a broad liberal arts education and two years of a focused, rigorous engineering program could be very desirable to potential employers. Students who complete 3-2 programs have been educated in the fields of writing, critical thinking, and communication, and are trained in highly technical engineering concepts. This combination of creativity and STEM could open many possibilities in ever-changing job markets.

When it comes to choosing a path in engineering, there is no easy answer, and there are many options for study. At Collegiate Gateway, we are always happy to share our expertise and find the best-fit education for you. Contact us!

Majoring in English: How to Find the Best Fit College

The current educational climate is very focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). College majors that teach specific pre-professional skills toward a set career path are also surging in popularity. But where does that leave the liberal arts majors?

In his book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, journalist and author Fareed Zakaria argues that liberal arts majors teach people how to think, write, and communicate, and that these skills will serve them well throughout the course of an ever-changing career landscape in our current digital economy. According to Zakaria, “The future of a country like the U.S. rests on our ability to master how technology interacts with how humans live, work and play. And that depends on skills fostered by the liberal arts, such as creativity, aesthetic sensibility and social, political and psychological insight.”

By engaging and analyzing texts, and developing reading, writing, and speaking skills, majoring in English will enable you to acquire valuable critical thinking skills, and broaden the scope of your knowledge of the world around you through. Through the study of English you will be able to explore a vast array of subjects during college, and prepare for an extensive range of occupations in the years that follow.

Many English programs are seminar-based, which allows students to work closely with their professors and student peers. Yale University has a descriptive list of what students will take away from majoring in English and reasons for committing to this major. Their final reason is “Because you want to!” Most English majors are passionate about their choice of study and see its inherent value in their lifelong love of learning.

Trends

  • Interdisciplinary Studies

In recent years, English studies have become increasingly interdisciplinary as institutions encourage students to pair the major with other fields of their choice. Many universities have created additional tracks within their English programs to accommodate students to combine English with other disciplines.

At Stanford University, the Interdisciplinary Program within the English major is open to students who wish to combine the study of one literary topic, period, genre, theme or problem with an interdisciplinary program of courses relevant to that inquiry. For example, with a dual major in Psychology and English, an undergraduate can examine a psychological issue or problem through a work of creative non-fiction.

At Boston College, English majors have the opportunity to minor in African and African Diaspora studies, American Studies, Irish Studies, Linguistics, or Women’s and Gender Studies.

  • Double Major

The flexibility of the English major course requirements can also lead to the opportunity to pursue a double major in English and another field. The University of Maryland states, “Double majoring in English is uniquely suited to a number of students, because it combines the broad liberal arts training of English with specific and/or technical training.” English majors do not have to pursue a set sequence of courses and many courses carry cross-disciplinary credits within the liberal arts college.

The benefits of a double major (in which one of the majors is in the liberal arts field) are also supported a 2015 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which found that many companies are looking for employees who are trained in “both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of knowledge” and that this contributes to long-term career success.

Some double majors focus on two liberal arts fields, but it is becoming increasingly popular at universities such as Johns Hopkins, to combine English and the sciences. At the University of Notre Dame, about 39% of business majors carry a second major in the College of Arts & Letters or Sciences. Students should keep in mind that completing a double major requires an increase in workload and careful management of your time.

  • Study Abroad

Majoring in English can also enable you to pursue a study abroad program for a year, semester, or summer. Again, the flexibility in English course requirements and the broad array of English courses offered at institutions in England, Scotland, Australia, and Ireland allow English majors the chance to study elsewhere and gain the rich experience of living abroad.

At Cornell University, English majors are strongly encouraged to take advantage of study abroad programs offered through the Cornell Abroad Program and the College of Arts and Sciences Abroad Program. There are restrictions as to how many English credits can be earned abroad, but with careful planning, students can participate in an array of exciting international programs.

According to the UC-Berkeley Study Abroad program, “English majors find that a term, or better, a year in a foreign university not only enhances their critical and writing skills, but that the experience of adapting to another academic and cultural world expands their self-understanding and gives them a keen sense of the political and social differences in today’s world. The personal and intellectual growth of study abroad provides further advantages when it comes to the challenges of graduate and professional study.”

Common Tracks within the Major

Majoring in English gives undergraduates the opportunity to become specialists on various topics through optional tracks. Many programs have core requirements, but after these courses have been completed, the English major is open to pursue passions in literature or writing through elective courses. This format allows for interdisciplinary study across the gamet of liberal arts fields, as well as, journalism, poetry, and creative writing.

For example, Princeton University offers a multitude of tracks including Literature, Language, and Culture, Arts and Media, Theory and Criticism, and Creative Writing. Students are even able to create their own track of interdisciplinary study by special arrangement with the departmental representative.

The University of North Carolina also offers a fascinating BA in comparative literature, within which students are able to pursue an international literature track, or a global cinemas studies track. Brown University offers a renowned Nonfiction Writing Track, which combines the writing of academic essays with journalism and creative nonfiction.

At NYU, “The department offers a full and varied curriculum in literary history, critical theory, dramatic literature, theatre history, and literary culture, as well as a second major track that allows students to specialize in creative writing.”

The English major is not a “one-size-fits-all” path of study. While there are restrictions and requirements, students have choices and are able to pursue varied interests as they advance in their studies. For many students, this ability to pick and choose from a range of interesting studies is very appealing and rewarding. Regardless, of your class choices, the themes of communication, critical thinking, writing skills, and the ability to make a persuasive argument are threaded throughout all courses.

Research and Internship Opportunities

Research as an undergraduate English major is usually focused on independent, individualized studies aided by the one-on-one mentorship of faculty.

Georgetown University, houses the Folger Undergraduate Program, which offers full access to the Library’s collections as part of an intensive research seminar on books and early modern culture. There, students acquire archival research skills, and pursue advanced independent research on early modern topics.

The University of Rochester has Undergraduate Research Awards that support English majors who need assistance in travel or stay outside of Rochester to pursue the following research opportunities: traveling to scholarly conferences or film festivals, conducting research in archives or libraries, participating in writers’ institutes, and attending intensive language programs abroad. Students must apply for the award and money is granted on a competitive basis.

If you do not wish to do research during your undergraduate experience, there are innumerable internship opportunities, in which you could partake instead. English majors have written pieces for esteemed literary magazines, put their skills into practice at publishing houses, and worked for literary agencies. There are also internships in marketing, advertising, law, politics, journalism, and so many more. Many colleges have a career center that can assist students in finding the right internship fit. Stanford University has a listing of internships that are specifically geared toward English majors.

Careers

Careers commonly associated with English often include teacher, writer, and lawyer. Yet, English has allowed individuals to pursue careers in a wide range of fields.

A study conducted at Brown University illustrates the diversity of career paths that arise from being an English major. With their broad-based English backgrounds, Brown alumni were able to pursue a vast array of occupations in fields including, journalism, publishing, entertainment, public relations, law, and medicine. The University of Michigan also has a website detailing impressive career paths taken by their English major alumni.

How to Evaluate English Programs

When comparing English programs, it is helpful to research the following areas:

  • Student/teacher ratio
  • Seminar class size
  • Core requirements and elective courses
  • Opportunities for interdisciplinary study
  • Minors and concentrations, which can enhance your English major
  • Double major opportunities
  • Research and internship opportunities
  • Study abroad programs
  • Faculty profiles
  • Honors program
  • Independent study

 

For more information, contact us at Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!

 

Majoring in Psychology: How to determine which colleges offer the best fit

Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and the mind, and is one of the oldest fields around! In 387 BC, Plato suggested that the brain is the source of mental processes, but it was not until 1879 that the first psychological lab was established by Wilhem Wundt at the University of Leipsig, followed by the first such lab in the US at Johns Hopkins University in 1883.

Trends

A New Focus on Neuroscience

The most significant trend over recent decades is the increased attention to the workings of the brain, still considered “our most complex but least understood organ.”

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As such, neuroscience is emerging as one of the most popular and valuable new fields of study, and typically involves the combination of psychology and biology to understand behavior and cognition.  For example, the University of Pennsylvania created the Biological Basis of Behavior Program (BBB) in 1978. One of the first neuroscience undergraduate programs, the major brings together faculty from the psychology, biology and computer science departments of the School of Arts and Sciences, as well as faculty from the Graduate Schools of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.

Colleges approach neuroscience from a variety of perspectives. Barnard offers the major Neuroscience & Behavior as a distinct major from Psychology and Biological Sciences, although courses in these related areas can be taken to fulfill the major requirements.  St Andrews, in Scotland, offers a BSc degree in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience, which resides within the College of Science.  And Princeton offers a Certificate in Neuroscience (minor), which can be satisfied with courses from a range of disciplines beyond psychology and biology, such as computer science, engineering and philosophy.

More Interdisciplinary Study

Beyond the an increased focused in neuroscience, the study of psychology is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary; many academic programs now allow and encourage psychology students to pair the major with other fields, ranging from philosophy to women’s studies.

Washington University in St. Louis offers an interdisciplinary major in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology (PNP). Boston College promotes their interdisciplinary minors, and suggests that students interested in the psychology of women consider the Women’s Studies Minor. Oxford University offers a renowned degree in Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics (PPL), which prepares students to “enter careers in fields including professional psychology, education, research, medicine, the health services, finance, commerce, industry, the media and information technology.”

Common Undergraduate Concentrations

As a psychology major, you will often have the opportunity or requirement to pursue specialized programs within the major, including:

  • Clinical/counseling
  • Developmental/childhood
  • Educational
  • Environmental
  • Family
  • Forensic/law
  • Industrial/Organization
  • Neuroscience
  • Quantitative
  • Social

For example, Harvard’s Psychology Concentration (major) offers three tracks:  General Psychology, Mind/Brain/Behavior: Cognitive Science, or Life Sciences: Cognitive Neuroscience & Evolutionary Psychology.  Carnegie Mellon offers three “sub-domains:” Cognitive Psychology (including Cognitive Neuroscience), Developmental Psychology, and Social/Personality/Health Psychology. On the other hand, the Psychology major at Williams, a small liberal arts college, requires students to take a variety of courses, but has no specialized tracks.

Note that undergraduate psychology is relatively unregulated in terms of institutional accreditations. The APA does not accredit or rank specific undergraduate psychology departments.

BA vs. BS Degree in Psychology

Differences between the Programs

Psychology majors can either obtain a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS). The BA degree has a more liberal arts focus, whereas the BS degree typically requires more in-depth study of psychology, and a greater emphasis on scientific research.  New York University offers the options of a BA in Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as a BS in Applied Psychology in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, and provides an excellent comparison of the two programs.

NYU’s BA in Psychology requires 36 credits in psychology and 92 credits of liberal arts. In contrast, the BS in Applied Psychology requires 68 credits in psychology, including several research courses, a multi-semester fieldwork sequence, and a 5-course concentration, with the remaining 60 credits in liberal arts. As such, it’s easier to double major or minor with the BA degree within the total of 128 credits.  Lehigh’s approach is similar to NYU in that the BS in Psychology program requires more courses in the major, a more scientific focus, and a required concentration within psychology.

 Impact on Your Graduate School and Career Plans

Your future interests in graduate school and career also come into play when deciding between a BA vs BS degree in psychology. Note that each college’s programs have a unique focus.  At NYU, students planning to pursue graduate school in psychology, business or law could take either course.  Pre-meds are encouraged to take the BA in Psychology, due to the opportunities for lab research.  Students who wish to practice psychology in community-based settings are encouraged to take the BS in Applied Psychology because of the fieldwork requirement. In contrast, at Lehigh, students interested in a career in medicine or the health-related fields are encouraged to take the BS program.

The American Psychological Association suggests that the best way to evaluate programs is to visit them, meet with students, and choose a program that feels comfortable to you:

“In truth, there is often little difference between the two degrees. Some schools only offer a BA, others only BS. The requirements for the two degrees might overlap completely. Even when a school offers a choice of either a BA or BS, your decision may not be all that critical. The more important consideration is taking courses that will prepare you for the program you want to enter as a graduate student.”

If you are planning to pursue graduate study in psychology, you can find information about the requirements of over 500 programs online or in the print volume Graduate Study in Psychology, 2015 Edition. The revised MCAT2015 incorporates a new section on The Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior; if you want to major in psychology as a pre-med, evaluate the requirements and course offerings of various BA and BS programs to determine which would provide the strongest foundation. If you plan to pursue a career in business and law, either degree would provide useful background, but if you are more interested in the scientific or technical fields, such as patent law or business operations, a BS may be more suitable.

Research Opportunities

Regardless of whether students are in a BA or BS program in Psychology, there are substantial opportunities for conducting faculty-supervised research as a psychology major:

  • Laboratory.  Students work in a laboratory, also referred to as “basic” or “bench” research, studying topics such as learning, memory and motivation. Yale offers a myriad of research opportunities in diverse areas such as cognition, memory and motivation.
  • Clinical.  Students have access to clinical settings, such as elementary school classrooms or senior citizen centers, in which they can study social interactions or developmental processes.  Clinical research often involves developing, administering and analyzing surveys. In Georgetown’s Psychology Department, students can collect or code data, screen and recruit research participants, and conduct background literature searches.

Typically, honors programs require that students participate in research. In addition to research during the academic year at your university, you can pursue summer research or internships at other colleges, such as Middlebury College, or research organizations such as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.  The American Psychological Association maintains an excellent list of summer research opportunities.

Careers

When people think of careers connected to the psychology major, they often think of traditional fields including psychological or career counselor, or school psychologist. But there are rapidly-growing opportunities in more specialized interdisciplinary fields, such as forensic psychologist (applies psychological to criminal investigation and law), engineering psychologist (studies how people interact with machines and other technology), sports psychologist (focuses on motivation and performance related to sports), genetics counselor (provides information about genetic disorders to families) and industrial-organizational psychologist (studies workplace behavior).

In choosing a major, it’s important to find a subject you’re passionate about, while also considering your future career path. Luckily, psychology is a broad-based field, with many different practical and career applications; knowledge of people and their motivations can be applied to virtually all careers!  The study of psychology may expose you to many different career paths, and help you identify your interests.

For more information, contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!