Why should I major in this subject?

A short answer

What could be more fascinating than the human mind? Is it really something you can study? We think so. Find out how and why.

A detailed answer, from Emeritus Prof. Julian Hochberg:

"It is one of the most popular majors in the country, with good reason.

» As a science, it draws on and thereby illustrates a wide variety of other sciences -- physics, physiology, biochemistry, and the most advanced brain imaging technology.

»As a field emerged from the humanities and philosophy, it provides responsible and relatively comprehensible contexts for dealing with other people.

»It is an excellent starting point for many professions, both firmly established ones (like clinical psychology and psychiatry, ophthalmology and audiology, neurosurgery, etc.) and such newly emerging fields as distant interaction (virtual reality) in the military, the classroom, and the operating room.

»Perhaps the most general major one can undertake."

And from some newly declared psychology majors:

"I enjoy the subject and I've had great experiences with my professors."

"Although I have many interests in different subjects, I have chosen Psychology as my major because it has been the one class I have truly enjoyed."

What are some useful first courses that I should take in order to get to know this field of study? When should I take them?

We recommend that you begin your study of psychology with PSYC W1001, The Science of Psychology, as early as possible. Alternatively, PSYC W1010 Mind, Brain, and Behavior may also be taken as a first course. Most other courses require PSYC W1001 or W1010 as a prerequisite.

The Science of Psychology (PYSC W1001) will provide you with a broad overview of the questions psychologists ask, the methods experimental psychologists use to address these questions, and how those questions reveal psychology's philosophical and biological ancestry.

To learn more about the different sections of the Science of Psychology course, please take a look at course descriptions and syllabi posted on the Web.

If you choose to take Mind, Brain, and Behavior (PSYC W1010) as your first course, you will be exposed to the fundamentals of neuroscience and neuropsychology, and will explore the relationship between the workings of the human brain, on the one hand, and behavior on the other.

After you have taken W1001 or W1010, consider taking a 2000-level course in an area that interests you, such as memory and cognition, behavioral neuroscience, or social psychology, and completing a statistics course followed by a laboratory course.

For more information on first courses, see see How to Get Started in Psychology

What are the major requirements?

To major in Psychology you need to complete at least 30 points, including the following:

Required Courses

  • The Science of Psychology course

  • One laboratory course

  • One statistics course

One course from each of the area groups

  • Group I. Perception and Cognition

  • Group II. Psychobiology and Neuroscience

  • Group III. Social, Personality, and Abnormal

The Psychology department also cosponsors a Neuroscience and Behavior Major with the Department of Biological Sciences. The Neuroscience and Behavior Major requires the completion of five biology and five psychology courses, described in more detail on the Psychology Curriculum page.

Read about the requirements for a psychology major and a psychology concentration in more detail.

Why do the requirements take this form?

The requirements of the Psychology Major insure that all students receive a broad introduction to the field, followed by intensive introduction to research methods and statistics, and a balanced exposure to three broad areas of inquiry within psychology: perception and cognition; psychobiology and neuroscience; and social, personality, and abnormal psychology. It also leaves enough electives for a student to explore an area in depth. This program is designed to provide a coherent and well-rounded course of study that can serve as a foundation for supervised research as well as for advanced graduate work.

Whom do I speak to about this major? How does the department structure its faculty for advising purposes?

All faculty are happy to discuss the field of psychology with interested students. To learn about the Psychology Major or for assistance planning your program, first read our Undergraduate Infopack carefully, and then feel free to consult a Faculty or Peer Advisor

If you have questions about major requirements that are not answered on our Web Pages, or if you need special permission for an exception to the requirements, psychology majors and concentrators should see one of the Program Advisors or the Undergraduate Administrative Assistant.

Before seeing a faculty advisor, please review these Program Planning Tips and complete a Major Requirement Checklist.

When should I declare my major?

Although you do not have to declare your major until the end of the sophomore year, we recommend that you take some of the introductory courses early on so that you can have an early taste of the major and so that you can take full advantage of our program offerings and research opportunities.

What research opportunities exist in or through the department?

As an undergraduate major you may participate in faculty research as a volunteer or as a work-study assistant. You may also register for supervised individual research (PSYC 3950), or you may apply at the end of your sophomore year to participate in the two year Psychology Honors Program.

Check the InfoPack regularly for announcements of internships, workstudy opportunities, and TA and research positions. To learn about how to participate in Honors or Supervised Individual Research, please see the relevant course description and read about faculty research interests.

Will study abroad enhance this major?

Although study abroad is not an integral part of training in psychology, it can provide exposure to a wide variety of quality educational experiences, and, as such, can be very fulfilling. Careful planning is required to integrate study abroad into a psychology major, and students who are interested in the Honors Program or in pursuing graduate work in psychology will find it particularly difficult to do so because of the need to pursue research and advanced seminars at Columbia.

If you are interested in study abroad, you should consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies as early as possible for help in planning your major and in finding psychology courses abroad that are compatible with the major.

See these instructions and the accompanying form. You will use them to apply for credit toward the major for a course taken outside the department.

How might a sample track or course of study look?

Sample Track I

This track might be completed by a student interested in applying to graduate school in psychology. It includes both advanced seminars and supervised research. Total credits completed = 41.

First Year

  • PSYC W1001 (Science of Psychology)

  • PSYC W26xx (a social, personality, or abnormal psychology course)

Sophmore Year

  • PSYC W1610 (a statistics course)

  • PSYC W1010 or W24xx (a course in the behavioral neuroscience group)

  • PSYC W22xx (a perception or cognition course)

Junior Year

  • PSYC W14xx (a lab course)

  • PSYC W22xx (another perception or cognition course)

  • PSYC W34xx (a neuroscience seminar)

  • PSYC W3950 (supervised individual research with a faculty member)

Senior Year

  • PSYC W26xx (another social, personality, or abnormal psychology course)

  • PSYC W46xx (a social, personality, or abnormal psychology seminar)

  • PSYC W3950 (supervised individual research with a faculty member)

  • Psych BCxxxx (a Barnard psychology course)

Sample Track II

This track shows one of many ways to complete the minimal requirements of the psychology major while still participating in research and advanced seminars. Total credits completed = 31 or 32.

First Year

  • PSYC W1001 (Science of Psychology)

Sophomore Year

  • PSYC W26xx (a social, personality, or abnormal psychology course)

  • PSYC W1610 (a statistics course)

  • PSYC W1010 (Mind, Brain, and Behavior)

Junior Year

  • PSYC W14xx (a lab course)

  • PSYC W22xx (a course in the perception/cognition group)

  • PSYC W24xx (a second course in the behavioral neuroscience group)

Senior Year

  • PSYC W34xx (a seminar in the behavioral neuroscience group)

  • PSYC W3950 (supervised individual research with a faculty member)

  • Psych BCxxxx (a Barnard psychology course)

Additional sample tracks tailored to particular student interests, as well as tracks completed by actual students will be added to this site. In the meantime, please see the sample Major Requirement Checklist for a hypothetical graduating senior psychology major.

How does one receive departmental honors?

The department sponsors a two-year Honors Program that starts in the junior year and is designed for a limited number of outstanding Psychology and Neuroscience and Behavior majors who are interested in participating in research with a psychology faculty member and completing an honors thesis. Students who successfully complete this two-year program graduate with departmental honors. You may apply for admission to the Honors Program at the end of your sophomore year.

For additional information, please see the Department of Psychology Honors Program.

What awards and prizes are sponsored by the department?

Selection for the Psychology Honors Program, at the beginning of the junior year, is a genuine honor as is the awarding of Psychology Honors upon successful completion of the two-year program. In addition, outstanding students are sometimes selected to serve as teaching assistants in psychology lecture courses, and this is an honor, a privelege, and a responsibility.

Follow these links to apply for the Honors Program or to learn about TA opportunities.

Are there any student clubs, committees, and/or activities offered within or through the department?

There are several student organizations on campus that are of interest to Psychology Majors, including the Columbia Neuroscience Society and the Barnard College Psych Club. Follow these links to the web pages for these organizations.

In addition to these groups, there is an active Peer Advising Network in the department, and Peer Advisors help organize get togethers with other psychology majors outside of classes, including the Majors Advising Fairs for students, departmental colloquia, and the annual Class Day celebration.

The Psychology Home Page has links to Colloquia, Cognitive Lunches, University Seminars, and other events. See the Undergraduate InfoPack for announcements of special events for majors.

What career opportunities follow upon study in this field?

The psychology curriculum prepares majors for graduate study in psychology and provides a relevant background for many other fields, including social work, education, medicine, law, and business.

The Psychology home page includes tips on preparing for graduate school and for preparing for a career in clinical psychology.

Whom should I contact about graduate study in this field?

Your faculty advisers will be happy to talk to you about graduate study. You may, of course, also consult with any of the other faculty or graduate students in the department, especially those with whom you have studied or done independent research. Generally, it is helpful to consult a faculty member who is familiar with the areas you are interested in pursuing. Each year the department sponsors events specifically addressing graduate school and career issues.

The Psychology web site includes information about opportunitites and requirements for graduate study in psychology.

Related Links

Department of Psychology