You can't call yourself a psychologist until you earn a doctoral degree in psychology and obtain a state license to practice. Psychologists are trained mental health specialists who provide a variety of services, like evaluation, testing and treatment, to patients with psychological disorders and issues. To begin the path to becoming a psychologist, students should take specific courses in college to prepare themselves for graduate school. You don't necessarily need to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology to apply to graduate school, but it can give you a foot in the door.

Introduction to Psychology -- Psych 101

The introductory course in psychology frequently referred to as "Psych 101" provides a basic foundation for understanding psychological concepts and theories. This usually includes concepts like behavior, cognition, emotions and social interactions, but some courses spend a certain portion of time devoted to psychological disorders and treatments. You are not required to have any previous knowledge of psychology to take this course. In almost all colleges, this course is a required component of the psych major and is also advisable for non-majors interested pursuing further studies in the field.

Lower Division Classes

Lower division psychology classes build on the foundation provided in Psych 101. These courses usually focus on general psychology and are mainly structured as seminars and lectures. Some of the courses you might take include foundations in cognitive, social, developmental and biological psychology. Foundation courses provide an introduction to these distinct subfields of psychology. You might learn about concepts like conditioning, learning, memory and perception. Research, laboratory courses and statistics are also usually required for lower division psychology majors. Foundation courses give you an opportunity to explore your desired future area of professional practice.

Upper Division Classes

Upper division psychology classes usually enhance and solidify the knowledge of psychology subfields gained in lower division courses. You might take courses that involve more specific study of certain areas of these subfields. For example, students may build on their knowledge of cognitive psychology by taking advanced coursework in sensation and perception. Developmental psychology courses might involve more targeted study of psychological theories of childhood growth and development or the aging process. Other areas of psychology may also be introduced in upper division study, such as cognitive neuroscience or advanced personality psychology.


Undergraduate psychology departments usually offer a wide range of electives on diverse topics. It's a good idea to choose electives in psychology that reflect your desired area of graduate study. For example, aspiring psychologists who wish to focus on clinical practice should choose electives that involve direct treatment of patients, such as coursework on addictions or psychological testing. Those interested in pursuing careers in research or academia should consider electives that focus on their prospective field of study, such as cognitive psychology or advanced research methods.