Whether you're planning to pursue graduate work to become a psychologist or therapist or are just interested in understanding the inner workings of human behavior, a psychology degree can provide you with a strong foundation. The amount of time it takes you to complete your degree will depend on the specific classes you take, whether you pursue additional classes or independent studies and whether you take a full course load each semester.
Most psychology undergraduate programs are designed to take four years to complete. This, however, requires that students take a full course load, usually 12 or 15 hours, each semester. If you're a part-time student, fail a class or drop a class, your graduation will take longer, and it will also take longer if you take extra classes, electives you're not required to take or declare a minor or second major. For many students, it takes closer to six years. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2012 that 58 percent of undergraduate students complete their degrees within six years.
Every school establishes its own set of course classes students have to take prior to graduation. Many students choose to take these courses before they begin classes associated with their major. You'll generally have to take math, science, English, writing and humanities classes. The type of psychology degree you're getting can also affect your core requirements. A Bachelor of Arts might mean more core classes in the liberal arts, while a Bachelor of Science will generally mean more science classes. For example, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, students pursuing a B.S. degree have to take 60 credit hours in the school's College of Natural Sciences, while students pursuing a B.A. degree must take a foreign language. These classes usually take one to two years. At Georgia State University, for example, the psychology department requires 60 hours of core classes.
Your major classes are those that are directly related to psychology, including introductory psychology classes as well as higher-level classes such as abnormal psychology and interpersonal psychology. If your school allows you to specialize in one type of psychology, you'll take classes focused on this specialty. At Creighton University and the University of Tennessee, for example, students take a minimum of 24 hours of psychology classes. This amounts to slightly less than a year of full-time enrollment.
Psychology has a heavy science component, which means students can benefit from conducting or participating in research studies. Independent study projects are available at many schools. They can increase your chances of getting into graduate school, but will also increase your time to graduate. Similarly, if you take several elective classes that aren't required, you'll learn more about your field, but it will take you longer to graduate.