Jump to other news and events
Purdue signature

How do I decide which courses to take?

Obviously, the requirements of the major partially determine which courses students must take. However, most psychology requirements involve selections from among several courses, rather than one specific course, and students typically have a significant number of unrestricted elective hours and considerable flexibility in course selection. Some students complete the requirements for a second major or a minor in a related field, and others use their electives to expand their background in psychology or to satisfy their curiosity about entirely different fields. Let your goals for your post-Purdue years and your general interests guide you as you select courses, and remember that your advisors and the faculty will be happy to help you.

Strive for a Solid, Broad Foundation

As a general rule, it is wise to take a wide variety of courses rather than restricting your education to one specialized area. Remember that behavior is determined by a combination of factors including the physiology of the nervous system, level of development, learning and past experience, perception, memory and cognition, social influences, and others. To understand behavior within a specific context requires an understanding of these contributing influences.

The Area B courses represent “core” topics in psychology. Taking more of these courses than required will strengthen your psychology background. Especially important for students who hope to do graduate work in psychology, however, are the advanced-level (Area C) courses and undergraduate research experience.

Build Skills Useful in a Job Search or Career

Computer skills are becoming increasingly important in the workplace and in graduate school, so many students find a course in computer science (e.g., CS 11000) a useful asset. There is a growing emphasis on good quantitative skills. You might consider taking PSY 20200 or additional mathematics courses to further develop your statistics knowledge and quantitative skills.

Business-oriented courses in management, accounting (e.g., MGMT 20000), or supervision (e.g.,TLI 11200) are those very relevant electives for students who hope to work in a business setting after graduation or after graduate study. Also, consider the Certificate in Entrepreneurship. Similarly, many psychology courses, especially those in social, consumer, and industrial/ organizational psychology, build skills directly related to business and industry. Students who hope to establish a private practice as a psychologist should not ignore the need for basic business skills, either. A private practice is a small business, after all, and requires management, accounting, and personnel skills like most other small businesses.

Build a Foundation for Post-Graduate Plans

Try to take courses that may be a good background for your post-graduate plans, whether you plan on heading into the workforce or plan further education. Even if you choose to go on to law school, medical school, business, etc. there are many psychology courses that will be helpful in each of those areas.

Although graduate admissions committees look primarily at your GRE scores and GPA, the specific courses you have taken are also important. Most programs prefer that students have a strong background in certain “core” courses, regardless of the student’s intended area of specialization. In psychology, these correspond to Areas A, B, and C courses. Thus, consider taking more of these courses than are required. Research experience is also highly valued, so PSY 39000 is a “must take” course (see the section that discusses PSY 39000), no matter what area of psychology interests you. Most graduate programs also value backgrounds in laboratory sciences (especially biology and other natural sciences). In fact, Master of Social Work programs (an alternate route to a career in therapy) specifically require their applicants to have taken a human biology course. Check with your academic advisor for more information about the kinds of courses that would be most useful for the area of graduate study that interests you.