A Psychology Degree as Preparation for a Survey Research Career

Most of us conducted a survey at some point in elementary school: We have the experience of asking people their favorite ice cream flavor and then making tally marks. Few of us, though, have carried out the activities of a survey researcher. Survey researchers design surveys, test them for comprehensibility, and coordinate the activities of a team of interviewers and data collectors. They not only crunch numbers and present data but use the data to design new surveys.

Survey research is, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, primarily an occupation for people with graduate degrees. Some people, though, do get their start with a bachelor’s. If you are interested in survey research, you may decide down the road that you want that graduate certificate. But you can start with something versatile like a psychology degree. Here’s a look at your curriculum options, and the things you may want to include in your program.

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Coursework Options: Research, Statistics, and Human Behavior

The BLS notes that students should take coursework in statistics, research methodology and survey methodology. You’ll find that research methodology and statistics are very common psychology offerings – in fact, they’re often required. You may need to search a little harder for courses specifically in survey methodology. The Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) notes that undergraduate social science departments often do offer coursework in survey methodology (http://www.casro.org/?page=University Programs).

One thing that’s unique to the psychology major: the opportunity to select from many electives in human behavior. You may find social psychology coursework particularly useful.

Research and Internship Opportunities

You can not only learn to research in an undergraduate psychology program but put your skills to work in some big projects. Psychology departments typically provide opportunities for students to assist with research; you can often find projects that interest you just by browsing the department website. Even if your contribution is small, you may end up cultivating relationships with professors and graduate students; this can mean guidance as well as references.

Often there is a thesis option within the psychology major. This can be an opportunity to work semi-independently. If you are interested in understanding the types of social science questions that survey research can answer, you may want to browse the website of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (http://psm.isr.umich.edu/research).

The BLS notes that internships can prove very valuable to those looking to break into survey research. You are more likely to find opportunities at your own school if there is a graduate program in a related field.

Next Steps

Realize that you will find some discipline-specific prerequisites at the graduate level, and they may be very different from one field to the next. The Graduate Program in Applied Social Research (GSR) at New York’s Hunter College notes that the program is designed to build on a social science background. The University of Maryland has a separate set of prerequisites for statistical science survey methodology and social science survey methodology. For statistical science, you’d need three courses in calculus – not something you typically get in a psychology program, though some B.S. programs let you do a block of math courses as part of your major requirement. Social science, on the other hand, requires one course in statistics, one other quantitative course, and a couple social science courses – typical fare for psychology majors.

You may want to check out the list of graduate programs on the American Association for Public Opinion Research website (http://www.aapor.org/Graduate_Degree_Programs2/5322.htm#.VEF1fWddX4g) and tailor your undergraduate studies in such a way that you’re assured of getting your prerequisites in.