- One must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Machiavelli Niccolo
Become a Psychologist
Do you find yourself sitting down with friends and picking their brains, analyzing their behaviors, and helping them sort through their not-so-conscious problems? Perhaps the brains of children, the elderly, couples, or entire corporations rev your intellectual engines. Either way, becoming a psychologist may be your calling.
Get good grades in high school. This has less to do with becoming a psychologist and more to do with how to become successful in life. If you want a good job (and to be good at your job), you need to work hard and go to a good university. In order to go to a good university, you need to get good grades in high school. See the logic?
If your school offers psychology courses, take them! That includes AP Psych, too. The earlier you feel out this topic, the better. Sociology and other like courses certainly won't hurt, either.
Start working or volunteering. If you're in high school now, odds are your interests will shift as you age. However, if you feel like you have a good grasp on where you want to go in life, the best time to start is now. Wherever you see yourself working and whoever you see yourself working with, try to gain experience working with them.
This could be in the form of volunteering at your local hospital, women's shelter, or with a business that has a large team. Not only will this make applying to colleges easier, but the more people you know now, the more people you can ask for favours later!
Learn as much as you can about the entire field of psychology. There are many sub-specialties to consider. When people say "I want to be psychologist," general they're thinking of clinical psychology -- where you sit down with one or two people and hack away at the subconscious. However, there are a bunch of different branches and all are worth exploring early on:
Organizational and industrial psychology: the study of human psychology in industrial work environments and large organizations.
Clinical psychology: the study of human psychology in clinical settings like hospitals and mental heath facilities, including psychotherapy.
Cognitive psychology: the study of internal thought processes such as problem-solving, memory, perception, and speech.
Neuropsychology: the study of the brain and larger nervous system and how they contribute to human psychology and behaviour.
Attend a four-year university. Working as a psychologist requires an advanced degree, but first you need a bachelor's degree. You don't have to major in psychology, but it should be a degree that is at least associated with the field of psychology. Here are a few relevant alternatives:
Human development. This studies the path from infancy to adulthood.
Sociology. This field studies how the human subject behaves in social groups.
Anatomy/physiology. This is a good bachelor's degree to get if you are interested primarily in cognitive psychology and how the brain functions.
Chemistry. This kind of study is more appropriate for cognitive psychology than clinical psychology, as it focuses on the science behind human behaviour and not the behaviour itself.
Get involved in research. Many college psychology departments engage in their own psychological research. Students participate as research subjects and as assistant researchers. Research experience is vital for being accepted into a graduate program.
This step is more for your junior or senior year in college. In your courses, it won't be uncommon for your TA or professor to announce that so-and-so is looking for a research assistant. If you have a 3.5 or higher and blah blah blah, you can apply with Professor Zimbardo during her office hours at...you get it. When the time rolls around, jump on it. You'll need it later.
Work on a research project. Many undergrad degrees will let you get away with a BA in psychology without affiliating yourself with any research. If you can avoid this, do so. You by no means have to spit out tomes of experimental glory, but do try to rub noses with a professor or two that lets you churn the data or punch some numbers.
That's what summers are for, folks. When that three months of nothing to do rolls around, stay on campus. Talk to a couple of your TAs or professors, show them how eager you are, and see what they can come up with. Odds are they'll love seeing a new kid as thrilled about psychology as you.
Determine your focus. Psychology is a huge field -- even after you've chosen a branch (Clinical, for example), you need to zero in on a focus within that branch. Focusing on one sub-category will determine where and how you will work as a psychologist after graduation.
There are so many options (educational psychology, rehabilitation psychology, environmental psychology, psychology and the law, trauma psychology, forensic psychology, cross-cultural psychology, etc.) that if we listed them all, you'd be here all day. Hopefully your undergrad program exposed you to a bunch of them -- which one fascinated you most?