Want to know what psychology majors study? Saint Leo professors explain what students love about five popular courses.

A psychology career may require you to tap into the skill set of a brain scientist, interview specialist or legal eagle.

The broad and diverse knowledge base students build when pursuing a psychology major equips them for success in widely diverse areas: from human services and mental health, to professions in business, human resources or advertising.

It's easy to see when browsing the course catalog for Saint Leo University's online psychology degree program how many choices students have to specialize as they establish a firm foundation.

The hard part is settling on which classes to take.

You don't have to rely on course description alone. Here, Saint Leo psychology professors share the inside track on five courses students love.

PSY 331: Interviewing and Counseling Skills

Official word: This course provides students with a basic framework of skills in the area of interpersonal communication for use in clinical settings and in a wide spectrum of human service settings.

The scoop: According to Dr. Heather Davis, gaining trust and drawing out information delicately but effectively are challenges psychologists face when providing counseling. In this course, students learn basic skills — such as active listening, reframing and summarizing — and apply them in real-world situations. An online discussion board allows students to summarize their interactions and solicit feedback from peers and Dr. Davis. Students also submit audio tapes of counseling sessions and Dr. Davis critiques their skills.

"They're learning when to ask open-ended questions, when a "yes" or "no" is needed and how to get to know someone without turning an interview into a game of 20 questions," she says.

According to Dr. Davis, at first, many students are surprised that counseling is harder than they thought and how awkward they feel about practicing their skills. Drawing on her 25 years of experience providing counseling to children, adults, couples and groups, Dr. Davis is able to provide reassurance and support to students and make recommendations about how to handle the challenges they encounter.

PSY 201: The Psychology Major — Academic and Professional Issues

Official word: This required course addresses the practical skills and knowledge needed by majors to successfully complete the psychology degree. Course content includes such topics as the scientific inquiry process in psychology, introduction to Internet and literature searches, American Psychological Association writing format, introduction to software used by psychologists, resume preparation and conducting a successful job search or application to graduate school.

The scoop: Dr. Kevin Kieffer calls this course "The Psychology Major's Toolkit" because it covers all the skills and resources psychology students need to succeed both in their major and in the field after they graduate

Students learn about creating effective resumes and submit them for evaluation. They review the history of psychology and major areas and trends within the field, careers in psychology, how to write in American Psychological Association format and how to apply to graduate schools, among other areas.

Dr. Kieffer knows personally the importance of preparation. The first person in his family to attend college, he says he made many mistakes during his four years as an undergraduate student. Graduate school was filled with some painful life lessons, as well. But now, he is able to look back and give advice to students on how to maximize their college experience.

"I explain to students that we don't want them to make those same mistakes, so we offer them the chance — the very unique opportunity — to take this class and learn everything they need to know to succeed in the field," Dr. Kieffer says.

"Our students are so much better prepared because of this class."

PSY 330: Forensic Psychology

Official word: Forensic psychology is the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. Particular emphasis will be on the applied aspects of the field.

The scoop: This specialty area often surprises students who think they know about forensic psychology from popular TV shows such as "Criminal Minds" or the CSI franchise.

Forensic psychologists work with courts and attorneys to evaluate accused and convicted criminals' mental health conditions, objectively evaluating individuals to make recommendations. They often testify in court, which means being prepared to face opposing counsel trying to discredit them.

Dr. Glenn Lowery says that he explains the theoretical and practical sides of the field, using case studies to help students understand concepts and how they are applied. There's never a shortage of interesting court cases, past and current, to discuss, and students enjoy poring over the psychological examination of behavior involved.

Some of Dr. Lowery's students have law enforcement backgrounds and provide interesting resources for the class. Dr. Lowery, himself, has also been involved in many aspects of law enforcement, including investigation and supervision, and has had the unique opportunity to examine behavior from a psychologist's perspective.

Popular shows fly through court cases in an hour, showing resolutions that come about with very little error. Real life is much more complicated, he says. Although students learn about the long hours and the less glamorous side of completing investigations, many find the complexities of actual cases more intriguing than any TV drama.

PSY 328:
Social Psychology

Official word: A study of the perceptions, attitudes, personality, motivations, relationships and behavior of the individual as a function of social situations. The course emphasizes theory, research and application and is highly desirable for students in Social Work, Education, Pre-Law, Pre-Med, Pre-Nursing, Public Administration, Marketing and Management.

The scoop: Prejudice and discrimination. Conformity. Romance. Persuasion. Aggression. All are fair game for discussion in Dr. Tammy Zacchilli's social psychology class.

Social psychology applies to a wide variety of fields, from medicine to teaching, because it examines how people interact with situations and other people. Dr. Zacchilli pulls topics for her class to review from current events, colleagues' research and her own examination of areas including romantic relationships, bullying and social media use.

According to Dr. Zacchilli, students love the lively weekly discussions, as well as the course projects. Students complete self-concept photo essays and advertising analyses that require them to apply a model of persuasion and attitude change and examine the effectiveness of the ads. They also work with other students on a group project. Dr. Zacchilli is a social psychologist, herself, and she loves getting her students excited about her field.

PSY 412: Cognitive Psychology

Official word: An examination of higher-level thought processes including such topics as attention and perception, memory, language, reasoning, concept formation and problem solving. Theories of cognitive functions are examined with an emphasis on research findings and methodologies.

The scoop: Students are surprised when they realize the breadth cognitive psychology, says online instructor Dr. Rachel Piferi. As they talk about memory strategies, eyewitness testimonies, stereotyping and brain function, among other topics, they begin to see how cognitions are important in nearly every aspect of life.

Using online modules and experiments, Dr. Piferi says students actually experience many of the concepts they learn about in the course. They see how those concepts apply to different occupations and even to themselves — which is one of the aspects of the course they enjoy the most.

Dr. Piferi says that it's important for future psychologists to understand how individuals process information, because that affects how they interact with that information and the world. Knowledge of cognitive functions and limitations help psychologists adapt educational programs, therapies, health programs and other strategies to be more effective.

What psychology courses have you enjoyed the most?

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