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Diverse pathways of psychology majors: vocational interests, self-efficacy, and intentions.

The authors examine the differences in vocational interests and self-efficacy of 254 undergraduate psychology majors organized by 7 career intention groups (e.g., psychological research). The explanatory power of individual General Occupational Themes (GOTs), Basic Interest Scales (BISs), and Personal Style Scales (PSSs) of the Strong Interest Inventory (L. W. Harmon, J. C. Hansen, F. H. Borgen, & A. L. Hammer, 1994) and the General Confidence Themes (GCTs) of the Skills Confidence Inventory (N. E. Betz, F. H. Borgen, & L. W. Harmon, 1996) is examined. Results show overall group differences in Holland themes. The BISs, PSSs, and GCTs appear to augment GOTs when used with clients considering psychology or other fields with diverse pathways.


The importance of specialty choice within professional fields such as medicine, engineering, and psychology has received more attention recently (Borges, Savickas, & Jones, 2004; Hartung & Leong, 2005; Leong & Geisler-Brenstein, 1991; Zachar & Leong, 1997). In particular, psychology is a typical field offering a broad variety of career pathways, ranging from psychotherapy to marketing, law, medicine, and neuropsychological research. Offering a general guide for assisting college students in choosing a major, Rosen, Holmberg, and Holland (1994) assigned a Holland code of SIE (Social, Investigative, Enterprising) for psychology majors. As with other professional fields such as medicine (Hartung, Borges, & Jones, 2005), broad Holland-type designations have limited utility in assisting psychology students with postgraduate plans. However, counselors can incorporate more refined career assessments to facilitate individualized pathways for clients. This brief report addresses the benefits of more basic vocational interests and skills confidence in explaining career intentions of psychology majors.

Although psychology is one of the largest majors in U.S. higher education, the majority of baccalaureate degree recipients in psychology obtain employment outside of the field (American Psychological Association, 2003). A recent analysis of work activities of graduates with a BA or BS in psychology indicated that most perform management, sales, and administration activities (44%), followed by professional services (24%), teaching (13%), computer applications (11%), and research and development (8%; National Science Foundation, 1999). These varied career pathways of psychology graduates underscore the importance of using precise and thorough assessments to assist students in making career plans beyond college.

Previous studies addressing differences among psychology majors used samples of already specialized graduate students (e.g., Zachar & Leong, 1997). In contrast, the present investigation of undergraduates allows for examination of individual differences in a broader range of career pathways (e.g., business, medicine) upon graduation. Moreover, research has demonstrated the combined utility of Holland-theme-organized vocational interests and self-efficacy (Betz & Borgen, 2000) in explaining occupational and educational choices. In addition to investigating the broad Holland-type level, this study incorporated basic interests (Day & Rounds, 1997). Because these more precise measures of interests enhance the predictive validity of vocational interest measures (Ralston, Borgen, Rottinghaus, & Donnay, 2004), assessing basic domains (e.g., science, medicine, teaching) can further equip career counselors and advisers in assisting psychology majors establish career plans.

This brief report examined the roles of interests and self-efficacy in explaining the career intentions of graduating psychology majors. Similar to career aspirations, or "goals given ideal conditions" (Rojewski, 2005, p. 132), the term intentions is used in this article to reflect occupational goals of our participants who are nearing a decision point prior to graduation. First, Holland codes of participants grouped by their intentions are reported. Next, the explanatory power of the General Occupational Themes (GOTs) and the more specific Basic Interest Scales (BISs) and Personal Style Scales (PSSs) of the Strong Interest Inventory (SII; Harmon, Hansen, Borgen, & Hammer, 1994) is examined along with measures of vocationally relevant self-efficacy.



The present sample was composed of 254 psychology majors from a large midwestern university who were enrolled in a required psychological measurement course. This sample contained 183 (72.0%) women and 71 (28.0%) men. Seven (2.8%) were African American, 8 (3.1%) were Asian/Pacific Islander, 228 (89.8%) were European American, 5 (2.0%) were Latino/a, 1 (0.4%) was Native American, and 5 (2.0%) did not respond to the question regarding race/ethnicity. (Percentages do not equal 100% because of rounding.) This sample consisted of 1 (0.4%) sophomore, 40 (15.7%) juniors, and 213 (83.9%) seniors. Their career intentions included psychological research (n = 25), psychological practice (n = 115), education (n = 21), business (n = 26), law (n = 10), medicine (n = 23), and military/law enforcement (n = 10); there were 24 unclassified participants (primarily undecided students who listed multiple career intentions, with 3 participants seeking government-related positions). Unclassified participants were not included in the analyses.


Demographic and Career Planning Questionnaire. Participants reported their gender, ethnicity, year in school, and specific career intentions. They also chose among the aforementioned seven job categories (e.g., education), established by pilot studies, and an "other" category to specify career intentions.

SII. The SII is an empirically based instrument that measures vocational interests by using Holland's six types (GOTs), 25 BISs, and 4 PSSs. The GOTs represent a global view, assessing preferences, work environments, co-workers, and activities, whereas the BISs add greater specificity by examining subdivisions of the GOTs. The PSSs examine one's orientation toward particular aspects of learning and working, including work style, learning environment, leadership style, and risk taking/adventure. In the development sample, Cronbach's alpha reliabilities ranged from .90 to .94 for the GOTs, .74 to .94 for the BISs, and .78 to 91 for the PSSs. Moderate to strong test-retest reliabilities were reported in the SII manual for all scales (Harmon et al., 1994).

Skills Confidence Inventory (SCI; Betz, Borgen, & Harmon, 1996). The SCI is a 60-item measure of self-efficacy, or perceived confidence, for Holland's six RIASEC (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional) domains. Response options ranging from 1 (no confidence) to 5 (complete confidence) are averaged, resulting in six 10-item General Confidence Theme (GCT) scales. Cronbach's alpha reliability estimates range from .84 to .88 (Betz et al., 1996). Three-week test-retest reliabilities for a college sample ranged from .83 for the Realistic Confidence scale to .87 for the Social Confidence scale (Parsons & Betz, 1998).

Data Analysis

Following standard practice (Harmon et al., 1994), we determined Holland codes for each intention group using rank-ordered mean GOT scores. Univariate Ftests and eta-squared values were used to calculate effect sizes of variables under investigation. Post hoc analyses using Tukey's honestly significant difference (HSD) test were used to examine differences between the groups. A Bonferroni adjustment was made to account for inflation in Type I error, resulting in a new critical value of .001 (.05/41).


The means, standard deviations, and effect sizes for all six Holland GOTs and additional variables demonstrating significant differences are reported in Tables 1 and 2 by intention group. Variables with eta-squared values exceeding .06 and .14 meet Cohen's (1988) thresholds for medium and large effect sizes, respectively. Examination of the mean GOTs for each group revealed the following mean Holland interest codes: psychological research (ISA), psychological practice (SAE), education (SAE), business (ESC), law (AEC), medicine (SIA), and military/law enforcement (RSE). Post hoc analyses, using Tukey's HSD test, showed significant differences between groups at the .001 level for both the Investigative GOT and the Investigative GCT. For the Investigative GOT, the psychological research group scored significantly higher than the psychological practice, education, and business groups, and the medicine group scored significantly higher than the education group. For the Investigative GCT, the psychological research group scored significantly higher than the education and business groups, and the law group scored significantly higher than all the other groups except the psychological research and medicine groups.

Significant differences (p < .001) between groups emerged for 10 BISs: Military Activities, Mechanical Activities, Science, Mathematics, Medical Science, Social Service, Medical Service, Law/Politics, Organizational Management, and Data Management. Space does not allow for a detailed reporting of post hoc analyses for the BISs; nonetheless, Table 2 supports the validity of these scales in differentiating intention groups. Figure 1 depicts the mean BIS scores for all seven groups to highlight these noteworthy differences.

Among the PSSs, there were significant differences between groups at the .001 level for the Work Style and Learning Environment scales. For the Work Style scale, the psychological practice group scored significantly more in the direction of working with people (vs. ideas/data/things) than did the psychological research group. For the Learning Environment scale, the law group scored significantly more in the direction of preference for academic learning environments than did the business and medicine groups.



Results from this investigation augment understanding of the varied interests and skills confidence among undergraduate psychology majors. Our study provides a snapshot of variability that exists between groups organized by their intended career pathways. The medium to large effect sizes (Cohen, 1988) reported herein highlight the distinctions among intended career pathways of undergraduates enrolled in such a broad field.

In general, the GOT findings were consistent when compared with a previously established Holland code, SIE, for psychology majors (Rosen et al., 1994). Specifically, each intention group except the law (AEC) group yielded two of these three letters. However, there were differences between the groups at this level of classification, which is expected from Holland's (1997) theory. For example, participants intending to pursue research careers averaged an ISA code, reflecting an interest in analytical tasks. Those aspiring to business careers (ESC), incorporating E and C, reflected greater interests in marketing, sales, and finance.

The BISs provided a more refined differentiation than did the GOTs, with specific content mirroring group differences. In fact, each group obtained its highest scores on BISs that were consistent with the content of their career intentions. For example, the medicine group scored highest on the Medical Science and Medical Service scales, and the military/law enforcement group scored highest on the Military Activities scale. When BIS scores were rank ordered from highest to lowest, disparities between the groups emerged. For example, psychology majors intending to pursue a job in law following graduation obtained the highest scores on the BISs of Law/Politics, Public Speaking, and Writing, whereas those seeking psychological research scored highest on the BISs of Social Service, Science, and Music/Drama. These results support earlier studies addressing the benefits of the BISs in explaining more specific criteria (Day & Rounds, 1997; Ralston et al., 2004).

Training in psychology prepares students to enter a wide variety of occupations and specialty areas within the field. Although certain commonalities were present at the Holland theme level, remarkable differences for the BIS and PSS scores highlighted the distinctiveness of each group.

Results from this study have important implications for practitioners, researchers, and students alike. Counselors working with psychology majors must consider more than the three-letter Holland code. For example, a student with an interest in medicine may have a Holland code that is similar to the Holland code of someone intending to pursue a research career. However, his or her medically related BIS scores will likely be elevated and his or her scores on the Learning Environment PSS will likely be lower compared with the scores of a student seeking a psychology research career. A focused discussion of these more specific scales with undecided students can clarify career concerns and help clients construct more coherent career narratives, especially when addressing nuances among career possibilities within broad disciplines such as psychology.

Like members of many large professions, psychology majors do not represent a homogeneous group. The pathways people take beyond undergraduate training are individualized and often mirror discernible subtleties from commonly used career assessments. In addition to examining traditional Holland themes, this brief snapshot highlights the importance of other specific levels of analysis. Future research examining intentions and specialty choices within other fields such as medicine, engineering, and law might also assist counselors in their work with clients.


American Psychological Association. (2003). Careers for the twenty-first century [Brochure]. Retrieved April 26, 2006, from

Betz, N. E., & Borgen, F. H. (2000). Integrating vocational interests with self-efficacy and personal styles. Journal of Career Assessment, 8, 329-338.

Betz, N. E., Borgen, F. H., & Harmon, L. W. (1996). Skills Confidence Inventory. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Borges, N. J., Savickas, M. L., & Jones, B. J. (2004). Holland's theory applied to medical specialty choice. Journal of Career Assessment, 12, 188-206.

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Day, S. X., & Rounds, J. (1997). "A little more than kin, and less than kind": Basic interests in vocational research and career counseling. The Career Development Quarterly, 45, 207-220.

Harmon, L. W., Hansen, J. C., Borgen, F. H., & Hammer, A. L. (1994). Strong Interest Inventory: Applications and technical guide. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

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Leong, F. T. L., & Geisler-Brenstein, E. (1991). Assessment of career specialty interests in business and medicine. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, 7, 37-44.

National Science Foundation. (1999). Table C-6. Employed U.S. scientists and engineers, by level and field of highest degree attained, sex, and primary/secondary work activity: 1999. Retrieved November 16, 2004, from

Parsons, E., & Betz, N. E. (1998). Test-retest reliability and validity of the Skills Confidence Inventory. Journal of Career Assessment, 6, 1-12.

Ralston, C. A., Borgen, F. H., Rottinghaus, P. J., & Donnay, D. A. C. (2004). Specificity in interest measurement: Basic Interest Scales and major field of study. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65, 203-216.

Rojewski, J. W. (2005). Occupational aspirations: Constructs, meanings, and application. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (pp. 131-154). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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Patrick J. Rottinghaus and Abigail R. Gaffey, Department of Psychology, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale; Fred H. Borgen and Christopher A. Ralston, Department of Psychology, Iowa State University. The authors thank the staff of CPP Inc. for their support of this project. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Patrick J. Rottinghaus, Department of Psychology, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 222C Life Science II, Carbondale, IL 62901-6502 (e-mail:
TABLE 1 Means, Standard Deviations, Univariate F Tests, and Effect Sizes
of General Occupational Themes by Intention Group

 Intention Group
Theme PsyR PsyP Edu Bus Law Med MLE F

Realistic 3.5
 M 46.6 41.4 41.0 45.0 44.6 40.6 50.8
 SD 9.2 7.4 10.1 8.7 11.5 8.5 11.2
Investigative 8.7*
 M 52.8 42.3 38.5 41.1 47.2 50.2 41.8
 SD 9.2 8.5 7.4 8.6 11.8 9.8 9.0
Artistic 2.0
 M 52.3 50.3 48.8 48.9 53.4 46.5 44.7
 SD 7.0 8.8 6.9 8.6 8.0 10.0 7.8
Social 3.1
 M 52.4 56.6 59.3 53.4 47.7 54.2 48.6
 SD 12.0 9.9 10.3 8.8 9.3 8.5 11.0
Enterprising 2.5
 M 49.4 49.0 46.1 56.0 50.5 46.5 48.3
 SD 10.6 10.5 10.4 11.7 5.1 9.3 8.6
Conventional 2.1
 M 48.9 46.3 45.0 50.0 49.6 43.2 42.5
 SD 10.0 8.7 8.6 11.3 11.1 6.3 5.1

Theme [[eta].sup.2]

Realistic .09
Investigative .19
Artistic .05
Social .08
Enterprising .07
Conventional .06

Note. n = 230. PsyR = psychological research; PsyP = psychological
practice; Edu = education; Bus = business; Med = medicine; MLE =
military/law enforcement.
*p < .001.

TABLE 2 Means, Standard Deviations, Univariate F Tests, and Effect Sizes
of Significant General Confidence Themes, Basic Interest Scales, and
Personal Style Scales by Intention Group

 Intention Group
Scale PsyR PsyP Edu Bus Law Med MLE

General Confidence Theme
 M 3.8 3.1 2.8 2.8 4.1 3.6 2.7
 SD 0.7 0.7 0.8 0.6 0.6 0.8 0.5
Basic Interest Scale
 Military Activities
 M 46.8 46.3 47.0 44.4 51.2 45.4 64.8
 SD 7.0 7.2 9.9 3.7 13.1 7.4 12.6
 Mechanical Activities
 M 47.3 41.7 42.0 45.8 47.1 41.7 50.5
 SD 8.9 6.9 9.3 8.2 10.8 9.1 10.5
 M 54.9 43.8 39.7 41.5 49.4 48.2 43.9
 SD 8.3 8.0 6.5 7.8 12.1 10.5 8.4
 M 51.0 41.5 41.3 42.7 47.6 44.7 40.0
 SD 11.1 7.6 8.4 9.0 13.0 9.5 7.0
 Medical Science
 M 51.7 46.9 40.3 45.8 46.2 61.4 47.7
 SD 10.8 10.3 8.1 10.1 12.0 5.7 10.5
 Social Service
 M 57.5 62.0 60.9 57.4 51.9 57.3 53.5
 SD 9.8 7.8 9.9 7.1 9.0 7.7 10.3
 Medical Service
 M 51.1 52.1 46.3 50.3 43.8 65.7 51.2
 SD 12.7 9.8 12.0 11.3 9.1 5.2 9.9
 M 50.3 45.8 45.2 48.6 61.4 42.4 53.0
 SD 10.7 9.6 8.2 10.5 10.4 8.4 11.1
 Organizational Management
 M 45.2 45.3 44.2 53.3 50.8 42.9 44.3
 SD 9.8 8.8 10.4 10.1 6.7 9.2 10.4
 Data Management
 M 47.4 41.6 41.5 47.0 49.1 40.8 39.7
 SD 8.2 7.0 8.5 9.8 12.2 7.1 6.0
Personal Styles Scale
 Work Style
 M 49.7 59.0 58.7 59.2 51.0 56.8 50.1
 SD 9.8 8.9 10.0 7.5 11.0 10.3 9.6
 Learning Environment
 M 51.2 45.4 44.9 42.2 56.0 42.6 41.6
 SD 8.7 8.4 7.7 8.0 4.0 8.5 9.2

Scale F [[eta].sup.2]

General Confidence Theme
 Investigative 10.1* .22
Basic Interest Scale 9.9* .22
 Military Activities
 Mechanical Activities 4.0* .10
 Science 9.1* .20
 Mathematics 4.8* .12
 Medical Science 10.2* .22
 Social Service 4.7* .12
 Medical Service 9.2* .20
 Law/Politics 6.1* .15
 Organizational Management 3.9* .10
 Data Management 4.5* .11
Personal Styles Scale 5.3* .13
 Work Style
 Learning Environment 6.2* .15

Note. n = 230. PsyR = psychological research; PsyP = psychological
practice; Edu = education; Bus = business; Med = medicine; MLE =
military/law enforcement.
*p < .001.
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Title Annotation:Brief Report
Author:Ralston, Christopher A.
Publication:Career Development Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Previous Article:Frank Parsons's enablers: Pauline Agassiz Shaw, Meyer Bloomfield, and Ralph Albertson.
Next Article:Practice and research in career counseling and Development--2005.

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