Psychology Major Q&A: Three Current Students on Why They Chose Psychology

Author: Shannon Rooney


The psychology major in the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame offers students a balance among basic psychological principles and research methods and theories, along with their application to areas such as child education and development, aging, and developmental disabilities.

Here, three psychology majors discuss why they chose the major, their favorite classes, research, and some advice for students interested in psychology. 


Sophia Alvarez '24 

Majors: Psychology; Education, Schooling, and Society (concentration in Learning and Cognitive Sciences) 
Minor: Classical Studies: Heritage 

Why did you choose to major in psychology at Notre Dame? 

I’ve always been interested in the way the mind works and what makes us who we are, but I didn’t originally start off as a psychology major at ND.

It was only after I took my College Seminar (CSEM) with Anré Venter, the Director of Undergraduate Studies for psychology at ND, that I realized that my passion lies within the realm of psychology.

I found the value of following my curiosities and embracing the uncertainty that comes with them, and along the way, I realized that psychology was my passion.

Notre Dame supported and guided me through my academic discernment process and for that, I’m forever grateful.

Were you always interested in topics related to this major? 

I was always interested in topics in psychology, but it wasn’t until I began taking courses in the major that I knew it was right for me.

Before starting the major, I had never taken a psychology class, but I’ve listened to many podcasts and watched lots of films that concern psychological topics.

Before coming to Notre Dame, many students seem to know exactly what they want to study and appear to have it all figured out, but that wasn’t my case. Through exploring courses within psychology, I found I was excited about all the courses I was taking.

I appreciate the breadth and depth that the psychology major offers when concerning topics in neuroscience, social and developmental psychology, and research methodology.

Outside of class, I questioned what motivates our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I pondered how we perceive and process information, and I asked myself what influences our social interactions. I spent my free time thinking about topics in psychology, and that’s when I knew the major was right for me. 

What has been your favorite class in the program and why? 

CogSci (cognitive science) Goes to School has been one of my favorite classes at Notre Dame. It’s a psychology course cross-listed with the Educating, Schooling, and Society (ESS) department, looking at how cognitive science informs educational practices.

During the course, we took what we learned and were able to put it into practice as we tutored in local South Bend schools for the community-based learning component of the class.

As a final culmination of everything we learned, we conducted our own small-N research project in which we applied principles in educational psychology and cognitive science to inform our own research. 

Have you conducted any related research or independent study?

I work in the Cognition, Learning, and Development Lab (CLAD) at Notre Dame and I absolutely love it. Working alongside Dr. McNeil and the rest of the team, I truly feel like our research is making an impact in the South Bend community and beyond.

In the lab, we study cognitive development with a particular interest in how children think, learn, and solve problems in mathematics.

As a part of my time in the lab, I not only have the privilege of working with TutorND, but I also work on how our research informs mathematics curricula. In collaboration with the CLAD lab, I’m also planning on writing my senior thesis.

What makes the psychology program at Notre Dame stand out among programs like it at other schools?

Notre Dame’s psychology major is unique in that all students are encouraged to pursue their own research interests.

Two of the required classes for the major include statistics and research methods, both of which encourage students to get involved in psychology research and also prepare students for graduate programs in psychology.

Psychology students from Notre Dame tend to be very well-prepared for Ph.D. programs if that’s what they choose to do after graduation, but the psychology major also opens doors to jobs in other fields.

All psychology majors take a one-credit course that helps students decide what they can do with a bachelor's degree in psychology and how they can use it to be a force for good in the world. Speaking with individuals in fields both directly and indirectly related to psychology has helped my own career discernment process immensely.

Do you have any advice for prospective students who are considering a major in psychology? 

Take psychology classes—if a course looks interesting, my best advice would be to register for it!

This is a great way to meet other psychology majors and get a feel for whether or not you are interested in the coursework.

Reaching out to current upperclassmen might seem scary at first, but everyone at ND is eager to help. Current psychology majors are always here to answer any questions you may have, provide advice and course recommendations, and act as mentors.

Listening to other people’s stories about why they chose their majors is always helpful during the academic discernment process.

What are your career plans/post-graduation plans? 

I would like to use what I’ve learned in my psych and ESS classes to truly be a force for good in the world.

I immediately see myself working as a teacher after graduation and then going on to graduate school to pursue further studies in education and psychology.


Ryan Van Kirk '23

Major: Psychology 
Minor: Theology 

Why did you choose to major in psychology at Notre Dame? 

My first year at Notre Dame, I bounced around between several majors.

I went home my sophomore year (during COVID) and got a job as a teaching assistant at a local private school. It was a lot of fun building relationships with all of my students and helping them grow. It was during that time that I figured out that I really wanted to work with people.

After a bit more deliberation, I realized I wanted to work with people one-on-one instead of in larger group settings. After that, the choice was easy and I decided to pursue a major in psychology.

Were you always interested in topics related to this major? 

I remember really enjoying my AP Psychology class in my junior year of high school and thinking that it was the most interesting class I had ever taken. However, after that I did not do or think much about it until after returning to school. 

What has been your favorite class in the program and why? 

I am currently taking a Childhood Maltreatment Practicum course with Professor Valentino.

Each student gets paired with a child in the South Bend foster care system and becomes their mentor for the semester. It has been an amazing experience thus far and I plan to continue mentoring my mentee well after the semester ends.

During class, we discuss the assigned readings and then discuss how our mentees are doing. We try to offer each other advice or give ideas on what to do in the future. It is unlike any other class I have taken at Notre Dame, but I have loved the hands-on experience that it has provided. 

The other class that I loved was Professor Venter’s seminar, The Self: Fact or Fiction. In that class, we really had the opportunity to talk about any topic openly and honestly. The main focus of the class is about discovering what it means to be “you” and how you define the self.

Have you conducted any related research or independent study?

I am currently in the ASSIST Lab with Professor Ammerman. The lab looks at how to predict self-injurious thoughts and behaviors as well as ways to reduce risk and promote protective factors.

Part of my job in the lab is to conduct participant sessions in formal and semi-formal interviews and input data afterwards.

Working in the lab has given me great experience on the research side of psychology and I look forward to seeing what experiments are conducted in the future. 

What makes the psychology program at Notre Dame stand out among programs like it at other schools?

I do not have a lot of knowledge about other programs, but the quality of professors here at Notre Dame is incredible. Simply looking at how much research they publish in some of the best journals is really amazing. They are also really amazing professors and there is lots of opportunity to get involved in research as a student. 

Do you have any advice for prospective students who are considering a major in psychology? 

Go for it. In general, the field of psychology is growing rapidly, so there are lots of jobs available in the job market. On top of that, the classes are really interesting and engaging.

As I said earlier, I bounced around a few majors before joining the psychology department, but after one semester of being a psychology major, I knew I was in the right place. 

What are your career plans/post-graduation plans? 

I plan on going to graduate school next year and will be pursuing a doctorate in psychology, or a Psy.D. The goal is to become a clinical psychologist in the future and work with adolescents experiencing mental health problems and act as a life coach.


Chris Walsh '23

Major: Psychology 
Minors: Digital Marketing, Irish Studies

Why did you choose to major in psychology at Notre Dame? 

I applied to Notre Dame (originally) as an environmental sciences major. After my acceptance, I realized I might be more interested in psychology.

I enjoyed the AP class that I took in high school and wanted more flexibility in my college schedule to branch out and try new things. I knew that the College of Arts and Letters and the psychology major would afford me the opportunity to do so, and I’ve been able to earn two additional minors of interest because of it.

Were you always interested in topics related to this major? 

Though I was not always certain that I wanted to major in psychology, I found consumer and social psychology particularly interesting.

It’s one of the reasons that I’ve come to pursue post-graduate work in the sales and marketing industry—there’s a great deal of real-world applicability in the material that has been covered in both my major and digital marketing minor.

I’ve found much conceptual intersection between my psychology and marketing classes, and it has given me a unique perspective into the world of marketing.

What has been your favorite class in the program and why? 

My favorite class from the psychology department has been Drunk on Film with professor Anré Venter.

The course covers the psychology and impact of alcohol in our lives as college students, how it appears in advertising and online, and about how it’s presented in film. It fosters meaningful discussions on the vast normalization of binge drinking and alcoholism in our culture and the implications it presents for our society.

It’s an excellent example of a psychology course that can change your perspective on the world and help you positively impact the lives of others in your immediate community.

What makes the psychology program at Notre Dame stand out among programs like it at other schools?

Notre Dame’s alumni network sets it apart from all other universities. The psychology department is no different and benefits hugely from it!

People who study psychology go into a variety of industries, giving students the opportunity to consider many post-grad career options and to connect with the right people.

Overall, the people and community at Notre Dame are what makes our university so unique—Notre Dame alumni love working with and hiring graduating students that had similar college experiences to themselves.

Do you have any advice for prospective students who are considering a major in psychology? 

I highly recommend the program to anyone considering it as a major. Personally, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for my career when I applied to college—many, many students don’t.

What you will learn as a student in the psychology department applies broadly to countless professions—there’s psychology in every industry.

The psychology department and professors that I’ve been so fortunate to learn from are genuinely invested in your career development and success as a young professional—they’ll connect you with the right people and resources to prepare you for whatever career you decide you’d like to pursue post-graduation.

What are your career plans/post-graduation plans? 

After graduation in May, I’ll be working in the sales and marketing industry.

With access to our vast alumni network, I’ve been able to network with leaders in the industry and connect with hiring managers easily.

My time as a psychology major and Arts & Letters student has provided me with a holistic educational experience not always available through the college of business, for example, and it prepared me in many ways for the interviews and conversations I’ve had with prospective employers during my junior and senior years.


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