Psychology Job Trends: Big Opportunities in Small Towns


Employment rates for psychologists have a positive outlook. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of psychologist jobs is expected to grow 19% by 2024. This trend has a much larger growth rate compared to most occupations. The trick is, that job growth doesn’t necessarily translate to an even distribution of positions around the country.

Many psychology grads look for jobs in urban areas – which makes sense. Many students, especially those in Alliant’s graduate psychology programs, are already living in major metropolitan areas like L.A., San Diego or San Francisco – and it’s always easier to look for jobs in an area where you’re already living. Additionally, major urban areas typically have the highest number of job openings. The APA Center for Workforce Studies recently conducted a study of online job advertisements for licensed psychologists, and found that the majority of ads were for jobs in populous states and cities near the coast – cities like L.A., San Diego and San Francisco. It’s no surprise then that the state with the largest listing of job ads was California, with 1,683 positions advertised, and that on a city-specific level, San Francisco and Los Angeles were two of the cities with the largest number of job openings.

However, openings don’t always equate to equal opportunity for everyone. Larger states and cities tend to have more job openings – but they also have more competition for those jobs. Which is why the APA Center for Workforce Studies analyzed their data with a filter for population density to get a better understanding of a licensed psychologist’s true prospects in each locale. What the study found? Once you factor in population, the states and cities with the highest number of job ads for licensed psychologists were actually in less populous areas in more central states in the U.S.

Although it may not be the first place you think – or want – to look, the data shows that there may be greater opportunities for psychologists in small communities.

Psychology Job Openings: By the Numbers

For their study, the APA Center for Workforce Studies looked at all online job advertisements for licensed psychologists in 2014. More than 1,000 new job ads were advertised each month. The states with the highest number of job openings were:

  • California: 1,683 jobs
  • Texas: 690 jobs
  • New York: 647 jobs
  • Illinois: 624 jobs
  • North Caroline: 611 jobs

The cities with the highest number of job ads were:

  • New York City: 572 jobs
  • Chicago: 481 jobs
  • San Francisco: 380 jobs
  • Seattle: 333 jobs
  • Los Angeles: 290 jobs

None of this is surprising. California and Texas are two of the biggest states in the nation, and all of the cities listed are major metropolitan areas. But when you take the study’s findings and factor in population density, a new picture emerges. According to the study, the states with the highest number of ads per 100,000 people were:

  • Alaska: 12.8 jobs per 100,000 people
  • District of Columbia: 9.7 jobs
  • South Dakota: 8.4 jobs
  • North Dakota: 7.8 jobs
  • Colorado: 7.4

With the exception of D.C., the highest number of job opportunities were in more rural, less populated, more central states. The city data follows the same suit. According to the study, the cities with the highest number of jobs advertised per 100,000 people were:

  • Fairbanks, AK: 49.3 jobs per 100,000 people (population 31,644*)
  • Manhattan, KS: 37.7 jobs (population 54,832*)
  • Mankato, MN: 29.4 jobs (population 42,264*)
  • St. Cloud, MN: 28.1 jobs (population 67,984*)
  • Iowa City, IA: 26.2 jobs (population 75,798*)

*Population estimates are based on 2017 U.S. Census data.

An even easier way of identifying job prospects by state and city is to look at each area’s location quotient or LQ score. LQ is a metric used by economists to identify an area’s distribution of employment. In this case, LQ would tell us the concentration of job ads relative to the employed population of a given area. The higher the LQ, the better a licensed psychologist’s job prospects. The cities and states with the highest LQ were:


  • Alaska: 3.2
  • New Mexico: 2.0
  • South Dakota: 1.9
  • Washington 1.8
  • Colorado: 1.8


  • Fairbanks, AK: 12.2
  • Hinesvilla, GA: 8.8
  • Hanford, CA: 8.3
  • Manhattan, KS: 8.0
  • Mankato, MN: 6.4

In comparison, states and cities with the lowest LQs were:


  • Alabama: 0.2
  • Georgia: 0.5
  • Tennessee: 0.5
  • Mississippi: 0.5
  • Florida: 0.6


  • Orlando, FL: 0.3
  • Atlanta, GA: 0.3
  • Houston, TX: 0.4
  • Tampa, FL: 0.4
  • Miami FL: 0.4

Benefits of Working in a Small Town

For a student coming from a major metropolitan area, some of these cities sound quite small – practically ghost towns in comparison to somewhere like L.A.! But don’t discount the smaller cities just yet. There are many benefits to seeking employment as a licensed psychologist in a smaller, more central U.S. city.

Less Competition: The population may be small, but so is the competition – which means you’ll have a better chance of landing a position in a setting that you prefer. This is especially beneficial for new graduates and early-career psychologists who are just starting out. Double bonus: Because of low competition and greater opportunity to gain valuable experience, many psychologists who live in smaller cities and rural areas find it easier to move up the career ladder and into leadership or management positions than those living in more densely populated areas.

Lower Cost-of-Living: Smaller communities and the middle part of the country generally have a lower cost-of-living than major cities along the coast. And while cost-of-living goes down, quality of life will likely go up. Maybe you won’t have access to all your favorite stores and restaurants, but there are other perks: beautiful scenery and a deeper connection to nature, cleaner air, less crime, sometimes better school districts. Traffic is usually lighter, too, which shortens commute times and makes driving a more pleasant experience – not to mention gives you more time back in the day to spend with your family.

Reduced Student Loans: If you’re willing to relocate to practice in an underserved community, you may also be able to save significant amounts on the cost of your education. The National Health Service Corps offers up to $50,000 in loan repayments to mental and behavioral health professionals who are willing to commit to serving 2 or 3 years in an underserved area. (Learn more about the NHSC in our post “Paying for College: Public Service Opportunities.”)

Career Satisfaction: Finally, don’t discount the satisfaction that comes from providing services to an underserved population. Smaller and more rural areas often have a difficult time filling these critical roles; by taking a position in one of these towns, you’d be providing valuable services to those in need.

If you would like to take a closer look at psychology job opportunities in smaller towns or interested in getting a degree in psychology contact an Alliant admissions counselor today.


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