Want to go to graduate school in Psychology? Here are some things you should know.
Many psychology careers require graduate training. If you want to be a counselor or clinical psychologist, administer and interpret psychological tests, teach psychology courses in high schools, community colleges or universities, or conduct research, you will need to continue your education beyond the Bachelor's degree in Psychology. Depending on your career goals, you may need to earn a Master's degree or Ph.D. in Psychology, Counseling, or Social Work.
If you have a career goal in mind, but are unsure what type of training you will need, you can start by talking to your psychology advisor. He or she can help identify the types of graduate programs relevant to your career goals. Don't hesitate to consult with your advisor, even if your goals are vague; he or she can also help you clarify your goals. Another good approach is to contact someone who currently works in the job you would like to have (e.g., if you want to be a school counselor, contact your former high school counselor). He or she will be very aware of the types of educational degrees and experiences that are valued in his or her chosen field. A third possibility is to contact the personnel office at the business or organization where you would like to work, and ask them what types of qualifications they look for when hiring people for the job you would like to have. Also, check out this Careers in Psychology website for more information about career options.
It is important to plan, as early as possible, if you are interested in attending graduate school. Getting into a graduate program is much more competitive than getting into an undergraduate program. In most clinical or experimental psychology Ph.D. programs, graduate students are paid as teaching or research assistants and are usually also provided with tuition wavers. Thus, getting into a Ph.D. program is competitive because graduate programs can only afford to support a limited number of graduate students. In contrast to Ph.D. programs, paid positions and tuition wavers are much less common in Master's or PsyD programs. However, entry into these programs is still also competitive. At any level of graduate training, faculty members can only successfully mentor a few graduate students at a time. When deciding which applicants to admit, several factors are taken into consideration:
Academic performance as an undergraduate (overall GPA and major GPA) is evaluated by all graduate programs. If your GPA is under a 3.0, you may have difficulty being admitted to a graduate program, unless you have other strong evidence of your academic potential. The most competitive graduate programs require much higher GPAs. If you are interested in graduate training, but have a low undergraduate GPA, you might want to take a few graduate courses after graduation to demonstrate your potential for graduate school before formally applying to the graduate programs you want to attend.
Most graduate programs also require that applicants take a test, the General Record Examination (GRE). The test is similar to the tests you took when applying for college (e.g., SAT or ACT). You can find information about how to register for the test at the GRE web site. In addition to the general GRE, some programs will require you to take a subject-specific version of the GRE that evaluates your knowledge of content within the domain of psychology.
A good GPA and good GRE scores are important for getting your foot in the door, but these two alone are usually not enough to get you into graduate school. Most graduate programs look for additional, out of classroom experiences. In particular, students applying to Ph.D programs in Clinical Psychology or Experimental Psychology are expected to have "hands-on" research experience, which can include data collection, scoring and analysis, reading research articles, involvement in research design, and writing and presenting research reports. Given that research experience is heavily weighted in admission decisions, it is important to get involved in research early on - you should not wait until your senior year to seek out research opportunities. Extended experience in a research laboratory will not only provide you with a more impressive application for graduate school, most important, it will also help you define your interests and will prepare you for success in graduate school. (For more information about how to get involved in research, see "Research Opportunities for Undergraduates.") Many programs are also interested in whether applicants have volunteer experience in their chosen field. In general, evidence that you have thoughtfully considered your options, and have a realistic view of your chosen field, will strengthen your graduate application.
Graduate programs also require letters of recommendation. Although some programs may be interested in having a letter from an employer or agency where you volunteered, almost all programs require one or more letters from faculty familiar with the applicant. It is therefore important to identify faculty who know you and who can write you a strong letter of recommendation for graduate school (e.g., you worked in their research lab; did well in their course; they are your academic advisor). This is yet another important reason to get involved in research. The Undergraduate Psychology Office (Kent Hall, room 142A) has books about graduate programs in psychology and the GRE. You are welcome to stop in to read the books. For more information about graduate training in psychology, applying to graduate programs, etc., please explore the links below.
The Undergraduate Psychology Office (142A Kent Hall) has books about graduate programs in psychology and the GRE. You are welcome to stop in to read the books.