If you are interested in becoming an academic or professional
psychologist involved in teaching, doing research and/or obtaining a
license and practicing independently, it is necessary to obtain a
doctoral degree in psychology. In general, you must obtain at least a
‘B’ average ( a GPA of at least 3.00 ) in order to be seriously
considered for graduate school. The higher your grades are, the more
likely it is that admission to a quality program will be possible.
Therefore, you need to think early about whether or not graduate school
in psychology is a possibility and strive to obtain the best possible
grades and the broadest base of knowledge. Note that the Department of Psychology Web Site provides information on graduate schools and
careers which complements the information provided here.
Types of Graduate Degrees in Psychology
There are at least three types of doctoral degrees and two types of
master’s degrees that can be obtained in psychology. The Ph.D. or Doctor
of Philosophy Degree is the traditional degree held by most
psychologists. It is the most advanced academic degree that is given in
most areas of academic specialization. It is generally obtained after a
three- to six-year period of intensive graduate study after the
baccalaureate. The Ph.D. is generally considered to be a research
degree. In addition to completing graduate courses, the student is
required to take an extensive written and oral examination (typically
called the “qualifying” or “preliminary examination”) and to complete a
major research project as a basis for the doctoral dissertation.
Students interested primarily in the research or laboratory areas of
psychology (learning, social, developmental, perception, etc.) or
applications of psychology (counseling and clinical) will generally be
interested in applying to a Ph.D. program.
Students interested in an applied area of psychology (clinical,
counseling, school, or industrial/organizational) with less emphasis on
research may wish to enter programs leading to either a Psy.D. or an
Ed.D. The Psy.D. or Doctor of Psychology Degree is a relatively new
degree usually offered by a new kind of graduate school known as a
“Professional School of Psychology”. There are Professional Schools in
many states, but due to their recent entry into academia some may not be
accredited. Students should always be careful to apply only to
accredited schools no matter what degree they are seeking. This is
especially important in the case of a new degree such as the Psy.D. The
Psy.D. programs typically replace the research-based dissertation with a
major project which involves some applied area of psychology such as
diagnosis, therapy, consultation, etc.
Some individuals interested primarily in counseling psychology may
find programs located within Colleges of Education which grant an Ed.D.
or Doctor of Education. Many of these programs also offer degrees in
guidance counseling, which is best suited to an educational career.
Students should be aware that the term “counseling” alone does not
necessarily imply a program in counseling psychology. If you desire a
career in counseling psychology, you should apply to programs that are
specifically in counseling psychology.
Students who plan on gaining State Licensure as a psychologist and inclusion in the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology
(which puts one in the best position to carry out a private practice in
psychology and allows one to be called a psychologist), are advised to
pursue an American Psychological Association (APA) approved academic
program and internship in clinical or counseling psychology.
For students not wishing to pursue a doctoral degree, there are
master’s level programs at numerous colleges and universities. These
programs may grant a Master of Arts or Master of Science degree (M.A. or
M.S.). There are also programs that offer a Master of Social Work
degree (or Master of Clinical Social Work degree) that may, with
appropriate practical experience and certification, enable one to carry
out supervised work in therapeutic settings.
Students may wish to obtain a master’s degree as either a terminal
degree or as a step on the way to a doctoral degree. However, it is
important to remember that persons having only a master’s degree in
psychology are typically not allowed to practice independently and in
most states would not be able to obtain a license for the independent
practice of psychology.
Persons with a master’s degree often work in government or
community agencies in fields such as mental health, alcoholism, drug
abuse or delinquency. The decision as to what specific level and type of
graduate education to obtain is one which need not be made until the
formal application process begins in the senior year.
Selecting Schools to Which to Apply: Process & Timetable
During the freshman and sophomore years it is necessary to begin
consideration of your future in psychology. Good grades in psychology,
as well as in all of your other courses, will be important. Should your
decision be to go on in psychology, the junior year is an important
preparatory time. It is important to take PSY 300-Statisitics and PSY 389-Experimental Psychology
no later than the junior year so that you will have the information
from these courses in time for the Graduate Record Exam which should be
taken in August or September of the senior year.
The Department of Psychology maintains a current copy of a book entitled Graduate Study in Psychology
which lists all approved graduate programs in psychology found in the
United States and Canada. Spring semester of the junior year is a good
time to check this book out from the Department of Psychology office and
begin to examine the information contained in it. The book includes a
list, by state, of graduate programs identifying their type and general
faculty characteristics. It also includes admission information,
characteristics of the most recently accepted graduate students, and
other information helpful in the initial screening process. This book is
in considerable demand during the fall semester by seniors, and
students might wish to consider purchase of the book on an individual or
small group basis. It is available from the American Psychological
Association, 1200 17th. Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
Three other publications that might serve the prospective applicant well are:
- Insider’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical Psychology
by T. J. Mayne, J. C. Norcross and M. A. Sayette (Guilford Publications,
1994/95). This publication contains invaluable information about
preparation, graduate school selection, application, interviewing and
decision-making. It has a variety of sample letters, documents and
worksheets that will help you in tackling multiple applications. It is
available in the Psychology Department Office.
- The Common Boundary Graduate Education Guide by C. H.
Simpkinson, D. A. Wengell and M. A. Casavant (Common Boundary, 1995).
This is a guide that focuses on holistic and humanistic programs of
study that involve spiritual and existential approaches. It is available
in the Reference Room of the University Library.
- The Directory of Graduate Programs in Clinical Child/Pediatric Psychology by American Psychological Association (APA) Division 12 (1995). A copy is available in the Psychology Department Office.
An alternative method for selection of a graduate school program for
application may be made on the basis of the interests of one or more of
the faculty members within that program. Thus, during the junior year
(and earlier if possible), you should note the names of individual
psychologists whose work interests you, and find out at what graduate
school these psychologists are located. A good source of information
about the current location and the education and training history of
most individual psychologists is the American Psychological Association Membership Directory available in the University Library Reference Room. Other directories are published by the American Psychological Society (APS), the Psychonomics Society, and the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy.
Another possible way of obtaining this type of information is by
searching the web. Use one of the tools which can be found at the
Psychology Department’s Web Site.
Early in the senior year, there are numerous important steps which
you should take. The process involves considerable work and some
monetary expense. Students should be prepared in advance for this. Some
students have reported that the application process itself generates
work equivalent to taking another three-credit course.
The Graduate Record Exam is required by most major university programs (the requirements for admission are generally stated in Graduate Studies in Psychology,
mentioned above). The Counseling Center on our campus maintains a
current information booklet on applying for and taking the Graduate
Record Exam. This exam, which is administered by computer, can be taken
at any time during each semester, however the best time to take it is
during late August or early September of one’s senior year. Note that
the application for this administration of the GRE must be submitted by
early September. Further, some schools may require the Miller Analogies
Test which is also administered through the Counseling and Human
Development Center. In September or October at the latest, the Graduate Study in Psychology book should be examined again more thoroughly and a number of graduate schools should be selected for application inquiries.
If you are at all interested in a graduate program, a preliminary
letter of inquiry should be mailed; thus, as many as 15-20 of these
letters may be sent. This letter should contain a request for
application and financial aid information and should specify the
particular graduate program to which one is interested in applying.
These letters should be sent off early in the fall semester, preferably
not later than the end of September. When application information comes
back from the schools you have written to, you will find that it
contains more detailed and current information about each specific
graduate program. Some of the schools which you had been initially
interested in may be eliminated by reading this material.
As you collect information, you might want to write to (or email) one or two
selected faculty members at programs that you are applying to, who most
closely match your research interests. Do a little background study on
them and read their publications. Express interest in working with them
if admitted to the graduate program at their institution. Discuss your
own ideas and interests with them. This will generally alert at least
one faculty member to your application, and if he or she is interested
in your ideas, your application might get added support during the
admissions process. At the very least, it helps your application stand
out, especially if that faculty member happens to be involved in the
You will discover that the application form for each graduate
school is slightly different, and that you will need to do considerable
tailoring of your answers to the questions contained on each
application. You will further find that some schools require a fee to be
paid with the application which may, in conjunction with the amount of
work involved in completing applications, constrain you to limit the
number of schools to which you will formally apply. Some schools waive
application fees for students on financial aid. Try not to let these
factors discourage you from applying to schools in which you are
sincerely interested. The average number of final completed
applications per student is between six and ten, although there is wide
variation among students.
Additional Psychology Experiences
Increasingly, it is necessary for a student to show evidence of some
extra achievement (over and above good grades alone) in order to obtain
admission to graduate school in psychology. It is important to be more
than just a student who sits in class and obtains respectable (or even
Participation in optional activities such as independent study in
faculty-supervised research projects, field placement experiences,
relevant work study experience, student clubs, volunteering in the
Association for Community Tasks, or summer jobs in the human services
field, is the kind of experience which increases your chances of
successful graduate school application. (See the section of this
handbook on Co-curricular Activities for more information.) Serving as a
teaching assistant in PSY 300 - Statistics is often a very
useful qualification. Graduate programs often seek students with good
quantitative skills. The same applies to experience with computing
applications, and also to experience with specific research methods and
techniques such as psychophysiology or test construction.