Graduate Studies in Psychology

Some people get a job with a B.A. in Psychology. Others go on to seek higher degrees. Graduate study in psychology is a big decision and commitment and is not to be taken lightly. By taking on an advanced degree you are aiming for a higher level professional career and you will be putting yourself to the test academically, financially, and mentally. You may ask yourself: "What should I go for, a Masters or a Ph.D."? The most important question though is: " What do you want to be?" This will inform the kind of advanced degree you need to pursue. Another important question is: "Did you enjoy undergraduate studies, reading, and writing papers under pressure?" If the answer is "no," graduate school is probably not for you.

Although this somewhat over simplified, there are basically two primary professional roads to consider in Psychology, although there is considerable over-lap between the two. The two roads are basically the therapeutic/social service route and the academic/research path. Students seeking to study to be a Social Worker, Counselor, or Clinical Psychologist would be more in the Social Service/therapeutic category whereas those who wish to be an academic researcher, a Professor, or lecturer would be considered to be more on the academic/research path. Personality and aptitude will have a lot of bearing on which path you will select for a career and will influence your choices even at the undergraduate level. You may seek to take courses more useful to one career path or another or that will make you more competitive for a specific graduate program. Choosing the Applied Psychology option, for instance, will make you more competetive especially for programs oriented to therapy-related careers. The General Psychology option is a good option for a non-clinical, academic path as long as you bolster it with significant research experience. It is also a good option for those seeking a pre-professional status to try to get into such programs as Law, Medicine, Dentistry, etc. High Distinction would be a very good addition for those who know they want to go to a graduate school that emphasizes research.

What You Will Need Before Applying to Graduate School

Program requirements will differ depending on institution, length of degree, prestige and competition. You will need to check each program individually to see what is expected. The following is a typical list of things they will require:

  • A BA in Psychology.
  • Optimistically, a minimum of 3.0 GPA overall; realistically, at least 3.4.
  • At least 3 letters of recommendation from professors who can write a detailed, positive letter about your academic skills. Here is a link to what Professor Bette Bottoms (the former Director of Undergraduate Studies) requires of students requesting a recommendation letter from her Recommendation Requirements . This can be taken as a good guide for any professor you might approach.
  • High GRE scores (on the verbal and quantutative subtests); sometimes also the Subject test in Psychology. This is often crucial, and necessitates much study and practice. Start practicing and studying early!
  • An articulate statement of purpose for each program you will apply to. Please read our former Director of Undergraduate Studies' essay on writing a compelling personal statement here.
  • A desire to work with specific faculty members in a particular program or a very coherent argument about why the program is a good fit for you.
  • Research experience: good for any program, especially PhD programs.
  • Real world work or volunteer experience in social service related areas, if interested in the therapeutic path.

What to Look for in a Graduate Program

  • Good fit-- is this what you really want to study and the way to study it?
  • Faculty with whom you want to work with and whose research interests match yours
  • Realistic admission requirements (GPA/GRE minimums)
  • Level of financial support-general affordability

    • Is the locale affordable to live and study in?
    • Is financial aid provided automatically if accepted, or is it competitive?
    • What is the nature of that aid?

      • Scholarship
      • Fellowship
      • Assistant Instructorship (Teaching Assistantship)
      • Graduate Assistantship
      • Research Assistantship
      • Grants
      • Loans
  • Testimonials and statistics about career achievements of graduates
  • Facilities of campus/institution
  • Geographical location

More detailed support in regard to these questions and concerns can be had by making an appointment with the Undergraduate Advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies. We can help you navigate your serach for a good matching program and the process of seeking admission. We have a small but growing library of reference books on topics such as graduate admission (completeing applications, cultivating letters of reference, writing a personal statement etc)and career paths (What to study to have the career you want!). The reference library is located in the Undergraduate Advisors office and the books are avaialble for brief loans to students.

How to find Graduate Programs in Psychology On-line

Universities.com Masters Degrees in Psychology
Gradschools.com

Books

Graduate Study in Psychology 2007 (American Psychological Association)
The Psychology Major: Career Options and Strategies for Success (2006)