What is graduate study?
Graduate study is important to prepare you to work as a psychologist. Though you can work as a research or psychological services assistant with a bachelor’s degree, to work as a psychologist typically requires graduate training. Therefore, many psychology majors choose to pursue graduate or professional education after completing their bachelor’s degree in psychology. At URI, 22% of psychology majors in the class of 2010 were accepted into graduate programs. Graduate study builds on the competencies of the undergraduate education and trains students for more advanced roles in clinical, research, and/or academic settings. Some programs prepare students to provide psychological services as licensed professionals. Some prepare students for an academic teaching and research career. Others prepare students for an applied research career outside of a university setting. Many graduate programs attempt to bridge these goals.
Most graduate programs offer both master’s (M.A., M.S.) degrees and doctoral (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D.) degrees in a number of specific areas of psychology. The most common types of psychology graduate programs are experimental, developmental, social, biopsychology, cognitive, clinical, counseling, school, and industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology. Clinical, school, and counseling psychology are considered to be professional programs that should be accredited by the American Psychological Association. Programs vary widely, depending on their purposes, emphases, focus areas, and specializations within all of these categories. Many universities will have more than one type of psychology graduate program in their psychology department. For example, here at URI, graduate programs in behavioral science (experimental psychology), clinical psychology, and school psychology are available. Lastly, in addition to graduate and professional education specific to psychology, students can pursue professional education in related fields such as human development and family studies, education, law, clinical social work, and psychiatry.
With so many options, choosing one can be confusing. For example, many students want to work with kids. You can do this with a master’s or doctorate in school psychology, a doctorate in clinical psychology, a Psy.D. in clinical psychology, a master’s in human development and family studies, an MSW (Master’s of Social Work) or other degree programs. See the links below for help in sorting out the many options. It is also important to meet with an advisor and attend career workshops.
Why should I consider graduate school?
A career as a Psychologist typically requires a graduate degree. Those students who wish to pursue a career in Psychology should consider attending graduate school! It is important to know that, in order to practice psychology (that is, to be titled a “psychologist”) in the U.S., you must be licensed in the state in which you wish to practice. In most states, a doctoral degree is required in order to be licensed. However, Master’s degree holders may find jobs as a School Psychologist (if certified) or as a psychological assistant or counselor, providing mental health services under the direct supervision of a licensed psychologist. It is important to realize that the entry-level degree to work in many hospitals, clinics, universities, and private practice as a Psychologist requires a PhD.
Psychology graduates choose to continue their education for a wide variety of reasons. Some simply love learning and want to expand their knowledge base within the field of psychology, based on previous successes and fulfilling experiences. Others want to expand their professional opportunities and career options. For most, it’s a combination of many factors that are specific to the individual person.
Having an advanced degree in psychology can open many doors professionally. Holding a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology increases the likelihood of finding employment in research, teaching, and human service positions. Such opportunities may be more limited for bachelor’s degree holders.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, upcoming job prospects in psychology will be best for those holding a doctoral degree, particularly in applied specialties like clinical, counseling, and school psychology. Additionally, the doctoral degree is the preferred degree for many university faculty positions, particularly at research universities.
Many students enter the field of psychology in hopes of a career in applied areas because of a strong desire to help people. The mental health field is quite complex and there are a number of career paths and degree options that allow people to reach their goals.
What should I do now as an undergraduate?
Getting into graduate school in psychology can be challenging but rewarding. The number of applicants typically exceeds the number of spots available so competition can be stiff. That’s why it’s important to prepare yourself now to optimize your chances of being accepted into the program of your choice.
Specific admission requirements will vary from program to program, although many are similar across the board. First, programs want to evaluate your educational background, academic abilities and potential. Most programs prefer or require significant undergraduate coursework in psychology (e.g., a major or minor). Grades matter too – the higher your grade point average (GPA), the better. Highly competitive programs look for GPAs of at least 3.50, while others may accept GPAs of 3.0. Many programs also require the Graduate Record Examination and/or the Miller Analogies Test.
Clinical Psychology is the most competitive area in Psychology for graduate admissions. Clinical Psychology program are usually based on the scientist-practitioner model. Therefore, to successfully apply to a clinical psychology program, you must be interested in both psychological research and practice.
Here are some steps you can take now to prepare yourself for your graduate school application:
- Learn as much about the field of Psychology as you can. Take courses or do independent studies that will allow you to learn about current psychological research. When you apply to a graduate program you will usually be asked to state what your interests are in the field. In order to answer this well, you need to learn about the field and discover what you find most interesting.
- Become involved with faculty research. You should start this as early as possible in your undergraduate training. There is an application form for independent study that you can complete and submit to the Department of Psychology.
- Begin well ahead of time preparing for the GRE exam. – there are courses, review books, and practice tests just like the SATs. Consult your advisor or attend our career workshops to learn more about how to prepare for the GRE exam. You can begin preparation by regularly reading complex texts including books (the classics are good because they tend to have more complex sentences and vocabulary), newspapers (e.g. the Wall Street Journal, New York Times), and/or magazines such as The Economist. We recommend reading A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston because much of the GRE focuses on logic and your ability to analyze an argument.
Most programs also want to hear from you and from others about your past achievements and future goals. First, letters of recommendation are one of the most valued components of a graduate school application. Start developing good working relationships with faculty members in your undergraduate program – the better they know you, your skill set, and your interests, the more convincing, detailed letter they can write for you. Most programs also require a personal statement, or statement of goals and objectives. This allows you the opportunity to describe your background, experience, and reasons for seeking graduate study, tailored to each program to which you apply. Some programs may also ask for a Curriculum Vitae or resume, request a writing sample, or invite you for an in-person or phone interview.
Other criteria often considered as admission factors may include aspects of your involvement in the world of psychology so far. Therefore, if you want to apply to graduate school, get involved! Many programs, whether applied or research-based, value research experience. As previously discussed, consider taking an independent study course or completing a research project or thesis in order to work closely with a faculty member on their research. Many applied psychology programs value clinical experience; taking a fieldwork course or taking on an internship would be beneficial for this. Most programs consider service in psychology to be important as well. So – join the Psychology Club, apply for Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology, and join professional organizations as a student affiliate, such as APA and APSSC.
Where should I begin my search?
The American Psychological Association (APA) is a national organization that accredits graduate programs in psychology. In the student section of its website, it answers the common questions of students searching for the graduate program best suited to their needs. Each year, the APA also publishes a guide to Graduate Study in Psychology, which many cite as a “must-have resource” when selecting a psychology graduate program. Similarly, there are guides for specific program types, such as the Insider’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology.
Conversations with current graduate students and your undergraduate faculty members can be invaluable for learning more about the opportunities that are available in graduate school. Remember, they too went through this process to get to where they are now! At URI, undergraduates can contact faculty and graduate student mentors for advice about anything related to psychology—graduate school included! Many undergraduate programs, including those at URI, offer workshops and listserv discussions on topics related to graduate school and careers in the field of psychology. You can also search online for psychology graduate programs, using search engines such as Grad Schools and Psych Grad, or by looking up individual programs. Additionally, the office of Career Services can help you narrow down your search.
Before mailing your applications, you may wish to contact faculty and/or current students at the programs you are considering. This will help you to get a sense of the “fit” between the program and your specific interests and will give you more information than Websites/books alone can provide. Many programs, including those at URI, have Websites that list faculty names, professional interests, and contact information. While some programs will include an interview as part of the application process, you may want to arrange an informal visit prior to applying or if an interview is not required. Most importantly, remember that there is no “best” program for everyone; instead, ask yourself, “Which graduate programs are best suited for me?”
Will I be able to afford graduate school?
Financial support for graduate students is available from a variety of sources. In fact, graduate school often has even more opportunities for funding than undergraduate study! The greatest opportunities are available for students in doctorate programs. For instance, assistantships in teaching and research – forms of employment for services in a department – are available in many psychology graduate programs. An assistantship typically includes a stipend and tuition remission, which means that you will not have to pay tuition and will be paid to work in the department.
Teaching assistantships give students the chance to help teach a course and gain more in depth knowledge in a particular topic at the same time. Research assistantships usually involve working on research projects being conducted by program faculty and ordinarily are funded by grants or contracts. Students interested in research assistantships should keep in touch with the faculty whose area of research is of interest, to see if they have any funding opportunities. See APA for more information.
On most campuses, including URI, additional assistantships are available through various campus offices, such as residential life, student affairs, the counseling center, and so on. Also, individual departments, including the Department of Psychology at URI, often award tuition stipends, as resources permit. University graduate schools often award fellowships and scholarships annually. These are ordinarily grants or subsidies that do not require additional service. Be sure to visit URI’s Financial Support page to see the fellowships and scholarships available at URI. When discussing financial support of any kind, be sure to note whether the assistance is tuition remission (not requiring the student to pay tuition), a stipend (actual cash in hand), or both.
Beyond these options, financial awards from professional psychology organizations abound. These awards support everything from students’ travel to psychology conferences to complete financial support. For example, The American Psychological Association (APA), Association for Psychological Science (APS), and National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) all have Websites devoted to student scholarships, grants, and awards. Funding is often also available through paid training experiences or subsidies from oneÕs workplace. So, when exploring your options for graduate study, make sure to ask about opportunities for financial assistance!
What is available at URI?
URI’s Department of Psychology offers several degree options that you can tailor to your personal interests. We offer a doctorate program in clinical psychology that is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). In school psychology, we offer a doctorate program that is accredited by the APA and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), and a master’s program that is accredited by NASP and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). We also offer a doctorate program in behavioral science. While faculty and students have diverse research interests, our department focuses on several areas in particular that represent key strengths in both the undergraduate and graduate curricula. Our faculty members specialize in areas related to health psychology, multicultural psychology, child/family/developmental psychology, and research methodology.
More information about each of the Department of Psychology’s graduate programs can be found on ourDepartment’s Graduate Program website. General information about graduate programs at URI can be found on the URI Graduate School website.