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Overwhelmed Undergrad: Gap Year and Grad School Advice?

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Hi all, 

I know there are a plethora of these posts out there, but they've seemed pretty helpful and I am, as the title states, overwhelmed.

The run-down: I'm a current undergrad (psychology major and linguistics minor) set to graduate this June at UCSD; my GPA isn't the most stellar (3.5 Cumulative, 3.6 Psych) and I've yet to take the GRE. I ended up finishing all my coursework a year early due to funds and I'm planning to use that "fourth" year as a gap year so I can continue working at the two labs I'm currently involved in and figure out if I want to pursue psycholinguistics/ applied psych or school psych. One is more clinical and I mostly just help monitor assessments on children at risk for autism, while the other is more research-based and is focused on psycholinguistics, but I haven't been involved in any presentations or publications as of current. Volunteer-wise, I help out at the LGBTQ center on campus and I'm on the board for an org that sends undergrad volunteers out to partners schools around the city to work in classrooms and after-school programs. 

The problem(s): I'd really like to go to grad school in the future, but I feel like my experience and whatnot is inadequate compared to what I've seen from other applicants. As I mentioned before, I'll be taking the 2018-2019 year to continue working at my UG labs, but other than that I'm kind of lost. I definitely have to find a full-time job to support myself since I'm not originally from the area and have to rely on my own funds to repay my loans and rent, but relevant jobs I have found in psychology or teaching have all required reliable transportation ( aka a car ), which I don't have right now. I definitely don't mind just taking any job to pay the bills and beefing up my resume with volunteer experience, though. 

What should I do in my gap year to spruce up my admission chances? Is it important for my FT job to be relevant to psychology- in other words, will it hurt my application if it isn't? 

I appreciate any suggestions, advice, or comments! :)

Edited by psychcat
wording

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The biggest thing PhD programs care about is research. Make sure to spend that time in the labs to present posters/try to publish. You could also try applying for research assistant jobs.

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Not every undergrad lab really gives their RA's a chance to get quality research experience, and in a lot of ways it is hard to get quality research experience on a limited volunteer schedule. School's are really going to look at your research experience, so just make sure you are getting worthwhile experience from whatever you're doing. Based on what I've experienced so far, a lot of the people you attend interviews with will have something like a masters degree +thesis or a full time research job. So keep that in mind. And of course, a lot of people get in to grad school with neither of these gap year experiences. 

I feel like I a really benefited a lot from taking a full time research job, and it's something I would definitely recommend to others in a similar position. If you can't find that, maybe you can discuss with one of the lab PI's ways to expand your involvement and beef up your application. They will probably be open to helping you.

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So if it makes you feel better, I just got into a great clinical psychology Ph.D. program with a 3.5 undergrad GPA, so it is absolutely possible. It will require a bit more work on your end in the other realms. I did well on the GRE, so I think that should absolutely be a goal of yours during the gap year. I also did well on the psychology GRE subject test, so that is something that you could also consider when looking to convince people that your somewhat lower GPA isn't an issue (and many schools require or recommend it anyway). 

I did research as an undergrad for 2 years, and then took 2 years off to do research full time. From what I could tell talking to other applicants at interviews, about 2 years of research experience with some of it being full time seems to be pretty standard (with some variation of course). I think that I was able to compensate for a lower GPA by having a lot of experience. Definitely be on the lookout for paid research assistant positions. If you are willing to move, the NIH Postbac IRTA program is a great option (that's what I am doing right now). It really gives you great research experience. I'm not sure from your description exactly how much research you have, but I hope that gives you a general idea of what is expected from research-oriented clinical Ph.D. programs. More clinically-oriented programs may be ok with less research experience, but that decision on where to apply is really up to you and what kind of career you want to have. 

Feel free to message me if you have more questions!

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@Hk328 @CgnNrs  thanks for the advice!! One of the labs I'm working at right now might potentially lead to at least a poster + publication ( going to talk about it soon with the grad student I work with ); I'll be on the lookout for research positions though! :)

 

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15 hours ago, SarahTonin said:

 

 

This was really helpful, thanks! I'm looking more into school psychology PhDs right now and not clinical psych ( btw, congrats on your acceptance! :D ), but everything you mentioned seems pretty applicable to most Ph.D. programs. I'll have 1.5 years of combined lab experience by the time I graduate, but I'm sticking with at least one of them for a little while longer. 

I PM'd you some further questions!

Edited by psychcat
removed pm Qs

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You can do a lot with a gap year! I definitely recommend working as much as you can on research. If you can continue to do that, then your full time job isn't as important. Just make sure to clarify in your interviews or applications that you had limited options for jobs since you had no transportation. Programs will understand how survival jobs are sometimes necessary and the only option.

The biggest thing I could suggest is to make sure you have experience working with the populations you hope to study in grad school! If you are planning on working primarily with kids, find a volunteer position that allows you to do that. This is especially important if your research experience isn't directly related to what you want to do in grad school. You want your application to show that you have strong research experience but also a good understanding of the populations you want to work with. 

During my gap year, I had a really hard time finding a full-time research job. I started applying to jobs in March and didn't start a position until December. In the meantime, I worked odd jobs, got a volunteer position in a research lab and worked on a manuscript there. I also had two volunteer positions working with the populations I wanted to study. These positions could be just as a hotline worker or a volunteer at an after school program. The most important thing is to have experience interacting with people. 

Also, GRE scores are important. Take a lot of time to study and prepare and make sure you do well on both tests. If you're having trouble boosting your GRE scores (like I did), really focus on getting that good research and volunteer experience. If you can show that your research interests permeate other parts of your life, it will prove how committed and passionate you are about your area of study! 

Best of luck! 

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On 3/7/2018 at 4:52 AM, psychcat said:

Hi all, 

I know there are a plethora of these posts out there, but they've seemed pretty helpful and I am, as the title states, overwhelmed.

The run-down: I'm a current undergrad (psychology major and linguistics minor) set to graduate this June at UCSD; my GPA isn't the most stellar (3.5 Cumulative, 3.6 Psych) and I've yet to take the GRE. I ended up finishing all my coursework a year early due to funds and I'm planning to use that "fourth" year as a gap year so I can continue working at the two labs I'm currently involved in and figure out if I want to pursue psycholinguistics/ applied psych or school psych. One is more clinical and I mostly just help monitor assessments on children at risk for autism, while the other is more research-based and is focused on psycholinguistics, but I haven't been involved in any presentations or publications as of current. Volunteer-wise, I help out at the LGBTQ center on campus and I'm on the board for an org that sends undergrad volunteers out to partners schools around the city to work in classrooms and after-school programs. 

The problem(s): I'd really like to go to grad school in the future, but I feel like my experience and whatnot is inadequate compared to what I've seen from other applicants. As I mentioned before, I'll be taking the 2018-2019 year to continue working at my UG labs, but other than that I'm kind of lost. I definitely have to find a full-time job to support myself since I'm not originally from the area and have to rely on my own funds to repay my loans and rent, but relevant jobs I have found in psychology or teaching have all required reliable transportation ( aka a car ), which I don't have right now. I definitely don't mind just taking any job to pay the bills and beefing up my resume with volunteer experience, though. 

What should I do in my gap year to spruce up my admission chances? Is it important for my FT job to be relevant to psychology- in other words, will it hurt my application if it isn't? 

I appreciate any suggestions, advice, or comments! :)

Hi! 

Have you ever thought about a year of post graduate service? I'm currently in one right now, because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my degree and I was also burnt out. It's really a great opportunity to get experience in something your interested in, save money and help the community you work with. There are many program options. I would recommend looking at the Catholic Volunteer Network: https://www.catholicvolunteernetwork.org

If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out to me!

Peace.

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