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Philosophy undergrad interested in Clinical Psych PhD. What are my chances?


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I go to a top ten undergrad institution, and am interested in getting a PhD in Clinical Psych. My GPA is around 3.4 (3.35, but should be able to hit 3.4 after this upcoming semester), and I have no psychology classes under my belt. I am graduating this May and don't have time to take any psych classes. As a philosophy major with financial industry experience, I was originally aiming to work in finance and have work experience in consulting and venture capital, but due to some recent life events I've decided I want to help people for a living and that clinical psychology is the way I can best achieve that goal. I have not yet taken the GREs, so that will be next on my list.

I have been in therapy for over five years, and have a lot of mental illness in my family (as well as my own history of mental health crises, years and years ago, none recently) so I am pretty familiar with the field. I have also read all the great psychoanalysts (Freud, Jung, Adler, Lacan, etc) for my philosophy classes, so I have some good familiarity with the philosophical/practical foundations of the discipline.

What are my chances? What can I do to have a good shot? I know it is very competitive... but I think that this is something really worth dedicating myself to.

Thanks!

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23 minutes ago, philosopherpsychologist said:

...I've decided I want to help people for a living and that clinical psychology is the way I can best achieve that goal. 

I have been in therapy for over five years, and have a lot of mental illness in my family (as well as my own history of mental health crises, years and years ago, none recently) so I am pretty familiar with the field. I have also read all the great psychoanalysts (Freud, Jung, Adler, Lacan, etc) for my philosophy classes, so I have some good familiarity with the philosophical/practical foundations of the discipline.

What are my chances? What can I do to have a good shot? I know it is very competitive... but I think that this is something really worth dedicating myself to.

The field has greatly moved away from psychoanalysis, and more towards cognitive-behavioral frameworks. That said, if you want to "help people for a living" (To me this sounds like you want to provide therapy? Ongoing counseling?) a Ph.D. degree in Clinical Psychology is not needed. Clinical psychologists are much more than just therapists. You can achieve this goal by pursuing practice-oriented Master-level routes (Masters in Social Work, LMSW, Masters in Mental Health Counseling, Licensed Professional Counselor, etc.).

Based on what you've shared above, I would strongly recommend for you to complete a post-bac and/or Master's level program in General Psychology, at the very least, so you have foundational knowledge in psychology. If you decide you still want to pursue doctoral studies, my additional recommendation would be for you to spend a year or two volunteering in clinical research laboratories that align with your clinical interests so you get first hand experience of what it's like to work in/contribute directly to psychological research. 

Edited by checkingmyemail
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echoing @checkingmyemail, I don't think you know enough about what a clinical psychology PhD entails. There are many different routes to becoming a clinician, and I would encourage reading more about all of your options. Here is a nice place to start http://mitch.web.unc.edu/files/2017/02/MitchGradSchoolAdvice.pdf

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4 hours ago, philosopherpsychologist said:

I go to a top ten undergrad institution, and am interested in getting a PhD in Clinical Psych. My GPA is around 3.4 (3.35, but should be able to hit 3.4 after this upcoming semester), and I have no psychology classes under my belt. I am graduating this May and don't have time to take any psych classes. As a philosophy major with financial industry experience, I was originally aiming to work in finance and have work experience in consulting and venture capital, but due to some recent life events I've decided I want to help people for a living and that clinical psychology is the way I can best achieve that goal. I have not yet taken the GREs, so that will be next on my list.

I have been in therapy for over five years, and have a lot of mental illness in my family (as well as my own history of mental health crises, years and years ago, none recently) so I am pretty familiar with the field. I have also read all the great psychoanalysts (Freud, Jung, Adler, Lacan, etc) for my philosophy classes, so I have some good familiarity with the philosophical/practical foundations of the discipline.

What are my chances? What can I do to have a good shot? I know it is very competitive... but I think that this is something really worth dedicating myself to.

Thanks!

Even with perfect GREs, your chances are close to zero. "Helping people for a living" is a cliche for an application, and even if you write the most compelling narrative about how your personal experience and desire to help people led you to applying, you still won't have a shot. Talking about being in therapy is also shooting yourself in the foot for most applications. This is a ridiculously competitive job that you're applying for (unless you want to pay for a PsyD or masters). With zero psych knowledge, you will almost need a masters.

Definitely look at Mitch's guide, his two mentees' (someone can dig it up, I'm sure), checkingmyemail's post, the Insider's Guide, and this forum. Need years before you have a shot.

Edited by 21ny14
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2 minutes ago, paraent said:

Need research experience and clinical volunteering experience to get into a good school. Will take a year or two of this for you to get enough to be competitive imo.

More IMO. This person's starting from scratch, basically. With zero psych classes, they'll likely need to ace the Psych GRE, too.

Edited by 21ny14
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2 hours ago, 21ny14 said:

More IMO. This person's starting from scratch, basically. With zero psych classes, they'll likely need to ace the Psych GRE, too.

I dunno, maybe it's different in clinical psych, but I can think of loads of PIs who wouldn't care if a prospect had psych coursework if they instead had extensive and relevant research experience. Of course, all those PIs I'm thinking of probably focus on engineering/math graduates over philosophy ones when considering the matter, so maybe that's the thing. But I suspect this guy could potentially leverage his top tier philosophy degree to get an RA job in some moral psychology lab or even one that really figures logic into its theorizing. If he's successful there there are a lot of graduate schools he'd be able to leverage that into. Getting the position would certainly require a lot of luck, but the path afterward is no one near as doomed as you're implying.

In fact, if OP would be interested in a non-clinical program, if he pms me with more details about his degree focus I might be able to share with him some examples of philosophy-adjacent psych labs he might have a future in. He could email any of their profs for advice and potentially find a path into the field.

Edited by paraent
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4 hours ago, paraent said:

I dunno, maybe it's different in clinical psych, but I can think of loads of PIs who wouldn't care if a prospect had psych coursework if they instead had extensive and relevant research experience. Of course, all those PIs I'm thinking of probably focus on engineering/math graduates over philosophy ones when considering the matter, so maybe that's the thing. But I suspect this guy could potentially leverage his top tier philosophy degree to get an RA job in some moral psychology lab or even one that really figures logic into its theorizing. If he's successful there there are a lot of graduate schools he'd be able to leverage that into. Getting the position would certainly require a lot of luck, but the path afterward is no one near as doomed as you're implying.

In fact, if OP would be interested in a non-clinical program, if he pms me with more details about his degree focus I might be able to share with him some examples of philosophy-adjacent psych labs he might have a future in. He could email any of their profs for advice and potentially find a path into the field.

It’s very different in clinical psychology. Please be careful about disseminating innacurate information, there’s some of us with 4+ years of experience in clinical research and science, who’ve been doing this for years (including @21ny14), and preparing ourselves precisely for a career in this field.

Based on what he/she shared in their original post, the OP needs a sound, basic educational foundation in psychology before he/she decides to most likely pursue a practice-oriented Master’s level degree.

 

9 hours ago, higaisha said:

echoing @checkingmyemail, I don't think you know enough about what a clinical psychology PhD entails. There are many different routes to becoming a clinician, and I would encourage reading more about all of your options. 

Spot on. The OP (and others on here) appear to be misinformed on the purpose of a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and what this degree actually entails. 

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*Sigh* I’m wondering when the day will come, if ever, when people don’t assume that being in therapy + reading Freud/Jung = qualifications for a PhD in clinical psychology. 

 

Anyways, what everyone has said here is accurate. I’m thinking a 2 year psychology research masters with a thesis requirement would be most ideal to make you competitive even for RA jobs in clinical. Otherwise you are going up against people with qualifications of conceptual knowledge for the RA positions that you probably frankly do not have. 

 

If being a therapist is your goal, pursue a masters in counseling or a similar degree. It’s a much shorter path in this case. 

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I'm a career transitioner like you, with limited psych courses in my undergrad - only 3 hours in an intro course and 3 in child development.  I'm going to share my story in hopes that you can avoid some of the painful and delaying mistakes that I made and get an idea of what it may take to actually make it into a program.

Most program websites state that they will accept students who do not have an undergrad degree in psych or that there are a certain number of hours of psych/stat/social science courses as pre-req (usually a fairly low number), so the first time I applied for a clinical psych PhD program, in 2012 (for potential admission in 2013), I had a solid GRE score, decent grades in undergrad (also a 3.4), and no research experience, and I was rejected.  In that next year I took some Coursera courses in psych, took the GRE again for a slightly better score, attempted to volunteer in a research lab but worked full time and traveled a good bit for work so it didn't work out, wrote a number of successful grant applications for my job (worked in development for a small, private university), and performed some research through my job that was published in some higher ed journals but knowing what I know now, was not truly empirical research and was published as editorial so it was not peer reviewed.  Rejected again that cycle.  A retiring professor who had sat on the admissions committee agreed to meet with me and explain why my application looked so different.  That was enlightening and terrifying because I began to get the full scope of exactly how far behind I looked compared to the average applicant.  This included that I didn't have enough background in psych, and that my GPA in undergrad wasn't as good as I thought because of how competitive clinical psych programs are - getting into a mid-tier clinical psych program is more competitive than getting into Harvard medical school.  Any individual applicant's chances of getting in during a single cycle (presuming they apply to the average of 10 programs) is less than 5%, and chances of getting into any single school during a cycle is 1-3% depending upon how competitive the school is (these are according to this professor in 2014, so they may be a little different not but likely not by much).  Most successful applicants have some degree in psych, whether that be undergrad, grad, or post-bacc, at least 2 years of research experience, several posters and/or presentations at conferences, at least one publication in the works (in review or in press is most typical), decent GRE scores, and a great GPA - 3.7 or higher is what I have seen on program websites and been told by professors is the preferred minimum, but that a strong part elsewhere on the application or a change in trend during the undergrad career can make that number more squishy.

After that cycle I took an online graduate certificate program in positive psychology to get more psych credits and shifted my focus to applying to a counseling psych program (I was location bound for all three cycles so I only had one university and two programs to choose from, which severely impacted my chances).  I interviewed for the counseling psych PhD program and was accepted into the Master's program, which I started in 2016.  During my master's, I worked on two different research teams, worked on a manuscript that was in preparation when I applied (we were almost done, but not quite), presented a couple of posters at conferences, got a 4.0, volunteered with two organizations that I thought would look good on my application - one with refugees and another working to combat moral injury in vets, and completed twice the required practicum hours at my site doing all sorts of extra stuff including teaching classes and developing curriculum which I thought would look stellar on my application.  When I applied last cycle, I was super confident that I was going to get several interviews and at least one offer.  I applied to 15 schools (13 clinical, 2 counseling), only got one interview and no offers.  I was heartbroken to say the least because I thought my hard work would pay off.  But I asked for feedback and was told my research experience still wasn't up to snuff, so I found a research training program out of Europe that I was accepted into and have been working with them since I graduated in May.  The program itself looks rather fancy on my CV and I've had numerous professors comment about that attracting their attention, but I've also gotten numerous opportunities to present at conferences throughout Europe (I'm leaving for another one in Spain in just a few weeks), we have a publication that's in review right now, and I've received seminar training and mentorship from professors at top institutions in the US and Europe (some in-person and some online).  I also sought out mentorship from professors outside of the field to get a broader idea of what appeals to academics, which resulted in me changing the formatting of my CV radically to better show myself off, and making some tweaks to my SOP to more blatantly point out why I would be perfect for a specific institution and what I would offer them (as opposed to my previous draft focusing on what the program could offer me).  I've also enrolled in an IO online grad certificate program because there's an area of research I might be interested in exploring at some point that would cross between clinical, IO and career counseling so I wanted more training in the area of IO that would be required for that line of inquiry.  This cycle I applied to 14 programs (13 counseling, 1 clinical - this shift in emphasis to counseling is super important because my master's is in counseling and those programs are more likely to pick me up than clinical because the programs know my program and the professors who wrote me LORs - in clinical programs those professors are basically unknowns), and I have thus far received 6 interviews.

Sorry this is so long, but it's been a long journey for me, and will likely be a long one for you too (but hopefully you're smarter and can shave a few years off my timeline).  But it's definitely possible to transition into the field from the outside, it just requires a lot of persistence, perseverance, and going several extra miles to be able to compete with people much younger than you who have been preparing for this since they were 18.  I realized in 2012 that the one career which could satisfy all of the things that are important to me in life was being a psychologist working for the VA, and that has helped motivate me to to suffer anything necessary to attain that goal (luckily my husband has been totally on board with this wild ride).  If becoming a psychologist is that necessary to your life, you'll figure out your path to getting there.  Others have offered you additional suggestions for programs which might be easier to get into and would be much shorter if what really matters to you is just being in the mental health field because there are soooo many allied mental health professions available (other options that haven't been mentioned include becoming a psychiatrist - also a long road but long in different ways, becoming a substance abuse counselor - sometimes requires a specific academic program and sometimes requires just working in a substance abuse clinic and receiving mentorship, or becoming a nurse with some mental health training as nurses are doing large amounts of health psych counseling these days).

TL;DR: It's possible to change careers to get into the field, I am doing it, but it's a loooong road.  If you want it bad enough, you can do it.  If not, there are other options.

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6 hours ago, paraent said:

I dunno, maybe it's different in clinical psych, but I can think of loads of PIs who wouldn't care if a prospect had psych coursework if they instead had extensive and relevant research experience. Of course, all those PIs I'm thinking of probably focus on engineering/math graduates over philosophy ones when considering the matter, so maybe that's the thing. But I suspect this guy could potentially leverage his top tier philosophy degree to get an RA job in some moral psychology lab or even one that really figures logic into its theorizing. If he's successful there there are a lot of graduate schools he'd be able to leverage that into. Getting the position would certainly require a lot of luck, but the path afterward is no one near as doomed as you're implying.

In fact, if OP would be interested in a non-clinical program, if he pms me with more details about his degree focus I might be able to share with him some examples of philosophy-adjacent psych labs he might have a future in. He could email any of their profs for advice and potentially find a path into the field.

To add to what @checkingmyemailhas said, you often cannot even register to be a psychologist (which is what this person seems interested in) if you don’t have foundational courses in psychology. Many clinical programs specify the minimum coursework in psychology required to apply, which would take at least a couple years to complete. Not only that, but I can’t see how OP would know that they want to be in a clinical program without any foundational knowledge beyond psychoanalysis/the 20th century and no contemporary understanding of the field. To me this suggests that OP is not familiar with the field at all nor does he/she know what most psych PhD programs (not only clinical) entail.

OP, you should also keep in mind that a 3.4 GPA is pretty low for clinical programs; the students you will be competig with for a spot typically have higher than a 3.5, with a psych degree, and research experience.

All that said, it’s not impossible for you to get in to a clinical program with some post-bacc coursework and research experience, but maybe take some time to look into the contemporary field of psychology and see if it interests you before committing to more coursework and research experience.

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Also just going to mention, I’m 99% certain you already posted this topic on reddit. The first poster who replied to your comment on reddit is correct and most of what you will hear on gradcafe echoes their sentiment: if this is what you really want to be doing, take a few years to get your GPA up, relevant coursework, and research experience. 

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Hi there! I totally agree with what everyone has said so far re: getting more research experience, going back and doing a Psych-oriented undergrad, as well as racking up your GPA as much as possible. I can't stress enough how important these three pieces are in your application - when applying to Clinical psych, you're entering a pool of applicants who have been aiming towards this goal for YEARS. That means, they have already done an undergrad in Psych (or sometimes even a Master's in another relevant field such as stats), probably have a killer GPA as well as years and years of research experience, publications, etc. It wouldn't be fair to yourself (or your application) if you didn't pull enough time out to adequately address each part. The chances each year get slimmer and slimmer (no exaggeration lol) because the pool gets more competitive. 

However, I came specifically to comment on this post (and add my two cents) on your reasons for pursuing Clinical. While it is true that you will receive rigorous and gold-standard training in clinical settings, this program is NOT (and I really want to stress the not) geared for individuals who just want to be a clinician. There are many college programs out there that are way more well-suited for people who want to be a clinician - social work, counseling and therapy programs etc. Being honest with you, if you really want to "help" people, this is where your energy is best used. There's a misconception going around that Clinical psych is somehow the only way to practice therapy or interact closely with patients with debilitating mental disorders and that is so not true. Mental health nurses to occupational therapists to social workers etc (you get it) - they are ALL professions that work closely with these populations and they are really the people that "help". 

PhD programs (especially in the states) are EXTREMELY research-intensive and there's almost a push to produce more academics than people who will work more in the clinical setting. I'm Canadian so our programs are slightly more towards 60% research and 40% clinical practice, but there is again more of an encouragement for people in this program to move towards research/academia then there is the other way around. This is because the level of education along with the intensity of research training you're receiving would be (for lack of better words) "wasted" on someone who wanted to go strictly into clinical practice. In the words of one of my supervisors, "Clinical psych grads are made for academia or they are made to be expert consultants who foresee multiple clinical practices and inform treatment/prevention practices in these settings". Essentially, with the amount of work you're putting in and with the level of expertise you come out with, you are crafted to be a scientist or someone who is making/informing treatment/prevention/intervention practices on a high level. Not saying you wouldn't ever get clinical exposure in either realm, but that exposure might be less than you'd like.  Again, I don't mean my post to sound harsh but it just seems like your passion is to really be more involved at the hands-on level with patients, and I just want to stress (alongside my peers here) that there are more fast-tracked ways of doing that than to sign yourself up for what is basically hell for 5+ years LOL. 

ALSO, I want to finish off with this: if you do decide to apply to Clinical, I would reaaaaaallly stray away from mentioning mental health issues (within either yourself or your family) as motivating factors for pursuing this line of research. I have consulted MANY people on this, from PIs to grad students, and they say that mentioning personal facets like that is a huge turn-off for grad school committees/POIs. Your motivating factor for pursuing Clinical grad studies should be that you love the area of research and you can see yourself building on it, not that you were inspired based on your own experiences. I want to stress that there's nothing wrong with that being one of your motivations, and I'm glad that you had such good experiences with the mental health system that you see yourself in it, but you want to stray away from mentioning this to your supervisors/fellow peers. 

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35 minutes ago, chopper.wife said:

Also just going to mention, I’m 99% certain you already posted this topic on reddit. The first poster who replied to your comment on reddit is correct and most of what you will hear on gradcafe echoes their sentiment: if this is what you really want to be doing, take a few years to get your GPA up, relevant coursework, and research experience. 

They also posted this on SDN. This question has been asked hundreds of times before, in numerous variations (e.g., “What are my chances.....”, across forums. Feedback is always the same.

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