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To MA or not? Toward a PsyD/PhD in Clinical Psychology

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Posted (edited)

Hello, I'm an international applicant with a BA in Psychology from a Southeast Asian university. My ambition is to be a clinical psychologist and I wanted to apply for several doctorate programs, but I eventually realized that it would be unlikely for me to get in, because my stats are not competitive enough. So I decided to be realistic and applied for several Masters programs and was accepted into the MA in Psychology in Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University and the MA in Measurement, Evaluation and Research Methodology program at University of British Columbia.

Now, I am having some doubts and hesitations about my decision to pursue an MA. While TC is prestigious in name and might help with my profile's competitiveness, it is also really expensive and I can't afford it without going in debt. Columbia is a dream school but realistically I don't see it paying off after evaluating the cost-benefits. Meanwhile, UBC is also good, but I worry that the program is not in line with my next steps of entering a doctorate program in Clinical Psychology. It does consist a masters thesis component, but would I be disadvantaged compared to other applicants who graduated with a masters in general/experimental/clinical/counseling psychology? As for the reason I applied for that program at UBC, I have an interest in the field of psychometrics and I thought that instead of doing a masters in clinical psychology where I would still be unable to practice, I could gain the knowledge and skills in psychometrics, before pursuing a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. 

Another thing is...Should I even pursue an MA? I'm currently working full-time in the space of consultancy, where we administrate assessments and conduct analysis on the data collected for organisations (another reason for my interest in psychometrics). While earning a PhD in Clin Psych and becoming a practitioner is my ultimate goal, I worry about whether pursuing it now is the right decision. Am I ready to go back to being a student without any stable financial income? Should I wait another year and try again better prepared? But, I'd rather not have to go through the whole application process all over again...

 

I have read that PhD looks mostly at research experience and grades, so even if I'm lacking in clinical experience, it's not impossible to get into a program if I cover the former two components. However, I have noticed that Canadian universities tend to combine the masters and PhD program for clinical psychology, though direct entry into PhD is possible, I would have to spend a little more time catching up with MA clinical psych courses (which I don't mind). Again, this is just based on what I've read on existing threads, so I would appreciate to hear some advice regarding the kind of directions I could take... Whether it's an American or Canadian university, I am honestly open to any as long as my research interest is a fit with the faculty and it is possible for me to get a funding package...

TL;DR These are my questions...

  1. Can I still get into a PhD/PsyD in Clinical Psychology program with an MA that is not clinical psychology? Would I be disadvantaged if so?
  2. Should I enter TC instead of UBC because it's more relevant to clinical psychology? Or should I wait another year and try again?
  3. Does a Masters really help? I am pretty much on board with the decision to pursue it to better prepare myself for a PhD, but one can't help but worry still...
  4. Does an international applicant stand a chance to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology with funding?

If it helps as reference, the following are my stats:

  • Psychology (BA) Honors program, First Class Honors; CGPA: 3.49; Major/Honors GPA: 3.81
  • GRE quant 148 (I know I gotta work on this) verb 159 AW 4.5 (I intend to retake GRE before applying for PhD)
  • Psi Chi member; 1 research experience as a research assistant in a psychometrics project in my undergrad
  • no publications; 1 oral presentation in an international conference (abstract published in the International Journal of Psychology) and 1 poster presentation in local conference

Apologies for the length, thanks for reading...

Edited by ncem

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Regarding #3 - the point of getting a masters before doctoral is to 1) boost your GPA, or 2) get research experiences. Since you don't have a lot of research experience, you should choose the program that offers you the most opportunities to get that. It might mean doing a masters thesis, or having formal research mentorship with a professor, or cross-collaboration opportunities with other labs or departments.

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1) You can definitely get into a PhD (Can't speak for PsyD as much) in clinical psychology programs with a MA outside of clinical psychology. You would not be disadvantaged, and probably advantaged if anything unless you didn't do well in the program (Assuming it's a general/research-oriented one).
3) A Masters definitely helps if it can patch up your weak points as an applicant (e.g., lack of research experience, poor undergraduate GPA, etc). Unless you are applying to a program more clinically oriented, research tends to be valued over clinical experience. If anything, depending on the program/university, expressing interested in a practice-oriented career/lean towards practice can potentially hurt you (Or at least that's what my mentor told me). It's not the only option/route to patch up or strengthen your background, but it definitely does a great job doing so.

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  • Can I still get into a PhD/PsyD in Clinical Psychology program with an MA that is not clinical psychology? Would I be disadvantaged if so?
    • Yes. No you wouldn't necessarily be disadvantaged.
  • Should I enter TC instead of UBC because it's more relevant to clinical psychology? Or should I wait another year and try again?
    • Don't go in debt, go to UBC. I went to a cheap no name master's program and got into a great funded PhD program off of that.
  • Does a Masters really help?
    • As the above poster said, if you're lacking in research and lower grades (and solid letters of references from licensed psychologists/professors), then yes, a masters helps A TON
  • Does an international applicant stand a chance to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology with funding?
    • Lol, yes

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I agree with previous responses that with a non-clinical, experimental program it is still possible to get into a PhD Clinical Psychology program (with caveats). The Masters will help you generate some research traction, perhaps allow you to publish or present at conferences, and that is important for your development when pursuing a PhD later on.

With that being said, there is a strong likelihood that you will need to supplement your training with clinical courses either way. Anecdotally, I have a colleague who completed her counselling Masters at TC and had to complete the full MA/PhD in Clinical Psychology in the program that I am currently in. I had another colleague who completed a different Masters outside of Psychology and entered at the PhD level. Unless its a direct-entry PhD program with no Masters, most programs that are MA/PhD are lengthier because there are a lot of clinical requirements that are needed during the 2 years of the Masters. The difference between my two colleagues is that the latter's Masters research was more relevant to the clinical lab that he was accepted into. Both of them still had to take the introductory clinical courses regardless of the level that they entered at.

Either program you choose, a recommendation is to get as much research experience as possible out of it. If you did go to UBC for the research methods program, you should try to merge your clinical interests (what populations are you interested in working with?) with that Masters to show that you have the relevant skills to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology. Likely you will have to take additional courses to supplement anyway, and, possibly, another Masters. If that's the case, maybe the most cost-effective program will be more useful. 

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Firstly, thank you to everyone for answering my questions. I genuinely appreciate the guidance/advice and it served to give me a peace of mind about the direction I will be pursuing.

19 hours ago, dancedementia said:

Regarding #3 - the point of getting a masters before doctoral is to 1) boost your GPA, or 2) get research experiences. Since you don't have a lot of research experience, you should choose the program that offers you the most opportunities to get that. It might mean doing a masters thesis, or having formal research mentorship with a professor, or cross-collaboration opportunities with other labs or departments.

8 hours ago, personallycentered said:
  • Can I still get into a PhD/PsyD in Clinical Psychology program with an MA that is not clinical psychology? Would I be disadvantaged if so?
    • Yes. No you wouldn't necessarily be disadvantaged.
  • Should I enter TC instead of UBC because it's more relevant to clinical psychology? Or should I wait another year and try again?
    • Don't go in debt, go to UBC. I went to a cheap no name master's program and got into a great funded PhD program off of that.
  • Does a Masters really help?
    • As the above poster said, if you're lacking in research and lower grades (and solid letters of references from licensed psychologists/professors), then yes, a masters helps A TON
  • Does an international applicant stand a chance to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology with funding?
    • Lol, yes

I have a clearer picture now thanks to the answers. I will enter the Masters program at UBC and work hard to get involved in various labs and gain as much research experience as possible. I believe it will help a lot to better prepare and develop myself for a PhD later on.

@personallycentered, if you don't mind sharing (through PM or here), which PhD program did you get into? 

16 hours ago, Marginally Significant said:

1) You can definitely get into a PhD (Can't speak for PsyD as much) in clinical psychology programs with a MA outside of clinical psychology. You would not be disadvantaged, and probably advantaged if anything unless you didn't do well in the program (Assuming it's a general/research-oriented one).
3) A Masters definitely helps if it can patch up your weak points as an applicant (e.g., lack of research experience, poor undergraduate GPA, etc). Unless you are applying to a program more clinically oriented, research tends to be valued over clinical experience. If anything, depending on the program/university, expressing interested in a practice-oriented career/lean towards practice can potentially hurt you (Or at least that's what my mentor told me). It's not the only option/route to patch up or strengthen your background, but it definitely does a great job doing so.

Regarding the drawback to expressing interest in a practice-oriented career, that's new to me and interesting to learn...In my country or in some others, clinical/practical experience, or interest in practicing, is on the other hand highly valued in an applicant for Clinical Psychology (UK, if I recall correctly, requires a minimum of 2 years clinical experience). Did your mentor specify any particular reason for why it may not be preferred for certain programs/universities?

6 hours ago, Jay's Brain said:

I agree with previous responses that with a non-clinical, experimental program it is still possible to get into a PhD Clinical Psychology program (with caveats). The Masters will help you generate some research traction, perhaps allow you to publish or present at conferences, and that is important for your development when pursuing a PhD later on.

With that being said, there is a strong likelihood that you will need to supplement your training with clinical courses either way. Anecdotally, I have a colleague who completed her counselling Masters at TC and had to complete the full MA/PhD in Clinical Psychology in the program that I am currently in. I had another colleague who completed a different Masters outside of Psychology and entered at the PhD level. Unless its a direct-entry PhD program with no Masters, most programs that are MA/PhD are lengthier because there are a lot of clinical requirements that are needed during the 2 years of the Masters. The difference between my two colleagues is that the latter's Masters research was more relevant to the clinical lab that he was accepted into. Both of them still had to take the introductory clinical courses regardless of the level that they entered at.

Either program you choose, a recommendation is to get as much research experience as possible out of it. If you did go to UBC for the research methods program, you should try to merge your clinical interests (what populations are you interested in working with?) with that Masters to show that you have the relevant skills to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology. Likely you will have to take additional courses to supplement anyway, and, possibly, another Masters. If that's the case, maybe the most cost-effective program will be more useful. 

Thanks for sharing the experiences of your colleagues. That really gives me a better idea of what to expect further down the road, after the completion of the masters program. I've come to terms that I would likely need to take the introductory clinical courses, which I am ok with. And thanks for the last bit of advice, I'll be sure to keep that in mind when planning my masters thesis and which studies/labs to participate in. I need to have a long-term perspective and plan my decisions well...

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Based on your stats, I would say you don't have to pursue to MA, especially if it's not directly in the field you want to go into. I would say work for a few years, get more productive research outcomes i.e. publications, posters, etc. and maybe work full time in a productive research lab with these opportunities. You have a good GPA and undergrad background in psych, and I personally think a masters is only worth it to improve your GPA before applying. Additionally, there are many research grants that you only qualify for your first year of graduate studies, and I know people that did masters before a phd program that regretted this decisions as they were ineligible to apply for these. My current PI/boss really turned me away from doing a masters and says often it just puts people in debt and productive research opportunities are not guaranteed. Hope that helps and feel free to PM me if you have any questions! I worked full time for 2 years before applying and getting into a Phd program. 

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1 hour ago, nwn said:

Regarding the drawback to expressing interest in a practice-oriented career, that's new to me and interesting to learn...In my country or in some others, clinical/practical experience, or interest in practicing, is on the other hand highly valued in an applicant for Clinical Psychology (UK, if I recall correctly, requires a minimum of 2 years clinical experience). Did your mentor specify any particular reason for why it may not be preferred for certain programs/universities?

Sure! PhD programs typically lean heavily towards research, so revealing that your interest leans more towards practice may be perceived as either a mismatch or bring up concerns about whether the person is fine with committing themselves to research for the next 5+ years. Her advice was to basically go a "white lie" route if practice is a primary interest and say that you're interested in both, but lean towards research. There was one program that actually told us to be honest about our career goals during the interview and encouraged us to not lie that we're 100% into research though, so it's not the case for every university and it's fine to reveal that you are primarily interested in practice if you get the perception that the program/faculty won't hold it against you. But if uncertain, it's typically better to lean more towards the research side. They still value clinical experience as well if you have any, but it's the career/end goal that becomes dicey. That said, I can't say if that's the case for PsyD programs, although I would imagine PsyD programs would be fine with students wanting to pursue a career in practice  considering that PsyD programs focus more on practice.

It's pretty ridiculous all things considered, but I pretty much see it as something we as the "next generation" of faculty members can stop doing since I feel like that encourages bad mentoring and leading graduate students into the wrong career direction

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Hi!

As an international student who also desires to become a licensed psychologist, I would say master programs don't seem like a good choice for you.

I applied to several master & PsyD programs this season and eventually regretted spending time on master programs. It occurred to me that I won't even consider them as long as any PsyD program gave me an offer. Luckily, I did get one. 

So, if you want to go PsyD route, accumulate clinical experience, and research experience for the Ph.D. route.

 

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Posted (edited)

Apologies for the late reply, work and life has had me too occupied to check TGC lately. Thank you all for responding to my queries.

On 3/21/2019 at 12:17 AM, Marginally Significant said:

Sure! PhD programs typically lean heavily towards research, so revealing that your interest leans more towards practice may be perceived as either a mismatch or bring up concerns about whether the person is fine with committing themselves to research for the next 5+ years. Her advice was to basically go a "white lie" route if practice is a primary interest and say that you're interested in both, but lean towards research. There was one program that actually told us to be honest about our career goals during the interview and encouraged us to not lie that we're 100% into research though, so it's not the case for every university and it's fine to reveal that you are primarily interested in practice if you get the perception that the program/faculty won't hold it against you. But if uncertain, it's typically better to lean more towards the research side. They still value clinical experience as well if you have any, but it's the career/end goal that becomes dicey. That said, I can't say if that's the case for PsyD programs, although I would imagine PsyD programs would be fine with students wanting to pursue a career in practice  considering that PsyD programs focus more on practice.

It's pretty ridiculous all things considered, but I pretty much see it as something we as the "next generation" of faculty members can stop doing since I feel like that encourages bad mentoring and leading graduate students into the wrong career direction

I see... that makes sense. I would believe that PsyD programs, on the flip side, would prefer practice-oriented students with some relevant experience then.

On 3/20/2019 at 10:46 PM, TrustingTheProcess said:

Based on your stats, I would say you don't have to pursue to MA, especially if it's not directly in the field you want to go into. I would say work for a few years, get more productive research outcomes i.e. publications, posters, etc. and maybe work full time in a productive research lab with these opportunities. You have a good GPA and undergrad background in psych, and I personally think a masters is only worth it to improve your GPA before applying. Additionally, there are many research grants that you only qualify for your first year of graduate studies, and I know people that did masters before a phd program that regretted this decisions as they were ineligible to apply for these. My current PI/boss really turned me away from doing a masters and says often it just puts people in debt and productive research opportunities are not guaranteed. Hope that helps and feel free to PM me if you have any questions! I worked full time for 2 years before applying and getting into a Phd program. 

On 3/25/2019 at 11:53 AM, Neverland said:

Hi!

As an international student who also desires to become a licensed psychologist, I would say master programs don't seem like a good choice for you.

I applied to several master & PsyD programs this season and eventually regretted spending time on master programs. It occurred to me that I won't even consider them as long as any PsyD program gave me an offer. Luckily, I did get one. 

So, if you want to go PsyD route, accumulate clinical experience, and research experience for the Ph.D. route.

 

Thank you very much for the advice. It has really shed some light for me. In the end, I have decided to turn down the MA offer at UBC. It takes 2.5 - 3 years to complete, and financially speaking, it is very difficult for me to afford the tuition without any funding / loans, not to mention I will have to spend additional years catching up with the courses for PhD. I highly doubt I'd be able to enter a PhD/PsyD program, but I'll try applying directly to these programs for the Fall 2020 intake. In the meantime, I'll work on improving my GRE scores.

As for research experience - in my country (SEA), there really aren't as many opportunities in research labs as there are in NA, they are usually allocated for existing (undergrad/graduate) students or would require an MA/PhD. Furthermore, positions in academia (RA / TA / Tutor) here tends to pay peanuts compared to my current job, though I'm aware it'll be a trade-off I have to be willing to make. To be honest, I also have some doubts...I don't mean to devalue the institutions in my country, but would research experience in foreign institutions be recognized by American universities when evaluating applicants? On another note, would working as a research analyst in a local/multinational company also constitute as research experience? 

p/s @Neverland Congratulations on getting into the PsyD program!

Edited by nwn

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