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prospective psych grad student advice


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Hello Everyone! 

To make this short, I am a psych major I will be getting my BA next year and would like to start grad school in Fall 2020. I’m really interested in mental health so I was looking at getting my masters to be a LMHC but I really want to pursue clinical psych, so it’s either LMHC or keep pursuing psych until I get my PhD. I know I want to have a career as a clinical psychologist but I’m not really sure what would be the best option. I’m new to all of this and I’m hoping to make the right decision. From any of your experiences what would you pursue and what is really worth the while and the investment at grad school? 

Also, I have a couple of questions regarding the whole process 


1. Did you apply to in state or out of state grad schools? How many schools should I apply to? (So far I have three in mind)


2. Money. I don’t have any undergrad loans whatsoever but would loans be worth it now in graduate school? Did FAFSA or school offer you anything?  (I’m 21 and I’m dependent so if I move to grad school I still have to file as a dependent) 


3. If you went out of state or hours from home, how did you move? how was the process? (cross country drive, plane, etc) any support from parents? 


4. When filing for FAFSA should I do ‘on campus’ or ‘off campus’ bc some places I want to apply to have limited availability for grad students.


5. How did you provide for yourself, paid living expenses and such? Any tips would be helpful too!


Sorry for all the questions! I really want to pursue my masters after thinking my options, I really don’t want to take a year off. It’ll also be my first time going to grad school far from home if given the opportunity and I want my parents to understand.

Edited by Anvrchist
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If you want to be a “clinical psychologist” you need a doctorate to officially hold that title in the USA. If you get an LMHC you can be a therapist/counselor. The latter is usually more expensive (assuming you pursue a funded PhD) but takes less time. 


Do you want to do research or clinical work? The somewhat fallacious (but also true) split is that PhD in clinical work value research whereas most PsyD and masters programs do not. The clinical training, frankly, is equal at both, you are just more prepared to innovate and disseminate new diagnostic and treatment tools with a PhD in clinical psych. 

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1) If you're applying to clinical psychology PhD programs you are going to want to apply to a lot of schools: 15-20 really. They need to be a mixture of R1, R2 and R3 universities. It is difficult to get in but the more you apply to the better your chances- you can't be afraid to move across the country for your education:) Just remember that this is a great time in your life to move away and live in a different place!

2)Ideally you would find a program that funds you. I am not sure if Masters programs really fund you. However, a PhD is already a hard thing without having funding so I would try to apply to schools that you know you can get funding whether that is from TAing or a grant. 

3) I haven't moved yet but I am planning on driving there- it is about a 16 hour drive to Tennessee. It is doable though- personally, my parents said they would be happy to help me out in the moving process (but honestly my mother loves moving for some reason, idk.. to each their own). If you can't get your parents just find some friends who wouldn't mind a fun road trip:)

4) Can't answer the FASFA thing, but I am funded from the program so I didn't worry about filling it out. Also most places will have a limited amount of spots for grad students 

5) Just live within your budget- it helps when you have a stipend coming in from your grad program. This is why I think it is extremely important to find places you can be funded. You can end up with some pretty crazy terrible debts that just are not worth it


I do want to say- if you feel like a PhD isn't something you are ready for, wait a year or two. Get some more experience because it isn't an easy thing to commit to. And I don't know how much you love research but if it isn't your thing then maybe ask about PsyD or Masters? honestly I am not the best to ask about PsyD but there a many people on this forum who could help with that.  

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In your last year of undergrad, I highly recommend finding a lab on your campus to volunteer with to get some experience with research, and a volunteer or paid work experience with a crisis center or local mental health facility to get some experience in a counseling/helping role.  These experiences will help to give you a better idea of what you want in your professional life and provide good experience to put on your CV in applying for graduate programs. 

There are several graduate programs which can lead to a career in mental health, but they take different lengths of time, have vastly different costs, lead to careers doing slightly to vastly different tasks, and require some very different experiences as prerequisites.  Several Master's programs can lead to licensure as an LPC - LMHC, MA/MEd/MS in Psychology/Counseling, and LMFT (you could also go the social work route, get an MSW and become an LCSW).  These programs are generally 2-3 years and focus on the craft of counseling, with little emphasis in research.  The cost for these programs varies wildly, and funding assistance varies greatly, but you'll be more likely to find assistantships and funding for a program at a large state university.  You'll also want to check on license requirements for your state - my state aligns their licensing for LPCs with CACREP so going to a CACREP accredited institution helps to keep from jumping additional hoops for licensure.  There are some opportunities for participation in research with a Master's degree, but your chances of being hired by a university or hospital to be a researcher or of receiving grants from major governmental entities are limited to nonexistant without someone with a PhD being a Co-I.  So this might be a good route if you want to be a therapist and don't have interest in pursuing research.  There are lots of jobs available at community clinics, hospitals/clinics, or in online therapy orgs for those with LPCs, and you can also open a private practice. 

If you want/need a doctoral level degree to pursue the career of your dreams, and want to learn to incorporate research into your clinical practice, but not perform research yourself, you might want to consider a Doctoral of Psychology, PsyD.  These are typically 3-5 year programs, typically teach you well how to understand research articles and incorporate the information into your clinical practice, however it is quite rare to find fully or even partially funded PsyD programs so these are often quite expensive.  Most of these programs don't require you to have a Master's and very few will waive any courses if you do come in with one, so it's not advisable to do a separate Master's degree first.  You'd be eligible for a job as a clinician at lots of hospitals/clinics, community clinics, online therapy orgs or open a private practice.  Typically you'll receive a little more in compensation with the PsyD than you would as an LPC, but not by a ton, and there are some places where they prefer those with doctorates so it's much easier to get a job (the VA health system being one - far more openings for PsyDs than LPCs, but they require APA accredited programs, so that limits your PsyD program choices by a lot).  PsyDs are also sometimes hired as professors in LPC oriented programs or as clinical directors at PhD programs, but it is very rare to find a PsyD with a tenure track job at a top university since those jobs require research and a PsyD program doesn't train you to be a researcher.

If you like research and want to learn to become an independent researcher, as well as receive training as a clinician, you'll want to look at APA accredited PhD programs (if you decide you only like the research and don't care about the clinical practice, you can look at non-APA accredited or research only PhD programs).  You can pursue clinical or counseling PhD programs, but if you already have a practitioner focused PhD program, like the LMHC or a Master's in Counseling, you'll be better suited to pursue a counseling psych PhD program.  Both clinical and counseling psych PhD programs are incredibly competitive, with clinical being the even more competitive between the two.  These programs are frequently partially or fully funded and will train you to be both a researcher and a clinician, with each program varying regarding the balance between the two.  Exactly what is covered in a "fully funded" program, varies between programs but generally that means you are working for the school part-time in some capacity - as a teaching assistant, research assistant, or general graduate assistant helping with program enhancement/development, and in exchange for that, your tuition is waived and you receive a stipend.  The amount of this stipend is never luxurious, but it's typically enough that most grad students make it work.  Typically you have to pay out of pocket for books and university fees (which I have seen range from a few hundred per semester to several thousand per semester), and insurance is becoming a more common thing to have to pay out of pocket for, but most universities have inexpensive student insurance you can purchase if you're too old to remain on your parents'.  Having a PhD from an APA accredited program opens the doors wide open regarding careers in the mental health field - virtually anything imaginable is a possibility.  For clinical jobs at hospitals there is rarely a pay difference between those with PhDs and those with PsyDs, but with a PhD you may have the opportunity to give lectures for Grand Rounds, help teach classes if it's a teaching hospital, be involved in research, or develop a hybrid career - working in several different places doing different things.  I've known many professors who teach, have a research lab, and have a clinical practice on the side, or do advocacy work/education on the side, etc.  The length of these programs varies depending upon whether you come in with a Master's degree or not, but 5-8 years is fairly standard.  Whether or not the program will accept transfer credit/waive courses if you have previously completed a Master's degree varies widely so you have to look at the program website and some programs specify that they prefer candidates with a Master's degree or straight out of undergrad, so that's important to know in advance. 

Regarding the logistics of getting to grad school, that entirely depends upon your individual situation - if you're location bound and cannot move for some reason (maybe you're the primary caregiver for an ailing family member, you have a spouse who cannot move, or you have special medical needs and changing doctors could put you at risk), then how many schools you apply to may be quite small and you may have to apply several cycles in a row before you are accepted somewhere.  Getting into a master's level program is much easier than a doctoral level program, and if you want a doc program with full funding you are virtually guaranteed to have to move.  It's typically recommended to apply to at least 7 PhD programs if you are applying around the country.  Last cycle I applied to 15, this cycle I applied to 14 (rejected from all last cycle, received 4 offers this cycle).  If your family has the financial means and good will to help you move - awesome, if not, you get to figure it out.  Occasionally some fully funded PhD programs will have small grants to help students move but those are rare.  Unfortunately, graduate programs are expensive all the way around - applying is expensive, traveling for interviews is expensive, moving is expensive, paying for books/fees is expensive, going to conferences is expensive, traveling for internship interviews is expensive.......it's all expensive and that is prohibitive to a lot of people who don't come from means.  Those costs, even in fully funded programs, are a significant consideration if you don't have a large saving account, family support, a spouse/partner who works and can support those costs, etc.

I always recommend filling out FAFSA every year - it doesn't take very long, and there are sometimes scholarships, etc. that require you to fill it out. So I find it's worth the 30-ish minutes every year to update it just in case it helps to get you more money :) There are different rules for how things are considered for grad school vs undergrad, and I'm not fully certain about those, but I do know that at some point in grad school you will no longer be considered as a dependent of your parents.  If you currently receive no support from your parents, there is a process to be considered independent during undergrad according to FAFSA, and you can talk to your school's financial aid office about how to go about that (it's been a long time since I did that and I don't remember what all I had to do).

Good luck!  You have a lot to consider, but luckily you have tons of potential avenues to pursue your goal of a career in mental health.  You just have to decide which one is the best fit for you.

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5 hours ago, topsailpsych said:

You can pursue clinical or counseling PhD programs, but if you already have a practitioner focused PhD program, like the LMHC or a Master's in Counseling, you'll be better suited to pursue a counseling psych PhD program.

This should say, if you already have completed a practitioner focused graduate degree.....I got to typing too fast.

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10 hours ago, topsailpsych said:

Last cycle I applied to 15, this cycle I applied to 14 (rejected from all last cycle, received 4 offers this cycle).

I apologize for hijacking this thread, but this is seriously impressive. What did you do between cycles that helped your application? (And how many years in between cycles?)

Edited by dancedementia
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