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Applying to clinical psychology graduate programs! Advice appreciated.


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Hello I'm new to this forum! I'm an upcoming senior graduating in spring, and I somewhat recently decided to apply to PhD, PsyD, and master's programs in clinical psychology for this cycle (entering in Fall 2021). I've looked into some schools, but I'm unsure how I should go about my final year to try and strengthen my application. I'm also debating whether I should take a gap year or enter a master's program in case I do not get into a PsyD or PhD program. My ultimate goal is getting into any APA accredited PsyD school like Nova-Southeastern, but I'm not too confident that will happen. 

Dual-Major: Psychology (Behavior-Analysis focused) and Nutritional Sciences

Cumulative GPA: 3.82

Upper Division: 3.79 

Research: 2.5 years RA in a social psychology lab doing tasks like running participants in studies and discussing articles in lab meetings (just quit recently)

1.5 years RA in a Nutritional-sciences lab. 2 research awards to work on my own project and presenting a poster in spring at my school's research symposium upcoming spring. 

GRE: Taking it soon! Hopefully will turn out well.

LOR: 1 from research professor in nutritional sciences lab. 1 from professor in my behavior analysis class, and probably 1 from my research professor in the social psychology lab.

Please any constructive criticism! I'm also trying to get licensed as a Certified Nursing Assistant (was pre-health before changing) and debating whether it would be beneficial to get trained and volunteer as a Crisis Line Counselor. Thank you guys for reading!

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I have a few thoughts. The first is that you want to ideally try to shoot for funded programs. Unfunded programs can put you in a lot of debt that can have lasting impacts on other life decisions, such as buying a home, raising a family, etc. The reality is that psychologists do not start off making enough to justify 6-figures worth of debt (look up average starting salaries for psychologists compared to medical doctors--$200k worth of debt is not as crippling in the latter). The funded PsyD programs are about the same competitiveness as balanced PhD (scientist-practitioner) programs. Clinical Science PhD programs, while still teaching clinical skills, typically put a greater emphasis on research than scientist-practioner or practitioner-scholar programs. 

When choosing doctoral programs to apply to, you want to look at a few things. 1. You want to look at their APA-accredited internship match rate (it should really be 100% or close to it consistently for the last few years). 2. You want to look at their licensure percentages. How many people who are eligible have gone on to get licensed? If it is a PsyD program, that number should also be hovering around 100% because the vast majority of people who go into these programs do so in order to get licensed and practice. 3. You want to look at the sizes of the incoming cohorts. Smaller cohorts allow for more individual attention from faculty. For instance, my PsyD program cohort has 8 of us. The small class sizes are great for having in depth discussions. Grad school is less lecture and more application/discussion than undergrad. Also, the director of clinical training knows each student and his/her/their interests. It is much easier to get the individualized attention you need to grow as a clinician when your faculty can give you detailed feedback regarding your work and your career trajectory. 4. You want to examine the faculty list. What kind of research are the people doing? Regardless of PsyD or PhD, you will need to do some research and write a dissertation (possibly more lax of a project for a PsyD than a PhD but not necessarily). You want to select programs that have faculty who study the things you want to study and who's lab you can join and who can serve as your dissertation chair. Some PsyD programs, like mine, follow a mentor model similar to PhDs where you enter the program matched with a specific faculty mentor due to research interests. One way to start developing a list of programs is to read articles of interest and see where those authors are teaching. 5. Look at what kinds of practicum experiences the program has available, as well as if they have a clinic. If you have an idea of what kind of population you want to work with, it's a good idea to make sure you have the opportunity to gain that type of experience in that program. Two great resources to check out are Mitch's Guide to Grad School, which can be found here: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://mitch.web.unc.edu/files/2017/02/MitchGradSchoolAdvice.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwjTz7TOyufpAhVJlHIEHRmWBpMQFjAAegQIBRAC&usg=AOvVaw3UbQzDdWDrXVeX0-L58VK9 and Norcross's "Insider's Guide to Clinical and Counseling Psychology" which you can find on Amazon or wherever you prefer to purchase books. 

In terms of beefing up your application, the best thing to do is research. It's awesome that you were able to present at your school's research symposium. Try to see if you can get more research products. See if you can submit a poster for a regional or national conference or help co-author a publication with a professor. The more research experience, the better. I honestly don't think getting your CNA license will really help your application. I doubt it will harm it, but there are probably very few faculty who would see it as a particular plus unless you can very clear show how this experience ties into your goal of being a psychologist. Crisis line counseling is a pretty good option depending on the service. Volunteering for a local domestic violence agency hotline or a suicide hotline looks better than something like 7cups where training consists of an online course. 

Lastly, you mention masters programs. If you are interested in getting a master's level license, such as an LPC, LCSW, or MFT, you want to make sure the program meets those requirements. There are master's programs in psychology (including clinical psychology) that do not lead to a master's level licensure, but are instead stepping stones to PhDs/PsyDs. Given your GPA, it doesn't look like you need to get a master's en route to a doctorate. Most of the time, people do so to make up for a low undergrad GPA or if they majored in something completely different. You're better off spending that time trying to get more research experience and further build those connections to get solid letters of recommendation, especially since most masters are unfunded. There are some that provide funding, and there have been threads here on them. William and Mary and Wake Forest are the 2 that jump to mind right away. However, if you think you are fine working as a master's level clinician, then that is a great way to go. The program is much shorter, so you're out in the workforce sooner. It all depends on what your specific goals are. Some require a PhD or PsyD, others don't. Mitch's guide explains all the different degrees pretty well. 

I'm sorry. This is probably way more information than you really asked for. However, it sounds like you are just starting to look into programs and options, and these are all things I wish I knew when I was an undergrad thinking about grad school. Feel free to ask any other questions!

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1. Do APA accredited programs or bust if you apply. Future you will thank you when you can actually get licensed and practice. I agree with the above poster that funded programs are competitive, but even better. 

2. Why the Certified nursing thing and psychology? Doesn’t make a ton of sense to me.  It would be more beneficial to your application to get a paid research position and try to publish some papers, ideally. That will go a lot longer of a way than a volunteer crisis line. 

3. Google and read through Mitch’s guide to applying to clinical psych programs. Typing this on my phone or else I’d link it here. It’s a pretty good guide that will answer a lot of your questions. 

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Thank you for the replies! I just read through Mitch's guide and it did answer a lot of the questions I was having. I now have a way better understanding of what I need to do now. I will definitely prioritize research for this upcoming year and look more into depth into different programs. All of your advice is heavily appreciated.

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