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Masters for nontrad before PhD?


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I'm a nontrad student who is currently doing psych prerequisite courses at a local (accredited American) university in a different country. I plan to move back to the US, specifically NYC, in January but am debating whether or not to do a Masters. Normally people advise against it, but I'm afraid I won't be able to find the right research opportunities without entering an Masters program. In NYC, competition is really fierce and I feel like professors won't even respond to you unless you're attached to a university.

My GPA is high and I will have good letters of recommendation, but my research experience is pretty short (1 year at a neuroscience lab with coauthorship but no journal acceptance - yet, and started my own independent research project 1 month ago aiming for publication as well).

My interest is in Asian American mental health, so I'm looking mostly at Counseling programs. I want to do a mixture of research and practice in the future.

Do y'all think it'd be possible to find research opportunities on my own or would a Masters make more sense? I was thinking of even applying to some PhDs directly as well as Masters programs for Fall 2025 admissions and seeing what happens, but not sure if that's advisable. Thanks!

Edited by pr1ncess-z
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