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Which program to accept? MA vs PhD in clinical psych


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Hi guys,

I did not really know where else to ask this question... So I am writing this post!


I got accepted to a Phd program in clinical psychology with partial assistantship and to a MA program in counseling psychology without any funding.

I was about 99.99% sure that I would choose phd, but one comment my parents mentioned during our conversation is really bothering me.

The school that is offering MA is more renowned and reputable internationally. (I should mention that I am an international student...)

And what they are saying is, MA from that school might open up more opportunities (by that they mean more reputable schools) for me when I apply for phd after getting my MA.

I know ultimately I am gonna follow my heart but i just wanted to see other students' opinions.

Any thoughts?

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First, a master's degree without funding is pointless, in my opinion. Always go where there's funding! 


Second, a master's in counseling can lead to a different path than a PhD in clinical psychology, although the two are more similar than ever before. 


Read about the differences and similarities: 





Third: just because a school is reputable doesn't mean that the counseling degree you'll be seeking will necessarily be better than other school's programs. Look for a research fit.

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Honestly, neither of these sound like ideal programs.

What does "partial assistantship" mean?  Personally, I think it is a bad idea to accept a PhD offer without full funding for at least the first 3ish years of the program (enough to get you through to ABD).  If the offer doesn't cover tuition, fees, health insurance and a stipend large enough to live on - OR if there's not an easy, non-repayable, readily accessible way to get the rest of those funds, like working for another professor or TAing no more than one class a semester - then I say pass, irrespective of where else you got accepted.  The biggest reason is because a clinical psychologist (practicing or academic) can generally never hope to make enough money to pay off the large debt you would incur over 5 years of tuition/fees + living expenses.  The second reason is because if you are constantly worrying about money in your program, you will be too distracted to succeed at the level you probably could.

Secondly, personally I would not do an MA in psychology unless I felt like my academic record was poor and I needed to improve it to get into a PhD program.  Psychology PhD programs - in the U.S., at least - often do not accept any transfer credits from MA programs; if they do, they usually take about one semester's worth, so it does not reduce your time to degree in any meaningful way.  Moreover, most PhD programs would prefer to see a student work as a lab manager or research associate for two years to improve their CV rather than do a master's program, unless you have really bad grades.  I also agree that an MA in counseling psychology is often very professionally oriented and may not be the best choice for a PhD clinical hopeful.

So honestly, neither of these options sounds good to me.  But if I had to choose one, I would go with the partially funded PhD rather than the unfunded MA, because I think your parents are mostly wrong.

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Obviously it is hard for us to answer this without knowing the schools (or the field, in my case). BUT I can say that the general public doesn't really "get" how graduate school works. Universities that have big names for undergrad are not necessarily the best graduate programs for any given field. For example, in my field, Harvard has a kind of cruddy program that my professors have suggested I avoid. But the general public hears "Harvard" and thinks, "Oh wow, obviously you should go there". Unless they work in clinical psychology, your parents probably don't know what's what regrading grad schools in your field, so make your own decision based on what you think is best and what people in your field regard as a better option. 

However, I do agree with juilletmercredi that a partially funded PhD is hardly ideal. You might make sure there is a possibility to increase that to full funding after your first year or (preferably) sooner. 

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