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PhD or Master's??



Hey there, first timer here. 

Current Major: Psychology; also, working on getting BaCaba certified as a behavioral therapist

MA prospects: Education, Business or Engineering (only because Im really good at math and its a hot field - not my passion whatsoever)

PhD prospects: Clinical or School of Psychology - MB other fields of psych or education if it pertains to a career in child development (0 - 18)

Location of interests (if I have to move): Florida or California; if stipend included - almost anywhere in US.

I am a semi-young single mother with two toddler girls. I am going to be getting my BA by the end of next year, MB summer - we'll see. I use to work full-time and go to school FT but I realized in two years that I was throwing away my memories and development of my children, so I will be working PT (point: not a lot of money for school). I work as an intern/volunteer at a ABA training company, and will be studying for my GRE test over the summer. I would prefer to get my PhD and skip my Masters. But, I am afraid that if I try too hard to get into specific schools and neglect the fact I might not get in, Ill miss my chance into getting into a great MA program. If I take my MA, I likely won't be going back to school for my PhD until my kids are much older. 

My main Q: How hard is it to get into a fully paid PhD program? Do you know of any programs or any schools that would fit my degree prospects? Is it worth it going straight into a PhD program rather then taking the MA? Is the financial increase abundant enough to make that leap? What is the difference between PhD and PsyD programs?

Anything, any advice, criticism, corrections, links, resources, references, etc. would be extremely helpful. I have started looking into Nova Southeastern University (extremely hard to get into) for the PhD or PsyD programs, and have found a couple interesting universities (haven't looked into thoroughly) in San Diego, CA. 

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It sounds like one of your main priorities is providing care and love for your children, ☺️. You sound like an amazing mom!

While PhD graduates typically recieve a stipend, a stipend is awarded in trade for hours of TA work, research, teaching etc. PhD programs in psychology can be intense and life consuming. I see the appeal of enrolling in a stipended program however, keep in mind they want you to earn that money. This sometimes means sacrificing hours and hours of free time for that money. You are not able to hold a job in a PhD program. 

Since you are interested in child development you might consider getting a MS in CHAD (child and adolescent psych) or school psych. Then, to boost your earning potential consider finding an accredited PsyD program that offers an accelerated program. In an accelerated program you can transfer your masters level credits towards a doctorate degree thus, shaving off some of the time and money you'd spend by enrolling in a 5/6 year program two years in (so you'll only spend 6 years in total versus getting a masters 2 years plus 5 doc work). There are many benefits of approaching your training this way. Some people discover they can make as much at a masters level working in private practice setting as they would at a doctoral level. Another upside is that you gain valuable experience through practicum and internship training at a masters level. I networked SO much during my two year program and my experience, letters of rec and clinical knowledge boosted my desirability as an applicant to PsyD/ PhD programs. I have several friends in psyd programs who work in clinical setting with their masters degree under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Not sure what the restrictions are state by state but in the north east you can work in certain settings and bill insurance companies an hourly fee for clinical work. These friends are paying down loans while getting a great education and clinical knowledge.. All in all I would just say do your research (no pun intended) before applying to s PhD program. 


Best of luck!


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You are currently in a BA program for psychology. Have you done any research in your undergrad? Psychology PhD programs usually require applicants to have some research experience assisting a professor in their lab - competitive applicants typically have 2-3 years' worth, plus some experience with clinical volunteering. If you don't already have that, then you'd need to get an MA in psychology or spend 2-3 years between college and grad school working as a lab manager or research associate/assistant to get that experience. I strongly recommend the latter, as it's paid.

It is very hard to get into clinical psychology PhD programs. They are very competitive. School psychology PhD programs are less competitive but will still want to see research experience. If you wanted to do clinical psychology I would definitely say skip the MA - they tend to be expensive and not funded, and they won't reduce your time to degree nor will they increase your salary prospects. For school psychology, you don't need the MA to get the PhD. But the master's (usually an M.Ed, I think) will allow you to work for a few years while gearing up to return for a PhD.

PsyD programs were devised in the 1970s to be the practical/applied alternative to PhD programs. PhD programs are scientist-practitioner programs; they are designed to train psychologists who have expertise in both research and clinical practice. The idea is that PhD graduates can go onto careers as psychological scientists in or outside of academia OR as practitioners of psychological practice, or to a career that combines both. PsyD programs were designed to be more analogues to medical programs - they are 4-year professional courses of study that are aimed primarily at turning out professional psychologists who will go into clinical practice. The research requirements are far less than PhD programs. However, the biggest difference is that PsyD programs tend to not be funded at all, while PhD programs vary a lot but are more often funded.

Yes, PhD programs do require you to "earn" that money - you usually have to serve as a teaching or research assistant. But the experience you gain as a TA or RA is vital to your career afterwards, which is why the service is required anyway. Furthermore, it will greatly reduce the debt you take on. For example, the University of Denver's PsyD program costs $1258 per quarter hour, and requires 135 credit hours, for a total cost of nearly $170,000. Nova Southeastern is $1040 per credit hour and requires 118 credits, for a total cost of around $122,000. According to the BLS, psychologists earn around $73,000 a year on average - good pay, but not enough to repay six-figure loan debt.

Conversely, an MA/M.Ed or Ed.S in school psychology will take you 2-3 years and will be a lot cheaper. You can also complete one at most public universities - both UF and FSU have one, for example.

I agree with the advice to think about doing a master's in school psychology. Look up NASP-approved programs. Those programs are shorter than doctoral programs - they tend to be 2-3 years long - but they will enable you to practice as a psychologist within schools/school districts.

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