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Hello All,

I need help with deciding what specialty of psychology I should pursue, and by getting others' experiences and perspectives on these specialties, I hope to be better equipped to make that decision. I need to have all my graduate school applications turned in by Dec 1, 2018 (next December). I am hoping to find a fully funded program preferably, but I know I can't put all my eggs in one basket. The specialties I am interested in are neuroscience, behavioral neuroscience, experimental, clinical, social, and cognitive. I came into this thinking I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, but now after having gone through some of my Psych classes, I ultimately would like to get myself to a place where I can do clinical, as well as research and/or teaching. Being completely unfamiliar with this process, I am very unaware of what the best way to proceed would be, in order to achieve my ultimate goal. This is why I am reaching out to you all, and I thank you in advance for any and all help!

I will graduate with my Bachelor's in Psychology in April 2019, and plan on continuing on to Graduate school afterwards. My prior background I was a Respiratory Therapist, where I worked mostly in the ER, ICU, NICU, and PICU. I was also an active member in my husband's unit FRG (Family Readiness Group), where I mainly gave whatever kind of support was needed to those spouses who lost their soldier while deployed. I plan on applying for a few available internships this summer, so I can have more experience, and get my graduate school applications looking more favorable. I am 33, a mother of 3, a wife of a disabled veteran, and a strong woman just trying to make her difference in the world. With that being said, here are some questions I have, and again, any help or insight you might have on any or all of this, is more than welcome!

1. PhD or PsyD?

2. What are the realities (what can I expect) of working in the different specialties I mentioned above?

3. Are there any programs you would suggest that I highly check into?

4. How many applications did you submit for grad school? (Just curious, because my list is way too long so far)

5. What is the best way I can achieve my ULTIMATE GOAL, mentioned above?

6. Any suggestions on how to look more favorable to grad schools?

7. What other things about this whole process, am I forgetting to think about?

 

Any other information you need from me, please just ask! Feel free to give any additional information not mentioned.

Thankful Always,

Christine M.

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Long story short to all of your questions: if you want to do clinical work in any capacity, you need to pursue a clinical degree and be licensed to practice. The PhD in clinical will focus on research more heavily than PsyD (and is more likely to be funded and, by consequence, competitive). You can’t go from a degree like experimental or social to clinical work as easily from clinical to non-clinical. You could always get a degree in experimental or social and have clinical partners, but if you have any direct interest in working directly in administering protocols to patients, you have to be in clinical.

 

From what I read, you need to identify what your specific research and clinical focus is and go from there. I had a really niche interest, and I applied to 10 schools (and got in at several, now attending my top choice PhD in Clinical). You basically just said you are interested in any “psychology” program (including clinical), so _to me_ it doesn’t sound like you have a centered focus. This can be extremely problematic when applying to programs, as programs want to retain their trainees and not lose them after a year or two because they have “too hace of an interest.” 

 

So, I guess my question to you would be what are your specific research and clinical interests? 

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Clinapp2017,

That's what I thought, and it was the impression I kind of got through the research I have done so far, in regards to needing to pursue a clinical program if I want to work with patients one on one at all. Yes, I know I have fairly strong interest in all that I mentioned, but the brain fascinates me on a constant basis above all else. More specifically, I am interested in neuropsychology, working with trauma victims/mood disorders, and perception. (WOW.....I don't think I have ever actually narrowed it down like that, that fast.) Thank you for your question, it helped me think more critically about what will keep me interested the most.

Thankful Always,

Christine M.

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You're asking for a lot of information, I think it would be useful if you began by combing through topics on forums that already have a lot of the info/detail you're asking for. Here's a great resource: https://forums.studentdoctor.net/forums/psychology-psy-d-ph-d.57/ 

One thing I will say is that you should do a lot of research to really get an understanding of what the options are, what the requirements for each option are, as well as a concrete idea of what your final target career is. The latter will largely affect which option would make the most sense for you. Mitch's guide, which a user linked above is a great starting resource too. 

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Christine,  hello from a fellow military wife!

The info you have received above is sound.  If you have any interest in practicing - working with clients one on one, in a group, doing assessments, etc. you'll need to be licensed as a counselor or psychologist which will mean you'll need to apply to clinical or counseling psychology programs.  There are also clinical neuropsychology programs, most of which are APA accredited and would make you eligible for licensure, but they're also pretty narrowly focused.

If you're serious about wanting to do research, I would recommend a PhD program.  They are the breeding grounds for future researchers.  That's not to say you can't do research with a Master's degree, you just won't be as prepared.  At the Master's level you can be eligible for licensure as a counselor (Licensed Professional Counselor is the most common, but there are a number of other licensures available).  There are different rules in each state regarding what you can and can't do with this license.  At the PhD level you are typically eligible for licensure as a psychologist.  If you want to work for the VA or in a large hospital system as a clinician, the PhD is the route to go.  You will be more limited for teaching opportunities with only a Master's degree as well, but there are positions at smaller colleges and universities or at the community college level.

The APA (American Psychological Association) website has a list of all graduate programs which are APA accredited.  APA accredited programs have strict standards for clinical training, and are more universally accepted than non-APA accredited programs.  Again, if you want to work at the VA or a large hospital system, they will almost certainly require you to have attended an APA accredited school.  You can search through the schools here: http://apps.apa.org/accredsearch/?_ga=2.123339147.1085817944.1512287836-807872714.1490815184

Another large accrediting body for counseling programs (usually Master's level) is CACREP (pronounced Kay-Crepe).

If you are not already volunteering in a research lab, I would find one at your undergrad institution to volunteer with ASAP.  Research experince is a huge factor when applying for PhD programs.

I've just finished applying for this season and I applied to 13 schools in total.  We'll see if that was enough once interview time rolls around.  From talking to other people, 10-15 schools seemed like a common range, but I talked to some people who only applied to 5 and got a number of interviews, and others who applied to 20+ and only got one interview..... So it seems hard to estimate how many is actually enough.

It's a great thing you're thinking about this a year out.  It took me a solid year to get my list figured out, gather my application materials, and do everything I needed to do to get my applications in. 

Good luck with your search for schools!  Let me know if there's any questions I can answer!

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On 12/2/2017 at 4:12 PM, Christine M said:

Hello All,

I need help with deciding what specialty of psychology I should pursue, and by getting others' experiences and perspectives on these specialties, I hope to be better equipped to make that decision. I need to have all my graduate school applications turned in by Dec 1, 2018 (next December). I am hoping to find a fully funded program preferably, but I know I can't put all my eggs in one basket. The specialties I am interested in are neuroscience, behavioral neuroscience, experimental, clinical, social, and cognitive. I came into this thinking I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, but now after having gone through some of my Psych classes, I ultimately would like to get myself to a place where I can do clinical, as well as research and/or teaching. Being completely unfamiliar with this process, I am very unaware of what the best way to proceed would be, in order to achieve my ultimate goal. This is why I am reaching out to you all, and I thank you in advance for any and all help!

I will graduate with my Bachelor's in Psychology in April 2019, and plan on continuing on to Graduate school afterwards. My prior background I was a Respiratory Therapist, where I worked mostly in the ER, ICU, NICU, and PICU. I was also an active member in my husband's unit FRG (Family Readiness Group), where I mainly gave whatever kind of support was needed to those spouses who lost their soldier while deployed. I plan on applying for a few available internships this summer, so I can have more experience, and get my graduate school applications looking more favorable. I am 33, a mother of 3, a wife of a disabled veteran, and a strong woman just trying to make her difference in the world. With that being said, here are some questions I have, and again, any help or insight you might have on any or all of this, is more than welcome!

1. PhD or PsyD?

2. What are the realities (what can I expect) of working in the different specialties I mentioned above?

3. Are there any programs you would suggest that I highly check into?

4. How many applications did you submit for grad school? (Just curious, because my list is way too long so far)

5. What is the best way I can achieve my ULTIMATE GOAL, mentioned above?

6. Any suggestions on how to look more favorable to grad schools?

7. What other things about this whole process, am I forgetting to think about?

 

Any other information you need from me, please just ask! Feel free to give any additional information not mentioned.

Thankful Always,

Christine M.

1. PhD or PsyD? PsyD is geared towards those who are interested in clinical work with little (if any) emphasis on research. These programs also cost money, whereas most PhD program (all that I came across actually) waive tuition and offer a stipend.

2. What are the realities (what can I expect) of working in the different specialties I mentioned above? You have an incredibly wide range of interests, which is not a bad thing! However, before applying you really need to narrow done your focus. It is good that you are thinking about this now! One of the biggest factors of getting into a PhD program is how well you fit with the faculty, how your research interests align with theirs. This is just as important to you as it is to them. You find to find a program with faculty members who are conducting research that you are interested in and that you have some experience with even tangentially. You also need to look for faculty members who are accepting new students. This can be frustrating because depending upon the school this information doesn't get updated as frequently as one would like. I had changed the list of schools I applied to multiple times because faculty members I was interested in weren't accepting new students, information I didn't know until September/October. You can email faculty members in advance but this can be tricky as well. Some people welcome emails and encouraged perspective students to reach out. Others will not respond and have all the information they deem relevant on the schools website. You really need to research. 

3. Are there any programs you would suggest that I highly check into? Again this is hard to say because your interests are so board at this point. I suggest purchasing the Graduate Student in Psychology book by the APA. The 2018 edition is already available. This book gives you all the schools in the country that offer graduate programs in psychology, as well as some useful information about specializations within the PhD programs (i.e. behavioral neuroscience). From there you can create a preliminary list of schools you are interested and go on to their websites to look at faculty and gather more information. I suggest creating a spreadsheet, this was a huge help to me. You can create columns for things like school name, location, deadline, application fee, faculty members of interest, minimum GPA (if applicable), minimum GRE scores (if applicable). I also suggest searching for the programs rank on US news, it is hard to tell how "good" a program is. It's so different that undergrad. Here is the link: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools

4. How many applications did you submit for grad school? (Just curious, because my list is way too long so far) It depends upon your circumstances, if you are able to relocate to anywhere in the country then I suggest applying to at least 10 schools. It also depends on what you can afford. I applied to 13 schools, I would have liked to apply to more to up my chances but it was getting so expensive. 

5. What is the best way I can achieve my ULTIMATE GOAL, mentioned above? Getting a PhD will definitely help! However, it is a difficult and arduous process. Do you have research experience? A lack of research experience can be over looked but it can be a serious detriment to your applications. If you don't have research experience you should start looking for a research assistant position ASAP. I would speak with your adviser to let you know what opportunities are available through your school. Also, do you have any poster presentations or publications? This isn't necessary but will definitely help. I can provide you with some more resources on this if you are interested.

6. Any suggestions on how to look more favorable to grad schools? Do your homework on faculty members, read their research and become familiar with them. Write an excellent personal statement. Start early, tailor each personal statement to the specific school, have other people reach your statement and edit, and you yourself edit, edit, edit! This is the place where you can tell your story and make them want you. Show them why they should want you in their program. Be careful to avoid cliches and pitfalls. Here is a good article for reference: https://psychology.unl.edu/psichi/Graduate_School_Application_Kisses_of_Death.pdf

7. What other things about this whole process, am I forgetting to think about? If you haven't taken the GRE yet start studying now and take it this summer. If you can afford to, take a prep class. If not buy books and look into MaGoosh. Sorry to babble on for so long! I was a nervous wreck about this whole process so any wisdom I can share I am more than happy to. Good luck!

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Hi, there! I'm glad to see you're so dedicated to pursuing this research, and I think it's wonderful. Some of my responses might be wordy, but it's mainly because I want to make sure you get the best options available to you! 

1. PhD or PsyD?

PhD, without a doubt. There may be the occasional funded PsyD, but if your goal is to create your own private practice or to work one-on-one with people, ranking isn't as important as just getting into a program (and PhDs are much more likely to pay YOU to get your degree). I have two friends in clinical-focused PsyDs, and it has cost them approximately $50k in loans each, whereas several friends of mine in a clinical PhD gets paid over $20k per year. Given your situation as you described it, being an adult with a family, that's why I suggest a PhD rather than a PsyD that would be more likely to lead to more debt. 

One additional thing I would mention is that both PhDs and PsyDs can be competitive. There are three major master's programs in psychology that focus on getting people into top Phds (Villanova, William & Mary, and Wake Forest), and these masters programs tend to be fully-funded. While the check isn't as large, it can waive the first two years of your clinical PhD or PsyD, the masters programs have ways to waive your application fee if you look into it, and they have extremely high success rates at getting people into clinical programs. :) Just an option for you to consider as you apply - their application deadlines are in January if I remember right, so its a bit after all the PhD and PsyD apps, and offer a great back-up idea. As a Villanova student currently, the friends I made last year had a great success rate at getting into fully-funded top clinical PhDs.

2. What are the realities (what can I expect) of working in the different specialties I mentioned above?

I'm not great at this part, but I will say this: my PsyD friends tend to have a decent amount of hands-on experience in their programs, but my PhD friends tend to get paid way more. The focus of a PhD will always be research, so if you enjoy trying to develop strategies to better understand or treat mental disorders, I would say PhDs are the way to go.

3. Are there any programs you would suggest that I highly check into?

I'm a social psych kid at heart, so I can't help you here. If you care about rankings, U.S. news and world report has a ranked list. If you just want to get a degree so you can help people, then it won't matter as much. 

4. How many applications did you submit for grad school? (Just curious, because my list is way too long so far)

I've applied to fourteen programs, and have friends who have applied to anywhere from two to twenty-two. The golden standard, I've been told, is around twelve just because of how competitive graduate applications are. Here's the thing, though: the more you apply to, the better your chances are. The only limit when it comes to your grad applications is how big your wallet is. Many programs will waive your application fee if you have ever received a pell grant and/or are a first-gen college student: for my fourteen applications, I never paid a single fee solely because of my receiving pell grants in undergrad. However, GRE scores cost $27/school and transcripts may cost money depending on your schools. Despite not paying a single app fee, I still paid over $600 for my fourteen apps due to GRE and transcripts. So, that's my biggest piece of advice. Apply to as many as you can allow. 

5. What is the best way I can achieve my ULTIMATE GOAL, mentioned above?

Here's the big question: what kind of difference are you wanting to make? You mention wanting to make one, but that can come in a variety of ways. You can help people one-on-one, which can be done with a PsyD or PhD. You can help people by researching mental health issues / developing interventions, which can primarily be done only with a PhD. You can research mental health disorders and help people one-on-one, which can only be done with a PhD, really. It's a tricky situation, and the market favors PhDs, so I would be cautious. 

6. Any suggestions on how to look more favorable to grad schools?

Research, research, research. Also: research. Some programs won't care as much if you have first-author publications, but all programs will want research. it will additionally help if you have first-hand experience in the clinical field. A lot of counties throughout America have suicide hotlines that are volunteer-based, so that may be a great opportunity for you to get involved if you don't have any experience. Most areas tend to have decent opportunities. :) 

7. What other things about this whole process, am I forgetting to think about?

Letters of rec are extremely important, and they can make or break an application. The BEST letters tend to come from people who are professors because they have an intimate knowledge of the application process. I would recommend cozying yourself up to 3 professors, especially clinical professors, because they're the ones who will make your application for either program go the farthest. 

 

Hope this helps! My biggest advice would be to apply to some master's programs to ensure you have back-ups because clinical is extremely competitive, and to make sure you get some research experience with 2-3 professors who can write letters of recommendation. Feel free to message me if you have any follow-up questions! 

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Hey guys! Wow the last couple months have been crazy! Sorry I haven't responded sooner! First, thank you all so much for your inputs and resources! psych0...wow...that article REALLY helped me out ALOT!! ZachOxford, thank you for your input, I will be messaging you shortly.

Since I last spoke to you all, I have done some soul searching, and tons of research. I have much more to do, but I am definitely on my way! So, I have decided I want to apply to a Clinical Psychology PhD program, that offers an emphasis on neuropsychology. I have come up with a list of school I can potentially apply to that meet my criteria, but I was hoping I could get your opinions on this program at these schools listed below. I have done research on the areas around these schools, as far as, can I afford to live here goes, anyway. So any helpful info on these schools and their clinical program, and professors/mentors there, would be greatly appreciated! I will also post this in a more specific area to what I am looking for, but thought I would ask you guys as well! TIA

~Christine~

Ohio University - Athens, GA
University of Mass-Amherst - Amherst, MA
Syracuse University - Syracuse, NY
University of Oregon - Eugene, OR
University of Louisville - Louisville, KY
University of Mass-Boston - Boston, MA
Drexel University - Philadelphia, PA
Kent State University - Kent, OH
Temple University-  Philadelphia, PA
University of Cincinnatti - Cincinnati, OH
University of Houston - Houston, TX
University of Florida - Gainesville, FL
University of North Texas - Denton, TX
University of Utah - Salt Lake City, UT
Washington State University - Pullman, WA
Washington University in St. Louis - St. Louis, MO

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