I’m interested in research but also more of a counseling career. What would be the best path to take to get the best of both worlds? Also, I’m a junior and have been stressed about figuring out when I should apply to grad school and what steps do I need to take now as a junior.

As a junior, you should begin to think about the General Record Examination (GRE), which is typically a requirement for most social science graduate level programs. If you are applying to a graduate school that requires it, we recommend purchasing some online study tools or even taking a course to understand the test. We want to stress that not all graduate programs require it, so research the schools you are interested in first and then decide your studying path for the GRE or if it is even needed.

Other things to consider as a junior is to begin asking your professors (psychology, sociology, biology, anthropology, business/human resources/organizational psychology) if they are engaged in any research endeavors and if can you be a research assistant. Psychology intersects into many areas of academia, so you never know how it could be applicable and it doesn’t hurt to ask multiple departments.

Volunteering in clinical settings is so important. Even if you aren’t engaging in the clinical work or research area, being in the environment will help you understand if you want to do that type of work or engage with that type of population. List of possible locations to volunteer: hospitals, nursing homes, shelter/soup kitchen, outpatient medical office, nursery schools/day care/head start, receptionist in any clinical setting (detox, outpatient clinics, psychiatry office), schools, colleges, settings who treat children with learning disabilities, RBHS provider offices (Outpatient SC Wrap Around Services), psychological testing practices and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) providers which serve the autism spectrum population. In some of these settings, you can ask about the possibility to shadow a provider or seniors staff member.

Make sure to ask for recommendations and references early from your professors, mentors and any volunteer/research/internship supervisors who know you well. The more time these individuals have, the better your recommendation will probably be. Try to obtain your references’ personal emails or cell phone as they will move on to new jobs and other parts of the country. You never know when you may need their recommendation or just a sounding board for your next move.

It is also smart to request a few transcripts via paper that are sealed/stamped by your academic institution. When requesting transcripts electronically, you do not always get a copy of the official transcript and it is nice to have one or two that are sealed that you can send yourself if you get into a pinch and even to licensing boards that may require paper or do not have all the technology needed to receive transcripts electronically.

What’s your advice for first-year students who are interested in clinical work?

Make sure you get to know your student advisor and go over the program materials to be sure this is what you really want to do. If you do not mesh with the advisor you as assigned to, use this first year to find a professor or two who you truly congeal with. They will be able to guide you and flush out how you think you want your career to be in the future. As always, volunteering will help you and serve you well.

I want to go to grad school to get my masters straight from undergrad.  What do graduate schools look for in applications? I’m a freshman, and at this moment I want to go from my bachelor degree straight to my doctorate. How should I go about that?

If you are a freshman, you have plenty of time to build a strong application. Focus on getting research and working under one or multiple different mentors in topics that you’re interested in throughout undergrad. Officially presenting your research and/or having publication(s) is extremely important as well. Also, build strong connections with your mentors and some of your psychology professors who could provide strong recommendation letters for you. You could also get involved in psychology related organizations and any consistent social work involvement over the years would help too. Other than that, maintaining a good GPA and a good GRE score (depending on the average GRE scores for schools of your choice) would be a strong determining factor.

What are job options for people with a BS in psychology? If I’m getting a BA in psych, does that mean I can’t get a doctorate? What can you do with a BS in psych right after graduating?

With a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, there are not a lot of options in the psychology field itself beyond entry level mental health technician positions.  These positions are important, but there is not much chance for advancement, unfortunately.  There can also be a high rate of “burn out” in such occupations as well.  However, with a BA or BS in psychology some people go on to be successful in other fields or decide to receive advanced education in other related fields such as allied health or human resources. Human resources can be very rewarding and many people with a sociology or psychology major go into this field. Other credentials in the human resources field which are relevant and important such Professional Human Resources (PHR) which is a part of the HCRI organization and Society for Human Resources (SHRM).


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You can absolutely get a doctorate in Psychology after getting a Bachelor’s.  If you decide you like the field, you’ve met with people in the field and have decided that it is the career for you, then you should.  With one caveat, it would be helpful to be clear on what you want to do (therapy vs. assessment vs. teaching/research), because you will not necessarily need a doctoral degree to conduct therapy (although you will have more options if you do get the doctorate).  Also remember that at any time, it is appropriate to pause, work in the field for some time and then return to school.  It is not frowned upon not to complete all the educational requirements at one time.  In fact, that may help narrow down and guide future career plans a little more efficiently, since one can actually have experience rather than guess about the nature of the work.

Can you give a brief overview of licensure options?

Each state is different so be sure to familiarize yourself with the licenses in your state.  In the three different states I have been licensed in, each has different licenses and requirements.  To be a licensed Psychologist, a doctoral degree is required.  Some states (Alabama is one of them) offer a license to be a Psychological Technician which allows some testing and assessment privileges and only requires a master’s.  There is also a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker – all of which are master’s level. Another option is to contact the licensing board of your state and ask what social services/psychology licensures are available.

What are the pros and cons of having a private practice? how do you begin a private practice?

One of the biggest pros to being in private practice is that you are able to determine which clients to see and when to see them. You set your work hours, which is a big bonus. Private practice gives you the freedom to teach part time, do consultation work or supervise graduate school students. The time and energy it takes to build a private practice can sometimes be a con for people without resources.  Be prepared to spend time building a practice. After graduate school, your dissertation defense and licensure, working in a community mental health center and/or another agency can give you experience, the opportunity to network with colleagues, and importantly, a consistent paycheck. Going into a private practice that is already established has some pros: usually there is some help from colleagues on getting credentialed by insurance companies, a steady flow of clients, and opportunity for informal consult with peers.

One of the cons of a sole private practice is not having peer consultation, which can result in the clinician feeling isolated from other mental health professionals. Another benefit in joining a group of established practitioners is that they can help you make sense of the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH) application, the application for your National Provider Identification number (NPI) and the insurance credentialing process. Insurance credentialing is time consuming. Some private practice offices have a manager that can assist and one that does your billing and assists with re-certifications. (If you only intend to take self pay, then this step can be skipped.)

A pro of private practice is that you get to decide what type of presenting problems to work with, your intended population (whether you are going to want to focus on families, children, or adults) and how much and what type of psychological testing you want to provide. It is important these days to have a well rounded training, but also develop a niche. This will help you develop your marketing plan, which may include sending letters about your services to potential referral sources (doctor’s offices, schools, churches). It helps to have a good website to let potential clients know what to expect from your practice. One way of managing the lack of referrals (because no one knows you yet) when you are just starting out is working in agencies and then moonlighting with an established private practice on a part time basis until you increase the volume of your referral sources.  When the number of clientele increase, a transition to full time private practice can be accomplished.

When pursuing masters in clinical counseling, what advice do you have for finding a theoretical focus? Are there particular theoretical approaches that you recommend for that specialization?

Most psychology training programs offer an introduction to different theoretical orientations usually taught through a “Theory of Personality” class offered early on in the training program. This is an overview and then there will be follow up classes which may include a focus on psychodynamic, attachment, humanistic, behavioral, cognitive, or gestalt theories (just to name a few). I do not believe any one theory is superior to the other, as they all have something to offer in developing your conceptual skills. In your graduate program, you will be assigned to clinical supervisors (most make their theoretical orientation known), so you will have the opportunity to “try on” different styles. Some programs may have a greater focus in one theoretical focus. As the field of psychology continues to evolve, there is some evidence for certain interventions that work better with certain disorders which may influence your choice.

After graduate school, your choices of continuing education classes will offer you a greater opportunity to hone your skills in one type of theory as opposed to another. Your ultimate focus on a certain population or presenting problem may also play a role in your choice of theoretical orientation for the conceptualization of cases – Family Systems when working with families and/or Attachment theory when working with clients who have a history of relationship impairment. Theoretical orientations drive your case conceptualization and evidence based interventions drive your treatment.

What sort of psychology jobs can you do with children? At the different levels of education? Are there any psychology jobs that include animals? I am a senior struggling to decide what to do after I finish my undergraduate.

While having a bachelor’s degree in psychology won’t necessarily set you up for a high-paying job, it can help you get started on a career path.  Eventually, if you want to stay within the mental health field, you might want to pursue either a master’s degree or doctoral degree. However, with a bachelor’s you will be able to get a job that will give you a taste of what it’s like working with children with mental health needs in a variety of settings. Bachelor’s level jobs include different types of supportive roles in community mental health clinics, hospitals, group homes, residential placements and public schools, and state departments such as DSS and DMH. You will likely be able to get a lot of hands on experience working with children who need direct support. For example, public schools often need classroom assistants and 1:1 aids for children with behavioral (and usually mental health) problems. Group homes and residential schools hire staff to help provide support to the children in behavior and daily living skills. At a mental health clinic I worked for, bachelor’s level individuals worked as case managers, who would visit children at their homes to help them follow through on personal goals, such as with behavior and hygiene. Community therapists at a school for children with emotional and behavioral disabilities would take children out to visit restaurants and stores in order to work on their behavior when in public. In psychiatric hospitals, there are often behavior “tech” roles for people who can help intervene during a crisis and deescalate or at times, physically intervene.  In South Carolina, there are organizations that contract with state agencies (DMH, DSS) to provide support to families receiving their services, including Justice Works, .  Getting experience in the field is an excellent way to determine your next steps. You’ll get to interact with other professionals, such as social workers and psychologists, and will get to experience what it’s like to work in different settings. That is good information to have to help you determine what kind of degree you will need to pursue as you consider your career options.

Article Link: Careers with a bachelor’s in Psychology


Can/how would one get into research labs if they are not affiliated with a program?

Your best bet in this case is to reach out to either the researcher you want to work with, or contact the training director for the program and see if there is a doctoral student research team lead. Some programs even have websites dedicated to the research teams specifically, in which case you can likely get the contact info that way. Also, there’s always LinkedIn (which I used a long time ago to do this very thing) where you can reach out to researchers or students to make professional connections. In any case, make sure you read up on the published research by that researcher/team members so you can speak competently on the topics. You’re in luck because I’m guessing many teams have adjusted to online/virtual meetings, so there’s no better time to try to join a team you aren’t physically near! The worst that can happen is they say “no, we don’t have a need for more team members right now,” and if anything, you may get an insight into how “friendly” the team is to help determine if you’d actually like to pursue a grad degree with them.

With how competitive PhD programs are, what do you recommend to help stand out on applications?

One thing that will definitely make you stand out is having publications. Depending on the school you’re applying to, you could increase the number of  presentations/publications. You could also get involved in panel discussions.

Overall, PhD and PsyD programs are competitive. Depending on the location of the school, it could be less competitive due to certain factors such as it being extremely rural or if the specific field of study is not as prominent or viewed as a “hot topic” as others. For example, in the geropsychology classes I took during my doctoral program, there were maybe a max of 8 students during a semester in all the classes (if that). These dynamics should not affect what you choose as you should follow the path that will make you happy in the end, but these are some dynamics that are at play depending on the program and location.

What do you suggest for figuring which psychology job is for you? I’m in between criminal, child, and clinical?

One of your best bets is to talk to people who do those jobs and have graduated within the last 10 years. If you seek out these folks, you’ll have a sense of 1) what grad school currently looks like, and 2) the kinds of daily work tasks that actually have to be completed. Hopefully, by limiting to the last 10 years, you’ll get a good sense if the grad school work/requirements are things that you would actually be okay with managing as well as get a better feel for what an entry-level person has to do. And, you may get more up-to-date recommendations as to which programs will prepare you for what you want to do.

As far as reaching out, similar to #10, the best way to do this is to connect with professionals who do what you’re interested in, probably on LinkedIn, though any way you can get contact should be fine. I personally get questions fairly frequently (about once a month or so) on LinkedIn with students asking me about what life is like as a psychologist, and I’m always happy to help answer someone’s questions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to multiple people, in multiple settings (so, child psychologists in private practice, in social services/government positions, in school districts, etc). I would also try to target people who live in the geographic region/state you want to live in, as state laws can have a big effect on what practice looks like. As far as reaching out, just a simple introduction of “I am a student at ‘X University’ and I am considering a career doing what you do. I am hoping that you might have time to answer some lingering questions I have about . . .I also understand you are probably very busy, so thank you for taking the time to consider even if you are not able to respond. I would also appreciate any contacts you could provide who may be able to help.”  Also, websites like O*Net (the occupational network) may also be helpful in forecasting job availability, getting a sense of what daily tasks are like, etc.

What has been the hardest part of the academic/professional process for you?

Academically, the hardest part was maintaining resilience.

However, I found the perfect solution for myself was to stay on task with my coursework. A schedule defends against chaos and whims. Also, when all the scheduled work was completed ahead of time, I would reward myself.  (Walk in the park, go out to eat, work on a hobby).

Professionally, I was already established and had a career. So, going back to take the exams was the hardest part. The rest was easy. I often tell students that we are the sum of our total life experiences.  So many of those experiences are shaped by our family, friends, and our heritage. My sister was a therapist so, I to would become a therapist. Secondly, volunteering in areas that you might like to pursue will be helpful. Thirdly, join professional organizations that give student discounts, and you might even volunteer at their conventions or seminars.

Another SCPA Board Member Answer:

Graduate school can be long and challenging.  I’ve always said it’s like a 5 year (depending on the length of the program) adjustment disorder.  Every few months your professors change, your schedule changes, and your brain is challenged to think critically in new ways.  Self-care in grad school can be hard because you have limited time and are typically broke.  I can remember lots of tears throughout the process.  Having a helpful support system was vital for me.  My cohort in grad school was very close.  While it can be competitive, I’m so grateful we all helped support each other and lift one another up rather than tearing each other down. There were so many hoops to jump through just to get into grad school.  I can remember thinking, “is it ever going to end?” Sad to say, the hoops don’t stop until after you get licensed.  Personally, the emotional rollercoaster of graduate school and the financial toll were the hardest parts of my academic career.

Professionally, the hardest part is being on your own. Especially if you’re in a rural area.  Once you’re licensed, you no longer have professors, supervisors, or a cohort for support.  That’s why my involvement in my professional association has been so crucial for me.  I have other psychologists that I can consult with when I have a challenging case or any ethical conundrums.

Do you recommend getting your masters before going for a PsyD?

Not necessarily and maybe not at all.  Many individuals enter a graduate program following completion of the undergraduate degree.  You certainly could obtain a master’s degree although depending on the state where you reside you may find that you are fairly limited in your employment options.  A few states do have certification at the Master’s level, although that is more the exception than the rule.  If someone wants to get a Master’s prior to attending a doctoral program, it might be beneficial to obtain it in a field that has more autonomy at that level, such as social work.  Following that, the doctorate possibility could be revisited.

Is it possible to get into a grad program with no clinical or research experience?

Anything is possible, but highly unlikely.  Clinical experiences doesn’t necessarily have to be providing psychological services. Most of the time, it’s not for undergraduates.  It can be volunteering/working at a homeless shelter, a nursing home, a crisis hotline, helping at a school, or even doing odd jobs at someone’s private practice.  I once worked at a treatment facility that offered extra credit to high school students for filing papers and making copies (group curriculum, etc). Obviously, the more hands-on the better, but be creative in your experiences!

As far as research, hopefully you will have completed some in undergrad. Even if it’s small studies that you’ve done in stats classes. Mention any poster presentations you’ve done. Include if you’ve helped on any data collecting for professors.  No one expects you to have published research as an undergrad.

I’m a senior and my recent classes have all been online where my professors don’t really know me at all.. how can I help build more connections in time for applications?

My advice is to reach out via email.  Let your professors know that you are considering graduate school. Pick their brains.  Ask what their academic careers were like. Ask if they have any advice. Offer to help with any research they may be working on. Your professors have been where you are at before. Odds are, they had mentors and professors that helped them throughout the process. I know I did! Professors usually like to pay it forward and be the help they once received.  So much of psychology is learning to connect to others.  Let this be your first challenge!

Advice on taking the GRE?

First of all – UGH!!! The GRE is a beast.  But it’s just another hoop to jump through in your academic career.  Different programs weigh your GRE score differently so be mindful of this. Some pay close attention to your score, others do not.  I’m not the best test taker so I knew I’d need to study hard for the GRE.  To help me study, I used what resources were at my local public library.  There may be some at your school’s library too but odds are they are checked out by another student.  They usually have several different books with practice tests and helpful hints.  There may be resources online as well. I had to take two GREs – the general one and the psychology GRE. You may also want to get a study group together or find a GRE tutor at your school.  Keep in mind, your score does not accurately reflect how well you’ll do in grad school (even though that’s the whole point!)  I had to learn to be a better test taker over the years.  Learn what study tricks work for you.  Remember the 5 R’s: read, recite, (w)rite, reflect, and review.  Get creative in your study habits.  I used lots of flash cards and would often come up with fun acronyms or use silly pictures to help me.  I still remember the lobes of the brain by using the acronym FPOT (frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal).

For letter of recommendations, I was going to use a professor, a supervisor from the drug abuse center I interned at, and for my third I didn’t know if I should use another professor or use my supervisor where I was a manager as a lifeguard and didn’t know if I should use that instead since I held a leadership role even if it wasn’t psychology related?

Your grades can speak for themselves, so unless your professor can speak about your personal attributes, I’d go with the lifeguard reference.  Leadership roles are important.  I taught Sunday School classes to 3 and 4 year olds.  I’m pretty sure I included that on my CV because it showed I could consistently stick with something for several years, could lead (even if it was toddlers), be creative and could think on my feet.  Graduate schools want bright students but they also want well-rounded students.

I am a senior, I am currently a research assistant for community psychology and cognitive psychology. I also intern at the unman center for neurodevelopment. I have experience in different areas but I am not sure what I want to do after graduation for graduate school or if masters or If PhD is better are there any recommendations?

There are many options and the type of degree you pursue will definitely limit you to certain types of jobs. It’s important to consider careers in psychology before you enter a degree program. Begin at the end by finding out what kinds of jobs graduates of a program are qualified to get.  Licensure is equally important in determining what kind of job you will be qualified for. You will want to ensure that graduate programs you apply to are accredited and that when you graduate, you will have all qualifications to obtain a license in your discipline.

If you want to continue doing research, you will need to get a PhD in psychology or related field. The career path for a researcher is typically to work in a university setting where you might run a lab or clinic and be responsible for teaching.  PhD programs are typically very small and competitive to get into.  A benefit of a PhD program is that your degree is most likely funded, though you will be expected to work in a professor’s lab and teach courses. Your dissertation will not be defended until you have completed your research, and this can take longer, depending upon your data collection. When exploring PhD programs (and any doctoral programs), check out the typical length of time it takes students to complete the degree. If you see 10 years, I would consider that a red flag!

A PsyD program is typically more of a clinical versus research focus. However, most PsyD programs include a research component, especially at if it is housed at a research 1 university. PsyD programs may have stipends available, but they are usually not as generous as a PhD program and you will likely need to pay for most of your education yourself (i.e. take out loans). Most students of PsyD programs plan to enter into clinical practice, and not pursue a research career.

If you are interested in neuropsych, you should definitely look for programs that can help train you in this area.  Not all programs will have the same training opportunities – it depends upon the specialization and emphasis of the program, as well as the areas of expertise of the faculty.

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