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Choosing a Psychology Graduate Program 101

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Enrolling in graduate school for psychology deepens your knowledge and skills in the field and increases your earning potential within a host of career paths. For example, according to U.S. News & World Report, the median earnings for those with a graduate degree in 15 fields of study was more than 38 percent higher than for those with only bachelor’s degrees. What’s more, those with social science graduate degrees, such as psychology, earned 55 percent more than their counterparts who only possessed the baccalaureate degree.

You might think that once you have made the difficult decision of choosing to further your psychology education, the decision-making process is over. Wrong. In fact, the decision-making has only just begun. To choose the program that is right for your unique background and career aspirations, you must consider a number of factors.

Format

The format of the graduate program you choose can encompass a range of options. Are you planning to study full-time or part-time? Will you complete coursework in the traditional face-to-face format, online, or through a hybrid program that offers both options? Are you looking to earn only one degree, or would you like to enter a dual degree program that allows you to study another subject like business or law in addition to psychology? Are you interested in gaining more applied skills in psychology or research experience?

The answers to these questions will partly depend on your current lifestyle. For example, if you are working and/or raising kids, it may be unreasonable to attempt full-time, traditional study. However, a program that allows you to attend part-time and offers some coursework online might suit your schedule and lifestyle better.

Your decision will also depend on what you are hoping to get out of your degree. If your career goal is to become an experimental psychologist, then you will require more research training and would apply to programs with strong experimental coursework and research reputation.

Cost

The cost of your graduate education in psychology includes tuition, fees, and books and other materials in addition to room, board, and transportation. General costs of the program alone may be influenced by the specialization area you select, whether you are earning a master’s, PhD, or PsyD, whether you attend school in-state or out-of-state, and whether you are eligible for a research assistantship, teaching assistantship or grants.  

Graduate students in psychology should complete the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), apply to any scholarships they might be qualified for, and determine whether they will be working or paying out of pocket for some portion of school expenses to get a good idea of just how much graduate school may cost in the long run. See our post on Financial Assistance, for more information about financing your graduate study in psychology.

Alignment with Your Career Goals

One of the most essential aspects of choosing which graduate program is right for you is determining whether your preferred schools meet your professional interests. What type of job is ideal for you and your current passions? Does this particular school provide the training, research, mentorship, practical experiences, and/or accreditation/certification standards to help you meet your career goals?

Firstly, choose an area of interest or specialization that appeals to you most (i.e. clinical, school, sports, i/o, etc.). Then, determine what you would like to do within that sub-field. For example, you might function as a practitioner, professor, or researcher among other possibilities. Research the specific licensing or certification requirements for your desired occupation and check to ensure that your top choice school can meet those objectives. Next, look up the faculty research and application areas to see if they align with your ultimate goals. Finding a faculty member to mentor or advise you can have outstanding ramifications on your success in graduate school, but also your commitment and satisfaction within the field of psychology.

Finally, find out the success rates of other students who have completed the program or are currently enrolled. Have these students earned credible internship or practicum placement? Have they gone on to obtain employment? Did they the pass licensing or certification exams, such as for Licensed Professional Counselor or Certified Addiction Counselor? If the success rates and employment potential of student who have complete the program are less than satisfactory, it will be in your best interests to select a different program that can better meet your career needs.

The Takeaway

In sum, choosing a psychology graduate program depends on three large-scale factors that all can be further broken down into varying elements: format, cost, and alignment with your desired career. You must carefully consider all of these factors before making the commitment to enroll in a graduate program in psychology as making a rash decision without considering all the variables can drastically affect your success and dedication to the given program. 

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