There are several factors to consider when one is evaluating schools to prepare oneself for a psychology career. To start, choosing a particular school from the numerous possibilities can be difficult, and applying to the schools one is interested in can be a time-consuming process. There are many ways to narrow down the search for an appropriate program, including looking at the school’s accreditation status.
Once schools have been chosen, individuals start the process of applying for admissions. Nearly every psychology school has different admission requirements, so it is always best to obtain this information directly from the psychology school. While some schools will want to see standardized test scores, others may not require them. Some programs may invite prospective students to interview, while others will not. Generally speaking, schools will want to see some record of past performance in the form of a transcript or standardized test scores. Many will also want an essay or personal statement as well as references. Once acceptance letters are sent out by schools, there is typically a deadline whereby the applicant must inform the school as to whether he or she will be attending the program.
Another thing to consider when looking at schools is the accreditation status of the program. Programs that are accredited have met certain standards set by the American Psychological Association (APA) and are eligible to receive federal funding.
Researching and applying to schools can seem like a daunting process. There are ways to narrow the search, though, and find a program that fits one’s needs.
Choosing a School
Choosing a school can be a difficult process to begin. However, just as some groups publish MBA rankings, some also publish rankings of psychology schools. These can be helpful; but should not be the sole basis of your top choices. It is important to consider what degree programs are offered, cost, location, and so on. There are several ways to narrow down the search, including referrals from current and former students and campus visits. Evaluation of the course work and teacher-student ratios may also aid in choosing an appropriate school to pursue a psychology career.
The first thing one should look at when evaluating a potential school is what degree programs are offered. Individuals in high school should be looking at associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs, while those who have completed college will be looking at master’s, PhD, or PsyD degree programs.
There are some questions it may be helpful to ask oneself, including preference for a small or large school and what area of psychology one is interested in. This is especially true for those looking into study at the graduate school level, where some programs may have emphases in different areas of psychology. The teacher-student ratios will be different at each school and are something to take note of.
One way to make sure a program is well rounded is to evaluate the course work required for graduation. At the undergraduate level, these courses should include introductory psychology courses, while at the graduate school level, the course work should be much more advanced and specialized. It is important to evaluate the course work that is required during the program and the prerequisite course work required to enter the program.
It is also important to consider the cost of the program and what financial resources may be available either from the school directly or in the form of student loans. Here is a great site with lots of information about these loans.
The location of the school is also something to consider. Is it important to be close to friends and family or important to be in a location that might further promote one’s career (i.e., a large city)? A campus visit is likely the best way to evaluate these factors.
Those considering a psychology career will first need to choose their training programs. The search can be narrowed down by consideration of factors such as cost, location, and degree sought.
Applying to a School
The experience of applying to schools will vary depending on what type of program one is interested in. Colleges will have different admissions requirement than master’s degree programs, which will have different requirements from doctoral degree programs. However, there are some similarities throughout the process. With careful research, steps can be taken to ensure that one has the best application possible.
Most schools want to see a strong background in psychology or a related field. It is unlikely that a college psychology program would require one to have any prerequisites in psychology fulfilled, but a graduate program would expect to see multiple introductory- level courses in psychology.
While an emphasis on psychology is often required, a well- rounded education is of paramount importance. It is expected that applicants will have completed course work in the liberal arts, which is thought to help prepare one for dealing with patients.
Some clinical doctoral programs also like to see participation in extracurricular activities, such as volunteering at a mental health clinic or shadowing someone in a psychology career. Admissions committees think that this makes an applicant appear more serious about becoming a psychologist because they have seen what the daily routine might offer.
Most people will apply to colleges at the end of their junior years of high school, graduate schools at the end of their junior years of college, and doctoral programs after completing their master’s degrees (when applicable). Acceptance letters are usually sent out sometime the following spring.
Most colleges and universities require either the ACT or the SAT reasoning test for admissions. Most graduate schools require the GRE. There are many ways to study and prepare for these exams to help an applicant achieve the highest possible score.
Some schools may ask for additional information, such as a follow-up application, letters of recommendation, or an essay detailing interest in the program.
When evaluating school applicants, schools, regardless of the level of study, will usually look at one’s grade point average, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation, and may possibly conduct interviews to select the most promising applicants.
Psychology School Accreditation
For the most part, accreditation of schools is of the greatest importance for those considering postgraduate education for a psychology career. Accreditation of psychology programs is award by the American Psychological Association (APA).
According to the APA, “accreditation is a process that assures the educational community and the general public that an institution or a program has clearly defined and appropriate objectives and maintains conditions under which their achievement can reasonably be expected. It encourages improvement through continuous self-study and review. It fosters excellence in postsecondary education through the development of principles and guidelines for assessing educational effectiveness.” In short, accreditation by the APA helps to ensure that all doctoral psychology programs meet or exceed an established standard such that the education provided is consistent enough from one institution to another that the graduates of these programs are equally prepared to enter into practice.
A list of accredited programs is published in the American Psychologist every December.
Doctoral programs that are accredited by the APA include:
- Clinical psychology
- School psychology
- Other “developed practice areas”
- Predoctoral internships in the above areas
- Postdoctoral residencies in clinical psychology, counseling, and school psychology
- Postdoctoral residencies in specialty areas
One of the major advantages of attending an accredited program is that these are the only programs through which federal funding is available. Beyond this, attendance of an accredited institution may be required for licensure. To the general population, seeing a psychologist who has graduated from one of these programs helps ensure that the individual is fully qualified to provide therapy.
For individuals who are pursuing an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree, accreditation status will not be something to focus on. However, those interested in pursuing a doctoral program should ensure that the program has gone through the process to achieve accreditation status.