Becoming a Psychologist

If you decide to major in psychology as preparation for a career as a counselor, clinical psychologist, professor, or psychological researcher, you need to realize that the bachelor’s degree is not adequate preparation; you must pursue graduate studies. You would need 2 to 3 years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s degree level to earn a master’s degree (M.A., M.S., or M.Ed.). A master’s degree involves taking advanced courses in psychology related to a field of specialization and, depending on the program, completion of a written thesis or original research study or fulfilling a practicum and internship. Two popular options for Master’s degrees are offered here at Lee University: Professional Counseling and School Counseling.

You would need 4 to 6 years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s level to earn a doctoral degree (Ph.D or Psy.D). The Ph.D. requires advanced courses in research methods, statistics, and specialized field of study. It also requires completion of an ambitious original research project, which is then described in a written doctoral dissertation. The Psy.D. requires advanced courses in a particular field of study and an internship in an applied setting, such as a community mental health center or hospital. The main difference is that the Ph.D. indicates expertise in conducting research, while the Psy.D. indicates expertise in providing therapy. But note that many psychologists who practice clinical or counseling psychology have a Ph.D., which means that they too, are trained in providing therapy and served an internship in an applied setting. Almost all states require that a person earn a graduate degree, complete an internship, and pass a licensing exam to be licensed as a psychologist.

If you are considering a career in psychology, you should be aware of ways to make yourself more attractive to prospective graduate programs:

  1. You must earn high grades—at least a B average for desirable graduate programs, and a B+ or A average for the most competitive ones.
  2. You must perform well on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which is analogous to the SAT or ACT exam that you probably took for entrance into undergraduate school. The GRE measures verbal and mathematical ability, and there is a writing section. Some graduate programs also require an advanced GRE test of general knowledge of psychology. You might also be required to take the Miller Analogies Test (MAT), which assesses the the ability to reason through the use of analogies.
  3. You should get to know several psychology faculty members so that they provide advice and, eventually, write letters of recommendation for you. It is impossible for professors to write sterling letters for students they hardly know.
  4. You should discuss your career goals and graduate programs of interest with your faculty advisor. If you intend to proceed immediately to graduate school, you should begin considering graduate programs no later than your junior year.
  5. You should do summer work or volunteer work related to your career goals. You can gain valuable practical experience and get an inside view of work in the field. In some cases, it is possible to receive credit toward your major for doing a supervised internship in an appropriate setting. Beyond the personal benefit, this type of experience looks good on resumes and graduate school applications.
  6. If you enjoy research, you should pursue doing research under faculty supervision. Many students present their findings at one of the undergraduate psychology research conferences each year.
  7. You should do extra-curricular reading in your discipline. There are many excellent books, magazines, and journals related to psychology that can introduce you to new topics and ideas, as well as keep you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field.
  8. You should be active in the psychology club or Psi Chi, the national psychology honor society (see page 14). There are also a number of organizations for Christians interested in psychology, such as CAPS (Christian Association for Psychological Studies).
  9. You should broaden yourself by taking courses in disciplines other than psychology. These might include courses in writing, business, sociology, public speaking, and computer science.

You can get further information about psychology and graduate training from the American Psychological Association (APA) at www.apa.org and the American Counseling Association (ACA) at www.counseling.org.