CAREERS AND GRADUATE STUDIES

The information below is designed to help you start thinking about graduate school and/or career options. For more information about planning for graduate school, please make an appointment to meet with your academic adviser as early in your college career as possible.

  • To read more about getting into graduate school, download this pamphlet. It includes general information about graduate programs in psychology, strategies for building a strong application, and a sample CV.
  • Need a letter of recommendation? Download this form to request one.

1. What will I learn as a psychology major?

A major in psychology teaches several fundamental skills, the most important of which is the ability to think critically. In addition, students will: learn about the fields within psychology, develop their communication and presentation skills,  learn to gather information through a variety of means, evaluate information to determine its credibility, synthesize information into a coherent argument, learn how to pose empirical questions, develop procedures for gathering new information about human behavior, gain a basic understanding of research methodology and statistics, learn how to interpret data, learn a variety of computer skills including statistical, spreadsheet and presentation software, develop skills to work with people and groups, and develop adaptability (Kuther & Morgan, 2010).

2. How do I know that psychology is the right major for me?

Students who major in psychology learn a great deal about human behavior and the factors that influence it. Therefore, psychology majors can go on to work in a wide range of fields. Just because a student majors in psychology does not mean that he/she plans to go on to graduate school and become a licensed psychologist. Any liberal arts major will provide any student a solid foundation, but the psychology major, with its specific training in the skills listed above, gives the student the ability to stand out from other liberal arts majors. Finally, career planning is a process that cannot be done quickly. Thus, the best way to know if psychology is the right major for you is to have knowledge of your own interests, career goals, skills, and values. The FMU Office of Career Development can help you assess your interests and goals so that you can make an informed decision; you can make an appointment to complete the appropriate inventories, then meet with a career counselor to discuss the results.

3. For what occupations does an undergraduate degree in psychology prepare me?

Most psychology students have the mistaken belief that they MUST go to graduate school in order to get a job. That is simply not true. Many students have found employment after completing a B.A. or B.S. degree in Psychology. You can check here for a list of some of the occupations that students pursue after only completing their undergraduate degree.

4. I know I want to major in psychology, but should I choose a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree?

Generally speaking, a B.A. degree focuses more on liberal arts general education courses.  For example, at FMU, students who choose this degree are required to complete 12 hours of foreign language. A B.S. degree will generally focus more on science and mathematics courses. Students pursuing a B.S. in Psychology may have to take more labs and statistics courses along with their general education classes. The subject matter area of the degree may also focus more on research methods and applied psychology courses.

5. What are some specific areas of psychology in which I can pursue graduate study?

There are many different areas of psychology that a student can choose.  However, as mentioned previously, the term psychologist is reserved for those individuals who have completed a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) in psychology.  Some of the areas in which a student can pursue doctoral level work are listed below. Click on the links to learn more about each field.

6. What if I do not want a doctoral degree in psychology?  What other forms of graduate study are available?

If you do not wish to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology but would like to pursue a master’s degree instead, you might consider looking into the following fields (click on the links to learn more):

7. What do graduate schools expect of their applicants?

Generally speaking, applying to graduate school is a competitive, lengthy, complicated, and expensive process that requires planning and preparation.  The following information is generally required for application to ALL accredited graduate programs, such as the graduate program at FMU.

  • Application form (provided by the school)
  • Scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General Test
  • Letters of Recommendation (2 or 3) from former professors who can vouch for your potential for success in graduate school
  • Curriculum Vitae
    • Research experience (including experience as a research assistant)
    • Conference presentations and publications
    • Honors and merit scholarships
    • Community/volunteer experience
  • Personal Statement
  • Transcripts from ALL prior universities attended (including technical schools, community colleges, online schools, etc.).
    • Admission to FMU’s masters programs requires at least one introductory psychology class and at least one behavioral statistics course

After these pieces of information are received, the admissions committee (usually faculty members in the psychology department) will evaluate your application and decide whether there is a fit between you, their program, and the faculty.  Remember, applying to graduate school is a competitive process; because of the intensive training that is involved there typically are more applicants than there are slots available.  Some of the criteria that admissions committees use for evaluating and selecting graduate students are:

  • Research experience (including experience as a research assistant), including conference presentations and publications
  • Honors and merit scholarships
  • GPA:
    • Admission to a competitive Ph.D. program generally requires a GPA of 3.8 to 4.0
    • Admission to a less competitive Ph.D. program generally requires a GPA of 3.3 to 3.5 range
    • Admissions to a masters program generally requires a GPA above 3.0
  • GRE Scores:
    • Admission to a competitive Ph.D. program generally requires a GRE score in the 1300+ range
    • Admission to a less competitive Ph.D. program generally requires a GRE score in the 1200+ range
    • Admission to a masters program generally requires a GRE score in the 900+ range
  • Writing skills on the personal statement:
    • The clarity, focus, and content of the applicant’s admission essays
    • Knowledge about and interest in the program
    • The match between the applicant’s interests and the program’s goals

8. What is the difference between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D.?

According to the American Psychological Association’s website, the two most commonly awarded doctoral degrees in psychology are the Ph.D. and the Psy.D. The Ph.D. is the oldest doctorate and is generally regarded as the research degree.  Programs within university academic departments and independent schools of professional psychology both offer the Ph.D. degree. These programs typically have an emphasis on research training and the integration of research with applied training (i.e., clinical skills).

The Psy.D. is a professional degree in psychology. Programs awarding the Psy.D. place major emphasis on preparing their graduates for professional practice, but typically with less extensive research training. As a general rule, acceptance rates for PsyD programs are much higher than Ph.D. programs (that is, they are easier to get into; Norcross & Khule, 2011). Tuition for Psy.D. programs is typically much higher than tuition for Ph.D. programs because Psy.D. programs are less likely to be housed within university academic departments, and they are less likely to offer financial assistance (e.g., tuition waivers, stipends, assistantships).

9. How do I decide which graduate school is right for me?

The choice of graduate school is a personal choice. As with choosing psychology as a major, students who wish to go to graduate school should consider how well their interests match the interests of faculty in various graduate programs. Another way to determine which schools to which you should apply may be choosing a primary place of employment (e.g., university, private practice, clinic, school, hospital) and investigating  how many students from a particular program ended up in that setting. Another important thing to inquire about when choosing a graduate school is accreditation. Finally, financial aid is an important consideration. At the doctoral level, many students can be “funded” either partially or fully (e.g., the school pays for your tuition). Other schools may offer assistantships (e.g., you work for the university) to help offset the costs of attendance. The APA publishes Graduate Study in Psychology each year; a copy can be found in the FMU Psychology Department office. This book provides information that can help you make your decision about applying to programs.

If you are seeking a doctoral degree it is very important that the program be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Accreditation is a system for recognizing educational quality. Graduating from an accredited program helps make licensure and employment much more attainable. APA accredits doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, school, or a combination of these areas. The APA does not accredit programs in other areas of professional practice (e.g., industrial/organizational psychology). The APA also does not accredit master’s degree programs.

For students pursuing graduate training in school psychology, it is imperative that the program be accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Like APA, NASP accredits doctoral programs in school psychology. NASP also accredits specialist level programs in school psychology. FMU’s Specialist in School Psychology (S.S.P.) program is fully accredited by NASP. The School Psychology Option is also approved by the South Carolina State Department of Education and is nationally recognized by the National Council on Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) at the specialist level.

For students pursuing graduate training in clinical or counseling psychology at the master’s level, it is recommended that the program be accredited by the Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). MPCAC is affiliated with both the Council of Applied Masters Psychology Programs (CAMPP) and the North American Association of Masters in Psychology (NAMP).  FMU’s Master of Science program in Applied Psychology is fully accredited by MPCAC.

Note: Much of the information above was summarized from the American Psychological Association website at http://www.apa.org/education/grad/faqs.aspx.