Considerations for Getting Your Doctoral Degree in Psychology

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Getting an advanced degree in psychology can open up the doors to numerous career paths. As a study of the mind and behavior, the areas you can delve into range from studying criminals to helping companies choose the best employees to hire. Choosing a graduate program may seem like a daunting task and it is not something to be taken lightly. The time and money invested are significant and you want to make sure you are choosing the program that best fits your needs, interests and professional goals. Here are some considerations to help you do just that.

What Are Your Future Career Goals?

While it may be hard to predict what you will be doing five years down the line, it is important to give some careful thought to what you want to do with your psychology degree. There are so many directions you can take and it is important to pinpoint what elements interest you most. Talk to psychology professors, read books about the different career paths. Getting clear on this will also help you determine what type of graduate degree you should get—either a PhD or a PsyD. If you have an interest in working in the criminal justice field, look into online forensic psychology graduate programs that will tailor your education to these goals.

Financial Considerations

Graduate psychology programs can cost a pretty penny; depending on the type of degree, you are looking at anywhere from 38,000 to 120,000 dollars in student loans waiting for you upon completion. You need to do some serious number crunching—how much debt do you currently have, what is the salary outlook for your chosen career and how much can you afford to reasonably take on? Getting a clearer picture of your finances will help you decide which schools are the best fit; if you want to minimize your debt, programs that offer better financial aid packages, fellowships, grants, research and teaching assistantships and the like should be your focus.

Evaluating Program Quality

There are several elements to a quality graduate psychology program and it is important to look for these things when choosing a school. If you want to do clinical work, counseling or school psychology, a program accredited by the APA is a must since most internships, licensing boards and institutions where you will likely work require this. Even if you are not entering these areas of psychology, completing an APA-accredited program ensures the school and curriculum has met the high standards set forth by this organization. The student-to-faculty ratio is also important because it is a strong indicator of the quality of clinical training and supervision, how likely you are to get an internship and your performance on the national licensing test. You also need to check out the match rates for internships, the graduation rate and the average scores on the licensing exam. If you are interested in a research-focused track, it is important to familiarize yourself with the researchers at the different institutions to see if there are faculty there you want to work under and who are doing the type of research that interests you.


About the Author: Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who blogs about various graduate education topics.

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