Some Words of Advice
department of psychology
BC undergraduate students considering a career in professional psychology should take the following suggestions into account:
- First, find out whether this is a career option you want to pursue. How do you determine whether or not you are interested in becoming, for example, a clinical or counseling psychologist? There is no easy, concise answer. One useful strategy is to obtain some relevant experience. You might consider volunteering for a suicide hotline, in a group home or school for children, in a psychiatric hospital, as a research assistant in a hospital, etc. This contact will help you know if you have the personality and interest suited to a career in this or a related field.
- Obtain research experience. This is very important for all specialty areas within psychology and critical for experimental psychology. Virtually all doctoral programs require research of their graduate students and like to see that applicants to their programs have some good research training. By the time you apply to graduate school, you should have a good sense of whether you want research to be a major or a minor component of your career.
- Every fall semester, our clinically trained faculty members run an informational workshop for students interested in applying to clinical psychology programs. The date and location of this workshop are announced in psychology classes and posted outside of the main office.
- There are more graduate programs than you can possibly apply to (and each application is expensive). To determine which programs are the best bets, find out which have faculty interested in your probable areas of specialization. The APA publishes a guide to graduate programs (which will also tell you whether or not a clinical program is accredited). You can also look up a department's faculty in the school catalogs in O'Neill Library. Read the descriptions of the graduate programs. Perhaps perform a quick literature search by author to see which faculty are working in areas you are interested in. Ask faculty at BC for suggestions. One approach is to identify schools that have at least a couple faculty working in whatever specialty area interests you. Perform a literature search to what these people have published recently to indicate the direction of their current research. Then, if there are faculty you think you would like to work with, mention that in your personal statement (or somewhere in your application).
- The application process is very time consuming. Most schools have application deadlines between December 1 and February 1. You should write to programs requesting application materials during the summer for several reasons: schools may take a while to mail you the material; some schools have a preliminary application that must be completed before they will send you a full application; and, most important, you will need time to complete the full applications.
- Seriously consider taking some time off after finishing at BC. Working in a related area, for example, as a research assistant for a year or two, is excellent preparation for graduate work in either clinical or nonclinical programs. These jobs are usually listed in the personnel (human resources) offices of universities, hospitals, medical centers, and medical schools. Working in a related setting will almost certainly strengthen your application: You will receive more research or clinical training (or both), and you will have more evidence of your commitment to psychology as a career. Also, the time away from school will give you time to reflect on your decision; you may decide to switch your focus on the basis of your work experience. Finally, graduate school is a very intense, focused existence. Taking a year or two off between undergraduate and graduate school helps give you a respite from the preceding 16 years of non-stop school before the start of another 4 to 6 years.
- Even though it is expensive, apply to at least a few programs. There is a large element of luck involved in the application process. If all the faculty members in your specialty area at a school already have several graduate students, you won't be accepted even if you are the world's best candidate. Or the best advisor for you may be on sabbatical for a year and for that reason is not accepting any new students.
- Clinical programs often require an interview as one of the final steps in the process. Flying to interviews can be very costly, so plan ahead. There is usually some flexibility in when you have an interview; you may be able to arrange to visit more than one school on a single trip. Even if an interview is not required, visiting a school in person may increase your chances of acceptance. If you plan on visiting, be ready to discuss whatever research you have done in a way that shows understanding of the theoretical issues being tested. (The first sentence of the description should be something like: "We were trying to understand ..." The first sentence should not be: "We tested 20 college students for 30 minutes each.").
- If you plan to visit, write or call ahead of time to schedule a convenient time for you to meet with some graduate students and with the faculty you are interested in working with. In a tactful way, ask the graduate students in a prospective doctoral program if they think they are receiving a good education; ask about the strengths and weaknesses of the program from the students' perspective; and ask what kinds of positions students get after leaving the program. No program is perfect, and not all graduate students are happy. You want to find out whether you as an individual are well suited to a particular program and a particular advisor. If you find that you really don't like a potential graduate advisor, think twice about spending four to five years working closely with that person.
- Plan ahead. Preparing yourself for graduate school—designing your education as if you were going to apply to graduate school—will not be wasted effort if you decide not to apply. Quite the contrary. Pursuing the serious, rigorous undergraduate curriculum that will impress a graduate program will guarantee that you receive a good undergraduate education.