Graduate education in psychology will further your study of human behavior and open up opportunities for continual discovery.
Over 60% of Calvin's psychology majors pursue graduate school or professional training. Common areas include:
- Clinical psychology
- Social psychology
- Counseling psychology
- Social work
- Occupational therapy
- Forensic psychology
Since deadlines for application with consideration for financial aid occur in January or, at the very latest, the beginning of February, applicants should begin preparing their application documents in the fall semester prior to application. Allow yourself ample time to collect and prepare your materials. Spring of your junior year is an ideal time to begin preparations.
Freshman and sophomore years
- Take a variety of psychology classes to help define your interests in the field
- Learn about different types of careers in psychology
- Look into work or volunteer activities related to psychology (especially during your summers)
- Learn about types of graduate schools
Junior year, fall
- Start researching graduate schools: request information from each school and look up the requirements for admission
- Prioritize volunteer, academic and work experiences most relevant to your prospective programs
- Register to take PSYC-380 (the psychology internship course) before fall of your senior year
- Look into research opportunities in the department (the easiest way to do this is to register for PSYC-356), especially if you are interested in doctoral programs
Junior year, spring
- Register to take the GRE over the summer
- Begin studying for the GRE
- Meet with your advisor and register for fall semester classes: courses you want included on your grad school applications must be taken no later than the fall of your senior year
- Look into internship or work experiences related to psychology for the summer
Junior year, summer
- Take the GRE: if your scores do not meet the requirements for prospective graduate programs, register to take it again in the fall
- Register for the P-GRE (Psychology Subject Test) to be taken in the summer or fall of your senior year
- Finalize the list of schools to which you will apply
- Email potential graduate school researchers to determine if they are accepting new research assistants (Ph.D. programs)
Senior year, fall
- Take the P-GRE in time for scores to be submitted by application deadlines (for some schools this is optional)
- Keep in close contact with your references: give them a list of schools you are applying to, detailed instructions for each school's recommendation letter process (i.e., online submission, mail submission or if they need to be sent in by the student with other materials), clear deadlines and double check that letters have been sent
- Write your personal statement (and/or application essays) and have it reviewed by at least two professors in the psychology department
- Write your Curriculum Vita and have it reviewed by a psychology professor
- Submit your official transcripts to grad schools
- Submit all application materials on time (preferably before the deadlines)
- Schedule a practice interview with career development
- Keep in close contact with your academic advisor as well as the admissions counselors at your prospective schools
Graduate education is costly. Fortunately, there are sources of financial aid beyond the loans and grants you are familiar with. You can apply for fellowship and financial stipends, sources of aid that are usually based on academic achievement without required duties. Research or teaching assistantships might also pay $8,000 to $16,000 per year but require some duties. Nonetheless, those duties frequently lead to valuable experience.
There are many graduate programs in the field of psychology. It is important to discern what your interests and abilities are in the field and choose a program that is a good fit for you. Talk with your advisor or another professor in the psychology department about your career goals and about which graduate school programs will best serve these goals.
Types of degrees
Traditionally one earned a baccalaureate degree, then a master's and finally a doctorate. However, because of increasing requirements for certification and licensing, a master's degree is not adequate in many states. Because of this, students are increasingly admitted to a doctoral program directly after their undergraduate work.
The typical doctorate is a Ph.D. or the Psy.D.—doctor of psychology—which emphasizes what a practitioner (e.g. therapist) needs rather than the traditional emphasis on research and scholarship. See information about specialized fields to learn more about specific degrees in the field of psychology.
- Most schools admit only a fraction of the applicants. This fraction varies from one specialty area of psychology to another, with clinical psychology being one of the most competitive areas for students to be accepted into. However, because most students apply to many schools, those who really want to pursue graduate education eventually are admitted somewhere, but not necessarily to a doctoral program.
- For most students, we suggest applying to 4-10 graduate programs. Apply to programs that you think will be a challenge for you to gain admission into and several schools for which you think you are well qualified.
- Your cumulative GPA will be one determinant of whether you are admitted to a graduate program. (Most graduate schools put greater weight on your most recent work, recognizing it as a more valid indicator than your earlier semesters). As a very general guideline, a GPA below 3.0 will hurt your chances for admission and one above 3.6 will enhance chances of getting into better schools.
- Graduate schools emphasize scores on the GRE because it provides a way to compare applicants, whereas grades are affected by the varying standards of colleges and professors. The GRE is much like the SAT and other aptitude tests you have taken in the past and yields three scores: verbal, quantitative and analytical writing. Most graduate schools give great weight to these scores.
- Because most doctoral programs are research-oriented, graduate schools look with favor on applicants who have research experience, particularly if demonstrated by a publication or presentation. The three possible ways for Calvin students to fulfill this experience is to 1) take PSYC-356 and present your paper at the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference, the Michigan Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference or a similar conference; 2) assist a faculty member with his or her research; 3) assist a psychologist in the community with his or her research
- Most schools will ask you to provide 3-4 letters of recommendation from professors or work supervisors who know you. You should provide your references with the necessary forms, addressed and stamped envelopes and adequate time to meet the deadlines.
- The market for college teachers, traditionally the source of employment for the great majority of PhDs in psychology and other disciplines, has remained very competitive. Some teaching positions will open, however job openings are better in the areas of clinical, counseling, health, organizational and quantitative psychology. Various sources in the department library will help you consider innovative and nontraditional career plans.