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How to get into a psychology doctoral program?

What steps should I take as an undergrad majoring in psychology to get into a doctoral program? I'm currently a senior looking at becoming a counselor.

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Dina’s Answer

Hi Victoria,

Great question! Let's start with the technical requirements to get into a PhD or PsyD (professional doctoral program) in psychology.

1. A bachelors degree - a degree in psychology is not required, but most programs expect coursework in research methods or experimental psychology, developmental psychology, psychopathology or abnormal psychology, and biological bases of behavior.
2. GRE - almost all programs require a GRE exam taken within the past 5 years. You should expect to study for the GRE for a few months.
3. Psychology GRE subtest - many, though not all, programs require this exam which has psychology specific content.
4. An application with a personal statement and letters of recommendation - the personal statement is a reflection of your professional experience and aspirations within the field of psychology.

In addition to following the above steps, there are ways that you can boost your application. For starters, having a mix of research and clinical experience is valuable. If you know that you want to work with a certain population or issue (e.g. kids, trauma, chronic medical conditions), find a clinical opportunity that allows you to gain exposure to that population. If you don't know any psychologists, I recommend contacting nearby schools because every public school has a school psychologist. You can set up an informational interview with the school psychologist which means that you interview them about their job and ask them about the field. They may have additional contacts in the community (i.e. licensed psychologists or therapists) which will allow you to build your network.

There is also a difference in the requirements for PhD and PsyD programs. PhD programs expect applicants to have extensive research experience. Most people spend 1-2 years conducting research in a lab and publishing articles or posters prior to starting a PhD program. PsyD programs place more of an emphasis on clinical work and do not expect as much research experience (though PsyD programs have a required course in research methods or statistics).

Lastly, consider whether you would like to attend a doctoral program with a focus in clinical, counseling, or school psychology. Each of these types of programs have slightly different requirements and all make you eligible to become a licensed psychologist.

Dina recommends the following next steps:

The APA has a website of all the accredited clinical, counseling, and school psychology doctoral programs along with their requirements. https://accreditation.apa.org/accredited-programs
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Keyston’s Answer

Though I didn't go to college myself, I've seen my wife's journey as a business owner. To get into a psychology doctoral program, focus on excelling in your undergrad studies, build strong relationships with professors for recommendations, gain relevant experience through internships, and aim for a good GRE score. Keep your eyes on the goal and let your determination guide you, just like I did in my career path.
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