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Psychology and Graduate School Misconceptions

If I graduate with a GPA between 2.7-3.0, that will be good enough to get a job or go to graduate school.

That is very unlikely. Psychology is the second most popular major in the country. That means the competition for jobs is high. In order to compete with other recent graduates, you would want to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in addition to other types of experience (internships, research, involvement, etc.)

Getting into graduate school is just like getting into college.

There are similarities in terms of filling out applications and taking a standardized test (for graduate school, it’s the GRE instead of the SAT). However, graduate school is much more competitive. The number of applicants far exceeds the available “slots,” and less than a quarter of all undergraduates are admitted (Source: National Science Foundation, 1995 survey of undergraduates).

To get into graduate school, all I need to do is get good grades.

FALSE! This misconception is one of the potentially more troubling ones because it is one that some of the very best psychology students believe. Among students who want to go to graduate school, virtually everyone has a high GPA. It’s true that your 3.6 overall and a 3.7 in psychology may set you apart from other students at this school. However, when you apply to graduate school, you are competing with the best students from lots of other schools (all of whom have equally good grades). For this reason, you need to do all that you can to set yourself apart. Since you will be doing a thesis, that gives you an immediate advantage (but other applicants will have these as well). So don’t stop there! The best thing you can do is to get all the experience you can. Help professors with their research, run your own study, try to be an author on a conference presentation or paper for publication. Get an internship, do volunteer work, get another internship, be involved in Psych Club and Psi Chi through a leadership position. Psychology graduate admission rates are competitive (in some cases as competitive as medical school), so anything you can do to give yourself an edge will be helpful.

Sure, there is a lot to do to prepare for life after undergrad, but I don’t have to worry about that until late into my junior year.

It is possible, but very unlikely. If you look at all of the things that would be helpful for you to have (see above), it is going to take more than 3 or 4 semesters to get that accomplished. The best plan is to start planning as soon as possible, and try to get involved (especially with research) in your sophomore (or very early in your junior) year. Unfortunately if you don’t plan far enough ahead, you may end up with wanting to go to graduate school, but not being able to get into the school you want. This may then necessitate taking a year off to gain additional experience.

In order to do counseling, I need to get a Ph.D.

Not in all cases. There are several master’s degrees that allow you do counseling in psychology as well as social work. In each case you will still need to pass the licensing exam. The benefit to this is that admission to a master’s program, while competitive, is not nearly as difficult as Ph.D. programs (plus Ph.D. programs have a heavier emphasis on research). Another option is the Psy.D., which is a professional degree that focuses on counseling (and not as much on research). These are generally more competitive than master’s programs, but not as competitive as Ph.D. programs.