How Hard Is It to Get Into Grad School for Psychology? [2021 Guide]

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How hard is it to get into grad school for psychology?

Get Into Grad School for Psychology

Graduate school programs in popular fields like psychology can often be crowded with applicants, so it can sometimes be difficult to get in.

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When pursuing grad school, it can help to know what’s expected of applicants. This article will offer some insights and tips that might help you improve your chances of acceptance.

How Hard Is It to Get Into Grad School for Psychology?

Grad School for Psychology

Since psychology is a popular major, admissions for graduate study in psychology can be highly competitive.

Having strong academic qualifications—such as a higher GPA and a competitive GRE score—could be one aspect of a stronger application. Many psychology grad programs also require relevant work experience.

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There are many factors, though, that can come into play in the admissions process. It’s beneficial to consider how you square up with a school’s posted admissions requirements. In addition, you might also want to identify schools with program goals and faculty specializations that align with your own professional interests.

Graduate schools can have their own visions and values, and they often have a more tight-knit culture than undergraduate programs. When you find a graduate school that’s a good match, highlighting those alignments in personal statements and admissions interviews can be a helpful approach.

Careers in Psychology

Applied Psychology Careers

While there are many branches and areas of specialization in psychology, there are two overarching pathways to consider, regardless of specialization. These two paths are applied psychology and research or experimental psychology.

Careers in applied psychology are those related to the delivery of psychotherapeutic care and services. Careers in research psychology involve clinical lab experimentation or the use of observational data for the advancement of psychological science.

Applied Psychology Careers

Professionals interested in applied psychology use their expertise to provide helpful interventions and therapeutic services. Applied psychology careers include counseling psychologist and psychotherapist.

School counselor and school psychologist are applied psychology careers in educational psychology. Leadership consultant or HR specialist are examples of applied psychology careers in industrial-organizational psychology.

Research Psychology Careers

Research Psychology Careers

Research psychologists focus on advancing knowledge in their areas of specialization. They can review research in the field or conduct new psychological experiments, often involving lab animals or human subjects.

Research psychologists may work in public or private research facilities or clinics, or they may conduct research and teach in academic settings. Both applied and research activities may mutually inform the other.

For example, data for research may come from experiences and observations gathered from applied psychology practices. Likewise, findings from research psychology may inform practices in applied psychology.

Common Psych Degree Specializations

Common Psych Degree Specializations

It’s beneficial to discover which branch of psychology you want to specialize in. Some branches cover very different topics and can lead to distinct career paths and work settings.

  • Industrial and Organizational Psychology. This branch focuses on the study of human behaviors and social dynamics in the context of organizational settings and cultures. I-O psychologists may help reform HR policies, programs, and interventions. They can also engage in organizational leadership research and consulting or help manage workforce supervision and training programs.
  • Clinical Psychology. Clinical psychologists typically engage in the study of human psychology and psychological disorders and treatments. They may provide direct clinical treatment services as licensed psychotherapists, working in private practice or in clinical or institutional settings.
  • Counseling Psychology. This branch of psychology focuses on practical training to help prepare you to provide counseling support services. These services don’t require the same advanced training as clinical psychotherapy services. Possible concentrations include counseling for children and teens, grief counseling, academic and vocational counseling, marriage and family counseling, or behavioral counseling roles, such as substance abuse and addiction counselor.
  • School Psychology. Psychologists who work in school settings typically have specialized training for identifying and assessing learning challenges or disabilities. They can design and implement learning interventions or student support plans, and they may apply principles and methods from different branches of psychology in school settings. School psychologists can help students overcome social or academic challenges. They can also provide guidance to students, families, and school personnel for addressing behavioral factors that interfere with learning or socialization processes in school settings.
  • Sports Psychology. Sports psychologists work with athletes as psychological counselors, therapists, and psychological coaches. They can help athletes overcome psychological barriers that might hinder their athletic training or performance. They can also accelerate an athlete’s athletic improvement and try to identify effective psychological or mental routines for them to achieve peak performance. Sports psychologists can assist athletes in relation to training, competition, or recovery and rehabilitation.

The field of psychology has many pathways and branches, and each specialization offers a range of meaningful career options.

Graduate Degrees in Psychology

It can be tricky figuring out which degree to pursue since psychology itself has so many distinct branches of study and specialization.

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Before applying to grad school, it can be helpful to have a grasp on what kind of specific careers or professional roles you’re interested in pursuing. It’s also strategic to know what licensing may be required and what kinds of degree programs provide the most relevant training.

Master’s Degrees: MA vs. MS in Psychology

MA vs. MS in Psychology

A masters degree can be a stepping stone to a doctoral degree, and it can also help equip you with qualifications you might need to work in a range of psychology-related roles.

A Master of Arts degree has more of a liberal arts focus. Most Master of Science in Psychology programs will focus more on research and experimentation methods, statistical reporting, and so forth.

Many professionals who have a masters in psychology work as counselors. They may work as youth counselors, substance abuse counselors, vocational counselors, sports counselors, or marriage and family therapists. Graduates might also work as clinical research assistants.

Those who want to be a school psychologist often pursue a masters in school psychology. A masters in I-O psychology can help you qualify for administrative roles related to human resource management or personnel training and supervision.

Specialist Degrees: Educational Specialist (EdS) vs. Psychology Specialist (PsyS)

Educational Specialist vs. Psychology Specialist

Specialist degrees provide masters-level training with additional specialized courses. Educational specialist training focuses on research-informed school leadership practices and instructional methods.

Educational specialists might use their skills in school leadership roles to improve teacher supervision programs. They might also work as curriculum specialists or instructional coaches or trainers. A psychology specialist degree, on the other hand, provides advanced training for jobs in school psychology.

With this kind of training, you can learn best practices for supporting special needs learners. You can also learn how to collaborate effectively with larger support networks, including other school personnel, student advocates, and family members.

A psychology specialist might also help schools develop or improve systems, policies, and procedures for identifying, assessing, or supporting students with learning challenges.

Doctoral Degrees: PsyD vs. PhD in Psychology

PsyD vs. PhD in Psychology

The main difference between a PsyD vs. a PhD in Psychology is that a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) program is typically designed for professionals working in practical and applied psychology treatment services.

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology is typically more academically oriented, providing extensive training in research and research design. It is generally better oriented for people seeking a career in academia or research.

Getting Into Psychology Grad School

There’s no magic formula for getting into graduate school, but thinking ahead about the kinds of qualifications needed can be a good first step in preparing a stronger application packet.

  1. Gain experience. Many psychology graduate programs require relevant professional experience. If your work history isn’t relevant enough, you may be able to use volunteer work or internships for your professional resume.
  2. GPA and GRE. Since admissions for programs at many schools can be quite competitive, having a higher GPA might give you a competitive edge. Not all schools require psychology GRE scores, but many do. Even when schools don’t require it, a competitive GRE score could help you offset a lower GPA.
  3. Letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation can provide unique insights into your academic readiness and promise. If the person writing the recommendation has solid credentials and up-close knowledge of your qualifications, the letter might have quite the impact.
  4. Talk to a graduate advisor. Connecting with a prospective faculty advisor might give you some insights into what to emphasize in a personal statement or statement of purpose. Talking to a graduate advisor can also allow the advisor to learn about your academic interests and enthusiasm.
  5. Statement of purpose. Whether it’s a statement of purpose, personal statement, or personal essay, this type of application document gives you a chance to highlight qualities not always made tangible by transcripts and GPAs. This is your chance to express your interest about a specific area of professional research or practice. It can be strategic to explain why you’re a good fit for the program and to express a passionate sense of professional purpose.
  6. Graduate school interview. The qualities interviewers are looking for during the admissions interview can vary, but it’s likely they’ll be sizing you up as a potential student and intellectual colleague. You can prepare to discuss your personal goals, ask thoughtful questions specific to their programs, and express why you’re excited about graduate school.

Many application components can provide you with some unique opportunities to impress reviewers. You can try to anticipate questions they might have about your academic readiness, your unique interests and qualifications, and your sense of vocational purpose and passion.

What Is the Average GPA for Psychology Graduate School?

When applicants have an above-average GPA, admissions offers tend to see that as an indicator of an applicant’s study habits and overall academic readiness.

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For master’s degree programs, admissions officers generally want to see a minimum GPA of 3.0 or 3.5. How much GPA matters can vary from school to school, though. For most programs, your GPA is likely to be one factor among many, but not all graduate schools list an explicit minimum GPA requirement.

What Is a Good GPA to Get Into Grad School for Psychology?

good GPA for grad school psychology programs

A good GPA for grad school psychology programs is one that conveys confidence to admissions officers that you can succeed in graduate school.

Since graduate programs tend to be more rigorous than undergraduate studies, the typical GPA requirement for grad school psychology admissions is a 3.0 or 3.5 GPA, though there are some grad schools with low GPA requirements. Your overall GPA might be only one indicator. Admissions officers may also calculate the GPA earned only for your upper-division courses.

Having a higher GPA might help you earn a GRE waiver at some schools. On the other hand, if you have a less than stellar GPA, scoring well on the GRE, even if not required for admissions, could help counter any concerns surrounding a low GPA.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Clinical Psychologist?

Become a Clinical Psychologist

Assuming you’ve already completed your bachelor’s degree, you still have some steps to complete before you can become a clinical psychologist. Most clinical psychologist licenses require a doctorate.

Depending on whether you get a masters next or gain admittance directly to a doctoral degree program, you may still have some 4 to 7 years of academic programming to complete. In addition, any fieldwork, labs, or internship requirements may add to your time to completion.

Thesis, dissertation, or capstone project requirements can also extend your time in school. Becoming a clinical psychologist also requires state licensure. Licensing requirements for each state can vary, but they often include at least one licensing exam as well as additional supervised fieldwork.

What Are the Chances of Getting Into Graduate School for Psychology?

Getting Into Graduate School for Psychology

It’s difficult to say statistically what your chances are of getting into graduate school. Also, acceptance rates for the specific schools and programs you’re applying to may not reflect overall averages and can vary from year to year.

There are arguably two main factors that can impact your chances of getting into graduate school the most. The first factor is the extent to which you and your application documents demonstrate your potential for success in grad school. The second factor is the strategy you use in deciding how many schools and which schools to apply to.

A good overall strategy is to apply to multiple schools and to include some backup schools on your list. Your backups can include less competitive schools and programs that might be less difficult to get into.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Masters in Psychology?

Get a Masters in Psychology

If you attend a regionally accredited program that has 36 credit hours and no thesis requirement, you might be able to finish in 1 year with full-time enrollment, including during the summer.

In general, a masters program often takes about 2 years to complete. Some programs may last longer, and some students may need more time to finish thesis or internship requirements.

Do You Need a PhD to Be a Psychologist?

For some professional roles in the field, such as clinical psychologist or clinical researcher, a PsyD or a PhD in Psychology is typically required.

A PhD in Psychology is often most applicable to careers in research and academia. A PsyD is often a more practice-oriented degree track than a PhD. A PsyD is more applicable to careers that provide professional services. These types of careers include clinical psychotherapist and clinical administrator or supervisor.

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For other non-clinical roles in the field of psychology—such as research assistant, lab technician, counselor, or industrial organizational psychologist—a master’s in psychology is typically required.

Is Grad School for Psychology Worth It?

grad school for psychology

Yes, grad school for psychology is worth it for many professionals. Getting a masters degree or doctoral degree is often a required step in qualifying for careers in the field of psychology.

Common careers in the field include psychologist, postsecondary teacher, and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 3% job growth for psychologists and 25% job growth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.

There are many branches of psychology to choose from and various levels of graduate degrees to pursue, such as a masters, specialist degree, or doctorate.

Getting Your Graduate Degree in Psychology Online

Graduate Degree in Psychology Online

If you’re wanting to pursue graduate studies in psychology, it can help to hone in on your specific career goals and interests to determine which specialty area is right for you.

There are also many program options to choose from. For instance, many regionally accredited universities offer online psychology degree programs, such as an online PhD in Psychology, for example, and some even offer accelerated psychology degrees online for those needing to earn a degree more quickly.

Online learning can often allow you to complete your coursework anytime, anywhere.

You can start this next step in your educational journey by searching for graduate degree programs that best fit your career goals, priorities, and desired study options.

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Keith Nickolaus
WRITTEN BY
Keith Nickolaus
Keith has a Ph.D. and Master's in Comparative Literature from the University of California - Berkeley and a Bachelor's in Literature from the University of California - Santa Cruz. A retired educator, Keith lives in Berkeley and researches and writes about trends in innovation, policy, and education leadership.