Attending graduate school involves a significant investment of time and study, and full time enrollment may be required. Admission is very competitive and fewer students are admitted to graduate school, as compared to undergraduate enrollment. Students interested in attending graduate school for psychology should review the American Psychological Association’s Frequently Asked Questions about Graduate School website, APA’s Graduate Study Online website, or the APA’s latest version of Graduate Study in Psychology.
In graduate school, students focus on a specific area of psychology (e.g., clinical, cognitive, developmental, experimental, industrial-organizational, school, social, etc.). Students may receive specialized training in research and/or practice. Depending on the degree conferred, graduates may be qualified for independent practice or consultation, management positions in business, conducting research, or teaching at a community college or university. See Graduate Admission Statistics for average GPA and GRE General Test scores for applicants who accepted admission to the graduate programs in Psychology at Illinois State.
Master’s Versus Doctorate Degrees
Choosing a master’s or doctorate degree program depends on many factors including grades received as an undergraduate, areas of interest and research experience, financial support, and career goals. Admission for most graduate programs in psychology usually requires a specific undergraduate grade point average, math and statistics courses, research experiences, and writing skills. Students should consider applying to graduate schools of varying levels of competitiveness to give themselves a range of possibilities for admission to either a master’s or doctorate degree program.
Master’s programs typically require two years of full time study and may not focus on a specific field of psychology. Students usually write and defend a master’s thesis or pass a comprehensives examination. There are many careers in private practice or industry that require only a master’s degree in psychology. Graduates with a master’s degree may also teach psychology at a community college. Some states allow graduates to become licensed by passing an examination or after completing require hours of practice, usually with a licensed professional.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs may require five or six years of full time study. Doctorate programs usually focus on a specific area of psychology, and students conduct research and complete practicum experiences, and may require an internship. Students in a doctorate program usually write and defend a dissertation and must pass a comprehensive examination. Doctorate programs often focus on how to conduct and understand research in a specific field of psychology. Graduates with a doctorate degree may have an independent practice, with the appropriate state license, conduct research or manage practice or supervision services, and are eligible to teach psychology at a 4-year college or university.
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) programs were established in the 1970s and they are often available in a professional school of psychology. The graduate curriculum is usually completed in less time than a doctorate degree; students are usually required to write and defend a dissertation. The Psy.D. degree focuses on advanced training techniques leading to a career as a licensed, practicing psychologist. Students pursuing a Psy.D. degree study the applied aspects of psychology (i.e., therapy), which focuses on training students in therapeutic techniques, practice-related knowledge, and supervising clinical experiences.
Graduate Study in Psychology
Learn more about graduate studies in different areas of psychology:
- Clinical-Counseling Psychology
- Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Industrial/Organizational-Social Psychology
- Quantitative Psychology
- School Psychology
Applying to Graduate School
- Graduate Record Examination
- Letters of Recommendation
- Curriculum Vitae (CV)
- Personal Statement
- Research Experience
- Undergraduate Timetable
Not Attending Graduate School
It is generally not a good idea for students to pursue graduate school simply because they have nothing else to do after completing a bachelor’s degree or to avoid future employment. Graduate school requires a strong commitment and intensive study. Most successful graduate students work on their degree for more than 40 hours per week. Therefore, having only a vague interest in psychology is usually not enough motivation for students to complete a graduate degree.