1) Graduate Programs
Graduate programs for psychology are NOT easy to apply to and gain entry. The misconception about the psychology field is that it is an "easy" area to major in or obtain a graduate degree. New flash: Both thought processes are dead wrong. We attend school as long as or longer medical doctors. Similar to medical school programs, graduate schools at the doctorate level in psychology may only accept 12-15 students per year for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree. This degree can take 5 or 6 years to earn and it is not for people who have the mindset that psychology is just giving advice. We are thoroughly trained for years to use a multitude of skills, techniques, and services in mental for the general population or chosen speciality. You must be tough/strong mentally, physically, and socially to withstand these training programs. Graduate programs at the doctorate level must be selective and are notorious for only accepting a small cohort of students per year in order to train, nurture, and spend time teaching those students they know will be successful in this field. If you want a graduate degree in psychology, remove those "this will be easy" thoughts or "anyone can get a doctorate degree in psychology," from your mind. Last but not least, just because "all of my friends come to me for advice" does not mean that is a sign that you should come a psychologist or can get into a doctorate program. Hard work, high grades, moderate to high graduate testing scores, and community service works better than ego.
2) Licensure is Difficult
If you are entering a branch of psychology that requires a license, including at the Master's-level, not having one can jeopardize your career. Although the American Psychological Association (APA) is quiet about the licensing standards for psychologists, I will tell you that overall the application, test, and payments for the license are hard. It is even more difficult for minorities; yes minorities, and that fact is evidenced in State data. There is plenty of research behind my statement to show that minorities have the most difficult time being licensed due to not passing State examinations for licensure. This topic is one that does not make me happy at all since the field of psychology prides itself with testing and assessment standards including removing biases from testing materials. Many years ago, these standards prevented for example, Black psychologists from practicing and unfortunately, those same set of standards still apply. Even if a psychologist denies this fact to you, it is absolutely true and consider it if you are interested in the psychology field. It is the reason that my former professors told me, "I don't want there to be any questions about your clinical competency" meaning, they were hard on me and I understand why after many years of being in this field. Other branches of psychology do not need a license and you need to put a lot of time into determining the best fit in this field for you. For example, educational, social, and school psychologists do not need licenses. School psychologists do take exams for certification from their State Board of Education, but they do not need a clinical license to practice in the schools. Professors of psychology do not need to be licensed unless their departments want them licensed, such as clinical psychology departments which makes sense. THIS is probably the most important area that you want to consider in this field. If you major in an area that requires a license to practice privately or at an agency that needs to bill under your license, then you may be out of a job with a license to practice. I always had a backup plan which was school psychology and my suggestions to you is to have another option that fits your career aspirations. School administration is a great opportunity and (very) needed in the USA!
3) Demand for Psychologists
It took me years to understand my comparable worth to others in this field. "If you have a doctorate in this field Lisa, act like it," is what I was told by a colleague. Companies want the clinical knowledge without paying your worth and if you allow this to happen, you will be used without enough compensation. I have walked away from several companies who were not only critical of things that were not taught to me in training, BUT sometimes attempting to pay me less than my Master's level colleagues. Yet, they wanted a (clinical) psychologist. The caveat here is that they KNEW they were offering less for more output and would admit it to me or cry broke about their company finances. (This prompted me to apply for my clinical license, FYI) Currently, there is a demand for psychologists and if I had of understood that years ago, I would have focused more on my clinical license than school psychology. School psychology is great, but can be difficult if you hold a doctorate in clinical psychology. Disclaimer: You will not be paid enough for your doctorate in school districts because you are on a teacher salary schedule and honestly, they do not need your doctorate degree. Besides, it is too difficult not to use your clinical skills when you observe clinical syndromes in children. Social workers are used in the schools for that purpose which is good, but you will want to do more if you have a doctorate degree than stand aside and watch the social workers do what you have been trained to do for thousands of dollars. When you enter into the psychology field, know automatically that you will not settle. Put it into your "schema." Women tend to accept the first salary that is offered to them and I have been a victim of this employer tactic as well because I wanted a job. Correct that behavior because in field, give companies counteroffers because If they want you, they will work with you. A positive response from a company is a good sign and probably one that you want to highly consider.
4) Financial Investment
When I graduated, I was proud, happy, and glad to have successfully defended my dissertation which meant that I was done. Whew! I remember that moment when the faculty approved my dissertation and my advisor told me, "Congratulations." I think I slept about 12 hours after I arrived home and woke up the next day seeing my 6-year-old daughter and told her, "Mommy is done." Then, she attended my graduation with her dad and my parents which was an awesome moment for our family. One thing her dad kept telling back then was not to take our private loans. I took out two to help financially and boy do I regret it; he was right, and I cannot stand that I have that debt although it is much lower 17 years later, it is still there. DO NOT TAKE OUT a private loan to support yourself for graduate school (see the underline?). You will thank me later. Strictly stay with the federal student loans. However, I must tell you that I regret all of those darn loans. You all look into scholarships, graduate assistantships, how much your company will pay for school, and etc. Try to avoid student loans because to me, it is not worth it. If you cannot make 6 figures or close to it after graduation, then these loans will be difficult to pay back once you finish. My first love was marine biology and I used to tell myself, why did you change from biology to psychology Lisa? (laughing) However, I have met numerous people in my career and have no specific regrets except primarily my student loans. No one told me about all of the other resources available to pay for my graduate schooling, but I am telling you all to look into it and if you can, find another way without student loan debt. I can discuss student loan debt for days and years. Try to stay away from it if you can do so and still earn your graduate degree.
5) APA-Accredited Program
I knew this one, but a colleague asked me to put it in this blog as a reminder for all of you because they did not know about this topic and it has jeopardized their licensure as a psychologist. They said, "Only apply to and attend American Psychological Association (APA) accredited programs." This is absolutely true and if not, you will hurt your chances in becoming licensed in your State or Province. Do not take this lightly and this approval will be on the university's website and you can ask the program chair as well to confirm. You will need to go through hell and high water to gain State approval for licensure if your program was not APA-accredited and they may reject your application. Read above because I already mentioned that this field is not an easy one and this includes where you apply for graduate school. APA-accredited programs have gone though rigorous standards and application processes to meet approval which makes it a bit easier on us when we apply for our license, as well as the State Boards. My colleague also shared, "The APA does not accredit any fully online doctorate programs." To explain, licensed psychologists need to complete practicum, internship, and post-doctoraal hours to become licensed. Be mindful of online doctorate programs for that reason and learn whether or not they incorporate those hours into their programs. which would meet APA-accreditation Personally, I only applied to programs that were APA-accredited and in-person as opposed to on-line. Mind you, that was 22-years-ago and online programs are now far more advanced. The goal with this blog is that you must thoroughly research and know the type of psychology programs that you want to apply to with an understanding of licensing board standards, financial compensation, and future job opportunities. Good luck!