Resources for undergraduate students interested in clinical psychology
Before embarking on a career in clinical psychology, you should first ask yourself a few questions, like: how many years are you willing to go to graduate school (two years? Up to seven years?); how much debt are you willing to take on during your graduate training (none? Up to 150k?); are there specialty areas that you would like to work in? (Addictions? ADHD? Eating Disorders? Forensics?); are you interested in doing research? It is important to answer these questions so that you can determine what kind of graduate training to pursue. To help you answer these questions, consider doing some research in the various career options in the mental health field. Here is a helpful primer:
- Most clinical psychology doctoral programs prefer applicants who have had
research experience. Psychology and Psychiatry departments typically offer a wide range of opportunities to participate in research. You could also take the initiative and volunteer to work in a research laboratory or professional setting or apply for paid research assistant positions in universities, hospitals, or community mental health settings.
- Some clinical doctoral programs also prefer students who have had some
clinical experience with clinical populations. It is not expected that you develop mastery of clinical skills during these experiences, since you will receive training during your doctoral program.
- The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is almost universally required. The GRE includes both a verbal and a quantitative section. To prepare for the GRE, you can buy or check out prep books from the library or take a course offered by a test prep agency.
- Problematic personal statement: this includes inappropriate disclosures of personal problems (e.g., detailed accounting of personal psychopathology), excessive altruistic goals (e.g., I want to help everyone everywhere), and attempts to be stand out in
"cute" or "funny" ways.
- Inadequate letters of recommendation: students should always ask their letter writers if they feel comfortable writing a strongly favorable letter. Letter writers should be people who are capable of evaluating the students’ characteristics objectively, like a supervisor or professor. Letters should not come from a parent or another non-academic source, like a therapist or spiritual guide (e.g., one’s priest).
- Poor communication skills: this includes grammatical mistakes or disorganized communication with the program.
- Overdoing attempts to impress: this includes dramatic or insincere flattery of the program.
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