To borrow from Shakespeare, “To PsyD or PhD that is the question.” That is, in fact, a question that many undergraduate psychology majors contemplate as they approach graduation. Without doubt, after over twenty years in higher education and over five years as an Accepted graduate admissions consultant, I have seen and heard almost everything. But even I was surprised by the number of applicants who base their doctoral program choices on common knowledge, hearsay, or information from a friend of a friend. Common knowledge is often no knowledge at all, hearsay and info from a friend of a friend who remains nameless is even less reliable. I tell my applicants to avoid suggestions that begin with the words, “Everyone knows that…” I would love to know who “everyone” is.
When a client recently said, “I need to PsyD it,” my answer was – “Are you certain of that?” Most believe, and in some cases, they are correct, that PsyD programs are based on a professional practitioner model and PhDs are strictly clinical research/teaching-driven. It would seem then that if you want to engage in research, publish research findings, make presentations, and teach undergrad and graduate psychology, then you should pursue the PhD degree. And, on the other hand, if you want to be a professional therapist serving community, children, families, and/or organizations (such as suicide hotlines, addiction services, homeless populations, etc.), you should apply to a PsyD program. This seems to make perfect sense, right? Well…maybe. It’s a bit of a “yes” and a bit of a “no.” Traditionally, PsyD programs, although they include research, are focused on preparing professional practitioners, and PhD programs, although they include clinical experience, focus on research.
This may sound like a simple, straightforward decision: You need to decide your focus and pursue the doctoral degree program that will prepare you to reach your professional objectives. Right? Well, sort of. While this is the process you need to follow, the number of options has increased and there is some overlap between the program types and how they match with your goals. So It’s no longer as simple a decision as you thought.
Now there are options such as research-based PsyD programs or practitioner-based PhD programs, such as those in Counseling Psychology that are offered at schools across the United States (New York University, Fordham University, Columbia University Teacher’s College, Georgia State, Boston College, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, and others). These programs are geared to those who wish to engage in research and focus on a career as a professional therapist. You may well be thinking that this makes the choice even more difficult. I like to think of it as a positive in that you now have many more options from which to choose. It may even force you to delve deeper into what it is you really want.
Making Your Choice
Here are some pointers to help you decide which program is best for you:
- Consider your academic and/or career goals.
- Decide which program(s) will position you to best meet these goals.
- Narrow your search based on your fit with the program and the program’s fit with you.
- Make sure you factor in faculty whom you would like to work with based on their research and professional experience, the profile of the doctoral cohort, internship and practicum opportunities, course curriculum, and alumni outcomes.
- Review program accreditations and funding opportunities.
- Give some thought to the overall academic climate – Is this a place where you believe you can flourish both academically and professionally.
- Chat with a current student in the program, visit the campus, sit in on a graduate-level class, and, if possible, meet with a recent alum of the program.
- Collect and review all your notes and data and then allow it to percolate for awhile so that you avoid a precipitous decision. Once complete, you can develop the criteria you will use to evaluate and order the programs by level of choice.
You are now ready to prepare and submit your applications.
For one-on-one assistance through the graduate admissions process, check out Accepted’s Doctoral Application Packages – our expert advisors will help you identify and apply to (and get accepted to) the best programs for you!By Carol Drummer, Former Hofstra University Dean of Graduate Admissions, who for 10 years reviewed and signed off on over 4500 admissions decisions per year and has taught communications and rhetoric since 1991. Want Carol's help to get you accepted? Click here to get in touch!
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