Choosing a Psychology School

Read the top tips for making the right choice of psychology schools.


People who study psychology generally want to gain the knowledge and skills that they can use in their personal lives, with their families, and in their careers and communities.

But all psychology departments are not alike. Before applying to school, make sure to learn all you can about each program you’re considering so that you make the right decision the first time.

We can’t tell you which school is best for you. But when choosing a graduate school, make sure to think about your training interests and career goals, and apply to schools that have graduates who have succeeded in the field you want to pursue.

Contact programs and ask them what they’re most proud of: What’s their graduation rate? How long, on average, does it take to complete the program? Do all students get accepted into internships? What types of jobs do their graduates get? All doctoral programs accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) are required to provide prospective students with data on time to completion, costs, internship acceptance rates, attrition and licensure. And other programs should be happy to provide this information too.

As a potential psychology student, you should look for a program that meets both your professional and personal goals. Ask yourself some practical questions such as:

  • Does the program specialize in the type of training I want (clinical, cognitive, developmental, experimental, neuropsychology, etc.)?
  • Does the program have faculty that I want to work with?
  • Is it affordable to get this psychology degree? What kind of financial aid is available?

If possible, talk to faculty, students and alumni. Ask questions about the programs and your concerns. Talk about your interests, and see what they say.

What Do I Need to Know Before Applying to Psychology School?

But that’s not all. Each school’s psychology curriculum should teach essential skills such as critical thinking, active listening and clear writing. While you might take intro courses in large lecture halls, these all-important skills are best learned in smaller classes. Ask schools about their approach to teaching these basic skills.

For undergraduates, make sure that your program offers a broad foundational understanding of the field of psychology and that teachers expose students to different perspectives so that they get a broad content knowledge. That means that psychology schools shouldn’t be too dogmatic. Courses should also build on one another so that, as you advance, you have the requisite knowledge and skills to succeed at each successive level.

Graduate students should also look at each program’s goals and objectives, their success rates, and how long it takes to complete programs. But graduate students, whether at the master’s or doctoral level, have other concerns too.

First, make sure to study hard for the GRE psychology test, if the schools you’re considering require it. There are many test guides that you can use, but we recommend that you start early, take several practice tests, and strengthen your knowledge in any areas you need help in. A high score on the GRE is one of the keys to getting into grad school, so you’ll want get the highest score to increase your possibilities of going to the psychology school of your choice.

Next, there are two primary branches of psychology, research and clinical practice, and you’ll need to know which one you want to pursue.

If you want to study the brain and behavior, you’ll be pursuing your graduate degree to do research that advances the field of psychology. That means you’ll need to learn core scientific principles of psychology, but you’ll also need to master experimental procedures in psychology and statistics.

For programs with an emphasis on research careers, it’s important to know how easy it is for graduates to get postdoctoral research fellowships, academic appointments or research positions.

On the other hand, if you want to provide psychological services to individuals and groups, you’ll study basic scientific principles of psychology, but you’ll also need to acquire the skills to effectively serve clients and patients. Remember that most states require a doctoral degree from an APA-accredited school and a supervised internship and/or postdoctoral residency to become a licensed psychologist.

For programs with an emphasis on professional practice, ask about each program’s accreditation status (for clinical, counseling and school psychology doctoral programs), how easy it is for graduates to find residencies, how successful graduates are in becoming licensed psychologists, and especially their abilities to find jobs after graduation.

Which degree level will let you accomplish your career goals? Graduates with an M.S. degree can work for business or teach psychology at the community college level. With a doctorate, you may pursue a career in academic research, often as a professor at a college or university, or become a licensed psychologist.

Finally—and this applies whether you’re thinking about undergraduate or graduate studies—find out all you can about the real costs of education and ask about financial aid options. Everyone knows that college is expensive, and anything your school can do to defray the costs of higher education is greatly appreciated by all students.

Choosing a psychology school is the most important decision you’ll make in your academic career. Before applying to psychology schools, make sure to do all the research you can. There are many helpful guides, such as Graduate Study in Psychology, published by the APA. We recommend you read guides like this. Then you’ll be ready to make the best decision for you.



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