Introduction to Career Exploration
When asked to describe college life students often account for the stress, hard work, and late
nights they experience. However, many do not characterize their college experience by work
spent exploring career options, gaining experience, or learning about job opportunities. Most
students have faith that their college degree will lead to “a good job”, but far too few work to
determine what that job will be. Unfortunately, a great number of students work hard at school,
but they reach graduation unprepared and desperate for career guidance as they face the world of
Don’t let this happen to you! Although it is never too late to start planning your career, it is ideal
to begin thinking about what you want to do after graduation as soon as you begin college.
Why? Because career planning is a process that requires your time and effort.
Step 1: Get to know yourself. Your interests, values and abilities play a
distinct role in determining career goals.
Step 2: Explore the world of work. Find out what people do in
different occupations, get job market and salary information.
Step 3: Match who you are with occupations. Make decisions and set
Step 4: Plan your education. Decide on undergraduate coursework.
Find out how much education is required to reach your career
goals and plan for possible graduate study.
Step 5: Get some career-related experience. Build your resume as well
as find out what you like/dislike about various careers.
Step 6: Prepare for your job or graduate school search. Write resumes,
learn interviewing skills, and select/apply to graduate schools, if graduate study is
necessary to reach your career goals.
Choosing a career field and a major often go hand in hand. As you begin your career planning,
evaluate your choice to become a psychology major, as well as your choice of minor. You may
have heard that a Psychology major will prepare you for a variety of different fields. While this
is true, it also means you need to think seriously about which professions you are interested in.
This will allow you to tailor your coursework, career related experience, and plans for graduate
study to securing the specific job that you want. To begin the exploration process and preparing
to apply for graduate school take the “The Unvalidated Graduate Potential Test” on the next
THE UNVALIDATED GRADUATE SCHOOL POTENTIAL TEST
Developed By: Patricia Keith-Spiegel
This exercise is developed to assist you in exploring whether graduate school is for you.
Although this “test” has not undergone any validation evaluations, the items are based on
knowledge of the graduate school experience and have face validity. The items are so
transparent that anyone could fake a successful profile. However, unless you answer each
question in a completely honest fashion, the results will be of no use. Remember, no one will
see the results except you, so you aren’t trying to perform or impress anyone.
Answer these questions using this scale:
Strongly Disagree: 1 Disagree: 2 Slightly Disagree: 3
Slightly Agree: 4 Agree: 5 Strongly Agree: 6
___ 1. Living on a strict budget for 4-7 years while studying most of the time does not bother
me at all.
___ 2. I enjoy writing term papers.
___ 3. I enjoy reading books about psychology even if they are not assigned reading.
___ 4. On many occasions I have given up desirable social opportunities to study instead.
___ 5. I read over recent issues of professional journals on a fairly regular basis.
___ 6. There are other careers besides one in psychology that are also of great interest to me.
___ 7. I intend to work full-time at my career for most of my lifetime.
___ 8 . I get good grades.
___ 9. I have a flair for statistics.
___ 10. I like doing research projects.
___ 11. I can carry out academic projects without direction and assistance.
___ 12. I am already comfortably competent (or well on my way) with computer skills and
___ 13. I get along very well with professors.
Answer only ONE of the following:
For those primarily interested in clinical programs:
___ 26a. I enjoy working with people (such as a volunteer job at a hospital) and have already
had such experiences.
For those primarily interested in experimental programs:
___ 26b. I feel comfortable with the possibility of working long and hard hours on a professor’s
research program even though I may not be at all that interested in the project and
would not get much pay or recognition.
___ SECTION I TOTAL (add numbers 1-13 with 26a or 26b in section I)
Answer these questions using this scale:
Strongly Disagree: 6 Disagree: 5 Slightly Disagree: 4
Slightly Agree: 3 Agree: 2 Strongly Agree: 1
___ 1. I have not given verbal presentations in front of the class.
___ 2. I expect to earn a very good salary (i.e., $50,000 per year or more) soon after I get my
___ 3. I hate to study.
___ 4. I have trouble concentrating on my studies for hours at a time.
___ 5. I put off studying for a test as long as possible.
___ 6. I dislike spending lots of time in the library.
___ 7. I have a tremendous drive to enter a profession in psychology.
___ 8. I’m sick of school right now.
___ 9. My grades are far below the capacity I actually have.
___ 10. I think a Ph.D. would be valuable to have primarily because of the social status it
provides (e.g., being addressed as “Doctor”).
___ 11. I dislike being in competition with other students.
___ 12. I will have to work at a job during the graduate school years in order to support myself.
___ SECTION II TOTAL (add number 1-12 in section II)
SCORING YOUR TEST
Add Section I total with Section II total to get your score:
___ SECTION I TOTAL
+___ SECTION II TOTAL
= ___ YOUR SCORE
INTERPRETATION OF YOUR SCORE
156+ Good graduate school material. Your goals, accomplishments, and habits appear to
coincide with what is usually necessary to succeed in graduate school.
130-155 You can probably make it IF you also make some changes before you start.
78-129 Cause for concern. You may be bright enough, but there are other problems.
25-77 Carefully reconsider going to graduate school at this time. The picture of a
satisfied and successful student just isn’t there.
We provided this test for you to begin to identify whether graduate school is something you
should pursue. However, don’t let the results of this test make the decision for you. It is only a
tool to assist you in evaluating your readiness for more education and to inform you of what you
can do to better prepare. Now that you have some idea of where you might be in your journey to
graduate school, you can begin to explore the variety of areas within the field of Psychology.
The next sections discuss the opportunities for further study in different fields of Psychology.
AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION IN PSYCHOLOGY
Areas of Psychology
At the graduate level, you must decide on an area of specialization within psychology (e.g.,
clinical, counseling, social, biopsychology, industrial, cognitive, etc.) to list on your application
to be reviewed by the faculty in that area. If chosen, you will be admitted into that particular
area, and you usually cannot change to another area of that department. There is often more than
one name for an area: biopsychology programs can be called biopsychology, psychobiology,
physiological, etc., and a cognitive program might be called cognition, cognitive, human
experimental, etc. Therefore, think of synonyms for the area in which you are interested when
you research your area of interest. You might begin by reading descriptions of various areas in
psychology. For advice on strong programs for your chosen area, you should ask faculty in that
area to name the current top schools; you can review the current journals for that area and see
where the published authors are working; and you can use the number of applications to number
of available spaces ratio information in Graduate Study as an indicator - the best programs tend
to attract the most applicants.
Clinical or Counseling?
The APA investigates and accredits programs in the areas of clinical, counseling, and school
psychology, but not programs in the other areas of specialization. In the clinical, counseling, and
school psychology areas, you should try to get admitted to programs approved by the APA; it
will affect your internship setting and enhance your employment possibilities.
What are the differences between clinical and counseling programs? There is a considerable
amount of overlap between these programs, but there are differences in emphases. Clinical
programs, on average, tend to have more of a research emphasis; counseling programs tend to
emphasize the practice of psychology. Clinical programs tend to emphasize more severe
disorders; counseling programs tend to emphasize adjustment or coping difficulties. If you are
interested in an academic position in clinical psychology, you should attend a clinical program. If
you are interested in becoming a private practitioner of psychology, you should consider either a
counseling program or a clinical program at a regional university. These statements are
generalizations and will not apply to every clinical and counseling program. Major universities
stress the research aspects of psychology. Clinical and counseling programs that offer the PsyD
(Doctor of Psychology) degree have a strong practitioner orientation.
Many undergraduate students are interested in becoming practitioners of psychology and apply
to doctoral programs in clinical and/or counseling psychology. Therefore, admission to these
specialization areas is very competitive, and clinical programs tend to be even more competitive
than counseling programs. Highly competitive programs such as the one at the University of
Arizona, receive approximately 300 applications a year to the clinical program, admit
approximately 10 students, and hope that 6-7 will matriculate. (The others will have received
admission offers from other major institutions and will have decided to go elsewhere.) Programs
in desirable locations (Boulder, the San Francisco Bay Area, etc.) and programs in large cities
also tend to be more competitive.
What can you do if you are not admitted to a doctoral program in these areas or if you doubt that
your application would be competitive? First of all, do not give up. Apply to programs at less
well-known institutions. You may want to consider Master's programs; the MA degree in clinical
or counseling psychology will allow you to function as a psychologist under the supervision of a
licensed PhD or MD, or with some additional coursework will make you eligible for certification
as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). You may also consider a Master's program with the
goal of applying to a PhD program: this route works best for students whose low undergraduate
GPAs make admission to a doctoral program difficult or who are unable to obtain supportive
letters of recommendation.
Graduate Clinical Programs Graduate Counseling
Emphasize research Emphasize the practice of psychology
Emphasize more severe disorders Emphasize adjustment or coping
Concern themselves with assessment, Focuse on direct service and research
intervention, and research involving involving those with less severe
those individuals with serious mental problems who need counseling
illnesses and other behavioral health concerning normative life events
In addition to Clinical and Counseling there are other areas of Psychology in which you can
pursue graduate studies. All are listed below.
COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY AND PSYCHOLINGUISTICS: Cognitive and
psycholinguistic psychologists are research-oriented psychologists with a focus of study having
a number of characteristics. First, they are concerned with finding scientific means for studying
the mental processes involved in the acquisition and application of knowledge. Second, they
emphasize the study of mental structure and organization. Finally, these psychologists view the
individual as active, constructive, and planful, rather than a passive recipient of environmental
stimulation. Study of this area arose, in part, from the areas of linguistics and computer
simulation: An information-processing theory evolved that resulted in a framework whereby
human thought (cognition) and human language (linguistics) can be studied, analyzed, and
understood. These researchers are most often found in academic research laboratory work or in
advanced technological information-processing systems agencies.
COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY: Community psychologists are concerned with everyday
behavior in natural settings: the home, the neighborhood, and the workplace. They seek to
understand the factors that contribute to normal and abnormal behavior in these settings. They
also work to promote health and prevent disorder. Most community psychologists concentrate
their efforts on groups of people who are not mentally ill (but may be at risk of becoming so) or
on the population in general.
DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: Developmental psychologists study how we develop
intellectually, socially, emotionally, and morally during our lifespan. Some focus on just one
period of life (e.g., childhood, adolescence or older age). Developmental psychologists usually
do research and teach in academic settings, but many act as consultants to day-care centers,
schools, or social service agencies.
EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY: Educational psychologists are concerned with the study of
human learning. They attempt to understand the basic aspects of learning and then develop
materials and strategies for enhancing the learning process. For example, an educational
psychologist might study reading and develop a new technique for teaching reading from the
results of the research.
ENGINEERING PSYCHOLOGY: Engineering psychologists study how people work best
with machines. They develop principles relating human behavior to the environment and
systems within which people work and live, such as how a computer can be designed to prevent
eye strain, and what is a reasonable workload. Most of them work in industry, but may also
work for government, and may be called Human Factors specialists. They provide input in the
development/use of man-machine systems to obtain optimum efficiency, and advise on human
factors to be considered in design of man-machine systems, military equipment, and industrial
products. They help solve such problems as estimating number and type of workers required to
operate machines, allocation of functions, and arrangement of work sites. They also develop
training, methods and materials for use of equipment and system design.
ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: Environmental psychologists are concerned with the
relationship between psychological processes and physical environments ranging from homes
and offices to urban areas and regions. Environmental psychologists may do research on attitudes
toward different environments, personal space, or the effects of different office designs on
EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: “Experimental psychologist” is a general title applied to
a diverse group of psychologists who conduct research and often teach about a variety of basic
behavioral processes. These processes include learning; sensation; perception; human
performance; motivation; memory; language, thinking, and communication; and the
physiological processes underlying behaviors such as eating, reading, and problem solving.
Experimental psychologists study the basic processes by which humans take in, store, retrieve,
express, and apply knowledge. They also study the behavior of animals, often with the hope of
gaining a better understanding of human behavior, but sometimes also because it is intrinsically
interesting. Most experimental psychologists work in academic settings, teaching courses and
supervising students’ research in addition to conducting their own research. Research
institutions, business, industry, and government also employ experimental psychologists.
FAMILY PSYCHOLOGY: Family psychologists are concerned with the prevention of family
conflict, the treatment of marital and family problems, and the maintenance of normal family
functioning. They design and conduct programs for marital enrichment, pre-marital preparation,
and improved parent-child relations. They also conduct research on topics such as child abuse,
family communication patterns, and the effects of divorce and remarriage. Family psychologists
are often employed in medical schools, hospitals, community agencies, and in private practice.
GEROPSYCHOLOGY (PSYCHOLOGY OF AGING): Geropsychologists draw on
sociology, biology, and other disciplines as well as psychology to study the factors associated
with adult development and aging. For example, they may investigate how the brain and the
nervous system change as humans age and what effects those changes have on behavior or, how
a person’s style of coping with problems varies with age. Clinicians in geropsychology apply
their knowledge about the aging process to improve the psychological welfare of the elderly.
Many people interested in the psychology of aging are trained in a more traditional graduate
program in psychology such as experimental, clinical, developmental or social psychology.
Although they are enrolled in such a program, they become geropsychologists by focusing their
research, course work and practical experiences on adult development and aging.
HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY: Health psychologists are concerned with psychology's
contributions to the promotion and maintenance of good health and the prevention and treatment
of illness. They design and conduct programs to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight,
manage stress, prevent cavities, and stay physically fit. They are employed in hospitals, medical
schools, rehabilitation centers, public health agencies, and in private practice.
INDUSTRIAL/ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY: Industrial/Organizational (I/O)
psychologists are primarily concerned with the relationships between people and their work
environments. They may develop new ways to increase productivity or be involved in personnel
selection. You can find I/O psychologists in business, industry, government agencies, and
colleges and universities. I/O psychologists are probably the most highly paid psychologists.
PHYSIOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY: Physiological psychology is one of psychology's hottest
areas because of the recent dramatic increase in interest in the physiological correlates of
behavior. These psychologists study both very basic processes (e.g., how brain cells function)
and more system-level phenomena (e.g., behavior change as a function of drug use or the
biological/genetic roots of psychiatric disorders). Some physiological psychologists continue
their education in clinical areas and work with people who have neurological problems. Clinical
neuropsychology is the area of sub-specialization within clinical psychology that deals with the
cognitive, emotional, and behavioral consequences of human brain disease and damage.
PSYCHOLOGY AND THE LAW and FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY: Psychology and the
law studies legal issues from a psychological perspective (e.g., how juries decide cases) and
psychological questions in a legal context (e.g., how jurors assign blame or responsibility for a
crime). Forensic psychologists are concerned with the applied and clinical facets of the law such
as determining a defendant's competence to stand trial or whether an accident victim has suffered
physical or neurological damage. Jobs in these areas are in law schools, research organizations,
community mental health agencies, correctional institutions and university psychology
PSYCHOMETRIC and QUANTITATIVE PSYCHOLOGY: Psychometric and quantitative
psychologists are concerned with the methods and techniques used to acquire and apply
psychological knowledge. A psychometrist revises intelligence, personality, and aptitude tests
and devises new ones. Quantitative psychologists assist researchers in psychology or other fields
in designing experiments or interpreting their results. Psychometrists and quantitative
psychologists are often employed in colleges and universities, testing companies, private
research firms, and government agencies.
REHABILITATION PSYCHOLOGY: Rehabilitation psychologists work with people who
have suffered physical deprivation or loss at birth or during later development as a result of
damage or deterioration of function (e.g., resulting from a stroke). They help people overcome
both the psychological and situational barriers to effective functioning in the world.
Rehabilitation psychologists work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, medical schools, and in
government rehabilitation agencies.
SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY: School psychologists are involved in the development of children
in educational settings. They are typically involved in the assessment of children and the
recommendation of actions to facilitate students' learning. They often act as consultants to
parents and administrators to optimize the learning environments of specific students.
SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY: Social psychologists study how our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors
are affected by other persons. Some of the topics of interest to social psychologists are attitudes,
aggression, prejudice, love, and interpersonal attraction. Most social psychologists are on the
faculty of colleges and universities, but an increasing number are being hired by hospitals,
federal agencies, and businesses to perform applied research.
Graduate Degree Options for Psychology Majors
Generally speaking, if you have decided to work in the field of psychology, a graduate degree
will be necessary. A Master’s degree usually requires 2 or 3 years of work after the bachelor’s
degree and a Ph.D. will take 5 to 7 years beyond the bachelor’s. You will want to choose the
best degree to pursue based upon what you think you’d like to do in the future.
Do you envision yourself helping people directly?
Do you want to work with children, help someone with a substance abuse problem, provide
marriage and family therapy, counsel women with eating disorders or do something similar?
If so, following are a number of degree programs that can train you for that.
A master’s degree in counseling psychology would allow you to do counseling in a variety
of situations. Counseling psychologists usually deal with relatively normal populations
(marriage/family counseling, career counseling, substance abuse, etc.). Those with a
master’s degree in counseling typically have preparation for the national counselor
A master’s degree in school psychology, social work, family studies, human resources,
or another related area can also give you specialized training to help people in a number of
A Ph.D. in counseling psychology provides additional training in research and practice.
A Ph.D. in clinical psychology should be considered if you are interested in the research
side of psychology and have a desire to work with people who have more severe mental
illness. This flexible degree will allow you to deal with the entire spectrum of mental health,
from normal to pathological. Clinical psychology Ph.D. programs typically follow the
scientist-practitioner model which means they train people for research, teaching, writing,
and, clinical practice.
A Psy.D. in clinical psychology is a more limited doctoral degree for people who want to
do clinical practice rather than research. Psy.D. programs follow a professional model that
de-emphasizes research and focuses on training for the provision of services.
A master’s degree in clinical psychology would let you do some of the same things as
someone with a doctorate in clinical psychology, but to a lesser degree, and typically only
with the supervision of a Ph.D. clinical psychologist or other licensed health care
You may have heard that you must have a doctoral-level degree to have a decent career or make
any money in psychology. This is a myth. In general, the job outlook for both master’s and
doctoral level professionals is good, but there are more jobs available for master’s level
practitioners. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this trend will continue for at least the
next ten years. In terms of money, the starting salary for a counselor with a master’s degree and
one year of experience is about $30,000. For a counselor with a doctorate and a one year
internship, starting salary is about $36,000 (Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 1997).
Would you rather do research and/or teaching?
A Ph.D. in a research area of psychology, such a developmental, social, cognitive, or
neuroscience, is the choice for you if providing therapy is not in your plans. Most people
getting Ph.D.s in these areas are preparing themselves for an academic career, and some are
preparing for a consulting position in business or government.
A master’s degree in one of these areas will open some doors for you, but a Ph.D. gives you
the most flexibility and marketability.
Graduate Programs Outside of Psychology Departments
Your undergraduate degree in Psychology provides you with more options for graduate school
than you might imagine. There are many doctoral and masters programs outside Psychology
Departments that you should consider. If your interests are in applied aspects of psychology, you
should consider graduate programs in related fields such as special education, school counseling,
career counseling, vocational rehabilitation, criminology, and social work. The MSW (Masters
of Social Work) degree may be especially appealing. With a MSW and some years of supervised
experience you can become a licensed psychotherapist. Many staff members of rehabilitation
clinics and hospitals and many practitioners in the areas of substance abuse have a MSW degree.
MEd (Masters of Education) programs are especially good ones to consider if you are interested
in counseling in a school or university setting or if you are interested in rehabilitation or career
counseling. If your interests are strictly in applied psychology and your goal is to obtain
certification for a professional career as quickly as possible, a Masters program may be your best
If you are interested in basic science doctoral programs and you have a strong orientation toward
research in certain areas, PhD programs outside Psychology departments might also be worth
investigating. If you are interested in biological, physiological, or sensory psychology, you might
consider Neuroscience programs or programs in the neurobiology areas of Biology, Zoology,
Physiology, or Anatomy. Consider Pharmacology departments (often in Pharmacy Schools or
Health Science Centers) if your interests are in mechanisms of drug actions; Linguistics
departments if you are interested in language processing; and Sociology, Economics, or Business
programs such as Management or Organizational Behavior if you have interests in the social
psychology of decision making or group dynamics. Each of these will have different admission
requirements (most, if not all, of which you would meet with your undergraduate psychology
degree) and each would provide slightly different training. Nevertheless, the faculty interests and
research undertaken in these settings are often indistinguishable from those in Psychology
departments. These are only a few suggestions. You can get advice about your options for
graduate school by talking to Psychology faculty members in your area of interest.
Another possible degree to get in graduate school is a M Ed, masters of education. This is a
degree for those who want to go into school counseling or any type of counseling in the school
system. If the program you apply to is CACREP accredited, you might have the option to sit for
the counseling licensure exam. If you pass the licensure exam, you can also be a licensed
professional counselor to treat depression, marriage and family issues, substance abuse, etc. In
general though, this degree is geared more toward those looking to work in an educational
setting. It usually takes 2 years to complete this degree depending on the program and the
required course work.
Another graduate degree related to education is the Ed S., Education Specialist, specifically a
school psychologist. School psychologists tailor their services to the particular needs of each
child and each situation. School psychologists use many different approaches, but most provide
these core services: consultation (give healthy and effective alternatives to teachers, parents, and
administrators about problems in learning and behavior), assessment (evaluate academic skills,
learning aptitudes, social skills, eligibility for special education), intervention (help solve
conflicts and problems in learning and adjustment, provide psychological counseling for children
and families), prevention (identify potential learning difficulties, design programs for children at
risk of failure), and education (develop programs on topics such as teaching and learning
strategies and substance abuse). The training requirements to become a school psychologist are a
minimum of 60 graduate semester hours including a yearlong internship. This training
emphasizes preparation in mental health, child development, school organization, learning,
behavior and motivation. To work as a school psychologist, one must be certified and/or licensed
by the state in which services are provided. School psychologists also may be nationally
certified by the National School Psychology Certification Board (NSPCB).
A MSW, Masters of Social Work, is another graduate degree that psychology majors can earn.
Social workers help people function the best way they can in their environment, deal with their
relationships, and solve personal and family problems. Social workers often see clients who face
a life-threatening disease or a social problem. These problems may include inadequate housing,
unemployment, lack of job skills, financial distress, serious illness or disability, substance abuse,
unwanted pregnancy, or anti-social behavior. Social workers also assist families that have serious
domestic conflicts, including those involving child or spousal abuse. Social workers typically
consult and counsel clients and arrange for services that can help them. Often, they refer clients
to specialists in services such as debt counseling, childcare or eldercare, public assistance, or
alcohol or drug rehabilitation. Social workers then follow through with the client to assure that
services are helpful and that clients make proper use of the services offered.
Social workers practice in a variety of settings. In hospitals and psychiatric hospitals, they
provide or arrange for a range of support services. In mental health and community centers,
social workers provide counseling services on marriage, family, and adoption matters. They also
help people through personal or community emergencies, such as dealing with loss or grief or
arranging for disaster assistance. In schools, they help children, parents, and teachers cope with
problems. In social service agencies, they help people locate basic benefits, such as income
assistance, housing, and job training. Social workers also offer counseling to those receiving
therapy for addictive or physical disorders in rehabilitation facilities, and to people in nursing
homes who are in need of routine living care. In employment settings, they counsel people with
personal, family, professional, or financial problems affecting their work performance. Social
workers who work in courts and correction facilities evaluate and counsel individuals in the
criminal justice system to cope better in society. In private practice, they provide clinical or
diagnostic testing services covering a wide range of personal problems. Social workers working
in private practice also counsel clients with mental and emotional problems. MSW programs
typically take about two years to complete and have a mandatory 900-hour internship.
Psychology graduates can also go onto graduate school to get an MBA (Masters of Business
Administration). This degree is intended for those who wish to work in business and
management. The intention of a program leading to an MBA is to prepare or further prepare
individuals for responsible positions in business - usually managerial positions.
These programs are typically two-year programs and are offered in a variety of locations
throughout the world. http://www.mbainfo.com/
Another avenue psychology majors can explore is that of going into the health related fields.
This could include getting a MD, a LPN, DDS, etc. To explore these areas please visit Pre-
Health Professions Advisor located in Modern Languages 347.
Another possibility is getting a JD in order to work in the legal field. Please visit the Pre-Law
Advisor also located in Modern Languages 347 or visit the University of Arizona Pre-Law Web
site at http://w3.arizona.edu/~prelaw to learn more.
PSYCHOLOGY CAREER PLANNING CHECKLIST
This checklist is designed to give students an outline of the necessary steps toward deciding on
future goals and finding a job or getting accepted into graduate school.
PRIMARY TASK: Explore your interests, values and abilities. Get to know yourself and how
you relate to the world of work. Investigate possible majors. Take college seriously. Grades that
you earn now will have ramifications throughout your undergraduate career.
_____ Take introductory courses in potential majors and areas of interest to you.
_____ Purchase and keep your textbooks, as they will come in handy later, whether in
future courses, graduate school or on the job.
_____ Visit Career Services to learn about the services available to you.
_____ Use Discover, available at Career Services, to access your interests, values and
abilities as well as explore possible career fields.
_____ Attend workshops or presentations sponsored by University departments you are
_____ Remember not to take more classes than you can handle and also to have fun the
first year of college!
PRIMARY TASKS: Explore the world of work and gain information about potential career
_____ See your major advisor! Inquire about the requirements for your major and minor.
_____ Begin to put together a resume to highlight your academic and work experiences.
_____ Attend job fairs to inquire about career related experience opportunities
(internships, volunteer experiences, etc.). Get an idea about jobs you are interested
in and establish experience in the field.
_____ Contact your professors who conduct research in areas of interest to you and
discuss the possibility of your becoming involved in these. Try to develop a
mentor relationship with one or more professors in your area of interest and
follow their suggestions.
_____ Attempt to maintain a grade of “B” or better in your psychology courses. This
greatly enhances your chances of graduate school acceptance or employment in
the field of psychology.
PRIMARY TASKS: Make decisions regarding your academic and career goals. Concentrate on
academic coursework in your major and minor fields of study. Get career related experience.
_____ Become involved in a research project as part of a course requirement, do an
independent study project, or work with a faculty member on their research
_____ Join a collegiate or professional organization (such as Psi Chi, the psychology
_____ Update your resume. Emphasize psychology-related extracurricular activities,
meetings, volunteer work, etc.
_____ Research prospective graduate programs and their requirements.
_____ Prepare and, in the spring, register for aptitude tests such as the Graduate Record
Examination (GRE), even if you have not yet decided to apply for graduate
_____ Decide if you want attend graduate school (if so, in what field of Psychology), or
if you want to work after graduation.
______ Save money for graduate school application fees, resume, and transcript costs.
PRIMARY TASKS: Prepare for your career or graduate school. Be certain to take (and pass) all
courses needed to graduate as planned.
_____ Make an appointment with your advisor for a degree check before you register for
your last semester of classes.
_____ Discuss with your advisor and other faculty members the graduate programs or
jobs that may be of interest to you.
_____ Actually visit the schools, industries, or agencies of greatest interest, and, if
possible, establish personal contact with several key people at each.
_____ Request a copy of your transcript from every institution that you have attended and
check for errors. This process may take longer than you think, especially if there
are errors, so allow ample time.
_____ Determine from whom you wish to obtain letters of recommendation, and notify
these people at least three weeks before the deadline for your application. Supply
them with all of the necessary information about your qualifications (i.e. resume,
personal statement, etc.), and the programs to which you are applying.
(Prepared with help from the Psi Chi Suggested Plan of Action for Graduate School Admission website)
There is no magic formula for admission to a graduate program in psychology; there is no one
thing that you can do to guarantee your admission to the program that you desire. Grades, and
especially grades in upper-division courses and courses required for admission, do make a
difference. An A in statistics and experimental methods helps; a C in those courses hurts.
Therefore, your course selections make a difference. Admissions committees at major research
universities prefer students with a strong mathematics and natural sciences background; the
belief is that these students have greater science aptitude and will be better researchers in
psychology. In addition, a substantial amount of research in all areas of psychology involves
advanced mathematics (through calculus) and involves the biological substrates of behavior.
Admissions committees may prefer Bs in math and science courses over As in some other
Research experience helps. You should try to obtain research experience in your area of interest.
Doctoral programs are (usually) research oriented. They seek students who have become
involved in research activity and who are "turned-on" by research endeavors. Research activity
with a faculty member should also generate a meaningful letter of recommendation. If you
cannot become involved with a research project in the area of psychology that interests you,
become involved with a research project in a different area. A person who displays interest and
aptitude for research in one area is also likely to be a good researcher in a different area.
Applicants to clinical and counseling programs should have some applied experience in these
fields, although the emphasis on 'clinically related public service' varies considerably from
program to program. (Counseling programs tend to weigh it more heavily than research-oriented
Graduate programs in psychology generally require 12-15 hours of upper-division psychology
courses in addition to an introductory statistics and research methods course. You should,
obviously, include courses in the area to which you are applying. Research experience courses,
such as independent study or honors thesis, are very desirable; much of graduate work is research
training and the demonstration of interest and competence in research is helpful. If you are going
into an applied counseling field, research experience is a plus, but you should also consider some
practicum work outside the U of A at places such as Casa De Los Ninos, Big Brothers/ Big
Sisters, etc. Please see the Psychology Advising Office in room 320 of the Psychology Building
to see how these could fit into your major and how you would go about signing up for these
classes. Some programs have additional specific course requirements; however, such programs
may admit you on a conditional basis and allow you to make up your deficiency at that
GRE and Other Tests
Almost every graduate program in psychology will require you to take the Graduate Record
Examination (GRE) general (aptitude) test. The programs will want the test scores by their
admission deadline and it takes the Educational Testing Service close to two months to report
your scores. Therefore, you should take the GRE no later than early October, about a year before
you hope to begin your graduate work. Ideally, you should take the GRE general test in early
June after your junior year. If you do this, you will have your scores when you are considering
programs. You will also be able to re-take the test the following October if you did not perform
as well as you thought you could. Remember that you need to apply for the GRE six weeks
before the administration of the exam. The GRE is offered through the University Learning
Center in Old Main Room 202. You can contact them for more information at 621-4548 or visit
their web site: http://w3.arizona.edu/~ulc/
The GRE general test has three sections--verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing. Graduate
programs in psychology do not usually mention the analytical writing section in their program
descriptions: do not, however, view it as unimportant, for some use it to discern between
applicants with similar scores on the verbal and quantitative sections. Most graduate schools
have a minimum score requirement for the sum of the verbal and quantitative sections such as
1000 out of 1600. Programs within universities can have higher requirements - many selective
programs require a minimum of 1200. Graduate programs in psychology recognize that the GRE
scores of non-traditional and educationally disadvantaged students may not reflect their
educational potential. You should prepare for the GRE general test before taking it. Preparation
for the quantitative section is especially important and will result in the greatest improvement in
the least amount of time. It is relatively easy to relearn the high school algebra and geometry that
you have forgotten. It is harder to improve on a highly practiced skill like reading
comprehension. Programs such as the Princeton Review and the Kaplan Review can help you
prepare for the GRE. These programs are fairly expensive though they may be necessary for you
depending on your learning style. The U of A also offers a review course for the GRE that is at a
reduced cost. Finally, if you are comfortable studying on your own, there are a variety of books
and computer programs on the GRE to use for review.
Some schools also require the GRE subject test in psychology. The best preparation for this test
is a good Introductory Psychology text. Another advantage of taking the general test in early
June is that you can take the subject test in October and avoid having to take both tests on the
same day. A few schools want you to take the Miller Analogy Test (MAT). Obtain some
information about this test before you take it; most people find it to be tricky and tough.
For other graduate school tests (e.g., The Law School Admissions Test, The Medical College
Admissions Test) contact the University Learning Center in Old Main room 202. They offer
both review sessions for the tests and the tests themselves.
For Psychology programs, see a current copy of Graduate Study in Psychology and Associated
Fields, a book published by the American Psychological Association (APA). You can order it
from: Order Department, American Psychological Association, P.O. Box 2710, Hyattsville MD
20784. (Write them for an order form and then send the form and the money--around $20.) Or
you can order it online by visiting www.apa.org.
For counseling programs through Social Work, see a copy of Summary Information on Masters
in Social Work Programs, published by the Council on Social Work Education (1600 Duke St.,
Alexandria, VA 22314). Although they are revised yearly, the changes are relatively minor. Read
the introductory material and the descriptions of programs that interest you.
Obtain program information and application materials from a large number of schools. Write
them and request the information or go online. Many programs have informative web sites and
some have applications online as well (Do not bother to send for catalogs from universities--they
cost money). Specify the area of psychology or other graduate study in which you are interested
when you write for this information. You will typically receive a brochure, application form, and
a detailed description of the area from the department, and a graduate school application form
from the university. These may not arrive at the same time and they may take a while to get to
you because they are usually mailed in bulk-mail batches. Don't forget about your professors
who can often advise you about good programs in their own areas of research and about the
orientations of these programs to help you make your decisions on where to apply. Choose a
graduate program for its program, not its location - because few schools hire their own PhD
students, you don't want to do your training in a city where you want to spend more than the two
to five years it will take for your degree. You want the best training you can get, so aim high!
Go to http://www.gradschools.com to find schools who offer programs in your area. They offer
a search by program, location, or a combination of both. Also, you can go to
http://psych.hanover.edu/krantz/other.html to access links to psychology department web sites
and other directories of information about psychology graduate study,
The admission deadline for most major universities is January 1 for admission for the following
fall. Most PhD programs only admit students in the fall. Some programs have earlier deadlines.
Deadlines for Master's programs are usually somewhat later. A few programs also have rolling
admission where they admit students both for the fall and spring semesters. Most importantly,
carefully read the information you get from the programs to find the exact application
You need to apply to several schools. The APA suggests targeting at least 10 programs,
including a few at the Master's level if you are looking to do a PhD, to ensure admission to one.
It is expensive, but it may save you from having to wait another year for the next round of
admissions. The number will depend on your qualifications, the specific schools to which you
apply, and your area of specialization. Applicants to clinical and counseling programs, because
they are the most popular areas, should apply to more schools.
It is not an easy task to fill out the application forms correctly and have all your material sent to
the appropriate places. Different schools have different procedures. Typically, material is sent to
two different places, the graduate school admissions office and the department itself. The
graduate school admission office essentially certifies that you are qualified to be admitted that
you meet the minimum requirements for the institution - while the department itself makes the
admission decision. The graduate school usually requires the graduate school admissions form,
official transcripts, official GRE reports, and an application fee. The department usually requires
a departmental application form, an application for financial assistance, a personal statement,
letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a GRE score report. Your transcripts and the GRE
report are sent to both places so that the department can then start processing your application
without having to wait for the official material to filter down from the graduate school
Even if you are highly qualified for admission, you will find that the financial support from
different schools will vary. Most major universities support their new students by a combination
of teaching assistantships (TAs), research assistantships (RAs), and fellowships. Support varies
from school to school and even from area to area within a department. Fellowships, TAs , and
RAs typically provide between $9,000 and $14,000 for nine months and some tuition reduction.
You won't get rich while you are a graduate student. If you do not need financial assistance, you
should state that in your personal statement; it may make a difference in the admission decision.
Regional universities, Professional Schools of Psychology (i.e., those granting the PsyD, rather
than that PhD), and universities with only MA programs generally provide less financial
assistance. Even if you receive assistance, and especially if you do not, you should contact the
institution's financial aid office for information about graduate student loans.
Your personal statement is very important: it is your only chance to "speak" directly to the
selection committee. It is also very difficult to write. Read the information you receive from the
programs and, if a program interests you, meld your interests to the orientation of the program. It
is reasonable to mention the names of specific faculty and their research in your statement as
examples of the people you would like to work with and the research you would like to do. But,
unless your interests are very specific, use the names and research areas as examples; the specific
faculty member whom you mention may have left the department, be working in a different
research area or have too many students.
Be honest. Do not say that you are committed to conducting research in clinical psychology if
you are, in fact, committed to the practice of clinical psychology: you would not be a happy
graduate student if you are admitted. If there are obvious weak spots in your record, address
them in your statement. If they are familiar enough with your background, have one of your
recommenders discuss it in their letter. Do not be a "single-issue" advocate and avoid stressing a
narrow research interest. For clinical or counseling programs avoid expressing interest based on
your personal life experiences (e.g., avoid "I want to work with and study children of alcoholics
because my parents were alcoholics."). There are three problems with this type of statement: the
stated interests are too narrow (graduate training in any area is broad); the program may not have
expertise in your specific interest area; and your interest in and motivation for graduate training
in psychology should stem from broader and more general concerns than specific personal
Your personal statement and entire application should indicate that you are definitely interested
in graduate work in psychology and that you have some idea what graduate work in psychology
involves. You can acquire information about graduate study in psychology by talking with your
professors or current graduate students.
How can you show your motivation? Get research experience. Do more than is necessary in
courses or research projects; this does not go unnoticed in letters of recommendation. Join
organizations such as Psi Chi and become a student affiliate of APA or AZPA. Attend
departmental colloquia. Enroll in the honors program. Tell the selection committee what turns
you on about psychology.
1. Ask yourself what your professional goals are and think about how acceptance to a graduate
program will assist you in reaching those goals.
2. Brainstorm for experiences you have had that relate to your professional goals or have
impacted your decision to pursue graduate study.
3. Narrow your ideas to focus on your strengths and the direction in which you are heading.
4. Outline your thoughts.
1. The readers want to get to know you so it is important that you provide a sketch of yourself
including who you are and where you are in life.
2. A history of how you have come to be where you are may be effective, but you do not want
to list out your life story. Highlight one or two significant experiences.
3. Provide examples of your experience, interest in, and commitment to your intended field.
a. academic experiences in class or with specific projects
b. independent study, research experiences, conferences attended
c. career related experience through paid employment, internships or volunteer work
4. State your ideals focusing on how you suit the profession and vice versa.
1. Your statement should be well constructed, organized, and each idea supported. If what you
write is difficult to read it may be quickly put aside.
2. Clarity is very important. You only get one chance to “wow” your readers so you want to
3. Try to avoid sounding arrogant, you want to explain your strengths, but don’t go overboard.
Discussing ways in which you would like to grow shows interest in continued learning.
4. Be original, try not to use too many common or worn out phrases.
1. Most schools request a variation of the personal statement, you may need to adapt yours for
each program you apply to.
2. Be sure to discern the specifics of each question. Do not ramble on, hoping you are “close
enough” to the question being asked.
1. Write, edit and put it away. Returning to your work will give you a fresh perspective.
2. When you re-examine your thoughts, re-write if necessary.
3. Show it to someone who knows you well and can give you an objective opinion. Instructors,
advisors, and career counselors may have valuable input.
4. Take advantage of constructive criticism, it will help you in the end.
Letters of Recommendation
Most graduate schools request that you submit three letters of recommendation with your
application. These letters should be from faculty who know you best and can write strong letters
of support that emphasize your skills and attributes as they relate to graduate school. Good
a. Faculty who supervised you in an independent study, research project, or practicum
b. Faculty who taught you in a smaller, intensive course
c. Faculty who had you for more than one class
Expect that some faculty members may not feel they can write you a strong enough letter and
may say no to your request.
The information that letter writers provide will help create a picture of your overall ability and
potential for success in graduate school. Admission committees take these letters seriously, and
a weak or neutral letter can hurt your application more than it will help. That is why it is
especially important to choose your references carefully, and follow the following guide to
reference letter etiquette.
The more the recommender knows about you, the better their letter will be. You should always
include the following items in a packet of information for the letter writer:
Recommendation forms with tops filled out correctly
List of major classes taken and grades earned
Minor or other areas of concentration
Honor societies and academic/professional organizations to which you belong
Awards you have won
Work experience including volunteer or other career related activities
Description of your professional goals
List of schools and programs you are applying to and the admission deadlines
Stamped envelopes addressed to the schools with sender’s return address on them
Copy of your personal statement, resume, and relevant research and work experience
Overall, upperdivision, and psychology GPA’s
Psychology courses taken, papers written for the course(s) taken from the letter writer
Be courteous and polite when requesting letters of recommendation. Remember that you
are asking for them to do something extra, on top of their usual workload.
Provide all necessary information as well as forms, envelopes, and stamps. Minimize any
inconvenience to the letter-writer.
Typically, you will want to ask for letters 8 weeks prior to the deadline, and remind your
references 2-3 weeks before the deadline.
Don’t ask the letter writer repeatedly if the letters have been completed. Near the
deadline you can contact the graduate schools to find out if they’ve received the letters.
Waive the right to see the contents of the letter. If you are worried about what someone
might write, then you should not ask him/her to advocate for your admission. Find
Send a thank you note to everyone who agreed to write a letter on your behalf.
If you intend to take some time off after graduation it is ok to discuss your future plans with
faculty members and make them aware that you intend to ask them for a letter of
recommendation. It is also ok, to request letters before you graduate, but be sure to tell the letter
writer what your intentions are and see how they would prefer to handle your request.
American Psychological Association. (1997). Getting in: A step-by-step plan for gaining
admission to graduate school in psychology (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological
American Psychological Association. (2003). Graduate study in psychology.
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Hank, C. T. (November, 2001). Graduate School Essays. [Online]. Retrieved September
18, 2002, from http://www.rpi.edu/web/writingcenter/handouts.html.
Lloyd, M. A. (1997, August 28). Graduate school options for psychology majors.
[Online]. Retrieved September 20, 2002, from http://www.psywww.com/careers/options.htm.
National Association of School Psychologists. (2001). What is a school psychologist?
[Online]. Retrieved September 27, 2002, from
S., Kevin. (The University of Richmond, 1997, June 8). Careers and graduate study.
[Online]. Retrieved September 18, 2002, from http://www.richmond.edu/~psych/cgs.html.
The MBA Program Information Site. (2000). The mba- an introduction. [Online].
Retrieved September 27, 2002, from http://www.mbainfo.com.
US Department of Labor. (2002). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Social Workers.
[Online]. Retrieved September 27, 2002, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos060.htm.