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Planning for Your Future

Plan your future career in psychology. The field offers a variety of career paths and directions. Our dedicated faculty are here to help you find your way.

Graduate School Degree Options

In addition to your coursework, getting involved in extracurricular activities within and outside your major allows you to contribute to the educational experience of your peers, contribute to your community, and enhance your university experience. You can learn where you have talent, what you like and do not like, and can show potential graduate schools or bosses that, in addition to your book work, you have experience.

PSI CHI: Psychology's Student Organization 
The primary organization for Psychology Majors is Psi Chi (pronounced s-eye, k-eye”). Although it is an honors student organization; all psychology majors are welcome to any and all of their events.

Oakland University Student Orgs
View the Office for Student Involvement website, which is dedicated to getting involved in the campus community, student organizations, and our community, at-large.

Involvement in Independent Studies
If you wish to enroll in any of these independent projects courses you need to first find a faculty member who is willing to supervise your work. You and that faculty member will determine how often and when you will meet, and what type of product you will complete to satisfy the course requirements. You also will complete a form to declare what you and the professor supervising your work have agreed upon as your independent study. This form should be submitted to the Department as soon as possible, and certainly within the first 2 weeks of the semester when you are engaged in the independent study. Independent studies include: PSY 4930/399; PSY 4997/470; PSY 4921/483-485; PSY 4995/487-489.

Undergraduate Research Involvement
Your best option to get involved in research is to simply ask faculty who are currently doing research, one semester in advance of when you would like to become a research associate. It is best to talk to the faculty members directly during his/her office hours. Some faculty members have an application process, and many, if not most, faculty would like at least a one year (i.e. two semesters) commitment from you. Psi Chi often will post announcements for faculty who are looking to find research associates in their labs.

Finding a field placement, practicum, or internship (PSY 4930)
The Department of Psychology has a formal program in place to assist students with internship placements. The student should contact the internship coordinator when considering this class, and with the help of the internship coordinator, Career Services and Handshake, the student will identify an appropriate placement to be used to fulfill the requirements of PSY 4930.

Your undergraduate degree is a stepping stone to your future life. Thinking about your future and what it takes to get there begins as soon as you declare psychology as your major.

Preparing for Graduate School
Preparing for graduate school begins the moment you become a psychology major. Getting into graduate school requires more than good grades because you are competing with students from other universities for a few chosen positions. We recommend that you attend the annual workshop on "Getting into Graduate School," which is usually offered early each Winter Semester. The PSI CHI student organization also has mini-workshops throughout the year on specific topics.

Applications Due Dates
For PhD programs, applications are due as early as Dec. 1, 10 months before you would start in your graduate program, and typically no later than Feb.1. A graduate studies committee of faculty within the department will evaluate each application, which takes about 2-3 months (January - early March). Thereafter, the committee chairperson will notify those who are accepted and those who are not accepted. If you do not hear from the committee, then you are most likely an alternate on a wait-list.

For MA/MS programs, applications are usually due in mid-spring (March/April). Some programs will have a "rolling application deadline," meaning that they continue to accept applications until all positions in the program are filled.

Summary of Graduate School Degree Options
Summary information about graduate school degree options, in the following areas of psychology, are available upon email request (Rebecca Malatesta at [email protected]):

  • Clinical and Counseling Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology v. Psychiatry
  • Evolutionary Psychology
  • Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Social-Personality Psychology

Resume or Curriculum Vita (CV)
A resume or curriculum vita (the academic form of a resume) often is useful as part of your application, especially if you have made presentations at local or national conferences or have had substantial volunteer or work experience in a psychology-related job. Career Services is available to students to ensure that your vita is a splendid one.

Personal Statements and Letters of Reference
Personal Statements are an opportunity for you to shine and demonstrate what you have learned during your tenure as a psychology major at Oakland University. By demonstrate, specifying that you have tested research hypotheses on SPSS, written an APA-style literature review on a particular topic (include title and 1-2 sentence synopsis), or what you learned by participating in a particular training in Field Experience (crisis counseling; ABA training for kids with autism) goes much further than simply saying that you aced a class. The PSI CHI workshop on personal statements is incredibly valuable for providing additional tips.

Most graduate schools ask for at least three (3) letters of reference. The intent of these letters are to have witnesses who can attest to your ability to succeed as a graduate student. If you are applying to a PhD program, a strong letter from your research mentor (the professor with whom you have done an independent study as an undergraduate research associate) is important. Another letter from a faculty member with whom you work (RA) or with whom you have taken upper division courses or seminars also is valuable. Your third letter might also be from a faculty member or a volunteer or internship supervisor, depending on the type of program to which you are applying.

Best Classes to take for your application
Often, students will ask, "What classes do I need to take for graduate school?" Interestingly, content courses are less important than research methods and statistics. Again, for PhD programs, your ability to conduct research is what your degrees (MA/MS & PhD) are based on, as well as your course work. Keep in mind that you will need to evaluate the validity of the information you encounter, as such, knowing how that information was derived is fundamental to your success in any career.

Grades – Overall and Psychology GPA
Applications often will look at two GPAs – your overall GPA and your major. Be sure to calculate both. When you identify graduate schools you wish to attend, note the minimum GPA, but also the average GPA (which can be above a 3.5).

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
The Graduate Record Exam is a standardized test required by most graduate programs in psychology. It allows graduate programs to have a standard number with which they can compare applicants across schools. The GRE tests on verbal reasoning (evaluating written material, for example), quantitative reasoning (math skills through pre-calculus), and analytic writing.

An undergraduate degree is a broad, adaptive, and flexible degree focusing on scientifically understanding the human mind and behavior. Your career choice will depend on where and with what you would like to apply your knowledge. To figure out where you would like to take your degree, do the following:

  • Write down your career (e.g., work with kids) and educational interests (e.g., MA or PHD level, learn to do therapy with kids, learn to do research) as well as your experiences (i.e., volunteer at a crisis center), strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Meet with Advisers. Meet with a CAS advisor to make sure that you have a plan to meet all other requirements outside the major. Next, bring the checklist to your advisor in Psychology who can assist you in developing a plan that meets the major requirements and your interests.
  • Meet with Career Services. They have interests tests, internship ideas, job shadowing, and many other resources.
  • Visit the APA website, Science in Action. It is a website designed to provide information about careers in several areas: Business, Mental Health, Promotion of Physical Health, Serving Communities, Understanding the World, and Working Schools.
  • Read and explore Career Opportunities. For information on occupations, themselves, please see the Occupational Outlook Handbook
  • Read books about Psychology Career options. There are several wonderful books available at Kresge Library.

Psychology as a major for a mental health field
Most students who wish to pursue a degree in the helping professions usually obtain an undergraduate major in Psychology. You are also encouraged to contact the departments offering graduate education in the helping professions to learn more about their criteria. Types of Therapists include:

  • Clinical Psychologist (PsyD or PhD)
  • Counseling Psychologist (MA or PhD)
  • School Psychologist (MA or PhD)
  • Counselor (MA)
  • Clinical Social Worker (MSW)
  • Social Worker (MSW)

Choosing between the different career paths in the field of mental health can be difficult. You can work in schools, government agencies, private practice, academic centers, or research institutes to name a few. Finding the adequate degree to pursue and making sure that this degree prepares you to do what you want professionally requires some effort. Find some helpful tips to get you through this process below.

Choose a graduate program considering what is important to you, not others. You must ask yourself “is it the best option for me?” What matters is that you get a degree that meets your needs and that you make a decision knowing what options exist.

Before choosing programs you must answer three important questions:

  1. What education level do you want? You can apply to a Master’s or Doctorate program. Each has different time constraints and training emphasis. Different schools have different admission standards and you need to compare them.
  2. Based on course load and other activities, how would you describe your general interest in the field of Psychology? Are you interested in the scientific process? Are you more interested in the mental health service delivery? Or you cannot decide, both activities appeal to you?
  3. What would like to do professionally? Would you like to combine different activities? Conduct therapy? Work with agencies to develop prevention programs? Conduct research that is more basic or more applied?

You probably do not have answers to all these questions. Consult with a faculty member that you trust, and other professionals in the filed of mental health.

What Master’s and Doctoral Degrees are offered in the fields of Psychology, Social Work and Education?
The first distinction pertains to the number of years necessary to obtain a degree after receiving your BA or BS. Master's degrees in liberal arts (MA, Master of Arts) are typically awarded 1-2 years beyond the bachelor's degree; and a doctoral degree, 5-7 years beyond the bachelor's degree. All doctoral degrees in liberal arts disciplines (e.g., Psychology, Counseling, Biology) award the doctor of philosophy degree (PhD) after successfully defending a dissertation thesis. In the discipline of Social Work, students are granted a master of social work degree (MSW), a doctor of social work degree (DSW), or a PhD. Typically individuals obtaining DSW or PhD in Social Work are interested in an academic career (teaching and conducting research). In the field of Education, students are granted a master of education degree (MEd or the EdM) or a doctor of education degree (EdD).

What is the distinction between PsyD vs. PhD?
The PsyD degree is awarded in the areas of clinical and counseling psychology which are described as “professional” (i.e., they offer a trade). However, PsyD are not granted in other areas of Psychology such as social or developmental psychology. The major difference between the PsyD and the PhD is the emphasis on research. PhD programs prepare clinical and counseling psychologists to follow the scientist-practitioner model (researchers and practitioners) while PsyD programs prepare clinicians to be practitioners. PhD programs have typically more active research programs (i.e., more faculty conducting research) compared to PsyD programs. Students in PhD programs take typically more courses in research design and statistics, and conduct more research compared to PsyD students. Another important distinction pertains to the cost of education. PsyD programs are often private professional schools, and they are much more expensive than PhD programs (which offered more financial aid).

What is the distinction between MSW, MA, and MEd?
These three Master’s level degrees are granted in three different disciplines: Social Work, Psychology and Education respectively. Each has a different training focus and job opportunities. The first question you want to ask yourself is what do you want to do with your degree: Work in a school, private practice, clinic, or other settings? If you are interested in the school system, a Master’s in education or an MA in psychology may fulfill this need. However, if you want to work as clinician and have the most options in terms of settings, the MSW is the best route. Requirements for practice and reimbursement by insurance companies always include a license to practice. In many states, including MI, individuals with Master's degrees in clinical psychology (MA/MS) and counseling (MEd) cannot be fully licensed. It means that you always have to be supervised by a PhD level clinical psychologist. However, an MSW is a terminal degree and allows you to work in most settings (including schools) and being reimbursed by almost all insurance companies without additional supervision.

Helpful links and resources:

  • www.apa.org is a great resource for students who are thinking about a career in psychology.
  • Norcross, J. C., Mayne, T. J., & Sayette, M. A. (1996). Graduate study in psychology: 1992-1993. American Psychologist, 51, 631-643.

Department of Psychology

Pryale Hall, Room 111
654 Pioneer Drive
Rochester, MI 48309-4482
(location map)
(248) 370-2300
Fax: (248) 370-4612