Course Requirements

Course Requirements

Table of Contents


The graduate program in the Department of Psychology offers five broadly defined areas of study in which students may major: 1) Clinical (with specialization in either Adult or Child Clinical), 2) Cognitive, 3) Developmental, 4) Industrial-Organizational, and 5) Social Psychology. Students are admitted for graduate study in one of these five areas, and almost always remain in that area throughout their graduate career.

In general, the Departmental requirements for the doctoral degree in Psychology are intended to assure breadth in doctoral education and flexibility for tailoring the individual graduate program. The degree of flexibility, however, varies across areas, as some programs (such as clinical and child-clinical) are highly structured by necessity to ensure accreditation by the American Psychological Association.

General Requirements

The only specific curriculum-focused departmental requirements which apply to all graduate students are the following:

  1. English language requirement
  2. Statistics requirement
  3. Major area course work (18 credits; see area guidelines for specific requirements within area)
  4. Breadth requirement
  5. Research requirements

Each of these requirements is discussed in detail in the sections which follow.

Given the generally flexible approach to individual graduate programs of study, there are sometimes issues or problems which arise for which there is no established departmental policy. When such occurs, it is often best left to be solved on an individual basis. If, however, it becomes clear that the issue is of more general concern, then the faculty will typically move to establish policy to address the concern.

The individual and flexible nature of the graduate program makes it critical that each student has an advisor from among the faculty in their major area as soon as possible. To this end, each student is assigned an advisor upon entry into the program. In most cases, this is the faculty member whose research and general interests are closest to that student’s interests. This need not be a long term relationship if it becomes clear that the initial choice was not a good match or as interests diverge over a graduate career. Changes in advisors are commonplace, and without consequence. Please remember to keep the Graduate Staff Assistant (350 Moore) informed of any changes in your advisor. It is, however, important that at all times graduate students have an identified advisor throughout their graduate careers and maintain frequent contact with that faculty member. Issues related to individual graduate programs can then be discussed with this advisor and most often solved at that point. In every case, a strong advisor-student relationship will be an asset to timely and successful progress through the graduate program, as well as helpful in planning for the next stage of your career.

Although the graduate program is best characterized by its “flexibility,” there is a general process to be followed and an expectation for timely progress. In most cases, graduate study toward the Ph.D. degree can be completed in four to five years as a full-time student. There is rarely the need for more than five full-time years, unless especially complex research for the dissertation requires additional time.

Major Area

The six major areas within the Department all have a wide range of course offerings which can satisfy the requirements of the “major.” Given the flexible nature of the graduate program, the specification of relevant “major” courses is a matter generally left to the student and the student’s advisor. This is another reason that students are encouraged to maintain frequent contact with this faculty member. When course issues for the “major area” arise later in the student’s graduate career, the Doctoral Committee may also be part of course requirement determination. The only real Departmental requirement is that 18 credits must be earned in the student’s major area.

It should be noted that students in the Clinical Psychology Program (both adult and child) have many specified required courses, and generally less flexibility than students in other areas. This is due to APA requirements for accreditation as a program in Clinical Psychology. Students in the Clinical Psychology program do have a number of course options that satisfy specific area requirements, and therefore, consultation with one’s advisor remains critical. Specific requirements for Clinical Psychology Program students are available in a separate document available from the Director of Clinical Training. Irrespective of the more structured program for Clinical, the Departmental requirement of 18 credits applies to this area as well.

Statistics Requirement

Although not technically a “major area” requirement, the department has the general requirement that each graduate student, within their first two years, must have completed a two semester Statistics sequence. The Department of Psychology offers a two-semester statistics course sequence that is intended for first year graduate students. Semester I addresses topics associated with analysis of variance, correlation, and regression. Semester II addresses more advanced topics associated with multivariate statistics. All entering students are encouraged to enroll in both courses; however, those with previous graduate level statistics can petition the Director of Graduate Training to have one or both courses waived. Please contact the current Director to discuss this option further (Amy Marshall. Other courses may be taken that also meet this requirement, including courses outside the department. For example, outstanding courses are offered in other departments, such as Human Development and Family Studies. Students cannot meet this requirement by taking both Psychology 415 and Educational Psychology 506. To be certain that course work other than those that are typically taken can meet this requirement you should get prior approval from the Director of Graduate Training. It should be noted, however, that such courses are sometime closed to graduate students from outside the department or College in which they are offered.


As noted above, there are some cases in which there are specialty areas either within or across departmental areas. Particular foci within areas are described in the program descriptions.

Breadth Requirement

Educational Goal: to assure achievement of breadth of knowledge of psychology outside the area of major specialization.

Graduate Requirementminimum of 12 credits outside the major area. No more than 6 of these credits can be independent study. The breadth requirement is designed to be flexible in meeting the career goals of students. For example:

Option A – Students who will be seeking licensure as a psychologist will, in most states, be required to demonstrate breadth through graduate courses in the 4 bases of behavior (affective/cognitive/learning, individual differences (clinical/developmental), social/industrial/organizational, and biological) as recommended by the APA.

  • Biological: Physiological, Sensation, and Perception 
    Psychology 502, 531, 533, 582 

  • Cognitive-Affective: Learning, Thinking, Motivation, and Emotion 
    Psychology 503, 510, 513, 520, 521 

  • Social and Industrial-Organizational: Psychology 522, 523, 534, 538, 565, 566, 571, 580, 583, 584, 585, 586, 587, 588 

  • Individual Differences: Developmental and Clinical 
    Psychology 529, 535, 540, 541, 542, 549, 566, 575

Students should be aware that the following rules apply to the breadth courses:

  1. A grade of B or better must be obtained in those courses selected by the student to fulfill the requirement. 

  2. All of the required courses must have been completed (or be in process) by the time that the comprehensive examination is taken. 

  3. Graduate students transferring from other universities can receive credit for fulfilling the requirements by having taken appropriate courses (for graduate credit) at other universities. The Director of Graduate Training should be consulted in order to determine whether such transferred courses are appropriate for receiving credit. In most cases, appropriate departmental faculty will assist in determining the merits of courses taken elsewhere. 

  4. Although some courses are multiply listed, they may not be used to satisfy requirements in more than one category. (Nice try, though!). 

  5. One course taken to satisfy major requirements may count toward fulfilling one breadth course requirement.

Option B – Students who are interested in developing a specialization in an area outside the major but related to their career plans may take courses that are organized around a particular expertise outside of the major (this is similar to the former minor requirement and allows for course work plus project).

Note: Areas can set limitations on which option the area requires.

English Language Requirement

There is no departmentally required foreign language requirement; however there is an English language requirement. The format for demonstrating competence currently involves the following.

During the first semester of the first year in the graduate program, each student’s writing and speaking skills will be evaluated. This is currently accomplished within the context of the Graduate Program Introductory Course led by a senior faculty person. Students obtain an article, which was written or recommended by a faculty member, and then provide a written summary of the article and answers to a number of general questions about the research. The initial written summary and answers are read by the course instructor and another faculty member (usually the faculty member who provided the article). The papers are graded as either pass or fail. If the paper is judged as unacceptable, the student is asked to rewrite it and/or take other recommended remedial actions (e.g., enroll in a technical writing course). Then, during the latter section of the introductory course, each student makes a brief oral presentation to the class from the paper they have written. The oral portion is judged by the instructor on a pass-fail basis as well.