Thinking About Careers in Psychology

Thinking About Careers in Psychology

Do I need a graduate degree in Psychology to get the job I want?

Practicing clinical and industrial/organizational psychologists typically have graduate degrees, as do research and academic psychologists in the other sub-fields. A masters degree typically requires 2-3 years beyond the bachelors degree, while a doctoral degree typically requires 4-6 years beyond the bachelors degree. However, psychology graduates with Bachelors Degrees can go on to work in mental health and business settings. Psychology graduates may work as research assistants, with chemical dependency patients, or in a human resources office. Research assistant positions provide an opportunity for Bachelors level graduates to be employed in the scientific academic sub-fields of psychology. For more information go to Career Services and Psychology’s Undergraduate Resources Page.

Graduate School Information

Applying to graduate school is a detailed process that requires a great deal of initiative and planning. Graduate school admission is more competitive than undergraduate admission. It is important to: keep up your grade point average, build your resume by showing leadership and involvement in campus groups, become a research assistant (perhaps most important, especially for Ph.D. programs), volunteer at a community service agency, and possibly complete an internship (with or without receiving credit). A Masters degree typically involves completing research projects and may involve a competency exam. A doctoral degree involves additional research (for the dissertation) and a competency exam. A Ph.D. program will require you to conduct research, analyze data, and write many papers. For more specific information please see the Undergraduate Resources Page.

Careers in Clinical psychology

Clinical psychology is a branch of psychology devoted to understanding mental health problems in individuals and developing effective treatments for the full spectrum of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders, interpersonal difficulties, psychotic disorders). Clinical psychologists are service providers, many of whom work in clinical settings while others choose academic careers or careers in consulting. Clinical psychologists are skilled in clinical practice as well as research on clinical problems and clinical interventions. Before committing yourself to pursuing a career in clinical psychology it is essential to consider the following:

Competitive Field

Due to its popularity, clinical psychology is quite a competitive field to enter. A doctoral degree is required for licensure for clinical practice in all states and entering a graduate school program to meet this goal is a significant commitment. Typically graduate school admission committees consider students’ GPA, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation from faculty members (3 are usually required), and prior experiences in research and clinical work.


Clinical psychology is not the only professional field for those who want to help alleviate psychological problems. There are many programs for alternative careers in the helping professions, including social work (which also includes clinical social work), counseling psychology, guidance counseling, school psychology, student affairs, rehabilitation psychology. Related majors include Human Development and Family Studies (HD FS), Counselor Education (CN ED), and Rehabilitation Science (REHAB).

Clinical Experience

Clinical psychologists treat and research many types of people and types of clients. If you can, you should seek some on-the-job experiences during your undergraduate years (e.g., related work experiences, full-or part-time internships). In many of these activities you will not be paid but you can earn credit in Psychology 495 (Practicum). You can find a listing of Human Service agencies in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory. Review the agencies and call the ones that serve the clients in whom you are interested. Tell them that you are interested in supervised experience. Talk with your advisor about PSYCH 495. For more information see the Internships in Psychology page.

Research Experience

If a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology is your goal, then pre-graduate school research experience is a must. Most successful candidates for graduate clinical training programs have spent time as undergraduates assisting professors and graduate students in their labs doing various psychological research activities. Seeking out a research lab early will be highly valuable experience and will provide you with some appreciation of what will be required as a graduate student. To learn more about this please see our Research Experiences page.

Masters degree

 Many helping professions offer somewhat limited opportunities to those who do not have a doctoral degree. Other fields, such as social work, offer many opportunities to masters level professionals (in the case of social work, the M.S.W.). One might choose to enter a masters-level program with the plan to transfer later to a doctoral program. Doctoral level programs vary, however, in the extent to which they give credit for a masters degree earned elsewhere. NOTE: University Park campus does not offer a Masters degree in Psychology. You earn a masters as you work through the Ph.D. program.

Ph.D. vs. Psy. D.

There are two doctorates in clinical psychology: the Ph.D. and the Psy. D. In addition to the requirements mentioned above, a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology will promote a balance of research and clinical training. The Psy. D. is a program that emphasizes preparation for applied work as a clinician. It is not a research-oriented degree. Psy. D. programs are often free-standing institutions known sometimes as Schools of Professional Psychology. They often (but not always) select students who already have several years of experience in clinical setting.