1. Prepare in high school.
If you want to become a psychologist, start being impressive early. Take a variety of challenging courses, earn a 4.0, participate in school activities, and perfect that winning smile. You’ll need to do all of that impressive stuff. And some classes may be particularly beneficial. Mathematics—specifically statistics—are of paramount importance to psychologists as they need to understand the results of complex studies and experiments. Science will also be important—biology, chemistry, physics—take them all. You’ll need to be a good communicator on paper and in person, so pay attention in AP English. Know that graduate schools discriminate against the monolingual. Start learning a second language now. Lastly, if your school doesn’t offer psychology, get yourself an introductory textbook for some self-teaching.
2. Get your undergraduate degree.
Figure 10.2 Working for advertising agencies, psychologists have helped to make America the fattest, least-sober nation on earth.
Make even your esteemed peers look like sad children. Competition for graduate school acceptance is as fierce as a starving chupacabra. A high GPA, a good score on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), and weighty letters of recommendation are important. And know that working as an aid or intern for a psychology professor or getting involved in any kind of experiment will greatly enhance your resume.
You don’t necessarily need to major in psychology. Many graduate programs want psychology majors, others prefer candidates with coursework in basic psychology coupled with courses in social sciences, biology, physical sciences, computer science, as well as statistics and mathematics. This difference in expectations at the next level highlights the importance of really knowing what you want no later than your junior year.
2a. Research graduate programs and psychology.
Graduate schools differ greatly by the specializations and degrees they offer. For example, check out my home state’s prestigious psychology department. Notice that they offer nine doctoral specializations—enough to suit most any aspiring psychologist. However, some departments may be stronger than others, and maybe you don’t want a Ph.D., but a Psy.D. or even a master’s degree. As you’re probably beginning to see, the process of becoming a psychologist is complicated. Luckily, the American Psychological Association has produced a line of books to help with the process and I’ve listed them in the right sidebar. Of course, your advisor, professors, and psychology classes will all help you make the tough decisions you’ll face toward the end of your undergraduate career.
3. Apply to graduate schools (many).
Apply to programs offering your chosen specialization. Applying to graduate schools requires time and money. You will be nickle-and-dimed with fees, and then if you get an interview, you’ll need to take the time to see your potential academic overlords. Yet, as competitive as acceptance can be, you’d do well to apply to many schools in your area of interest. Work with your advisor to meet the application deadlines and academic requirements set by your choice programs.
Have a plan B. You might not get accepted. It’s pretty common to get denied your first time around. Don’t despair. You’ll have another shot at becoming a psychologist. Get some work experience or go get your master’s before trying again.
4. Get your fancy degree.
The average doctoral program will take five to seven years of your life. But they won’t be bad years. At this point it will have become pretty obvious: You’re kind of brilliant. A beacon of deep thought throwing our knuckle-dragging society into sharp relief. You’ll be happy in graduate school. First you’ll work through the core areas of psychology and later on you’ll learn how to research and apply that research to our world. Toward the end, you’ll take some monstrous tests not suited for mortals before facing your greatest challenge—the dissertation. If you’re after a Psy.D. degree (doctor of psychology), your dissertation may be replaced by hands-on training and more exams.
5. Complete the internship, get your licence.
Figure 10.3 For rare, potentially fatal eating disorders, it’s best to consult a specialist.
If you’re going to be treating people, you’ll need to complete an internship. Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists must complete an APA-approved, one-year internship to expand and hone their abilities.
Licensing mainly applies to psychologists who treat or care for people. Licensure requirements vary from state to state. However, they generally include completing an approved doctoral program, an internship, and one to two years of supervised work experience. Then you can take the state licencing exam. If you want to become a psychologist, you’ve got a long road ahead.
6. Get a job, become a psychologist.
Psychologists work everywhere. They work in hospitals, clinics, health offices, schools, businesses, substance abuse treatment facilities, research laboratories, colleges, consulting firms, law offices, courtrooms, prisons, and many more. There are probably three or four salaried psychologist working in the room you’re in right now (don’t look!). And they don’t always hold down just one job. Many teach college classes while seeing patients or conducting research on the side.
There are pay differences between the fields of psychology. Money can’t buy happiness? I’m not convinced. If I wanted to become a psychologist, I’d look into industrial-organization psychology (business psychology). The jobs might be harder to come by, but this field has a higher potential for fat, tax-bracket-changing checks. To be fair though, no doctorate-level psychologist is going to starve.
The Many Degrees of Becoming a Psychologist
There are many different degrees that lead to jobs in the field of psychology. So many that it can be confusing. Here is a basic rundown of psychology degrees:
- Bachelor’s degree (4 years): With this degree, you might assist psychologists or work in treatment centers, but only around five percent of all graduates find psychology-related work at this level. Most find jobs in service, sales, or business.
- Master’s degree (2–3 years): At this level, you could work in industrial-organization psychology or under doctorate-level psychologists. In some states, a master’s degree is all that’s needed to become an educational or school psychologist. Though it’s becoming a more popular prerequisite, not many doctorate programs require that candidates have a master’s degree.
- Specialist degree (Ed.S.) (2 years plus 1-year internship): It’s more than a master’s, yet not quite a doctorate. This degree (or something similar) is required by most states for those looking to become school psychologists.
- Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) (4–7 years): It’s the traditional doctorate-level degree in psychology. It emphasises both research and application, and it requires that students complete a dissertation—that is, an original research paper.
- Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) (4–7 years): This doctorate degree focuses much less on research and more on clinical practice—actually treating people. It is said that the Ph.D. carries more weight in the academic world.
- Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) (4–7 years): As with the Psy.D. degree, the Ed.D. focuses more on application than research, and is typically reserved for counseling, developmental, and educational psychology.