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Graduate Psychology Degrees for Non-Majors

Why would a nonmajor want to go to a psychology graduate program?

Students taking a minor or sequence in psychology often decide that they want to continue in this area. It may be that their current area of concentration is not what they want. Unfortunately, this late change of mind may not leave enough time to complete a concentration in psychology. Other students may work for a few years after graduation and then realize that psychology really is what they want.

Can you qualify for a psychology graduate program without a psychology major?

You do not have to be a psychology major to get into a psychology program. But you should have the core courses in the major (introductory, statistics, and experimental). A few more psychology courses focusing on your interests would help if they can fit in. Make sure that the application letter of intent clearly explains why you did not major in psychology.

If you are a senior (or have already graduated) and do not have the core courses, plan to take them in a summer session, extra semester, or part-time as an unclassified student. The courses themselves are important, but even more important is that this extra work proves that you are serious about a career in psychology. You are making an effort to obtain the necessary background, even if it is inconvenient.

What about the GRE's? Should I take the advanced test in psychology?

Take the psychology test only if it is required for applications. You can expect (hope) that the advanced test score will be evaluated in light of your limited psychology background. A middling score might even look good in your case. In any case, do not put off application due to your concerns about the Psychology test. Make the best of your score, whatever it is. Of course, you will aim to get high enough Verbal and Quantitative scores to be noticed

How much will my not being a psychology major hurt my application chances?

It might not hurt at all, if you can make a good case for your belated interest in psychology. A solid background in another area (sociology, biology, English) could well make you an attractive candidate. Be sure that the application letter explains the basis for your decision to pursue a career in psychology. In addition, discuss your limited psychology background in the letter and point out the steps you have taken to compensate.

What can I do to strengthen my psychology background and my application?

There is quite a bit to do. You would consider relevant activities, such as volunteering at a mental health facility or helping with a research project. These will allow you to confirm your interest in psychology as a profession. These volunteer projects could also be a source for letters of reference. If you have space in your senior year, take additional psychology courses and get some more practical experience. If necessary, consider delaying graduate plans until you strengthen your psychology credentials. Having done so will look very good on the application as powerful evidence of your interest in psychology and of your motivation for graduate education.

Discuss your plans with a psychology faculty member, perhaps one of your former instructors. You want to know if you making realistic plans. Aim to define specific programs and goals and find out what you need to maximize your chances.