Alternatives to Ph.D. - Graduate Work Now

I don't want to go right into graduate work. Is there any harm in waiting a year?

Many graduates work for a year or so after college before deciding in a graduate program. Getting out of the classroom into the þrealþ world is a good way to test your interests and abilities and to make long range plans. The delay will not automatically hurt your chances for admission. It may help considerably if your experience at work or a volunteer job was relevant to your graduate plans. If your college performance was not the best, you could show that the extra year has given you heightened academic enthusiasm and increased stability.

Another good reason to wait a year or two is that you have not yet decided what to do. You might like your current job and want to continue in that line of work, or you could choose a different direction, for example,  perhaps an M.B.A.

Discuss what you gained from that year in the application cover letter (application essay). If you were originally unsure about graduate work, provide evidence that you now have a well-considered determination to continue in psychology. (TOP)

When should I take the GRE?

If you take the GRE's in the fall of your senior year, you have the option of changing your mind and applying for graduate work next year. You may take the GRE again a year later, and the GRE office will report both scores. If you do better the second time (due to intensive studying and practice), you can point out in the cover letter how this improvement is further evidence of your interest and determination. (TOP)

How do I obtain letters of recommendation after being out of college for a year or more?

One letter should be from a supervisor where you worked (in a job or as a volunteer) since you graduated. This letter would cover your recent activities and deal with your performance in a non-academic environment. Be sure to call (or, if time and distance permit, visit) your former teachers to refresh their memories of you. Give them a revised summary sheet covering both your college activities and what you have done since graduation. Clearly describe your current career plans and explain why you chose to apply to certain particular schools. You want these letters to show that the writers know of your current plans and goals. (TOP)

Should I consider schools that have only an M.A. program?

These programs are generally easier to get into than most Ph.D. programs. They often attract those who want postgraduate training, but who are not ready to try for a Ph.D. program or undecided on a specific area. Many students use good performance in a Masters level program to get into a better Ph.D. program than would have been possible on the basis of their undergraduate work. After all, the best predictor of performance in a graduate program is performance in a graduate program. Careful selection is important. Most M.A. programs emphasize the terminal M.A., which means they are primarily job oriented. There are also predoctoral M.A. programs that match the first year or two of standard doctoral programs. A þterminalþ program is not quite a dead end; you still can go on to a doctoral program. Probably fewer courses would transfer from a terminal program. Check the "track record" of these programs for getting their M.A. graduates into doctoral programs. (TOP)

What non-psychology M.A. programs would be of most interest to psychology majors?

Many psychology majors are interested in children with learning and social problems. Masters programs in education and social work would be worth investigating. In some cases, after two more years of supervised work, you can become licensed. Professionally, this would put you somewhere between an M.A. and a Ph.D. In most states, you can set up a private practice with the right license. For these and other programs, a good first step would be to go to the nearest university and arrange to speak to people in these programs. (TOP)

What about applying to the W&M predoctoral M.A. program?

This is not a good idea even though the program is a very good one. Quite aside from how well you would fit into the program, it is much better to move to a new environment with a different faculty. Staying at the same school may be convenient, but you will take many of the same courses again from the same faculty (even if at the graduate level). (TOP)

If I don't plan to get a Ph.D., what can I do with a M.A. in Psychology?

You really cannot work as a professional psychologist without a Ph.D. However, the M.A. in Psychology is sufficient for working as a school psychologist, psychological aid in a mental hospital or clinic, research assistant, social worker, teacher in a junior college, or for working in human factors and industrial relations. (TOP)

I think I want to go to graduate work in psychology, but I'm not sure. Could I go part-time to see how it works out?

Generally, only large urban schools will have part-time commuter students. After being in a program part-time and doing well, you might be able to change to full-time status. Good performance at the graduate level would be an excellent way to strengthen your application to other programs. (TOP)

What if I decide that I want graduate work, but not in psychology or a related field? What options would I have?

Your interests may become clearer with your job after graduation. There are programs to consider besides a psychology M.A. A business (M.B.A.) program takes two years and attracts many students with applied or practical interests. Psychology majors going for a M.B.A. do best specializing in Marketing, Management, or Personnel programs. They tend to stay clear of Finance or Accounting. (TOP)