Many of you are interested in applying to graduate programs in clinical psychology. Applying to doctoral programs is an entirely different process from applying to undergraduate programs, and so in this post, we are going to cover all of the important pieces involved in creating a comprehensive list of programs that you might want to apply to.
“Where do I start?”
The easiest place to start is to look at this list of all APA accredited programs in clinical psychology. Some schools are switching to PCSAS accreditation instead, so it is extremely critical that you take this into consideration and do your own research about this shift. As of right now, many internships and professional opportunities do require that you have gone to an APA accredited program!
*Note: you can look at programs by state if geographical location is an important factor for you!
Then, you can go to a specific school’s website and look through the associated labs to learn about potential mentors and their ongoing projects and recent publications.
Okay…there are definitely so many options out there that this first method might be overwhelming. How do you narrow down the search? How can you decide upon what factors are most important to you? Here are some questions to ask yourself to make the initial search manageable.
1. Where am I willing to live for the next 5-7 years roughly? Do you want to be in a city? Somewhere rural? Close to family?
Even thinking further down the line, do certain locations have more limited opportunities for clinical internships? If you want to complete an internship at a major hospital, is there one nearby?
2. Does this school/program have at least 2 people who you would be interested in working with? * (this applies to the traditional mentor match model especially).
If not, this school might not be the best fit. This is not only important for collaboration, but it is also critical in the event that you need to change mentors for whatever reason.
3. Which model am I most interested in? Scholar-practitioner, scientist-practitioner, etc.?
It’s important to know what most graduates of the program end up doing. Are they mainly in academia, private practice, etc.?
4. Which clinical orientation am I drawn to?
Some schools expose students to many different orientations, while others only emphasize CBT, psychodynamic theory, etc. This is relevant especially if you hope to practice with patients!
5. Which mentors appear to be taking students in the year that you are applying?
It’s critical to check a program’s website in the event that it lists which mentors are looking to accept graduate students in the upcoming cycle.
6. Look at the range of work produced by a particular lab.
How diverse are the research interests within the lab? Is it limited or does there seem to be some freedom to explore other areas of interest?
Does it seem like graduate students have a lot of agency (for example, do they show up as the first-author for many papers produced by the lab? Or are most/all papers with the mentor listed as first-author?)
*Note: This is not always indicative of the culture of the lab, but it can be helpful to get a sense of the opportunities that graduate students working in that lab have.
7. Are there specialized tracks in the program?
Commonly these include child/family, neuropsychology, and adult tracks.
8. What approaches/methods are most used in the lab?
For example, are physiological instruments used? Do studies involve mainly self-report measures, specific interventions, etc.?
Other Strategies to Find Schools
While you can certainly be effective in searching the internet for labs and programs with a certain research or clinical emphasis, nothing beats the power of human connection!
1. Ask mentors, PIs, professors, and other people who have similar interests to you who they know of in the field.
Sometimes, they have collaborated with some of these labs or mentors.
This can speed up the search process, and even potentially bring your attention to programs or people you might not have encountered otherwise!
2. Figure out what you want to bring to the lab.
Does it matter more that you are working with others studying a similar clinical population, or clinical presentation?
For example, if you are interested in suicide risk in minority populations, would you want to conduct research in a suicide risk lab and bring to them a new focus on minority groups? Or, would you be interested in working in a lab that studies certain minority groups and bring suicide risk as a new research focus?
3. Look up names that show up in the literature a lot!
In your own literature searches that you have done related to your research interests, you might notice that some scholars have published several interesting papers. Find out which programs they are affiliated with!
4. Think outside of the box!!
Sometimes, programs might not explicitly appear to match your interests. That doesn’t mean that these programs wouldn’t benefit both you and the PI just as much if not more than the “obvious” labs/programs!
i.e., If you are interested in parent-child dynamics, you might think that your search is limited to looking for labs that focus on this. Instead, broaden your search and consider labs that focus on childhood anxiety and the influence of family structure.
The search for the right graduate program for you can certainly be overwhelming. The earlier you begin your search, the better! This allows you to get a good grasp of what’s out there and also to ask professors, mentors, peers, and current students for their insights. All of these points addressed in this blog post will help you to decide what your priorities and preferences are, and will ultimately help you to end up at the best program for you.