What You Need to Pursue a Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.)

By Angie Best-Boss


The competition for acceptance into graduate psychology programs is fierce. In some cases it can be more difficult to get into a clinical psychology program than to be accepted into a medical or law degree program.

The admission requirements vary from university to university. For example, some schools prefer applicants who have an undergraduate degree in psychology, while others require a bachelor's degree with only some coursework in basic psychology and an additional background in biology, physical science, social science, and statistics.

Clinical psychologists diagnose, treat, and work with patients to prevent and correct mental and emotional disorders. They may work closely with patients with specific disorders such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, or they may help people through life traumas like death and divorce.

Specialties

Clinical psychologists usually work in specific field or discipline of study. Some of these specialties include:


  • Health Psychology: Health psychologists are concerned with the ways that social, biological, and psychological factors can impact health and wellness. They often work with patients, helping them cope with the diagnosis of a major illness and subsequent treatments.
  • Neuropsychology: Neuropsychologists are concerned with the relationships that exist between the brain and human behavior. In many cases they work with patients who have suffered a stroke or head injury.
  • Child Psychology: Child psychologists specialize in the behavior and psychological development of youth.
  • Geropsychology: Geropsychologists work with the elderly. They help older people deal with late-life stressors such as moving to a nursing home, age-related medical conditions, and the loss of loved ones.

Clinical psychologists may focus more narrowly within their fields and study things like sports psychology, substance abuse, learning disabilities or emotional disturbances.

Tips from Program Administrators:


  • Academics are important. Prepare for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). Most schools look for applicants who score 1200 or above on the exam. Your chances are also improved if you have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.3.
  • Make connections. Work closely with your professors and academic advisors. When you apply to a clinical psychology program, you will need glowing letters of recommendation from professionals who know you well and can vouch for the quality of your work.
  • Service learning. When you complete service learning requirements and internships, you gain valuable hands-on experience that helps prepare you for advanced courses in your field of study.
  • Get your master's. While some programs allow students to enroll in a Psy.D. program without first having a master's degree, some do require a graduate degree for admittance.
  • Apply to more than one school. The field is extremely competitive; don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Aspiring clinical psychologists must be emotionally stable and have the ability to work effectively with a variety of personality types. Clinical work and counseling require a great deal of sensitivity, empathy, compassion, communication skills and leadership ability. The patience and perseverance you use while you pursue your degree will be an integral part of your career beyond the classroom.