After you get into graduate school, you may have the “problem” of deciding what program to go to. Your decision should always include the option of not going to any program, as it is much better to re-apply the following year than to go to a program that is a poor fit.
These are the factors that I found important in my decision on what program to go to. After you decide, remember that the game isn’t over yet! You must figure out how to succeed in graduate school and how to be competitive for your job search. I have many posts with advice on how to do this, such as getting the most out of conferences.
It is very important to consider funding, as you want to avoid getting into debt as much as possible. I only recommend going to a funded program in almost all situations. It is much better to take a year or two to strengthen your CV than to get yourself into six figures of debt, and spending the rest of your career paying it off. You absolutely do not want your total debt level (over the 5 years or so that you are in the program) to be more than your starting salary. However, I would not make a decision based on a couple thousand dollar stipend difference. With that being said, you can see how your stipend compares here. Remember to factor in cost of living in your decision.
Furthermore, it is always an option to negotiate funding if your second choice offers you better funding than your first choice. Although it is not always a successful strategy, there have been instances where people have been able to get an increase in funding. The way to do it is to have a phone conversation with your potential mentor and tell him/her that working with him/her is your first choice, but you are concerned because another program is giving you much higher funding (this obviously needs to be true!). This needs to be done tactfully to avoid coming of the wrong way.
APA Internship Match Rates
This is a very important factor to consider! It is important to match at an APA accredited site, since not doing an APA accredited internship will severely limit your career. You will not be able to work at some of the best paying psychology jobs (veteran affairs hospitals, medical schools) unless you have done an APA accredited internship.
The APA internship match rate needs to be higher than the national average, and the higher it is the better. You want to check the match rates that the program discloses with the match rates on the APPIC website.
EPPP Pass Rates and License %
You need to pass the EPPP exam to become licensed. Because of this, you want to take into account EPPP pass rates when making your decision. Your job prospects without having passed the EPPP will be very limited and having a license essentially doubles your income, so you want to be sure that you can become licensed as quickly as possible after obtaining your degree.
Attrition Rates and Time to Completion
You need to make sure you can finish the program! Although it is not a big deal to take 6 years vs. 5 years to finish the program, you may want to avoid programs where people stay for 7+ years. Time that you are in graduate school is time that you are not working.
You also want to look at program attrition rates. If a lot of people are dropping out of the program, there must be a reason of that. Don’t assume that you will be different.
Program location is important. This is not because of personal reasons (although this could be important too – particularly if you are married and have the two body problem), but because the program location determines practicum options and the amount of debt that you may have to take on. That is, a program in New York City will give you more practicum options than a program in Kansas, but it will be much more expensive to live in NYC than Kansas!
There are some cities that have an affordable cost of living and great practicum opportunities (Dallas, Philadelphia, Raleigh/Durham), and this may be something to consider when making your decision.
Your Mentor should be one of the most important factors of consideration. Some thing to consider include:
- RESEARCH FIT! This is very, very important
- Personality fit. Is this someone you could work with for the next five years? Do his/her graduate students like him? What is the mentor’s working style (hands on / hands off)?
- What happens to students who work with your mentor. What kind of internships do they go on to? What kind of careers do they have? Do any drop out of the program and change mentors? Don’t think you will be any different than the average student
- How well known the mentor is. Although it is not necessary to work with a famous mentor to have a good career, it will make your life a lot easier in the future (particularly if you want to go into academia)
Research vs. Clinical Focus
You want to make sure that the research vs. clinical focus is a fit for you. If you want to focus on clinical work, you will be miserable at a clinical science program. If you want to be a scientist, being in a clinical science program would be a huge advantage!
Having a Program that Caters to your Interests
Although most of the factors above are more important than this factor, it is nice to have a program that caters to your interests (ei – neuropsychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, etc). However, this is icing on top of the cake, and you can always gain this type of experience in internship / post-doc
Your Gut Feeling
It is also very important to consider the gut feeling! There are several important factors that are hard to quantify / consider on paper, and it is also important to take your gut feeling into account.
Once you decide what program to go to, remember to have as much fun as you can this summer while you can! If you are feeling like an overachiever, you can do some leisure psychology or graduate school related reading