Before embarking on the difficult process of getting into graduate school, it is important to determine that graduate school is the best option for you. Personally, I worked in another industry and strongly considered medical school before deciding that graduate school was the best decision for me (career changers – I am working on a series of posts on changing your career to become a psychologist) Because of my extensive soul-searching before applying to graduate school, I have come up with an extensive list of the Pros and Cons of Graduate School.
- The work is enjoyable, especially in comparison to other options (see this discussion on Student Doctor for details). Most people seem to really enjoy a good portion of the graduate school training and their work as a clinician or researcher
- There are many funded psychology PhD’s – if you go to one of these programs, you could get a PhD with little or no debt (this is not the case with most non-PhD graduate degrees)
- You will likely have a lot of control over your time – a lot more than most people with a 9-5 job.
- There are many things you could do with your PhD – you could do research, teach, become a clinician, consult, etc. Options are a good thing!
- There’s a lot of variety in what you do day to day
- You likely won’t starve and will probably live an upper-mid class life. Although you will also probably never be super rich and there’s a chance you will end up poor, but there are always options (the absolute worse case scenario is becoming an adjunct)
- There is some movement in allowing psychologists to prescribe after earning a master’s degree (find more information here), which could increase your earning potential
- If you make it in the field, you could have a good middle class life. See more information on salary here.
- Admission into Clinical Psychology PhD programs is very competitive, and you will likely have to apply more than once to get in
- It is expensive! Going to graduate school means sacrificing 5-6 years of income, and much more if your program is not fully-funded. Most funded programs have a very small stipend, so there is a huge opportunity cost in terms of income
- If you go into academia, you have to be ready for the pressure of getting grants and publishing
- You will work harder than people with a 9-5 job, particularly during graduate school
- If your goal is to become a clinician, you will have a lot of competition from people with Master’s degrees, and probably won’t be paid a lot more than them. Because of this, if your only goal is to become a clinician (ei – you hate research), it seems that the consensus is to go for a Master’s Degree that will enable you to get a license to practice instead of a PhD
- If you go into private practice, it might be hard for you to get health insurance
- There’s an internship imbalance. The internship works under a match system, 20% of applicants don’t match to an internship, and ~50% don’t match to APA accredited internships (see statistics). Students with geographical limitations are even less successful. But the risk of failure should not be a reason to avoid this path.
- It is important to be geographically flexible to be successful in the field. People often move for graduate school, for internship, for post-doc, and for academic jobs. This is particularly problematic if you are married
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. However, given the hoops in this field I would NOT recommend going to graduate school unless you are 100% sure this is what you want to do. If you are only 75% sure, keep considering other options. (See below for ideas)
Other Options for People with Similar Interests/Goals
- A Psy.D.
- A PhD in Counseling Psychology
- MD / DO School (and pursuing the Psychiatrist Path)
- Becoming a Psychiatry Nurse Practitioner
- Masters in Social Work
- Obtaining a Master’s Clinical Psychology with the intent of becoming a LMHC