1 Doctoral Application Process Suggestions Ginger Clark, Ph.D. In consultation with Barb Kerr (KU), Sharon Robinson Kurpius (ASU), Ruth Chung (USC), Tania Israel (UCSB), and Corissa Lotta (UW Madison) Books Sayette, M.A., Mayne, T.J., & Norcross, J. C. (2011). Insider s guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology:2010/2011. The Guilford Press: New York. American Psychological Association (2010). Graduate Study in Psychology American Psychological Association: DC. Essay Your essay should describe you briefly, but powerfully. Talk to others who know you well personally, academically, and clinically, and pinpoint what your most interesting characteristics are. What would make you stand out to the admissions committee? How would they see you as a potential asset to their program? (E.g., semester at sea aroused my passion to promote women s health in impoverished nations;.work at the LA lesbian and gay center sparked my interest in uncovering the connections between poverty, education, and domestic violence among lesbian women;.personal experience with veterans has been a catalyst for my interest in advocacy for mental health in the military;.work with sexual abuse victims taught me that prevention programs through schools and medical professionals would be more effective in preserving mental health in individuals, and costs to society in law enforcement, corrections, and medicine than would any treatment program; My multiracial background has informed my pursuit of knowledge about the cultural identity development process of multiracial individuals, etc.) Outline how your strengths are a match for what the program has to offer. How will their unique training opportunities help you enhance your strengths and shore up your weaknesses? How will you contribute to their program? How are you a good fit for what they are looking for? What professors are most interesting to you? Choose at least 2, and more preferable 3. If you are only interested in one person and would not want to attend that school if you weren t assigned to that person as an advisee, then it is fine to just list one. Advisors don t always have openings for new students every year, so be prepared to be turned down even if you would be a good fit for that advisor some other year. For most Psy.D. programs, it is more important to be a good fit for the program and less important that you fit with one particular professor. Although, knowing what the faculty are doing, and noting with whom you d like to study, is still a good idea. Demonstrate your ability to self reflect. Discuss your vision of yourself as a professional in a culturally diverse world. Clearly articulate your awareness and goals in developing cultural competence (this is especially crucial for the programs that have diversity as a part of their identity). Show some personality and creativity, without being cavalier, inappropriate, or way out there. There is a difference between creative writing and a professional essay. Make your
2 essay interesting, but professional. Paint them a picture of who you are and how you are a fit for their program at multiple points. If you want to obtain more detailed information about the program, call or the program Training Director (TD) to get a sense of what the program is currently like beyond what the website states (often this information is a year or more behind what is actually happening within the program). Ask the TD whatever detailed questions you have about the program, and ask if it would be appropriate to call or the faculty who interest you to get your questions about your own research answered. This conversation can also help you determine whether your preferred faculty will be on sabbatical or open to new advisees the year you apply. Don t ask questions that can be answered in their written materials. Ask astute questions that build on the information that is publicly available. Don t use this as an interview (that implies you are trying to work around the system); use it as an information gathering conversation that will help you to determine whether you will apply. Don t ask for too much time or investment in a conversation or . If you get more than 5-10 minutes, great. Include whatever you learn from these conversations or s in your description of why the program is a good fit for you and vice versa. Do not ask to meet with faculty unless you have been invited for an interview. You should include some brief reference to the literature on the subject you are discussing as your area of interest. It demonstrates some early scholarly investigation and knowledge on your part, and illustrates how you have integrated that knowledge into your own pursuits. For example, My first foray into theories surrounding multiracial identity development was an introduction to Poston s (1990) Biracial Identity Development Model in a Multicultural Counseling course in my Master s program. I found that the model didn t completely explain my experiences and process as I came to terms with my own ethnic identity as a multiracial person. This conclusion led me to search out other models that could more accurately explain the various influences that affected my own development. It was at this time that I came across Rockquemore s (1999) Ecological model....this process of searching for answers that could explain my own development, combined with my clinical work with biracial children in a largely Latino community, led to my interest in how the Ecological model applies to multiracial individuals whose family of origin is conflicted about their acceptance of the different races within the family, itself. I believe Dr. X s work at XYZ University on interracial conflict among multiracial families, and Dr. Q s work on ethnic identity development, will help me to begin my investigation of this topic.the opportunities for working with multiracial clients in the District of Columbia s foster care system that XYZ s program provides as practicum training will inform my clinical understanding of the development of multiracial identity among diverse clients, with multiple life stressors, beginning in their childhood. I think this will give me insight in to how I can combine the BIDM and Ecological model to better explain more complex multiracial identity development processes beginning in childhood, and will enhance my cultural competence as a clinician, at the same time.
3 Personal self-disclosure requires a delicate balance of including enough information to give a clear picture of yourself and your experience, but not so much that your personal boundaries are questioned. Avoid discussions about past traumas or suffering (e,g., addictions, abuse, eating disorders, etc.). However, if you feel this information is key to the committee understanding you and your interests, make sure it is clear that you have resolved these issues through extended therapy and growth, and frame it in such a way that it focuses on your resilience and strength not your victimization. Keep it brief. More than a couple of lines about this will call in to question whether the issue is actually resolved. Be objective in your descriptions. Do not bring the reader into your emotional experience and history. Try, instead, to help them see how the experience has shaped your clinical and intellectual interests. Letters Your professors will likely not have time to tailor letters to fit each program to which you are applying. So ask the professor that you believe can best speak to the strengths you are trying to sell in your essay. Only choose professors in whose classes you performed very well. Not only should you have received an A, you should have received very strong feedback on your papers, presentations, clinical work, and participation. Just because you got an A doesn t mean your professor can write you a glowing letter. You needed to make a good and strong impression on them. For Psy.D. programs, you should have letters from two professors, at least one of whom should have knowledge of your academic ability in rigorous content courses, and one who knows your clinical ability from practice oriented courses. You should have one letter from your clinical site supervisor describing your clinical abilities. A fourth letter from a second supervisor or clinical director can add some breadth or depth. For Ph.D. programs, you should have one professor who can speak to your academic abilities and ideally your clinical abilities. You should have one professor or research advisor who can speak to your research abilities. A third letter should be from your clinical site supervisor to describe your clinical abilities. A fourth letter from either a professor or research advisor can be added for breadth or depth. A fourth letter should ONLY be added if that person can speak to something not covered by your first three recommenders. Never send more than four letters; it seems desperate and anxious and like you are trying to overcome some weakness. If the application specifies who your recommenders should be, do not deviate from that instruction. If, for some reason, you must deviate from these instructions, include a brief note explaining why you are not following directions. GRE For traditional Ph.D. programs, GRE scores as close to 1200 as possible are needed. If you want to pursue a Ph.D. and did not perform at this level the first time you took the exam, take a GRE
4 preparation course, study diligently, and practice taking the test over and over. Give yourself a good three months to prepare and retake the test. For Psy.D. programs, the GRE scores are often lower or not required for admission. If after retaking the exam, you fall short of the score you were hoping to attain, and you feel this score does not represent your ability to succeed in a graduate program, then address it directly in your essay. Don t hope no one will notice due to the brilliant application you have submitted. They will! Better yet, have one of your letter writers address it for you if they can speak to your ability in the area in which your scores fell short. Programs If you want to be a practitioner, rather than an academician, do not be a degree snob or a program snob. These things mean very little in the field. You should be making your decisions based on how you want to be trained, and what you want to do in your career. You should not base your decisions on whether one degree might be perceived as less than another. This is a very old territorial fight between the Psy.D. and Ph.D. communities that is no longer relevant, although the rumor of its truth still lingers. In the practice of psychology, there is no difference in wage or license eligibility between Ph.D.s and Psy.D.s. They are both considered psychologists. Very few clients will ask what your degree is or where you got it. Your colleagues will base their judgment of your competence on your client outcomes, not on your degree or pedigree. Your decision should be based on whether you want to do the following the following: Practice If you want to practice full time, or practice and teach as an adjunct professor, then you will receive clinical training in a Psy.D. program and will be eligible to teach in the areas of your expertise. Psy.D. programs do not teach students how to become researchers, so much as consumers of research that informs practice. So you will may more time dedicated to clinical training, while Ph.D. students time is split between clinical and research training, as well as teaching practice. Teaching and Research If, however, you want the option to teach full time at an academic institution and/or want to do research, then you will have greater options if you are trained as a Ph.D. You will be trained in both research and practice and will have opportunities to develop and practice your teaching and supervision skills. You should enjoy research if you choose this option. You should also try to gain as much research experience as you can before you apply to a Ph.D. program (presentations and publications will stand out as exceptional). This is the only option where degree and pedigree do have some influence. Most academic institutions require their faculty to have Ph.D.s, with some exceptions. The reason for this is that
5 full-time faculty are often required to produce research, unless they are considered clinical faculty, so they must be trained in research. Most professional (e.g., Alliant) and a few academic institutions employ both Psy.D. and Ph.D. faculty members. You should choose your training institution based on the type of institution in which you want to work later. If you want to be a faculty member of a Top Tier Research institution, then you should do your training at a Top Tier Research (or peer) institution. If you want to teach at a teaching college or professional school, then you have more latitude in the rankings of the programs you choose. Regardless of the degree you choose, you should choose your program based on its fit with your training needs. It doesn t matter whether you choose an academic institution or a professional school (unless you are applying for Ph.D. programs, in which case the top choices should be traditional academic institutions). The program should provide the type and quality of training you will need to be successful in obtaining your career goals. What matters is the quality and reputation of the program; the model of training they use; the focus of their program; what support and training opportunities they provide for their students; the number of students who obtain APPIC or CAPPIC internships; the number of students who pass licensure exams; and (for Ph.D. programs) the number of students that acquire positions in academic institutions post graduation. Choosing Clinical or Counseling Psychology Counseling Psychology Counseling psychology evolved out of the career guidance movement. Counselors found that normal populations had serious problems in their lives, outside of career choice issues, that were not being addressed by traditional medicine. While clinical psychology focused on the treatment of the seriously mentally ill, there was no approach for treating the walking wounded. These were people who were functional and productive, but who struggled with highly stressful life events (e.g., grief, loss, trauma) and mental illness (e.g., anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder), only to a lesser degree than the clinical population. Counseling psychology utilizes more of a wellness or strengths-based model that focuses more on overcoming obstacles through coping, and finding meaning, than on a pathology/medical model that focuses more on assessment, medication, and symptom management. Clinical Psychology Clinical psychology evolved out of the medical field, and was developed to treat the seriously mentally ill. Most of these patients were institutionalized and treated in these contexts until the 1960 s, when community mental health took over some of the responsibility of care for people struggling with serious mental illness. The clinical psychology model focuses much more on assessment, diagnosis, medication, and therapy for more serious mental illness and lower functioning individuals than does counseling psychology. However, the two fields have evolved such that there is a great deal overlap between what practitioners trained in either field do. Your choice between the two fields should hinge on what model you would like to be trained under, rather than what you want to do. Clinical
6 psychologists now see highly functioning individuals, and counseling psychologists can often be found working in psychiatric hospitals. All programs should be APA approved. This is one factor that could affect your job opportunities, whatever your career path. General Notes Answer all of the questions asked of you on the application. Do not answer questions NOT asked of you on the application. Do not cut and paste from one application to another. It is obvious when applicants are using the exact same text for every application or to answer two different questions on the same application. It appears lazy, immature, and as if you don t know what you want. If this is the program you want to shape and mold you as a professional, then take the time and effort needed to prove it to the admissions committee. Read and respond to the application carefully. It takes a long time to read all of the submitted applications. Stay within the word, page, and letter of recommendation limits given to you. You don t want to be the irritating applicant that sends essays that are too long, sends too many letters, or provides information that does not fit the question. Do not make your application onerous to read. Follow directions! They are looking for good writers. Good writers respond to what they are asked and know how to be succinct. They know how to make every word count and effectively to use the space they are given to provide a powerful picture of who they are. If there is some hiccup in your record (e.g., a bad semester your freshman year, a failed course, etc.), do not ignore it. Not calling attention to these things only seems like you are hoping they won t be noticed. Doctoral programs are very careful and selective about the people they admit. They have to spend the next five years with these students. If there is something ominous or mysterious about an application, they are more likely to reject it, than gamble and take the risk of accepting it. So explain what happened, what you learned from it, and why it has enhanced your understanding of yourself today, and then move on. It minimizes the event in their eyes if they know that you didn t try to hide it and you have learned from it. Admissions committees are aware that mistakes happen. They want evidence that it won t happen again. Have someone proofread your application before you send it off. There is nothing more offputting than to open a shiny new application folder only to find spelling, grammatical, or syntax errors from the same person who claims that this training is the thing s/he wants most in life. The quality of your application should reflect your desire for the program. Avoid, in every way, appearing as if you will require a lot of work and maintenance, beyond what is expected of graduate students. If you are interested in pursuing a research focused Ph.D., avoid throwing up the following red flags: Poor writing in your application; no rigorous coursework in math and science; listing vague, clichéd, or very unusual or unrealistic research ideas; repeated s and phone calls with detailed lists of questions; s and phone calls asking faculty to tell me about your research; repeated s or phone calls about unreturned
7 s or phone calls. Keep in mind that to take you on as an advisee, faculty want you to be resourceful and a self starter. You should be looking up their research on your own. You should be getting most of your questions answered by the information on the website, the admissions staff, and current students, saving your research and training questions for your brief encounters with faculty. You don t want to make a nuisance of yourself. If you don t get a return call or from the faculty you are contacting, it may be a subtle cue about the culture of the program, or you may be asking too much. Pay attention to what doesn t get said as much as what does. Do not take rejections personally. There are many things that influence an acceptance to a program: Funding, available slots for new advisees, budget constraints, sabbaticals, targeting of certain student characteristics (one year they may want child-focused people, another year they may be looking for LGBT-focused people), faculty layoffs, program shut downs, etc. Many of these things are beyond your control. You must be prepared to persevere if this is what you really want. At the same time, be aware that there may have been something in your application or interview that turned the committee members off. Get feedback from the programs that will provide it (not many do). Ask friends and professors to give you more feedback on your materials. Get more experience in research, clinical work, personal growth, and therapy. Try to make your application more desirable, and apply again when the time is right. If, as a Ph.D. applicant, you get an interview, be sure you come prepared to talk about your research interests and how you believe the program, and specific faculty, could help you further your research and teach you how to develop a successful research program. Discuss your interest in presenting at conferences and publishing. Discuss the training you are hoping to receive in successfully obtaining grants to support your future work. Talk about your interest in teaching and what you believe makes an effective professor. What does the program offer that you believe will help you develop those skills. Talk about how you believe your research will inform and impact the practice of psychology. In other words, how do you want to make a difference in the field? Come prepared with specific questions about the research of the faculty, and about how your research might fit in. Develop astute questions that show your knowledge of what you want, what the program can offer, and what the faculty are doing that could further your interests. Show them through your questions that you have thought a lot about this match and that you want to know more to see if it really could provide all of the things that you hope it will. During an interview for Psy.D., come prepared to talk about your clinical interests, as well as what kind of research you might be interested in doing for your final project. Do your homework with regard to the type of research or writing the faculty is doing. Have an idea about who you would like to work with. Show some knowledge of the literature (at least the current thinking) in the field in which you want to practice. In addition to knowing what is happening in your clinical area, you need to be able to speak intelligently about assessment, theory, and empirically supported treatments, in general. So review your notes from your coursework to refresh your memory.