Careers and Graduate Preparation

Frequently Asked Questions About Careers For Psychology Students

Will I Need to Get a Master's Degree or a Doctorate?

The answer to this question depends on what you want to do for a career following your undergraduate degree. There are many jobs and career opportunities for students with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Of course, if you go on for a master's degree you will get advanced training that will enable you to do more of what you might want to do and perhaps qualify you for a higher salary. In the Outline of Job and Career Possibilities for Psychology Students there are lists of jobs and careers for people with a bachelor's degree, as well as those that generally require a master's degree or a doctorate. Remember that master's programs will be harder to get into and more demanding than undergraduate work, and doctoral programs even more competitive and challenging.

Can I Get Into a Graduate Program?

Plattsburgh State psychology majors are accepted by competitive doctoral (Ph.D.) programs; however, the requirements for such programs are very stringent. In general, an overall GPA of 3.5, scores of 600 for each of the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the GRE, and substantial research involvement are minimum requirements. American Psychological Association approved doctoral programs in Clinical, Counseling, and Industrial-Organizational Psychology are particularly competitive. Before you spend a good deal of time and money applying to doctoral programs it is best to discuss your realistic chances with your advisor or another faculty member you know.

Master's programs in psychology and related fields often provide much of what you may be looking for in the way of training and a career. Master's programs are usually less competitive than are doctoral programs, requesting GPAs of around 3.0 and GRE scores of 500 for each of the Verbal and Quantitative sections. Research and fieldwork/internship experiences are also helpful. Master's programs in law, business (administration, management, etc.), social work, and counseling take students from a variety of majors, including psychology, and suit the needs of many psychology students.

If I want to apply for a master's or doctoral program in psychology, what steps should I take?

  1. Begin planning early. Nearly everything you need to do in order to make yourself attractive to graduate programs takes time. Also, collect information on graduate programs well in advance of your expected undergraduate graduation - the middle of your third year in college is not too early to begin requesting information from graduate schools.
  2. Do well in Statistics and Research Methods courses. All psychology programs, even those in counseling and clinical psychology, stress a strong background in research. Programs in related fields may not emphasize research as heavily.
  3. Get involved in research if you are headed for a doctoral program in any area of psychology (including clinical or counseling). The best, most productive way to do this is to work with a faculty member on his or her research.
  4. Do well on the GREs. You will need to prepare for the GREs. One way to do this is to buy a guide at the College Bookstore and go through and learn and practice the different types of items, take the sample tests, etc. If know that you will not really do this even though you buy the book, then you might want to take one of the courses that are offered. They take you through the strategy of test taking and give you enough practice that you can desensitize your anxiety some. One thing to remember here - you will only need to take the Advanced Subject Test in Psychology if you are applying to a psychology graduate program, and even then, many programs do not require the Advanced Subject Test.
  5. Do some practical work that will attest to your motivation, give you a chance to try out your areas of interest, and get you some positive letters of reference. Again, one good kind of practical work is to work with a faculty member on his or her research. Another is to do fieldwork or internships with children or adults (see the fieldwork/internship web pages). Yet a third way of getting some experience is by participating in a teaching practicum. (Typically this would be a course you did especially well in. Ask the instructor for details.)

If I do get a Master's Degree, should it be in psychology?

It could be in psychology, but it wouldn't necessarily have to be. Many students who go on for a master's degree actually go on in a field other than psychology: counseling, social work, business management or administration, special education, law, or some other field that fits their interests and job goals. Of course, a number of students do go on in psychology: developmental, social, counseling, or clinical psychology, experimental, physiological psychology, and others.

I'm generally interested in doing some sort of counseling, but I'm confused by all the different types of counseling disciplines and programs.

It is confusing. Let's start with the field of Psychology. Within psychology, there are two major fields of counseling: clinical psychology and counseling psychology. The two types of programs are often quite similar; both will involve learning about research, learning assessment techniques, and learning how to do counseling. The difference is that clinical psychology tends to focus more on more severe kinds of psychological problems while counseling psychology tends to focus on less severe problems. Other fields within psychology, such as school psychology and personnel psychology may involve at least some counseling as part of the training and the job you would eventually be doing.

However, a lot of counseling is done by people who are not trained in the field of psychology at all, but in something else, such as social work or the discipline of counseling itself. (They may, of course, have taken some psychology courses, but their degrees are from some other department.) Departments of counseling (as distinct from programs in counseling psychology) have their own orientations and techniques. Many are similar to what we teach in psychology, but some emphasize marital and couples counseling, alcohol and substance abuse counseling, and vocational counseling which are not usually stressed in psychology programs.

School counseling and school psychology provide options for some students who are interested in working with school age children. School counseling now includes counselors at the elementary and middle school level as well as the familiar high school guidance counselors. School psychologists have a broad range of duties, which can include assessing children for learning and emotional disabilities, and working with teachers and others to help these children once the problem has been identified. School psychologists can also provide direct play therapy or counseling to children who are in need, as well as consult with parents and with school staff. Work as a school counselor or psychologist requires a certificate (see below) as does all work in a school setting. Some students may also want to consider the field of special education, which would involve becoming a teacher of emotionally or learning disabled children. Generally, this would involve basic training in elementary or secondary teaching in general and then a specialized master's degree in special education to train you for the special techniques needed for these special populations of students.

Social work programs often offer students a viable option for getting the training they want and offer the additional benefit that M.S.W.s can obtain a license to practice in most states (see the question about licensing and certification below). Social work stresses viewing human beings from the perspective of the groups and organizations they are a part of. The practical training can include understanding agencies which supply social services and understanding and working with families. Training is also usually provided in counseling with children and adults, worked with separately.

In addition, some people specialize within the field of counseling: vocational rehabilitation, substance abuse, etc. So it is a confusing array of possible choices. But it is possible to find the right kind of program for you by getting more information about the kinds of counseling that interest you. This can often be done by consulting the graduate catalogues of the kinds of programs that interest you, sending for admissions packets which may include more information, and writing to national associations for different vocations.

I've heard a lot about being certified or licensed but what does it actually mean? Do I need a license?

Most people working in psychology and allied fields work for agencies, businesses or educational settings. You do not need to be licensed to work in these settings. A license in psychology (or social work, counseling, etc.) is only needed to practice privately; that is, to set up your own private practice to do counseling or provide other psychological services such as testing. In most states, a doctorate, a few years of experience, and passing a licensing exam are needed in order to be licensed. (The states of Vermont, Nevada, and Florida require only a Master's degree). However, some states license particular specialties such as Marriage and Family Counselor or Psychometrician (giving and interpreting psychological tests) at the Master's level. Because the terminal degree for social workers is a Master's in Social Work (MSW) most states license social workers with only a Master's degree. In New York State a doctorate is required for all licenses in psychology and a master's for social work.

Work in schools is a special category and requires certification. Psychology students are most likely to be interested in being a school psychologist or an elementary or secondary school guidance counselor. Certification for each requires a sixty-hour Master's degree including an internship. Certification only allows you to practice within a school, not privately, and is not required for any jobs outside school settings.

I would like to work for the State. How can I find out what is available and other information about the jobs?

The New York State government employs many people in what are called civil service jobs. Some of these are in psychology related careers, like probation program consultants, developmental specialists, and mental health aides. In order to be qualified for one of these jobs, successful completion of the appropriate Civil Service Exam is necessary.

Each job title requires a different exam. Some exams are offered annually while others are offered when employers have job openings. The names of the three highest scorers on each test are given to the prospective employer for consideration and they are offered interviews to determine who will be offered the job.

More information about civil service can be found in the Human Resources Office on the ninth floor of the Kehoe Administration Building. There you will find two binders titled A Guide to Career Opportunities in New York State Government. You may also get additional information by contacting the NYS Department of Labor Employment Services Division, or The N.Y.S. Department of Civil Service, at the W. Averell Harriman N.Y.S. Office Building Campus, Albany, NY, 12239 or 6th Floor, Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, 163 W. 125th Street, New York, New York 10027. You may also contact any New York State Department of Labor Community Service Center.

What can I do if I don't know what I want to do? Where can I get information about different careers?

For information about graduate school, and/or career options you can go to the Career Development Center which is located in 202 Kehoe Administration Building and provides career counseling, testing and test interpretation, and employment assistance as well as information about careers, graduate schools, and internships. You may walk in anytime and look around on your own.

Students can receive help with assessing their skills, interests, priorities, and values, through short tests. Students can make appointments with the staff to receive career counseling which could include reviewing their resume, applying to graduate schools, transferring, or planning job searches.

The Career Development Center also has an Employment Referral Program that connects employers seeking qualified graduates. To register for this free service, graduating students need to file their resume and references. The Career Development Center also offers many free workshops throughout the year, such as interviewing skills, resume writing, and graduate school searches.

A useful guide that is found in this office is the Occupational Outlook Handbook (current edition) which is published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. This includes job descriptions, education needed, current outlook, salary, and other information for over one thousand different occupations. For more information you can contact the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another book you might find helpful is Peterson's Guide to Graduate Schools. There are several volumes that are divided up by major area and the programs available. These are available at the College Store and any local bookstore, as well as in the Career Development Center.

There are also many web sites related to careers - see the links at the bottom of the psychology department's careers web page.

The library has books, periodicals, reference materials, videotapes, and files to aid students with their career, graduate school, or job searches. There is a collection of college catalogs from all over the country. The library also has binders full of information about different internships, cooperative education experiences, and summer employment opportunities. There are guides on conducting job searches and many books providing detailed information about careers and occupational fields.

I have an idea of what I want to do after college but how do I know if I'll really enjoy that line of work?

One way to get more information is to talk to someone who is already doing the job that you are thinking about. Another very good way is to do some fieldwork or an internship in a school or agency where you would be doing work that is closely similar to what you are thinking about. This will give you a hands-on feel for the kind of child or adult you might want to work with and the chance to work along side staff members who are doing the kind of job you are interested in.

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?

If you would like more information about the psychology program at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact

Department co-chairs
Dr. Katherine Dunham (katherine.dunham@plattsburgh.edu)
Dr. Michael Morales (michael.morales@plattsburgh.edu)

Department secretaries
Ms. Pam LeClair (leclaipl@plattsburgh.edu)
Ms. Donna Vanderhoff (vanderdm@plattsburgh.edu)

Phone: (518) 564-3076
Toll-free Phone: (800) 441-7215
Fax: (518) 564-3397