Interested in a tenure-track academic position, for example? Then Ph.D programs would be best. Put another way, “if you want to go into academia, you should be looking at programs that clearly prepare you for that,” because “Psy.D programs are designed to be a practical program.”
But what do you do if you’re unsure about your professional path? Solomon was in the same boat. “When I was applying to graduate school, I actually wasn’t certain whether my long-term career goals would include research, clinical work or both,” she said. Her solution? She applied to a variety of Psy.D and Ph.D programs. (She also applied to non-psychology programs.)
When it came time for the interview process, she focused on fit, which is key in picking a program. She said: “When I interviewed at Xavier, it immediately felt like the place that matched my interests and needs best.” As mentioned above, Solomon liked that the program focused on clinical skills and research.
Is the program APA-accredited?
It’s really important to select programs that are accredited by the American Psychological Association. “If you enter a program that’s not accredited, then you have a hard time getting an internship or depending on the state, you’ll have a hard time getting licensed,” Kuther said.
“Accreditation standards set a reasonable quality bar for graduate psychology education,” Williams-Nickelson said. If “a program isn’t accredited, a student should ask a lot of questions about why.” If the program is in the process of achieving accreditation, “find out where they are in that process.”
Visit APA’s website for more on accreditation.
What experiences does the program offer?
It’s not enough to know whether a program focuses more on research or practical work. Look specifically at the types of experiences each program offers. That gives you a better idea of whether it’ll prepare you for your future goals and be a good fit.
What are the program’s post-graduates doing?
Ask about the types of positions students who’ve graduated from the program occupy. Solomon used this as one of her criteria when choosing a school. “When I heard some of the things recent grads were doing, I was excited and felt like I would love to be doing those things too. That helped me feel like it was the right place for me.”
Williams-Nickelson sees a lot of Psy.Ds running organizations, consulting and working with systems and working on medical school faculties, which she believes is a good fit. She actually serves as the executive director of the American Medical Student Association.
What are your financial needs?
For many students, finances are an important factor in picking their program. “The data still show that Psy.D programs tend to be more expensive than Ph.D programs,” and Psy.D students tend to graduate with more loans, Williams-Nickelson said.
The reason? Some Psy.D programs are housed in freestanding for-profit institutions that charge tuition. Most Ph.D programs waive tuition and provide students with stipends. Faculty members in Ph.D programs receive grants to conduct their research, so they’re able to pay their students, who assist with the research. However, again, look at programs individually, because some Psy.D programs do offer funding. Solomon had an assistantship for three of her five years, which she said, “helped cover some of the costs of tuition and provided a modest stipend.”
Is the program a quality one?
Williams-Nickelson recommended focusing on the following questions to help you in determining a program’s quality:
- What is the class size? Pay particular attention to the student-faculty ratio. It’s telling when it comes to the quality of training and clinical supervision you’ll receive, the ability to get into an internship and performance on the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP), the national licensing test. (Individuals must pass the EPPP and have the required number of clinical hours to get licensed and practice independently.) Also, don’t assume that all Psy.D programs have large class sizes — a common misconception. While this may be the case with certain programs, there are many exceptions, Williams-Nickelson said. For instance, her doctoral Psy.D class only had seven students. Solomon’s had 14 students.
- What is the graduation rate?
- How many students successfully match for an internship? Research has shown that Psy.D students may not gain acceptance into their preferred internship site at the same rate as Ph.D students.
- How well do students do on exams such as the EPPP? On average, students with a Psy.D tend to score lower on the EPPP than students with a Ph.D.
- “What are the priorities of the faculty in terms of teaching and mentoring?”
- Are there a lot of part-time or adjunct faculty members? If so, there “might be less opportunities for individualized attention.”
- “What is the longevity of faculty members? If they tend to rotate, what is the turnover like?”
- How long has the program existed?
Also, when you’re interviewing at each program, ask their students for honest feedback, Williams-Nickelson said, including: What does the program look like? How happy are you with the program? What has surprised you the most about it? What has been disappointing?
Again, you can’t automatically assume the quality of a program just by considering Psy.D versus Ph.D. Consider your own career goals, do your homework into individual programs and ask many questions.