There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a graduate program. The first is your academic profile (which was discussed in the folders and links above) including GPA, GRE scores, research and/or relevant experience, and letters of recommendation. The next piece of the application process is researching program information including accreditation, focus, research mentor (if applicable), financial compensation or aid and last, but certainly not least, overall fit.
Whether you are aware of it or not, the University of Pittsburgh is an accredited institution of higher education. The accrediting organization for undergraduate institutions in this region is the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. This is important for many reasons, but the main reason is that this status denotes that your undergraduate bachelor's degree is comparable to other accredited degrees in the United States. This is important for employers and graduate schools to know that you were capable of undergraduate level academic work. In the same way undergraduate institutions are accredited and meet certain standards, graduate programs are accredited by organizations in their respective fields. For some, accreditation is the difference between being able to begin a licensure and/or certification process. When you are searching for graduate programs, be sure to research whether there is an accrediting organization in your field. Many times this organization will also list the programs on their website giving you the opportunity to begin your search on their site. Here are some common accrediting organizations for psychology majors:
- The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits Clinical, Counseling and School Psychology.
- The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits career counseling, college counseling, community counseling, gerontological counseling, marital, couple, and family counseling/therapy, mental health counseling, school counseling and student affairs.
- The Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits programs of professional social work education.
This is just a sample of accrediting bodies for graduate programs. If you are having trouble locating an accrediting organization in your area of interest, and it is not listed on one of our career handouts, ask your advisor.
The material and program focus continue to become more specific the higher the education level. College was more specific than high school because you chose your classes, including a major in psychology. The program focus of the psychology major at Pitt is a heavily research focused degree. The majority of faculty members conduct research in addition to teaching courses. These faculty members are specific in their own sub-fields of psychology. When you are preparing to take the next step of applying to graduate school it is important to research the focus of each program in which you are planning to apply. In order to be effective in the profession you are pursuing, you will need coursework, experience and mentoring geared toward that specific profession. It is a necessary piece of the graduate school process to know the focus of the program because if you want to pursue addiction counseling and there are no courses in addiction or no faculty that have a background in addiction counseling or no internship opportunities in facilities that offer addiction counseling, how will you become an effective addiction counselor? This is why researching the program, the faculty and the field work and networks of programs is so vital.
Research mentor (if applicable)
Research can be a major part of graduate work. If you are preparing to apply to programs with a research component or focus, you will need to be sure there is a faculty member mentor with similar research interests. If you are interested in studying autism, however no faculty members are researching autism at the schools you are interested in applying to, you have not done your homework. It is crucial for you to realize for research focused programs, you are not only applying to the program, but you are also applying to work with a faculty research mentor as well. Additionally, it should be clear in your application/personal statement which mentor(s) for each school you are applying to work with, if accepted.
Financial compensation or aid
Finances are typically a major consideration for students applying to graduate school. Some, but not all, programs offer scholarships and/or assistantships. These assistantships could be teaching, research or graduate assistantship depending upon the program and level of degree (Master’s or doctoral). Although assistantship compensation can vary greatly, obtaining one of these positions offers a stipend and tuition remission (percentages also vary from part to full). Not all graduate programs offer assistantships, so it is important to research the programs you are applying to as well as apply for financial aid if necessary.
Graduate programs can range from 2 to 7+ years from start to completion. It is important that you choose a program that will be a “fit.” Although not an exhaustive list, program, faculty, colleagues, location, financial awards, etc. all contribute to whether or not you will be happy and productive in your graduate program. It is very important to choose a program (including all of these factors) that you will thrive in during your graduate education and training.
This is a long list of areas to research when searching for potential programs, however doing the research is an essential piece of the graduate school process in preparation for your future career.