It should come as no surprise that the courses you take in graduate school help prepare you for your eventual career as a psychologist. But graduate students receive surprisingly little guidance about the right classes to take. There’s no single list that you need to check off. Instead, the right course load depends on your career goals and areas of expertise.
Minimum Degree Requirements
It goes without saying that you’ll need to fulfill the minimum requirements to earn your degree. It’s helpful to take mandatory classes first so that your schedule is clear for independent projects, internships, and elective courses.
More important, however, is to consider the way your degree choice affects the courses for which you are eligible and the classes you must take. Before you set foot in a graduate school, make sure you’re pursuing the right program. Some schools, for example, have a strong clinical orientation, while others embrace the principles of community psychology. Your courses will differ slightly if you opt for a PsyD as opposed to a Ph.D., so ensure you investigate the nature of the degree you’ve chosen before you commit to years of education.
Your elective courses should round out your education and be directly related to your future career plans. If you plan to go into research, for example, it’s a better idea to focus on statistical analysis rather than taking additional counseling skills classes. You should also take classes on the topics in which you plan to specialize. If you’re certain, you want to be a family therapist, take courses in family therapy, as well as classes in family dynamics, family systems, and other family counseling-related topics. Now is not the time to take a class just because it seems interesting; everything you take must be directly related to your career plans.
Independent Study, Internships, and Clinical Training
You’re going to graduate school not only for academic reasons but because you want to be able to be a practicing psychologist. Consequently, you should take as many opportunities to learn about the craft of psychology as you possibly can. When you make decisions about independent studies and internships, consider the following:
- Choose internships with the most reputable organizations possible, as this information will eventually go on your resume.
- Opt for internships that give you hands-on clinical training, not those that offer clerical work or similar duties.
- If you can do an independent study, do one. Opt for an area in which you plan to eventually specialize, and choose a supervisor who has a strong reputation for that topic.
- Don’t overload yourself with clinical work and independent studies. It is better to excel at one project than to fail at multiple ones, and the connections you make during these opportunities can affect your future career prospects.
- If you’re not sure what area in which you want to specialize, consider an internship that offers exposure to several populations. You might, for example, work at a sliding scale clinic or at a public psychiatric hospital.