What do I need to know about clinical psychology programs?
If the program is accredited by APA or the Canadian Psychological Association, the program must post specific data online to help you make an informed decision (look on the program’s website under the heading Student Admissions, Outcomes, and Other Data, or use our Accredited Programs links). You should look for answers to the following questions:
1. How many students enter each admissions class?
Many clinical psychology doctoral programs accept fewer than 15 students each year; be cautious when considering programs that accept larger classes as student-faculty ratios are important in determining the quality of training and clinical supervision you will receive, student success in obtaining an internship, and graduates’ performance on the national licensing exam (EPPP).
2. How much does it cost to attend graduate school; will I incur substantial debt?
Most Ph.D. programs waive tuition and even give you a stipend to attend. In contrast, some doctoral clinical programs charge $10,000-$40,000 tuition each year. Students who graduate from doctoral programs that charge tuition incur substantial debt. APA reports that about one- third of all students have over $75,000 of debt when they graduate; most of these students attended a tuition-charging graduate program. This chart compares Ph.D and Psy.D debt circa 2009. Your debt load will increase considerably if it takes many years to obtain your degree; check data on the average length of time to graduate. Look at data from a career counseling center to learn about starting salaries for mental health professionals.
3. How many of the students each year successfully obtain an internship placement?
You must complete a one-year predoctoral internship before you can graduate with a doctoral degree. These internships are usually separate from the doctoral program and require a separate application later in your training. Currently, there are more applicants than internship slots available, and your degree will be delayed until you are able to obtain and complete an internship. Some programs report less than 75% of their students obtain an internship in any given year. It is worth noting that both the number of Ph.Ds and PsyDs awarded have increased in recent years. If you end up having to take an internship that is unaccredited or unpaid, this will affect your debt load and may affect future employment options significantly. This is a critical issue!
4. How well am I likely to do on the national licensing exam?
ASPPB (http://www.asppb.net) provides the pass rate for each doctoral clinical psychology program on the national licensing exam (EPPP). We have combined data from the past several reports to offer a listing for you. You must pass the licensing exam and meet specific criteria for postdoctoral supervision hours (which differ somewhat across states) to become licensed to practice independently as a clinical psychologist. You can obtain information on how many eligible students pass the licensing exam from each program using the information here. Keep in mind, however, that not all students who graduate from CUDCP programs pursue licensure.
5. Will I learn evidence-based treatments?
Research has increasingly demonstrated that some approaches to therapy are likely to work. They have been based on scientific findings, and they have demonstrated results. Other approaches are a bit outdated and there is little evidence to suggest that they make people any better. Yet, clinical programs still vary on whether they teach evidence-based techniques, or non-evidence based techniques. Be smart about the programs you apply to. Carefully examine updated lists of evidence based treatments for adults (http://www.div12.org/PsychologicalTreatments) and for youth (see http://www.effectivechildtherapy.com) to make sure you will get training in the treatments that work. Eventually, these will be the only treatments that will be reimbursed by insurance companies. The majority of CUDCP programs emphasize training in evidence-based treatments.
What are my chances of getting into a clinical psychology Ph.D program?
Many Ph.D. programs receive over 200 applications and accept only 2-10% of those applicants. Of course, applicants who apply to about 12-15 programs typically have an increased chance acceptance somewhere. Before you attend a program with much higher proportions of applicants being admitted, find out the answers to the questions listed above. Although you will have a better chance of acceptance at less competitive programs, the quality of your training, the financial expense to you, and your career choices could be affected. Take all these factors into consideration and compare your options to other fields that also offer excellent training and will allow you to participate in a helping profession and make an important impact in the mental health field.