Advising Information for Psychology Majors
- Click here for a Psychology Major Checklist
- Click here for the Request for Letters of Recommendation Form from faculty
For Freshmen and Sophomores:
The first two years are mainly spent fulfilling your general education requirements. As long as you have taken Psyc 101 General Psychology and one or two other psychology courses, you are right on track. By the end of your sophomore year, you should have completed virtually all of your general education requirements, especially the math requirement.
If you are planning on studying abroad for a semester, be sure to let your advisor know as soon as possible so you can plan for the absence.
For Juniors and Seniors:
The best time to take the required sequence, Psyc 305 Statistics for Social Sciences and Psyc 306 Research Methods is in the Fall and Spring of the junior year. Most students take it at that time. There are always students, however, who have to wait and take the sequence in their senior year or have to split up the sequence and take them in different years. This is still OK, but check with your advisor to see if this is really necessary. We strongly prefer students to take this sequence at Samford and only rarely do we give permission for students to take either of these courses at a different school for transfer back to Samford.
We strongly advise students to take Psyc 301 Internship for career exploration, especially if you are planning on pursuing a career in human service such as clinical, counseling, social work or school psychology. The internship, carried out in an actual setting under the supervision of a professional, will give you insight into whether that career is really a good fit for you. A successful experience will also increase your chances of success for applying to graduate programs. We have also had many students who continue to work at internship sites after the formal internship is over either as volunteers or as employees. Internship can be taken for 2 or 4 credits and is pass/fail only. Students may take Internship for credit up to two times as long as the internship site is different. Internship is not offered over the summer, but summer is a good time to get volunteer experience, which is also very useful to students for career exploration and applying to graduate schools. Talk to your advisor for more information.
If you are interested in pursuing graduate study in psychology or related fields, we recommend you take Psyc 401 Journal Seminar, which is a one credit pass/fail course in which students read and discuss current issues in psychology. This course gives students practice in reading journal articles critically. It may be taken multiple times.
In your senior year, all psychology majors must take a capstone class. You have a choice of Psyc 410 Directed Research or Psyc 412 Senior Seminar. Directed Research involves conducting an original research project under the supervision of a faculty member. It is a course that requires a great deal of independent work and is intended to prepare students for graduate level research and demonstrate what they are capable of accomplishing as a scholar and researcher. Senior Seminar is more of a traditional small reading and writing intensive seminar intended to integrate previous psychology course work. Students choose which course is most suitable for them in consultation with their advisor. Students who are planning to graduate in the Fall semester have the option of taking Senior Seminar in the Spring of their junior year.
Advice on References and Letters of Recommendation
Good letters of recommendation or references are critical for successful application to graduate programs or job openings. They must do more than say you are a good student, it must distinguish you from many (sometimes hundreds) of deserving applicants. Effective letters or references are personal and distinctive. The better we know you and can discuss our personal experience with your academic and personal qualities, the better your letters will be. An effective reference describes how we know that you are distinctly qualified and well suited for a program or job. Therefore, plan ahead and be very intentional about developing good references. Think about who will write for you and make your career interests known to them. Work with them if possible on research or any way that demonstrates your capabilities. Collect the kinds of classroom, research, work and volunteer experiences that indicate that you know the field you want to pursue, you have the initiative and drive to pursue it on your own, and you have the academic and personal traits to be successful.
To request a letter of recommendation, you must complete the Request for Letter of Recommendation form.
Advice on Graduate Schools Admissions and Other Career Goals
- Click here for links to resources on pursuing graduate study or career exploration for psychology majors.
Recently I attended a daylong meeting of all the heads of departments of psychology in Alabama. We discussed a number of issues that are relevant to all psychology majors. The following is a bit long, but I think you will find the information interesting and useful.
- If you are not planning on pursuing a career in psychology:
Surveys of desirable skills from a wide range of employers show that psychology majors graduate with many highly marketable skills. The most highly rated skill was technical writing, especially the ability to write business proposals. Statistical and research skills was rated a close second. Remember, this survey was from a wide range of businesses. Our psychology major emphasizes both these skills. The moral of this story is that you should highlight these skills as you enter the job market, because, due to the stereotype about psychology being all warm fuzzies, many employers probably don't know that psychology majors have these skills.
- If you are interested on pursuing a career in psychology or related field:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the job outlook for psychology professionals will be very strong at least through 2014. Areas of highest demand will be in human services, such as clinical, counseling, school and educational psychology. The aging baby boomers will create a high demand in gerontology. Industrial/Organizational psychology will also have strong demand.
- If you are planning on pursuing graduate school in psychology:
The chairs of Alabama, Auburn and UAB were all there and they had some important insights into applying successfully to doctoral programs. There were also several schools that have masters programs: South Alabama (experimental, applied), Auburn University Montgomery (clinical), and Alabama A&M (counseling). Here is what I found out.
- For doctoral programs:
The chairs of the three doctoral programs in the state confirmed much of what we tell students, but I got some interesting insight into how decisions are made about which students get accepted and which rejected. First, as we often tell students, doctoral clinical programs are highly competitive. Auburn has about 250 applications for 6-8 spaces each year. Second, demonstrated research experience is the single most desirable skill among doctoral programs. One of the chairs said, "We are looking for research collaborators when we decide who will get accepted. It is a selfish process." So applying to graduate school isn't so much about showing what a good student you are as it is about showing what a good research collaborator you will be. That means that you should study the research interests and work of the faculty of the departments to which you are applying. A big mistake is to send the same personal essay to every school you apply to. Tailor your essay to each program you are applying to. Next, your essay, letters and record must show that you have the passion and drive to complete the doctoral program, which is a 5-6 year commitment. The good news is that all the doctoral programs support their graduate students through research or teaching assistantships. Tuition and fees are covered and some include health benefits. All schools are keen to recruit qualified minority students and have generous funding for those students.
Alabama and Auburn have similar systems for deciding admissions. There isn't a set admissions committee. All faculty review the applications relevant to their areas. So all clinical faculty read all applications to the clinical program. UAB uses a set admissions committee, but faculty still have input into decisions. All three chairs agreed that, while GRE and GPA are important to the decision, they are not absolute. Faculty are willing to overlook less than stellar GRE and GPA's (within reason, of course) for students with other strengths, especially in research skills. So a so-so GRE or GPA does not necessarily count you out, but you need to sell your other qualities. I've already mentioned research and experiences presentations. You should also work to make yourself distinctive in other ways. Knowing a second language, strong writing or math skills, and taking an advanced statistics course were all mentioned. We always tell students to get internship or volunteer experience to demonstrate that they understand the challenges of the career they are pursuing and have the initiative to seek out relevant experiences. They also like students with a strong science background, which includes both natural and computer sciences. This means that you should think twice about trying to slide by your science general education requirement by taking Scientific Methods or Astronomy. Taking science courses related to psychology, such as biology or computer science, and then taking courses such as genetics as an elective can help your chances for admission. So, the bottom line is this, when you apply to a doctoral program, first and foremost you are applying to a person (or persons) with whom you want to do research, then secondarily you are applying to a psychology program and only lastly are you applying to a particular university.
Another good piece of advice. If you are interested in working with a particular professor or a particular program, you can always contact the professor or program and try to set up a meeting to discuss the research or program. Of course, you should do your homework before the meeting. Such visits can help you tailor your application to the program and get your foot in the door with a particular professor. Even better, volunteer to work in the lab or help out in some way.
For those who do not get into a doctoral program directly out of undergraduate college, there are two good options. First, gain research experience working in a lab. Second, apply to a masters program. All the chairs agreed that getting a master's in experimental psychology was preferred over an applied or clinical master's, even if you want to pursue clinical psychology. This gets back to the emphasis on research collaboration in graduate schools. Masters programs are not as competitive as doctoral programs. Usually GRE's around 1000 (verbal + quantitative) and GPA's over 3.000 are sufficient. The problem is that masters programs usually only have limited resources to support masters level grad students. Finally, do not expect having a master's degree to allow you to finish your Ph.D any faster. A master's will save you one year of time on your doctorate, if any.
One good piece of news for our students is that Samford undergrads are regarded highly by all three programs. They have all had our grads go through their programs or work as lab assistants and they've made a very good impression.
- For Masters Programs:
Discussion about master's clinical programs made it clear that most of those recipients went on to work in clinical settings right away. They delivered therapeutic care under the supervision of a doctoral level therapist. If they pursued doctoral level degrees, they tended to be PsyD's rather than PhD's. Demand for master's level therapists does seem good, depending on the quality of the program. The chair from Auburn specifically mentioned a masters program they have in applied behavior analysis that is one year long and has a 100% placement rate at a high salary, mostly working with children with autism.
Student Links and Resources
Go here for links to websites with information on psychology, careers, research, writing in APA style and more.