Overview of Profession

Clinical and counseling psychologists are professionals who are dedicated to promoting the mental health of their clients. Clinical and counseling psychologists work in a variety of environments including individual and group practices, mental health agencies, healthcare systems (e.g., Veterans Administration), and colleges and universities. The doctoral degree in psychology is the highest degree in the field and typically requires 4 or more years of coursework beyond the bachelor’s degree and one year in a pre-doctoral internship. In order to become licensed as a psychologist, most states also require that individuals perform one year of supervised post-doctoral practice. Traditionally, doctoral degrees in clinical psychology differed from those in counseling psychology by their focus on treating individuals with more severe mental illnesses; whereas, counseling psychology placed a greater emphasis on treating individuals with relational, vocational, and personal problems. However, over the past two decades, these distinctions have faded and most states now offer a singular license to individuals trained as either clinical or counseling psychologists. Another choice for those interested in becoming practicing psychologists is whether to pursue the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree. Although both degrees prepare students to become mental health practitioners, programs that offer the Ph.D. place more of an emphasis on training researchers; whereas, Psy.D. programs are more focused on training practitioners. Whether pursuing a degree in counseling or clinical psychology or a Psy.D. versus a Ph.D., the training of psychologists is not only about learning specific research and treatment techniques, but also connected with developing the interpersonal skills that will allow individuals to work effectively with a broad range of people. Developing empathy, acceptance, and an understanding of oneself, among other attributes, will be an important part of the training to become a psychologist. Additional information about the profession of clinical or counseling psychology may be found at the American Psychological Association Website:

Undergraduate Preparation

Admission into a Ph.D. or Psy.D. program requires at least a bachelor’s degree, with some programs requiring a master’s degree. Although doctoral programs in clinical or counseling psychology will accept students with a variety of undergraduate majors, most successful applicants will have majored in psychology and virtually all programs will require students to have had at least 18 hours in psychology with prerequisite courses in introductory psychology, statistics, research methods, and abnormal psychology. Some schools require courses in personality theories, developmental psychology, counseling techniques, and testing and measurement. Prerequisites vary among schools so students interested in specific universities should check those programs’ websites for their requirements. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required for admission into a Ph.D. or Psy.D. program, though many schools require a minimum GPA as high as 3.5. The average GPA of accepted applicants is typically 3.5 or higher. Additionally, most programs require a grade of C or higher in the prerequisite classes to be considered for admission. Please refer to Appendix F for a suggested timeline for applicants.

In addition to course prerequisites, research experience is important, if not critical, to gaining acceptance into a doctoral program. Therefore, students should seek out professors with whom they can collaborate on research projects early in their undergraduate preparation. 

Application Process

There are several steps involved in applying to doctoral programs in clinical or counseling psychology. To apply to these programs, it is necessary to complete an individual application for each graduate school. Virtually all doctoral programs will require that applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and submit the scores as a part of their application. The GRE is composed of questions assessing verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Verbal Reasoning is assessed in two, thirty minute sections consisting of approximately 20 questions. There are also two sections of Quantitative Reasoning with 20 questions with each section lasting approximately 35 minutes. The Analytical Writing component consists of two 30-minute essays. Cut-off scores for admission vary among doctoral though almost all programs will require scores at or above the 75th percentile, with many programs only accepting applicants with scores at or above the 90th percentile. Some graduate schools also may require the GRE Psychology Test to be taken as well. The GRE Psychology Test contains 205 questions assessing knowledge of natural/experimental psychology, social/abnormal psychology, and general psychology. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the GRE and the GRE Subject Test in Psychology. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities. Those interested in learning more about the application process can check out Getting In: A Step-By-Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology from the EHC library.

Personal Statement

Another important component of applying to a Ph.D./Psy.D. program is the personal statement. Ranging from a minimum of 500-1000 words in some programs, to a maximum of 5 pages in others, the personal statement details your reasons for applying to a Ph.D./Psy.D. program and summarizes your preparation for graduate school. Because of the strict word limit imposed by many programs, it is important to be clear and succinct. The personal essay is a very important part of the application and should be carefully reviewed by your major advisor or pre-health committee member. 

Letters of Recommendation

Applicant’s will need to request letters of recommendation from at least three of their professors. It is the student’s responsibility to ask for these letters directly from professors who have taught them and have a good understanding of their work ethic. It is proper etiquette to write a thank you note to the professors that write your letters of recommendation.