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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2005
An Apocryphal Email Exchange About Admission to Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs
Roger Blashfield, PhD, Jared Keeley, Danny Burgess, and David Everett,
Auborn University

Subj: Clinical psychology graduate programs

Dr. Blashfield: I took abnormal psychology with you last year. As a junior psychology major this year, I was thinking of applying to graduate school in order to become a clinical psychologist. I like psychology a lot and think this field is a good fit for me because I don't like math and psychologists don't seem to use much math in their work.

I purchased a book called an INSIDER'S GUIDE TO GRADUATE ADMISSIONS IN CLINICAL AND COUSELING PSYCHOLOGY. There is a large number of psychology programs listed in this book. The entire process seems more difficult than I expected. Can you help me?


Subj: Re: your message

I remember you from abnormal. You were a good student. I am surprised that you don't like math.

I found it interesting that you were reading the INSIDER'S GUIDE. A group of my graduate students and I have been working on a project to look at data about graduate admissions. We used the INSIDER'S GUIDE as one source of information. We randomly selected 42 PhD clinical psychology programs to examine. (Incidentally, the INSIDER'S GUIDE reports summary statistics on all of the programs which it includes).

An important statistic was the percentage of applicants to programs who were actually admitted. The INSIDER'S GUIDE does not report this statistic directly, but the book does report how many students apply each year vs. how many students were admitted. The percentage admitted is simply the ratio of these two numbers.

Across the 42 programs, the average percentage admitted was slightly over 5% (mean was 5.4% with standard deviation of 3.4). What does this number mean to you? Well, remember when you took statistics? You learned that psychologists conventionally set p < 0.05 as indicating that an effect in an experiment is sufficiently strong that it cannot be attributed to chance. The fact that average percentage admitted was about 5% (i.e., p < 0.05) means that, by chance alone, most clinical psychology graduate schools to which you apply are going to reject you.

So, does that indicate that applying to a clinical psychology PhD program is hopeless? No. As an applicant, your best estimate of your chances to gain admission is based on your GRE scores (verbal and quantitative) and your undergraduate GPA.

The means for the programs reporting these statistics were:

mean GRE verbal = 603 (SD = 47.4) (n = 26)
mean GRE quantitative = 658 (SD = 38.5) (n = 26)
mean undergrad GPA = 3.57 (SD = 0.17) (n = 36)

The range of the mean values for the clinical psychology programs were:

Range of GRE verbal = 520 to 715
Range of GRE quantitative = 600 to 736
Range of GPAs = 3.20 to 3.88

What these ranges tell you is that if your GRE scores or GPA is less than the lowest of these values, then the likelihood of being admitted to a clinical psychology graduate program is even less than 5%.

I know that I am reciting statistics to you, but hopefully seeing these numbers will help you make sense of the problems you might face in getting into a PhD clinical psychology program. What were your GRE scores?


Subj: Discouraged

I found your response to be upsetting. I thought that my GRE scores were pretty good. My GRE quantitative was 640, but my GRE verbal score was 510. I have a 3.73 undergraduate GPA. When I talked to other psychology students in my classes, my scores looked higher than the scores of my friends. But, compared to the numbers you just told me, apparently my GRE scores and GPA may not be good enough.

Why all the emphasis on the GRE scores anyway? I talked to my GTA in research methods who is a graduate student in your program. Cassandra says that GRE scores do not seem to differentiate between students who do well in graduate school and those who do not. Cassandra thinks that research-oriented programs are the ones that require higher GRE scores. However, she says that she wants to be a clinician, not a researcher, and graduate programs with a clinical emphasis are better given her interests. Is what she is telling me correct?


Subj: An even longer response -- Sorry. Professors cannot shut up.

These are interesting questions that you are asking, Susie. Data can be used to respond to the hypotheses that you have formed.

The issue is whether more research-oriented programs tend to have higher GRE requirements. If you look up a program in the INSIDER'S GUIDE, you will see that each program assigns a rating to itself on a 1 (exclusively clinical orientation) to 4 (equal balance of clinical and research emphasis) to 7 (exclusively research orientation). Interestingly, for the 42 clinical PhD programs, the general tendency was for these programs to see themselves as more research-oriented than clinical-oriented. The number of programs with various ratings were:

very research oriented 7 n = 2
heavily research 6 n = 15
more research 5 n = 10
split clinical/research 4 n = 13
more clinical 3 n = 2
heavily clinical 2 n = 0
very clinical oriented 1 n = 0

The percentage of applicants admitted for programs with these ratings were:

Very research 7 3.4% admit
Heavily research 6 3.5% admit
More research 5 5.6% admit
Split clinical/research 4 6.6% admit
More clinical 3 11.8% admit

In terms of GRE scores, a similar pattern arises.

Verb Quan UGPA
Very research 7 650 730 3.83
Heavily research 6 616 669 3.56
More research 5 580 628 3.55
Split clinical/research 4 586 639 3.53
More clinical 3 570 640 3.67
To conclude, Cassandra's ideas do seem to be correct. More research oriented programs are the ones with the most competitive standards and are the schools that tend to reject the largest percentage of applicants.

Subj: How hard is graduate school in a clinical psychology PhD program?

I have been showing your emails to Cassandra. She says that graduate school in clinical psychology is a much harder process than she expected when she applied. She knew that the courses would be demanding. But what she did not expect is how long graduate school would be. She had the impression that she could get her PhD in 4 years. But now, she realizes that she easily could be in graduate school twice that long. Then she said that some students go all the way through graduate school and cannot find an internship. Since completing an internship is required for the PhD, this means that these students cannot get their degree. Finally, she said that there are rumors of some students in her program who got the PhD but who fail the licensing exam. These students have earned their degree, but, without a license, they cannot do clinical work.

Since you have me looking at data, I decided to use the INSIDER'S GUIDE for the percentage of students who find internships. Almost all programs seem to be reporting that 100% of their students get internships. To me, this suggests Cassandra is a little too worried about finding an internship.


Subj: The real truth about clinical psychology graduate programs

Sounds like Cassandra has you thinking about what graduate school is really like.

First, Cassandra is correct that clinical psychology PhD programs take longer than many undergraduates think it will. All clinical psychology programs are required to report statistics each year on students who are admitted to their programs as well as about students who graduate from the programs. Many clinical PhD programs report these statistics on their website (usually called "Full Disclosure" data because the format for reporting these data are consistent and allow a direct comparison of how efficiently these programs are training doctoral students). As you will see below, the Full Disclosure data generally are more accurate than the numbers reported in the INSIDER'S GUIDE.

Second, the Full Disclosure data list the average number of years it took graduates of a program to obtain their PhD. The mean across 27 of our 42 programs for which this information was available was 6.78 years (SD = 1.11, range = 5.25 to 10.83 years). From these numbers, it is the rare student who can complete her PhD in 4 years.

Third, on the Full Disclosure data, the mean across 29 programs of students who matched during the internship hunt process was 92.8% (SD = 9.76). This statistic is quite consistent with the statistic reported by the organization, called APPIC (Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers), that oversees internships. APPIC has stated that the match rate for clinical PhD programs is 94%. The match rate for other types of programs (e.g., counseling programs, clinical PsyD programs, school psychology programs) generally is lower and is in the 80% to 90% range.

You commented that most clinical PhD programs reported in the INSIDER'S GUIDE that 100% of their applicants matched when looking for internships. I checked this out. Of the 42 clinical programs in our sample, 36 of them reported 100% match rate in the INSIDER'S GUIDE. For 26 of these 36 programs, Full Disclosure data were available. Interestingly, only 8 of the 26 programs actually had 100% match rates as shown in their Full Disclosure data.

Which leads us, finally, to the third point: the psychology licensing exam. States have professional licensing boards. These boards require all psychologists who wish to be licensed to pass a standardized, multiple-choice licensing exam of 200 questions. Most states require the psychologist to pass 140 of these 200 questions. The exam is titled the Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). My graduate students and I looked at EPPP data for the 42 schools that we had sampled. Based on the mean and standard deviation of the EPPP scores, we were able to estimate what percentage of students from each program passed the licensing exam. The mean percentage of passes was 87% (SD = 9.4). The range of percentage passing for the 42 clinical programs was from 61% to 100%. Seven of the 42 programs (1/6th) had percentage passing rates of less than 80%.


Subj: Reliability of the INSIDER'S GUIDE information

I feel like I am learning more about graduate school in clinical psychology. But what I am learning is not at all what I expected to find out.

The part of your last email that had me worried was the comment that most schools who were reporting 100% match rates actually had lower rates. This suggests that the data reported in the INSIDER'S GUIDE might not be accurate (reliable?). Is this another worry?


Subj: A picture is worth a thousand words
My graduate students were quite intrigued by your observation that most clinical programs were reporting that 100% of their students match in the INSIDER'S GUIDE. To my students, it did not seem plausible that most clinical psychology programs place 100% of their students in internships every year.
So they looked at other variables as reported in the INSIDER'S GUIDE versus what was available through the Full Disclosure data. An interesting pattern appeared. Clinical programs seem to be reporting data that are more favorable to their program than appear to be warranted.
Below is a plot in which the y-axis shows the mean number of years to PhD as reported in the Full Disclosure data. The x-axis contains the values for the mean number of years to the PhD as reported in the INSIDER'S GUIDE. Ideally, if the numbers reported in these two places were the same, the dots should occur along a diagonal line that runs from the lower left side of the figure to the upper right. But that is not what happens. The values reported in the INSIDER'S GUIDE generally were underestimates (i.e., to the left side of the diagonal line). For most clinical psychology programs, the mean time to completion of the PhD was between 7.0 to 9.0 years. However, the value reported in the INSIDER'S GUIDE was typically 6.0 to 7.0 years.

Subj: Clinical psychology graduate programs

I keep noticing in your responses to me that you report statistics. I know I said that I was attracted to psychology because psychologists did not have to know much math. I think that I am learning this impression was incorrect. Interestingly, though, I am enjoying our interaction. The numbers you are reporting make sense to me and they are informative. I still think I want to go to graduate school. But I think I shall take an extra course in statistics this fall before I apply.

Thanks for all of your help.


Subj: At last, a short response

When I was an undergraduate at Ohio State, I used to collect sayings. One of my favorite sayings was a comment made by Lincoln Steffins: "It is possible to get an education at a university."

My graduate students and I have enjoyed interacting with you. If you would like to join our research team during the next academic year, please let us know.


Roger Blashfield, PhD, is a professor of psychology at Auburn University (AL). His specialization is the classification of psychopathology. The other three authors of the manuscript are third- and fourth-year graduate students who work with Dr. Blashfield on his research team. One goal of this research team is to examine data that can empirically inform students about entering and leaving the clinical psychology graduate education process. Jared Keeley was at Knox College (1,200 students) in Galesburg IL. David Everett came to Auburn from Tennessee Technological University in Cookesville, TN (9,200 students). Danny Burgess obtained his bachelor's degree from University of Southern Mississippi (11, 800 students) before coming to Auburn.

Copyright 2005 (Volume 10, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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