Tony D. Crespi, EdD, ABPP, and Mikayla L. Alicandro
The University of Hartford
Do you dream of a master’s or doctoral degree? Are you worried you might not be accepted into graduate school. Are you—or your parents—worried about employment after graduate school?
Like the secret life of bees, graduate school and the employment market has numerous unfamiliar facets. In fact, unknown to many, the American Psychological Association (APA, 2016) provides a helpful overview on master’s and doctoral degrees awarded by field. As example, within applied areas, 42% of doctorates are awarded in clinical psychology, but only 5% are awarded in school psychology, mirroring areas of strong supply as well as shortages. Similarly, data at the master’s degree level notes that counseling represents the largest master’s outlet at 39%, also reflecting an area with employment competition.
As we will note, although this data is daunting, it remains clear that selecting a graduate program can be challenging. In fact, what the data does not indicate is that, although many students seek entrance into a PhD or PsyD program, others wonder if an MA or MS degree is preferable? Many students also wonder if it is advantageous to pursue an MA prior to applying for a PhD or PsyD program. Truly, what employment prospects exist for both graduates? What kind of certifications and licenses can an MA or PhD acquire? What are the options?
The choices can seem overwhelming. Crespi and Politikos (2004) noted that there are areas of both shortages and oversupply, with notable shortages in school psychology. Elsewhere the APA (2016) reported that only 3% of master’s degrees are in forensic counseling, another growth field. Still, Cook and Coyne (2005) described a changing market within clinical psychology, with data suggesting that professional programs are producing large numbers of graduates into a complex clinical market.
Consider these applied options:
- Clinical Psychology: Doctorate
- School Psychology: Master’s/Specialist or Doctorate
- Counseling Psychology: Doctorate
- Counselor Education: Master’s or Doctorate
- School Counseling
- Career Counseling
- Rehabilitation Counseling
- Clinical Mental Health Counseling
- Marriage and Family Therapy: Master’s or Doctorate
- Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Master’s or Doctorate
- Forensic Counseling and Forensic Psychology: Master’s or Doctorate
Frankly, the questions and answers are imposing for students and advisors! This article examines the landscape of “clinical” education while offering critical information. A question and answer format is also used to enhance readability. Graduate school? Maximize your opportunities!
Welcome to our graduate guide.
Graduate School: Dreams and Expectations
Graduate school? Undergraduate and graduate education are not similar. Undergraduate education involves coursework in multiple departments, from English or mathematics to psychology, but graduate education is largely focused on an area of specialization. In addition, just as law school or medical school can require an intense focus blending classwork with preprofessional and professional training, the applicant in applied psychology may be unaware of this blending of study with applied training experiences. In addition, teaching and/or research assistantships can add stress.
Graduate school? Initially, it is not uncommon to wonder if this is a good decision. What is the best school to select? Is my specialty a good selection? Will I secure a job? In addition, graduate students are competitive. Classes are demanding. And it is not uncommon to have undergraduate friends working and earning salaries while graduate students balance additional loans and intense study. Fortunately, assistantships can add a measure of funding while adding to both employability and strengthen experiential background.
Graduate school? Selecting a program which “best” fits your interests and needs is important. Finding a mentor can be equally important. Some graduate programs, similar to law school, have “cohort” groups where a select group of students enter as a group and proceed forward taking similar classes at similar times. Other programs are more individualized. To help, we have provided critical questions, and answers, as you begin to explore the options.
Let the questions begin!
Perceptions and Realities: Inside the World of Work
Is there a way to begin to sort the options?
Yes. The experience of having acquired graduate and professional credentials and professional experiences between and across multiple specialties (e.g., licensed psychologist, certified school counselor, certified school psychologist, nationally certified school psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, as well as board certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology) complimented by advising students in areas ranging from school psychology to counseling psychology and from marriage and family therapy to forensic counseling has afforded the opportunity to conclude that many students lack key knowledge. Many students and faculty, as example, do not know the difference between a school counselor and school psychologist. Similarly, although forensic psychology involves the intersection of psychology and the law practice, opportunities can be confusing as students weigh employment from prisons to private practice. How to start? First look at multiple curriculum, gauge class titles for interest, and speak to graduates and faculty.
Who can help and offer insights?
Faculty have acquired graduate degrees in diverse areas. These individuals can offer personal insights into their experiences. Fortunately, many universities post faculty resumés (i.e., vitaes) online. In addition, association websites such as the APA, National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), American Counseling Association, and American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) are helpful venues where salaries and job data is often earmarked. ABPP is an especially interesting site because this group routinely profiles members in areas ranging from clinical psychology to neuropsychology.
Where can you go to hear speakers and ask questions?
Because of the importance of these issues, regional and national association conventions routinely have speakers who present talks on graduate education and employment. Over the past decade, as example, I have provided presentations and listened to presentations at conventions including the New England Psychological Association and Eastern Psychological Association. These have been well-attended with the rooms typically filled with interested students and faculty, and participants have opportunities to prompt questions. Often, multiple speakers provide material on key areas including polishing applications, master’s and doctoral options, and employment. Look at the websites for these conventions and consider attending these events.
Is university program accreditation important?
Yes. APA accreditation for those interested in becoming credentialed through a state Department of Health Service as a licensed psychologist, NASP program approval for those interested in becoming credentialed through a State Department of Education as a certified school psychologist, and AAMFT accreditation for those interested in credentialing through a Department of Health Service as a licensed marriage and family therapist are illustrations of program markers. Although individual states can vary in departmental names of boards and certification vs. licensure status, these markers are typical. Program accreditation and approval (e.g., APA, NASP, AAMFT) provides an assurance of external review on quality, offers credibility, and affords ease of entry for state credentialing for practice.Why is individual licensure and/or certification important?
Although licensure and/or certification is not necessarily required for all positions, many positions require these designations. As an illustration, employment as a school psychologist or school counselor typically requires State Department of Education credentialing. Just as teachers must hold appropriate certification and are eligible for health care benefits, “sick time,” and retirement programs, school counselors and school psychologists are also eligible for such benefits. Elsewhere, private practice—a common goal for a clinical psychologist—typically involves credentialing as a licensed psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, or licensed professional counselor through a State Department of Health Services. Not all career paths require these designations. For example, teaching in a community college wouldn’t typically require such a marker. However, these designations are key to many positions.
Are there viable career options for master’s graduates?
Yes. As mentioned earlier, school psychology is facing a national shortage of practitioners. Moreover, entry credentialing as a Certified School Psychologist is typically described as a “Specialist Designation” marked by a master’s degree and a postmaster’s credential often referred to as a sixth year certificate (SYC), professional diploma (PD), certificate of advanced study (CAS/CAGS), or educational specialist degree (EdS). The majority of school psychologists working in the nation’s schools are educated and trained in three-year programs of study that offer these designations. Similarly, school counselors are trained at the master’s degree level as are marriage and family therapists. In short, there are multiple viable career paths for those not necessarily interested in pursuing a doctorate.
What are the career paths without licensure?
Careers in industrial and organizational psychology personify a viable option where certification and licensure is not necessarily required, and where association program accreditation is also not required. Still, this is not the sole employment arena which offers employment options without a need for program accreditation and individual licensing and/or certification. Many state positions including probation officers, for example, do not typically require these markers. In truth, from industrial and organizational psychology to probation counseling, there are careers which do not require certification or licensure. At the same time, many students and faculty are unaware of these options. Fortunately, individual study of jobs sites, meetings with knowledgeable career counselors, and conference presentations on graduate school can help deepen knowledge.
Does the acquisition of a master’s degree preclude later doctoral study?
No. Many individuals have acquired a master’s degree, enjoyed a viable career, only to later acquire a doctorate. An industrial and organizational MA consultant or a nondoctoral school psychologist might both pursue doctorates within their specialties or in new areas to offer new or additional career opportunities. This said, not all programs will necessarily “accept” all previous credits, and applicants should understand that a doctorate may require additional courses, experiences, and a new plan of study.
What are “combined” degree programs, and are these a viable option?
A number of universities offer “combined” programs where students complete a degree in multiple areas—counseling and school psychology as an example—thereby offering expanded credentialing options and multiple career opportunities. In addition, specialized programs exist where students can also simultaneously acquire supplemental degrees with a PhD or PsyD such as a master of business administration degree (MBA) or juris doctorate (JD). Options can be broad for those with the inclination to choose and create educational programs suited for a diverse and a changing job market.
How many graduates are in the job market?
Although many graduate students and advisors have general notions about various fields of practice, many are missing critical data. Did you know as example that school librarians outnumber school psychologists? Did you know that, although there is a national shortage of school psychologists (with widespread opportunities for nondoctoral graduates), the graduates of school counseling programs face fierce competition. Similarly, employment of both master’s forensic counselors and doctoral forensic psychologists is strong! Consider the data on practitioner numbers:
- School Counselors, 110,970*
- School Psychologists, 41,880*
- School Social Workers, 31,030*
- Marriage and Family Therapists, 41,500**
- Clinical Psychologists, 148,000**
- (National Center for Education Statistics, 2008*; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019**)
Decisions and Decision Making
Two years ago, a woman in her mid-40s asked me (the first author) if she was too old to pursue a graduate degree in school psychology. She confided that she’d dreamed of becoming a school psychologist for more then 20 years but knew she’d be almost 50 after our three-year program of study. I asked how old she’d be in three years if she didn’t pursue this program. Because she looked confused, I gently explained that my point was that she would be the same age in three years whether or not she pursued her dream! I also noted that, following graduation, she would hopefully be able to work and enjoy a conceivable 15, 20, or even 25 years of professional work she would not be able to enjoy if she did not pursue a degree. I asked the importance of her dreams. You too should weigh your dreams and options!
Graduate education offers the opportunity to pursue a career path, and a lifestyle, which can be unique. Certainly graduate school is not a goal for every undergraduate. Just as some people select law school—my wife Cheryl pursued a specialty in tax while in law school—so students interested in applied tracks must choose whether an area such as clinical psychology, school psychology, counseling psychology, forensic psychology, or an area including marriage and family therapy or school counseling best fit their interests and goals. Sometimes, too, “combined” programs combining two or three areas such as clinical and school psychology can best meet their interests. No one can see into the future. But because we can’t, the best we can do is to consider these questions, talk to faculty, attend workshops on graduate education held at professional conferences, and talk to faculty and graduate students in programs you find appealing. Ask students and faculty questions:
- What is positive about this program?
- What is negative about this program?
- Why did you select this program?
- Would you choose this program again?
- What kinds of jobs do graduates secure?
- How long does it take for graduates to secure employment?
- What is the success of a graduate securing certification and/or licensure?
Ask questions! Balance answers with your interests and needs.
Will graduate school make you happy? Truthfully, graduate school can be demanding. Are you someone who enjoys reading, studying, and writing papers? If you enjoy these tasks, graduate school can be a good fit! Most faculty enjoy these activities and successful graduate students often possess similar interests.
Master’s or doctoral degree? Only you can decide? Fortunately, graduate faculty are, for the most part, committed to helping students traverse from an undergraduate education to graduate school. At the same time, you will be the person reading papers and textbooks, writing papers, and completing applied training. As we noted, there are areas of shortage and areas of greater supply and competition. Graduate school is also stressful. We hope this information helps alleviate some stress as you begin to examine this important decision making process. We also hope to see you at one of our talks—or a talk by our colleagues—on graduate education.
References and Resources
American Psychological Association. (2016). Psychology master’s and doctoral degrees awarded by broad field, subfield, institution type and state (2004–2013): Findings from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Washington, DC: Author.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2019, April 12). Marriage and family therapists. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/marriage-and-family-therapists.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2019, April 12). Social workers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2019, April 12). School and career counselors. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors/htm
Cook, J. M., & Coyne, J. C., (2005). Re-envisioning the training and practice of clinical psychologists: Preserving science and research orientations in the face of change. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61, 1191–1196. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20163
Crespi, T. D., & Politikos, N. N. (2004). Respecialization as a school psychologist: Training and supervision for school practice. Psychology in Schools, 41, 473–480. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.10190
National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. (2012). Schools and staffing survey (SASS), "Public School Data File," 2011–12. (NCES 2018-817).
Tony D. Crespi, EdD, ABPP, is professor of psychology at The University of Hartford in Connecticut. A licensed psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, certified school counselor, certified school psychologist, and nationally certified school psychologist, he is also a diplomate of the American Board of Professional Psychology and a Past President of Trainers of School Psychologists. He has published three books and more then a hundred journal articles and chapters.
Mikayla Alicandro is presently pursuing her master’s degree and sixth year certificate in school psychology, with a specialization in clinical child counseling, in the NASP Approved Program at The University of Hartford. Her interests include personality assessment with children as well as family counseling with high risk children. She is beginning a year-long practicum this year while still weighing her interests in possibly pursuing a PhD or PsyD in one of these specialties.
Copyright 2019 (Vol. 24, Iss. 1) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology