Congratulations on being a huge nerd!
We can say this because we are also nerds who decided to devote their entire lives to the pursuit of knowledge.
1. Is graduate school the right thing for me?
Going to graduate school can be a big investment, both in time and money (see below). Make sure you're going to graduate school for the right reasons! A graduate degree is required for some jobs (e.g. clinical psychologist), but there are plenty of jobs you can do with your bachelor's degree. The purpose of grad school is to make you an expert in your field, so you should be prepared to dedicate that kind of time and mental energy.
If you aren't sure if you want to go to grad school yet, take a gap year! Gap year(s) can be great opportunities for you to narrow down your areas of interest, to get some experience, and to save up some money. It also means you don't have to do the entire application process while you're trying to navigate your senior year. See the Careers page for recommendations on jobs you can do during your gap year(s). If you're worried that you won't want to go back to school once you're working, grad school probably isn't the best choice for you.
2. What path should I take?
Do you want to go into therapy or practice? If so, you need to go into a practitioner program, such as clinical, counseling, or school psychology, social work, or behavior analysis. If you get a degree in a non-practice field, you will NOT be allowed to administer therapy without going back to school! Psychiatrists, who can prescribe medications, are medical providers and therefore go through medical school.
- Mitch's Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology (Section 1 includes detailed breakdown of different practitioner types)
3. What kind of degree should I pursue?
- Master's degrees: M.A. or M.S.
- Doctoral degrees: Ph.D.
- Professional degrees: M.S.W, Psy.D., O.T.D.
If you are going into a non-practitioner program, you typically go either for a Master's or PhD, depending on your goals. This page breaks down the differences between non-practice Master's and Doctoral programs.
Many Psychology students go into programs in criminal justice. This page explains the degrees and jobs you can pursue in criminal justice.
If you want to practice, you can go for a Master's, a PhD, or a professional degree.
4. How do I decide where to apply?
This will depend a lot on the kind of program you are applying to. If you are applying to a Master's or professional degree program, you can be a bit more selective because they tend to take more students. Find programs that offer the kind of degree you want and that include any specialties that you are interested in pursuing.
For PhD programs (clinical and non-clinical), applying to graduate school is nothing like applying to undergrad. When you were looking at colleges, you were probably focused on particular locations, programs, extracurriculars, cost, etc. For PhD programs, you need to plan on applying all across the country, and no fewer than 10 schools (Dr. Saczawa applied to 13 schools from Hawaii to Massachusetts and got accepted to 1). You will be applying to work with a specific person (your research advisor), not to the program or the school. Your research advisor will be the one who ultimately decides whether or not you are admitted to the program, and you will work directly with them for your entire time at the school.
- Find research in your area(s) of interest
- Look up recent articles published in that area
- On the article, look at the authors' affiliations (where they work)
- Apply to those schools/authors
- On the authors' school webpages, look for their former graduate students
- Find the former graduate students' affiliations and apply there (if their research is relevant)
5. What resources are available for applying to graduate school?
- Mitch's Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology
- A Student's Perspective on Applying to Graduate School in (Clinical) Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Psi Chi's An Eye on Graduate School: Guidance Through a Successful Application
- Psi Chi Blog: Answers to 30+ Popular Questions About Grad School
- Caffeinated Confidence's blog posts on applying to grad school
- Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process
- Some Thoughts on Applying to Graduate School in Psychology
- Timeline for Applying to Graduate School (note: GRE subject test is rarely required today)
- How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation
- How do you write an email to a potential advisor?