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> I am a junior psychology major at ---------------------  University, and 
> after reading this file I literally feel sick to my stomach.  I plan on 
> applying to grad school to obtain a PhD, but now I feel like it must be 
> hopeless.  I have a 3.83 overall GPA and a 4.00 psych GPA, I've been 
> involved in research since spring of my sophomore year, and next 
> semester I'll begin our Distinction program (in which I will take 
> Advanced Experimental, a 5000-level scientific writing course, and 2 
> seminars to accompany the preparation and completion of a research 
> project and thesis, which I will have to defend to a faculty committee 
> in spring of my senior year).  I haven't taken the GRE yet, but I'll 
> begin preparing for it next semester, and I expect to do well on it. 
> What more can I do?  I thought I was on track in my preparation for grad 
> school, but now I feel like it's hopeless. Can you offer any advice or 
> encouragement? I would really appreciate a response, because I'm serious 
> about wanting advice. 

The file you read was specifically about clinical PhD programs. The rational way to address the problem is: (1) apply to a range of such programs (not only the best), (2) apply to other sorts of programs which also have a clinical focus (counseling, MSW, PsyD), or (3) get a Masters degree first.

It is rather sickening that prospects for getting into clinical PhD programs are so poor, but it is better to know this in advance, so you can make contingency plans and not stake everything on getting into one. If you do, celebrate, if you don't, you will know it is not due to some personal defect but because of the extreme competition for a limited number of positions. BTW you are doing the best possible thing by participating in research as an undergraduate. You might well be better positioned that some of the people described in the "sobering discussion" to you which you refer. Some of those students were academic stars but had little research experience. Actually, re-reading your note, I suspect you are MUCH better positioned that most of your competition. There is hope...


> I am anticipating applying to a clinical psychology Ph.D. program after 
> I graduate in June. Currently, I am doing everything I can for my 
> merit to stick out to the graduate schools I will be applying to.  I 
> have done 6 months of counseling at a local middle school through our 
> Field Study Program, I am doing research with a graduate student as well 
> as doing a side project of my own research which is being proctored by a 
> professor, I have gotten top evaluations in 95% of my classes (we do not 
> have a grading system at --------; we get narrative evaluations), I am a 
> teaching assistant for a lower and an upper division psychology class. 
> I feel as if I am doing all that I can do as an undergraduate. 
> Publification as an undergraduate is not very easy to accomplish.  Is 
> this really what graduate schools want?  Please respond back to me if 
> you can. 
Sounds like you are doing everything right.

I've gotten lots of mail concerning that "sobering discussion" about the long odds of getting into a clinical PhD program.

To summarize my basic reply: "Remember, this is just clinical PhD programs; there are many other options, such as counseling, PsyD, or getting a Masters first, and one should plan to apply to a range of clinical programs, not just the best..." In other words, keep doing what you are doing, but also make realistic plans in view of the 20-to-1 odds against getting into the very best programs. You can consult with the APA book on grad programs to see the exact ratio of applicants to admissions, average GREs of incoming students, and other relevant data for UCSC. The data will be a year or two old, but it is by far your best and most revealing objective information about odds of being accepted.

Thanks for writing!


> I just have to say that I am disheartened by what I have just read 
> on your page...I am a junior psychology major at -------------  University
> and I, like thousands of other students, have "delusions" of 
> wishing to go to graduate school in clinical psychology.  As I am 
> preparing for finals, it is especially disheartening to know that I may 
> be losing hundreds of hours of sleep throughout the semester and getting 
> an ulcer for absolutely nothing...I may not ever get to achieve my goal 
> of becoming a clinician simply because I haven't spent every waking 
> moment of my undergraduate career publishing material. 
> Thank you for this was enlightening.  I think that perhaps I 
> need to reevaluate my goals and my means of getting there. 
I have gotten so many letters like this that I will be adding a whole section consisting of "This make me sick to my stomach" type letters and my soothing...well, at least not ENTIRELY disheartening...replies.

To summarize my basic reply [literally the same as the last letter]: "Remember, this is just clinical PhD programs; there are many other options, such as counseling, PsyD, or getting a Masters first, and one should plan to apply to a range of clinical programs, not just the best..."

[She writes back:]

> Thanks for the response...I am reevaluating other options, like you 
> suggested--the PsyD option more than the counseling, but I will keep 
> all the doors open.  My dad is a clinical PhD, and he keeps telling me 
> not to worry...and I keep telling him that the climate of admissions has 
> changed since he was in grad school. 
Hope he's been keeping up with his alumni association contributions... :-) Seriously, you might have an advantage if you apply to the same place where he got his degree (if you want to).

>  He didn't believe me until I brought 
> home a copy of the APA Guide to Grad Schools at THanksgiving time and took 
> a look at the average no. of applicants vs. the number of admitted 
> students.. his response was, "Whoa."  =) 

> I'm off to study for my last final of the semester...personality theories. 
> Thanks again for responding, and I hope to see you on the Net soon! 
Good... best wishes!


[Note added October, 1997: The above correspondence is only the tip of the iceberg. I have a BUNCH of other letters related to this topic which I will add to this document soon. -rd]

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