Are you close to completing your psychology degree and thinking about graduate school? Here is some important advice to help guide your decision.

Psychology is one of the most popular online degree programs at Saint Leo University – and it's not surprising. Psychology, in general, is a favorite field of study among college students.

The reason so many students choose psychology varies. Not only is the study of human behavior fascinating, but psychology is a versatile degree of study and great preparation for work in more diverse settings than just about any other degree program.

While many psychology graduates put the skills and knowledge they have attained during their undergraduate program to use in the workforce right away, graduate school is a common pathway for those interested in a counseling or research career in psychology.

If you're interested in applying to a graduate psychology program, here are some thoughts to guide your decision-making process.

Make sure graduate school fits your career goals.

A bachelor's degree in psychology can take you in a number of directions (even some you may not have originally considered). The same is true for an advanced degree in the field. A professional with master's degrees in psychology can become a school psychologist, behavioral counselor, child protection worker, drug specialist, psychologist assistant, or social services manager.

Nancy Cheek, career services advisor for the Center for Online Learning at Saint Leo University, says you should research job qualifications (as well as licensure and certification requirements) so you know the appropriate education to pursue.

For example, not only do psychologists need a doctorate, they must also obtain an internship or clinical experience and pass an exam for licensure. Psychiatrists, who can prescribe medication, go to medical school and complete a four-year residency program. Counselors typically have a master's degree and certification in a specialty.

Break down your decision into simple questions.

Dr. Tammy Zacchilli, associate professor of psychology at Saint Leo, encourages students to reflect on basic, but important, questions when deciding which program is the best fit.

  • What are your interests and goals?

  • Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

  • Do you prefer online or face-to-face learning?

  • Do you need to stay where you are or can you move?

  • Do you have financial resources available?

As you organize your thoughts, you'll likely realize that pursuing an advanced degree is possible in a variety of situations, especially when you factor in the flexibility of online programs.

Talk to people who have walked the walk.

While alumnus Dew Blackwell was a student in Saint Leo's online psychology degree program, he knew he wanted to work with people with disabilities in underprivileged populations; so graduate school was definitely in his plan. Today he's enrolled in a clinical psychology program specializing in health psychology and is well on his way to achieving his goal.

Here's what Dew suggests for students thinking about graduate school:

  • Don't rush the decision. Give yourself plenty of time to make sure it's a good fit and talk with family and friends. Your confidence will grow stronger, and that's when you'll know you've made the right choice.

  • Contact students and alumni. You can use social media networks to reach out to alumni or check in with the program to get into contact with some current students so they can tell you their first-hand experiences.

  • Visit the campus. If you are considering an online degree, get a virtual tour. Once you see what's out there, you'll be able to tell if the program aligns with your learning style.

Network, network, network!

Building a network and personal brand is important no matter where you are headed in your career. When it comes to graduate school, networking can lead you to great opportunities.

  • Making connections with your professors can be a good place to start. Dew says faculty members at Saint Leo were more than happy to look into programs he was interested in and give an opinion.

  • Join local affiliations of professional organization related to the field you are pursuing. The American Psychological Association is an obvious choice, but other groups, such as the Social Psychology Network, can provide additional contacts.

  • Another option is to seek out volunteer experiences related to human services and mental health.

Additional resources

Want more helpful suggestions? Check out these webinars.

What do you want to do with your psychology degree? Share with us in the comments.

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