What courses should you take? In selecting courses consider
four goals. First, complete any official prerequisites. Second,
you take those courses which will make you the most competitive.
Third, take those courses that are most likely to ensure your
success once you are in graduate school. Fourth, take a series
of courses that allow you to systematically test-out your interests in clinical
psychology. Obviously, there is significant overlap in the course work required to achieve each of these goals.
The requisites required vary from program to program and can best be
assessed by reviewing graduate catalogues. I recommend at least two terms
of statistics. However, providing that you are mathematically competent,
I would urge you take as much as possible. In fact, I'd advise anyone to
seriously consider a minor or a double major in statistics. If statistics
is terribly difficult for you, you may want to consider an alternative graduate
school experience inasmuch as research is a cornerstone of any doctoral
program in clinical psychology.
In the computer arena, you should be conversant with all of the current
statistical packages for the social sciences. As with statistics, this is
an important skill area, the goal is not to be savvy in programming; rather,
you should be able to use computers effectively in data management. Another
important area is that of biology. Today's climate is extremely biologically-oriented.
It is important to take as much neuroscience as possible; you may want to
consider biology or neuroscience as an alternate minor or double major.
Finally, in the psychology arena, it is important to develop your research skills as fully as possible. Although you must collaborate with faculty
on independent research efforts in order to gain admission to graduate school,
course work is important too! Thus, I would encourage you to take at least
two research methods courses at the undergraduate level. Moreover, if you
are fortunate enough to be in a university with a graduate program, it is
a very good idea to take a graduate course in this vital area.
Many students mistakenly believe that it is important to take course
work in abnormal psychology and clinical psychology. Actually, course work
in experimental psychology is a far more important requisite. Take course
work in cognitive psychology, learning, the history of psychology, and sensation
As for the psychopathology arena, it is a good idea to take these courses
for two reasons. First, if you find them uninteresting, you may be headed
on the wrong trajectory. Second, although all of this material will be repeated
in greater depth at the graduate level, having completed them will give
you greater comfort in your early graduate school days; the material will
I would particularly encourage you to take a "hands-on" course
aimed at developing your listening skills. If your school does not offer
it, viewing it as not rigorous enough, then, I would urge you to consider
volunteering at your local crisis-intervention center. Although their training
may not have the rigor of your undergraduate program, it will provide valuable "hands-on" experience. Experience of this sort will allow you to feel more comfortable in the clinical setting.
Finally, and very importantly, success in progressing toward to doctorate
in a timely fashion entails good writing skills. It is critically important
that you develop exceptionally good writing skills. Thus, I would urge you
to select all course work based on the frequency of writing assignments.
At Carnegie Mellon, the methods courses provide significant opportunities
to develop research writing skills. If your department does not offer a
psychological or research writing course, lobby for them to do so. Alternatively,
take advantage of your English Department's professional writing offerings.
All of these suggestions provide an important beginning. However, anyone
applying to graduate school should have significant experience in clinical
research and some exposure to clinical settings. Also, experience as a teaching
assistant is a valuable adjuvant to these experiences.
So, how do you obtain research experience and research positions?