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Master's in Developmental Psychology at full price
January 24, 2013 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Convince me not to get a Master's degree. I'm looking into a program at Columbia which would be at full price, which is not cheap. I'd like you to convince me not to attend, or tell me why it's a good idea after all.

1. I love psychology and have for years. My dream has been a PhD in Clinical Psychology, doing research. I have no research experience or upper-level psychology, though, so applying to PhD programs isn't possible.

2. Even if I stop at the Master's, I think it would be helpful in marketing myself in other contexts. I live in NYC and have long been planning a consulting business for parents, the details are a trade secret, but a master's from a prestigious school would boost my credibility enormously.

3. My job now is fine, but I'm dying of boredom and it has no long-term viability as a career.

4. I have no idea what the job market is like for this degree, and Master's degrees in general don't add to earning power.

5. I could cobble together classes at a CUNY for cheaper and boost my PhD chances that way, but the bureaucracy and scheduling challenges have stymied my attempts at it for years at this point. I think I need a more structured program. On the other hand, it's almost 5 times cheaper.

6. Childcare is a fixed cost for 4 more years or so, but his father can now budget so that he is covering it all himself and is willing to do so. His employment is stable.

Thoughts?
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em to Education (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You already have your reason not to right here: 4. I have no idea what the job market is like for this degree, and Master's degrees in general don't add to earning power.

Going into potentially six figures of debt because you are bored at your current job? Really?
posted by elizardbits at 8:05 AM on January 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


1 -- Is a Master's a requirement for a PhD? Is there some other way you can satisfy those requirements without getting the Master's?

2 -- If this is your plan, make it your plan. Setting up your own business can never be a fallback. It has to be something you are absolutely going to do even if the rest of your world catches fire.

3 -- As good a reason as any to change, sure.

4 -- Find out. Check with the career services office at Columbia. They will want to tell you that things are great, so ask for proof.

5 -- Could well be that you need the structure. But how much structure are you going to have in the developmental psychology world after you graduate?

6 -- This is related to my follow-up question, which is:

Are you going into debt for this or spending savings? If it's the former, then I'd advise against it until you have a more distinct plan for post-degree time. If it's the latter, then go ahead and do it. That's what savings is for.
posted by Etrigan at 8:06 AM on January 24, 2013


I'm confused by your statement "applying to PhD programs isn't possible." Have you actually tried and been rejected? Have you been told this by someone in a program that you're applying to? More importantly, have you determined that getting a Master's degree would actually solve this problem? At least in my field, it is becoming increasingly uncommon (to the point of non-existent) to require a Master's degree for a PhD program.

As per your question, if you are having "bureaucracy problems and scheduling challenges" with CUNY (whatever that means), I can't imagine how you can end up with your ultimate goal of a PhD. You need to resolve these problems first, as a PhD is fundamentally not structured (by design) and requires you to maneuver through complex academic politics, bureacracy, and schedules. More importantly, fundamentally, if a degree adds no value to your earning power, and costs you money to get it, you should strongly be considering a cheaper program or no program. The time-money investment just doesn't make any sense otherwise. Keep in mind that you can do a lot for yourself for a lot less time and money by doing things like finding a new job or determining a goal for yourself that does have a job market. Your choice is certainly not "Master's or boring job for the rest of my life".

Further, whenever I see someone saying their long term goal is research, I feel compelled to point out that the goal is almost definitely untenable in general. There is essentially no funding in the United States for non-pharmaceutical and non-scientific research. The people that do research tend to, in general, be the absolute top of their field and have a professorship for income. Unless you are willing to go into the field for practice, you should not rely on research as your goal, because most likely it will not happen.
posted by saeculorum at 8:09 AM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


This really doesn't seem like the economic climate for going deep into education debt with no concrete prospects for repayment.

It's certainly a downer, but I think there is an entire generation that is getting the shaft this way. This just is not the decade to go to school for personal enrichment / fun / on a lark. It sucks, and you have my deep sympathies. But unless you've really figured out how this MA is affordable and how it will increase your future prospects, I'd say skip it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:12 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


but the bureaucracy and scheduling challenges

You think you aren't going to have those at Columbia? Ha ha, ha ha ha. Trust me, every school has its own special red tape to burst through, even the ultra-expensive ones.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:13 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


A master's degree is not a requirement for application to PhD programs, but without significant advanced coursework or research experience, acceptance into a clinical psychology program is a pipe dream. As you might know, it is approximately as competitive as medical school. The question is how I get that coursework and research experience done.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:16 AM on January 24, 2013


You haven't explained what benefit you hope to gain from this other than "helpful in marketing" yourself.

My dream has been .. doing research. I have no research experience ...

Sorry, but that's a worrying combination of statements, even setting aside the issue that obtaining a research position in your Ph.D field is almost always much more difficult than the actual Ph.D itself.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:17 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


As others have said, you don't know if you even enjoy doing psychology research! I would suggest taking the most interesting research psychology course, graduate or undergraduate, that you can find (and get into) as a non-matriculating student first. It's a much smaller investment than committing to a full grad program you'll be paying for out of pocket.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:26 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with others that this doesn't seem to be particularly well thought out, but why don't you try taking one class at CUNY and see how it goes? Have you taken a graduate level psychology class? If not, how do you know that's what you really want to do? It would be pretty rough to quit a job and decide you hate this in your first semester - then you're out of a job and cash.

I would start with one class at CUNY. If you like it, take another. If not, you tried. You can probably transfer in to a different program if you like or have that coursework count towards that which you would need to get into a PhD program. I don't know how common this is but I knew a handful of people in undergrad who would go to a public university for two years, then transfer in to their dream school once they had finished their prerequisites. Another benefit to attempting to do a graduate degree one class at a time is that you can keep working so tuition isn't as much a shock to your cash flow as it would be otherwise.
posted by kat518 at 8:30 AM on January 24, 2013


Well, point 4 makes it an automatic no for me. Unless you're a trust fund baby, going to grad school just because you've always really wanted to seems like a waste of time and money. Non-representative anecdote: three close friends and I were going for our master's degrees at the same time. I'm the only one who dropped out and I out-earn them all. The one who went on to a PhD earns the least of us, the one who did a SECOND masters--her first was in psychology, her second in art therapy--is second from the bottom.

You might find this interesting reading.

Also, if you've never done research or upper level (meaning upper level undergrad classes?) psychology, maybe you want to start there? Just one upper level psych course to see whether you are even really suited to it?
posted by looli at 8:33 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would recommend against having to pay for graduate school at all. Going into debt for, what you correctly stated, a terminal degree that barely adds to your earning potential is not a good move unless you are going on to a PhD program.

However, it is possible to get a PHD in clinical psychology without a completing a terminal masters in psychology. But you WILL need a BA/BS in psychology. Truth is psychology departments are just weirdly incestuous, and despite the overlap the field has with other social sciences, they want their candidates to be purely psychology oriented without much outside influence. I could be wrong here, but that has been what I have experienced and have been told.

I am in the same position as you actually. I have an MA in a related field but I would love to get into a social psychology PhD program because it is what interests me, research wise. I didn't find this out until I was embedded in this other field. However, I asked several programs about my potential as a candidate and without a bachelors in psychology I was told I wouldn't be considered at all, despite my research experience, GRE scores, and my successful completion of a masters, etc etc.

Would it possible to earn a psychology BA/BS without going into debt? If it really means that much to you perhaps you can earn one on the side, slowly but surely. Ideally an undergraduate degree in psychology should prepare you, research wise, but you should always latch on to opportunities for practicums/independent research and to take electives in statistics/research methods just to give yourself a competitive edge.

And, again, never attempt a graduate degree without funding.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:33 AM on January 24, 2013


Hi. MrsEld just got finished interviewing for her clinical psychology internships! It's been a long bumpy road and we're finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe I can comment some here but feel free to memail me if you have distinct questions for her and I'll see what I can do.

First off,

I have no research experience or upper-level psychology, though, so applying to PhD programs isn't possible.

.. but without significant advanced coursework or research experience, acceptance into a clinical psychology program is a pipe dream


This is a bit misleading... quite a bit actually. That's not to say it's not hard to get into a program. It is. But if you're not willing to go through the steps of applying then maybe you're not cut out for the task anyway, sorry if that's harsh.

Her timeline:

--> She gets her B.S. in Psychology from a decent school, not Harvard or Yale but not an Online Degree Program either. Maybe some basic research experience but nothing she slaved over in all her free time, I could ask her to remind me if you want... Absolutly no published papers or anything like that
--> She applies for clinical psych programs, gets nothing back. Not accepted. Damn.
--> She comes to live with me while I finish up my B.S. in Engineering and goes door to door (or so) in the psychology department of my university asking for research opportunities and looking into taking a few casual Master's level courses and what that will take.
--> She does research, while living like a pauper with me, for a year and may have gotten 1 or 2 master level class credits, actually I don't think we paid for them but it was essentially the coursework/duties.
--> she applies for clinical psych programs. Ding Ding, Round 2! She's accepted to a great program and we're blessed enough that it includes a fellowship that covers her tuition w/stipend! Score!

So, other data points. In her friend circle here at her program I know of NOT A SINGLE PERSON (sample size of at least 8, maybe 10) that had their Masters before they came to the clinical program. All of them get it along the way of course but most came straight out of undergrad without even the year of research slaving she had to do. That's not to say that some don't have their master's degree but we don't know them or I'm unaware of it. So, I don't know if you've been misinformed or what but it hasn't been the case here.

The question is how I get that coursework and research experience done.

This. You get it done. I can't help you besides what I've already said, but honestly, you just get it done. The clinical program will be stressful enough, honestly, get used to it.

Good luck, again, feel free to memail or peruse my history as I may have posted on this before on mefi once or twice.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:36 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do a few research courses at CUNY first. The courses aren't going to transfer. However, before you commit to a research degree and career path, you need to personally experience research. I'm toward the end of my doctorate now. There's no one in my cohort who finds research to be what they expected unless they'd done a lot of research in their masters work.

Once you have some experience in research, then I don't see anything wrong with selecting Columbia over CUNY. If it's a better fit for you, then fine. However, understand that you are taking a bigger financial risk. There's the chance you may not finish the degree. (I'm a veteran of 3 graduate programs and 1 doctoral and I teach at the graduate level - people drop and it's rarely who you think it'll be.) There's also a chance that you would not find suitable employment. You need to investigate the differences in employment opportunities between a CUNY and a Columbia graduate.
posted by 26.2 at 8:38 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have other suggestions/recommendations for you based on your concerns on both the economics of this, making yourself more competitive for a PhD if that is your goal, etc.

• I do agree that clinical psych is very competitive (looked into it years ago but went a different direction for other reasons). This is what I would suggest that would be less of an economic hit but get you the experience to be one step closer to your goal. Get a job in a psych lab (preferably clinical psych) at one of these schools. As a warning, the pay is abysmal (I would guess in the 20 K range for NYC, but ...if someone comes in here and gives you a different number, go with that). BUT ....you would get experience *doing research*. Pick your lab carefully, and you can have an opportunity to publish a paper(s) and present posters at national conferences in your area. These type of jobs also usually offer a tuition benefit of a few free courses/year. ... so you can take those grad level courses on someone else's dime. But this should compensate for the things that you are missing right now. Do this for a year or two, but the goal is not to make 20ish K or make a career out if it, the goal is to do everything to make yourself a good candidate for grad school. Stay one to two years max. You can also really assess if this what you want to do. I did do this and I believe that it made me far more marketable for grad school, but not for psych, though...feel free to memail me if you want more info on doing this.

• Then apply for the PhD. I would look around for programs that pay for tuition and a stipend. As a warning, it should prevent you from going in debt, but I do think that there is an economic cost to doing this ...

Now some of the other concerns that you have (i.e marketing a masters from a big name school) for a possible business. Your business may be different but this is my experience ...I do projects for companies as a freelancer/consultant, and do use the PhD for marketing. Some do like a PhD because they market this to their clients, so I do think that it is helpful for some fields, although I would NOT go get a PhD just to do that. Over the past 4 years that I've been in business, though, not a single company/client has ever asked me where the PhD is from. Ever.
posted by Wolfster at 8:43 AM on January 24, 2013


Oh, MrsEld also boned up for the standardized test required for PhD program admission as well. I forget the acronym(s) but have you taken those yet? It's going to need to happen and might provide you with some more and (relatively anyway) cheap insight as to where you fit into the potential applicant pool.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:46 AM on January 24, 2013


It sounds like you need to clarify your career trajectory. You mention that you've been long planning to start a consulting business that you think would be benefited by you having the master's degree (so obviously not planning to even start on this until after the master's is finished). When would you have time to start the consulting business? When you are getting the PhD? When you are a researcher?

I feel like if you really want to start a business and have a great idea for one, THAT is something that has the potential to earn you income and could be a better horse to bet on than a costly degree program. I think you would benefit more from taking a few business classes to ensure that your business gets off on the right foot.

I do sympathize with where's you're coming from a bit because I did a degree program recently just because I loved the subject, wanted to gain experience, and thought it would look good on my resume, even though I was certain it would add nothing to my future earning potential. I enjoyed the program. But I did it online at a non-big-name school where I could get a tuition break and went into no debt for it, so that changed the equation a lot. Like Wolfster I am doubting anyone's going to know or care where I got my degree from.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:48 AM on January 24, 2013


I would look around for programs that pay for tuition and a stipend. As a warning, it should prevent you from going in debt, but I do think that there is an economic cost to doing this ...

QFT. Without her tuition/stipend (mostly the tuition) we'd be tens, if not a hundred, of thousands in debt. And, from what she tells me anyway, Clinical Psych actually has much better job prospects than Social, Cognitive, Educational, etc programs. I could be wrong but that's what I've heard anyway.

So, paid program + better prospects = win. That was our logic anyway. Anything else is much more fraught with risk I'm afraid.

If it's your dream then take the time to beef up your credentials then go for it!
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:51 AM on January 24, 2013


Even with a PhD in clinical psych, work is hard to find. This decision isn't about economics, but about how you want to live your life. Like others above, I suggest you start out with some courses at CUNY. Among other things, you'll also make connections with others who share your interests, including your professors who can advise you a lot better than we can.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:28 AM on January 24, 2013


But you WILL need a BA/BS in psychology. Truth is psychology departments are just weirdly incestuous, and despite the overlap the field has with other social sciences, they want their candidates to be purely psychology oriented without much outside influence. I could be wrong here, but that has been what I have experienced and have been told.

You're actually fine with a BA/BS in a number of different areas. Some of the clinical psychologists I knew in grad school had philosophy degrees, or sociology degrees, or something focusing on the harder sciences. What you really need is that research experience, but you don't have to have the full degree to get it. Intro Psych + Research Methods + Statistics to start, and then see if you can work in someone's lab for a while. Financially you're much better off going for the PhD up front than the master's first, considering you might have to pick up another master's anyway if the institution doesn't accept what you did elsewhere.

If you want to do research, which I agree with others that you don't even know this yet, then consider that it's possible in a number of psych areas. There is funding available for different areas, even outside of the harder sciences, but you need to be cautious with you area. I have friends (who are developmental and social psychologists) who do well in areas relating to eduction, health, legal, and military issues. One has a professorship attached, but the others are employed by research organizations in D.C. or military bases.
posted by bizzyb at 9:53 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could cobble together classes at a CUNY for cheaper and boost my PhD chances that way, but the bureaucracy and scheduling challenges have stymied my attempts at it for years at this point.

Did you do your undergrad at a tiny school with a relatively smoothly-running administration? I did, and I'm taking pre-requisite courses for another degree at a community college now. Going from a place like my undergrad to a place with much stricter requirements around deadlines, class registrations, pre-requisites, etc definitely took some adjusting of expectations, so I'm not gonna fault you for giving up early.

If this is your situation, here is my number one tip for getting around bureaucracy; get to know the psychology department secretary. Forget going straight to the registrar, or general academic advising, or anyone like that. Department secretaries will know what (if any) pre-requisites you need to get into any course you want, what the registration deadlines are, and who needs to sign off on what forms to get you into class. Extra bonus; you won't have to wait forever or make an appointment to see one. Go back to the CUNY school of your choice. Go straight to the psych department. And then figure out what you need to do to register for intro psych and a research methods class, because everyone else's advice about the master's is right on.

You may not get all the information you need on your first go. Do not be daunted if you don't. You can even turn the ongoing search into a game if you like. Every time I accomplish some registration-related mess that too much longer than it should have at my current school, I do a little victory dance and tell myself I've gained a level in bureaucracy. It's surprisingly effective.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:45 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


For me, you didn't mention the most important bullet point - How much money do you have right now? If the answer is less than the full price of tuition plus living expenses for the years in school, the answer is no.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:46 PM on January 24, 2013


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