Is it possible to earn a post-graduate degree in a field unrelated to your undergrad degree?
December 19, 2008 10:18 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend wants to return to school and get a degree in psychology, but isn't sure of the best way to do so, especially considering the caliber of schools he is targeting.

Here is the situation: 35 year-old man who has had varying degrees of success in the business world, but realized it really is not an area of passion for him, wants to go back to college. He has always had an interest in, and aptitude for, psychology, and helping people resolve their problems. He currently resides in Northern California, and two of the very best schools in the country for psychology are in the Bay Area - Stanford and Berkeley.

He has a BS in MIS from Clarkson University, and an MBA from an international program called the Center for Global Business Studies (a joint program which no longer exists between the University of Hartford and the Grand École des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris). His undergraduate GPA was around 3.3, his graduate average around 3.8.

Is it possible for him to earn a graduate degree in psychology without having any undergraduate education in a related field? Will schools like Stanford or Berkeley require him to have credits in the area before joining their graduate degree programs?

As to being accepted, what are the requirements like to join a prestigious graduate program such as the ones offered by Stanford or Berkeley? What are the major areas of concern? What is the best way for determining who to speak to about acceptance requirements, and the best way of approaching that person?

I would like him to be able to maximize his chances of getting accepted. Given his level of passion I am positive that he will be a great student, the kind any school would love to have. How can he be seen and heard such that these schools will recognize that as well?

Finally, for graduate programs, what is the timing for applications/acceptance? I believe that for most undergraduate programs you want to have all of your applications in basically a year before the semester you will be joining. Is this the same for graduate programs?

Finally, are there any international schools (that teach in English preferably, or possibly French) that have graduate programs in psychology that compare favorably with that at Stanford, Berkeley, or the University of California-LA? If so, how do the things I am concerned about above change for this(these) international school(s)?

Thank you for all your assistance!
posted by anonymous to Education (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For starters, here is the page of information that you seek for Stanford, and here is the page for Berkeley.
posted by xo at 10:53 AM on December 19, 2008

I cannot offer much insight into the other questions but for this:

Finally, for graduate programs, what is the timing for applications/acceptance? I believe that for most undergraduate programs you want to have all of your applications in basically a year before the semester you will be joining. Is this the same for graduate programs?

Yes. About the same. In fact he may have already missed the deadline for Berkeley and Stanford. It can vary by program but when I applied to a PhD program in Berkeley (different field) 6 years ago, the deadline was Dec 1 (or somewhere around there).

Is it possible for him to earn a graduate degree in psychology without having any undergraduate education in a related field?

In general, yes. However, there will be some minimum coursework requirements for him to advance to candidacy. Since he does not have an undergrad degree in psychology, he may have to take (or audit) these classes. Another way to get around this would be to take a graduate level class and have that count. This has to be worked out with him committee. So it is likely that it will add a few more courses to his load.
posted by special-k at 11:02 AM on December 19, 2008

him committee = his committee
posted by special-k at 11:03 AM on December 19, 2008

Application timing: most graduate psych programs have application deadlines around december/january. Admission/waitlist decisions are made by April 15th.

Undergraduate training in psychology - not too terribly important. A great percentage of the graduate students at top schools have undergrad degrees in areas that aren't psych, but can be applied to psych: computer science, mathematics, etc. From things I've heard, even the psych GRE is pretty much ignored by admissions committees.

What'll really get your boy in the door is identifying exactly what he wants to do in graduate school, and finding someone who does it. "Helping people resolve their problems" is not specific enough, and frankly is not what psych grad programs are about. Graduate study in psychology is learning how to perform research on human behavior - certainly there are clinical psychology programs which focus on psychopathology, but even those have a significant skew towards research (at least the better ones, i.e., Stanford and Berkeley, do).

What he needs to do is identify the kinds of things he sees himself doing - that is, what sort of problems does he want to help people resolve - and find someone who works on that specific thing. If he gets into the best school in the world and doesn't want to work with anyone, he's not getting much out of grad school.

Finally, given his background in business, I'd suggest he look into industrial/organizational psychology, which is a more directly applied area of psych (which I don't have much experience with, personally, but from what I gather involves more hands-on problem solving rather than abstract research questions).

Best of luck to you both.
posted by logicpunk at 11:06 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd also imagine that industrial/organizational psychology has far more job opportunities and far better complements his existing business oriented skill set, i.e. easier admission & less need for the undergrad classes. I'd say he should set up a meeting with a professor or two who works in these areas to discuss options, explaining that he is potentially interested in their field, but isn't sure if it "escapes the business world enough". You could also just buy him some books for christmas.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:18 AM on December 19, 2008

I was previously considering applying to a psych grad program. According to what I discovered, he'll need to take a couple of undergraduate psychology classes after admittance to have a foundation for the graduate level. These are usually a basic behavioral sciences statistics class, abnormal psychology, and a foundations class. These requirements probably vary per school.

For the programs I am now applying to (UW's Public Affairs and UT's Public Policy programs), the deadline is Jan 1. Deadlines vary from school to school, and program to program. Checking the websites would be best.

As for everything else, I'll leave that stuff up to someone w/more experience in graduate school admissions processes and international schools. =)
posted by aliceinreality at 11:19 AM on December 19, 2008

Well, if he's interested in "helping people resolve their problems," then he's interested in clinical psychology, not just psychology. Stanford doesn't have a clinical program, only a research program. Berkeley's took 9 out of 300 applications last year, and emphasized RESEARCH EXPERIENCE in their candidates. I'm sorry, but it doesn't look good for him, if he wants to be a practicing psychologist. However, if he has some money, he could look into PsyD degrees (Stanford has one with PGSP, Berkeley the city, not the school, has the Wright institute, there are Alliant schools all over CA, etc) or a masters in social work, masters in family therapy, etc. There are other ways to be a therapist other than through clinical psychology, which are notoriously hard programs to get into (the only one in the bay area is UC Berkeley, and see above re: admissions statistics).
posted by namesarehard at 11:35 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's a book published by the American Psychological Association called Graduate Study in Psychology (it's now also available as an online database, apparently) that answers all the questions you have about all psychology graduate programs.

As pointed out above, both Stanford and UCB emphasize research - you can certainly get clinical experience and licensed afterwards, but most universities emphasize the research component of psychology. That's a reason why the PsyD degree was created, for people who wanted a clinical focus.

As namesarehard noted, if all your boyfriend wants to do is get into clinical work, he might do better looking at getting a Masters in Counseling which would position him for an MFT degree.
posted by jasper411 at 12:01 PM on December 19, 2008

follow-up from the OP
Well, one area of particular interest to my boyfriend is in studying how psychoactive chemicals (such as MDMA and LSD) can be of theraputic benefit when used as a part of a psychotherapy treatment program. He has only basic chemistry courses (no organic chem at the moment) but is really interested in the subject and would be very happy to write/defend a thesis on it.
posted by jessamyn at 12:24 PM on December 19, 2008

It's nice to have interests, but unless he finds a professor willing to fund and train him, that's fairly meaningless. Luckily for him, UCLA does have that sort of research, though I'm not sure in the psychology dept, but in the psychiatry dept - I could be mistaken here. His best bet is to do a pubmed or google scholars search on the topics he's interested in, and in writing those professors directly to see if they're looking for graduate students, and what he'd need to do to become an attractive applicant. But I can tell you right now, those are topics of interest to many people, so unless he's interested in doing some research to enhance his CV before even applying, professors aren't going to be jumping up and begging for him to come earn a degree in their labs.

I know I must sound terribly discouraging, but having gone through this very process last year, with 3+ years of research from Berkeley, Stanford and Columbia, a 3.8 from UC Berkeley and a 1500 GRE, I can tell you having interests and a desire to help people work through their problems isn't enough. I'm at USC, for what it's worth.
posted by namesarehard at 1:08 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Controlled substance research? You're looking at a doctorate in medicine, psychopharmacology, or at the very least psychiatry if you hope to lead any research in that area. And you'll need to be employed in one of the incredibly sparse government-allowed clinical drug research programs, unless you can really, really wow a university with a unique theory.

This is assuming no Obama-related relaxation of controlled substance research.
posted by Benjy at 1:46 PM on December 19, 2008

yes, as everyone else said, he will need undergrad credits.

since you're in CA, definitely check out California School of Professional Psychology (where my wife earned her Psy.D.)

and as far as his interest in psychoactives, MAPS probably has some good resources.
posted by gnutron at 1:51 PM on December 19, 2008

From what you wrote, it appears that you/your boyfriend doesn't have a great sense of how a PhD works -- specifically how research-driven they are. Generally how it works is that one is quite interested in a particular phenomenon and one goes to the university at which 1+ researchers that study that phenomenon are. LSD effects is pretty specific (and as others have mentioned, not easy to get past IRB). UCB or Stanford may or not be places where such research takes place. They may or may not be good psych programs. I'd encourage him to read Getting What You Came For and looking at the tags here for grad school and graduate schhol. There are some excellent posts about grad school life. I wish I had read it before I started. And he's likely to need great GRE scores and research experience. Was he ever an RA? Letters of rec?

Also, if his end goal is to help people, a PhD may not be the way to go.
posted by k8t at 6:51 PM on December 19, 2008

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