What program should I choose?
March 2, 2008 1:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to decide between two different paths right now, and I think I might benefit from some advice.

(posting for a friend)

I'm a 24 year old woman, and I live in the SF bay area. I’ve been admitted to two programs, and I’m trying to decide between them.

The first program I have been admitted to is a research psychology program in Los Angeles (USC). It's a PhD program and will pay me around 30K a year for probably 5 years. What I want to do is to transfer into their clinical program, which is in the same department. That would allow me to go into a clinical internship in the end, and ultimately therapy. If transferring doesn’t work, I will try to get the degree in four years and re-specialize later in order to be able to work as a clinician.

The second program I have been admitted to is law school at UC Berkeley, which I would combine with a psych PhD at a small local professional school. This would take 6 years, will probably cost me 30K a year, and in the end would also allow me to do clinical therapy, but also mental health policy, forensic psychology with more insight, and court assessments.

Here are my main concerns:

1. My family is based in the bay area, and being near them is tremendously important to me. I'm afraid of moving to LA, making friends, maybe getting married, and finding myself rooted away from my family. I come from an immigrant Mediterranean family, and the thought of spending my life away from them (and my friends) saddens me immensely. I know LA isn't far from SF, but in the end, I want my parents in my kids' daily lives like my grandparents were in mine – seeing them once a month would be sad for me. (However, while being near my family is genuinely important to me, I wonder how much of my current anxiety is stemmed in a literal phobia of moving and starting over. I suspect moving to the states in my childhood was hard for me, and I've been attempting to build a stable life in one physical location since.)

2. I'm not so interested in going into research, and am not looking forward to 5 years of intensive academic research. Despite this, I am tempted to enter into a research based program because they would pay me. Also, I suspect it's a more interesting environment for my 20s than professional psychology school.

3. Although getting a JD/PhD would be expensive, it would result in my having opportunities for diverse work that would allow me to make money in different ways. Also, therapy pays more than academia, but academia isn't really an option I'm considering anyway.

I did not get into Berkeley’s clinical psych program and Stanford doesn't have one, so those are not options. I would really prefer to get started with schooling next year rather than reapply elsewhere.

I welcome your thoughts, and thank you in advance for your time.
posted by prefpara to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First, congratulations on your amazing options! I think either path seems wonderful, but since you're looking for input, I think you should focus on what your career and life goals are (and "keeping options open" is a fine goal to keep in mind). Two things:
1. From what you're saying, I don't see how a JD fits into your goals, and I'd redefine the choice as being between clinical research in LA, or professional school where you are. While you're obviously tremendously academically gifted (and law school isn't rocket science) it's still a huge investment of time and money and I can't see going down that road for a vague "maybe it'll be helpful" reason. You certainly don't need a JD to be an expert witness, and I disagree that it would be necessary (or even necessarily helpful) for work in forensic psychology. If you *want* to work in the field of public policy, then you *may* want to obtain a JD or a Master's in Public Policy or Public Health - but it *sounds* like your primary goal is to be a therapist (and to, maybe, move into more administrative work later in life) in which case you should focus on the ways in which you can make the first goal possible. Is the private school regionally accredited? Would a degree from that school allow you, legally, to accept payment from insurance companies or government health programs? If so, would this be the case in other states? I know that some private degree-granting schools of psychology grant PhDs that do not have the same legal status and flexibility as even a master's in social work, or one in counseling through a school of education, so that's something to be careful about. I don't *know* that the private option is a "lesser" degree than a degree in clinical psychology from UCLA - but I'd be surprised if it weren't. In which case it might be smarter to get the more impressive degree where they pay you for your trouble. Ask a lot of questions and tread carefully.
2. As for the family issue, the truth is that UC Berkley is full of people from all over the country and the world - some will want to return home, some will want to settle in the Bay Area, and some will have long dreamed of life in Miami or Chicago or Tokyo. You're just as likely to fall for a man in LA who wants to move to San Francisco as you are to fall for a man at Berkeley who wants to move to London. I think that the issue, for you, of "long term, I'm committed to settling near my parents" is an issue that may crop up in the context of a romantic relationship no matter where you go to school, so it shouldn't be a deal breaker in making the decision about spending a few years studying in Los Angeles.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:09 PM on March 2, 2008

I went to law school. I have a lot of law school debt. I ended up away from my family, with roots, about 5 hours away. I regret the decision to move away almost every day (I do not regret going to law school, but I wanted to be and enjoy being a lawyer). But those roots didn't form at school - they formed in the 5+ years since then. Debt will be more limiting to your options than roots -- that doesn't mean you shouldn't acquire the debt, but think very hard about it when you have an option that provides you a way not to have any. feel free to email me if you want to talk more about how a JD might or might not fit into your plans.
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:33 PM on March 2, 2008

Wow. You sound really brilliant. I don't understand why you wouldn't be accepted into a clinical psychology program near your family, in the Bay Area. If you want to do therapy, I honestly don't see how going to law school fits into that plan. You wouldn't learn anything in law school that would be remotely helpful in helping you be a great therapist.

You sound brilliant and I think if you can get into Boalt Hall and USC's psychology program, you would definitely get into a clinical psychology program near SF.

Law school debt, I've heard, is not pretty and I, frankly, have never heard it be combined with a PhD in psychology. Business, accounting, journalism, sure, but not psychology. And there are a lot of other ways to get into forensic psychology, right? Ways that would be less expensive.

Why not defer law school and spend the next year applying to clinical psych programs?
posted by onepapertiger at 4:02 PM on March 2, 2008

If you have the option to go to school with no debt, do it. The law degree seems only tangential to your interests anyway.
Being away from your family is hard, I won't lie to you about that, but the burden of large student debt is unbelievably constricting. LA is not that far from the bay area. Flights are short and not wildly expensive (A quick trip to Kayak with arbitrary dates suggests around $120. Even frequent trips wouldn't be nearly as expensive as, say, law school). Also, the self-reliance you learn living in a different city from your safety net can be really fulfilling.
Your roots after school will be where you make them. Be resolute about bringing them back to the bay area and you will be fine.
posted by willpie at 4:56 PM on March 2, 2008

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