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How Do I Decide Where to Apply

One common method for deciding where to apply to clinical graduate school is to search for geographically desirable locations. This is unfortunate, because other considerations are much more important in determining the quality of graduate experience. The most important consideration, generally, concerns one's career goals. Whereas some programs are oriented primarily toward training academics – future university professors, others are oriented more toward training practitioners – psychologists who treat patients. (Most programs say that they're academically-oriented, but this is simply not the case. In order to find the truth, it is useful to ask those "in the know" – graduate students, faculty, etc.)

If you know you are not very interested in research, then you should not apply to a strong research institution. You will have to do a lot of research, and you will be unhappy. When faculty discover that you are not interested, they will be disappointed and may spend little time with you. Clinical work tends to be valued less at heavy research programs, so your primary interest and identity would be devalued. Finally, because research suggests that PhD's do not provide better psychotherapy than therapists with much less training, some faculty members in strong research programs do not believe that getting a PhD in order to do psychotherapy is a good use of a student's (or their own) time. Such students should consider MA-level social work, counseling, or clinical programs.

Alternatively, if you are very interested in research, then you should make sure you go to a strong research program. In programs that are not strongly research focused, few faculty are doing cutting-edge research, and you will graduate from such programs without being competitive for obtaining postgraduate academic or research jobs.

The best way to decide where to go to graduate school is to find out what, specifically, you're interested in and then find out which programs do it best. In your classes here, you should pay close attention to the topics that most excite you. What studies do you wish you'd done? In your research experiences, what has been most interesting? If you are lucky enough to get a strong idea about your research interests, and if you find people at clinical programs with whom you'd really like to work, let them know, preferably by writing to them. The more convincing you are, the more likely it is that you will impress them, which could help you get in. If you are primarily interested in clinical practice, you might seek out and talk to clinical psychologists at sites that seem most interesting to you (for example, hospitals, clinics, or even in private practice). Many practitioners would be flattered and happy to talk about their jobs, especially if you have made an attempt to learn at least a little about the relevant subject (e.g., drug abuse).