Choosing a Graduate Program

Types of graduate programs

There are several different types of graduate programs to choose from. The Department of Psychology at Western Michigan University recommends the first step in choosing the graduate program that's right for you is to understand the differences between these programs.

  • Master's only program (terminal masters): These programs usually require two years to complete and the admission standards are generally lower than Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs. Some master's programs do not require a thesis and are course-oriented with a practical experience requirement.

  • Doctoral program (Ph.D. or Psy.D.): As a doctoral student, you may complete your master's and doctorate in the same program. However, some doctorate programs may not provide a master's en route to the doctoral degree and the average length of a doctoral program is 5 to 6 years culminating in a dissertation.

  • Ph.D. vs. Psy.D. programs: This distinction pertains to graduate study in clinical or counseling psychology. Ph.D. programs prescribe to a scientist-practitioner model in which equal weight is placed upon the development of research competencies and clinical skills. These programs provide a rigorous background as a researcher (e.g., training in statistics, history and systems, research methods) and a clinician (e.g., courses in development, learning, therapy, etc.) where students receive a doctorate of philosophy. The focus of Psy.D. programs is to train professionals where the emphasis is placed upon clinical service and less on research. Students of Psy.D. programs receive a doctorate of psychology, and while these programs may be less competitive than Ph.D. admissions, they may be more expensive. 

  • Accreditation: An accredited graduate program has been judged as having met minimum standards of quality for education in psychology. The American Psychological Association accredits doctoral programs in the following specialty areas: clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology and combined professional-scientific psychology. Master's programs are not accredited by the APA. Students from APA-accredited programs are generally more competitive in terms of their internship choices and employment prospectives. Other professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavior Analysis, may also accredit graduate programs in psychology, including master's programs. Accreditation becomes an important issue for prospective graduate students as a degree from an institute that is not accredited may not be recognized by licensing boards, certifying organizations or insurance companies. Additionally, sitting for licensure or certification board exams is an easier process if the student comes from an accredited program than a non-accredited program. Though students coming from non-accredited programs are not excluded from these examinations, the process is often difficult as they must prove they have demonstrate certain proficiencies to be able to sit for the exams (e.g., have completed certain coursework, clinical proficiency, etc.).

  • Licensure: There are several categories of therapists including licensed and limited licenses. Depending on the state you are in, the licensure process, not the graduate program, will determine what you will be allowed to do (e.g., be able to bill insurances, open one's own independent practice, or to work underneath a supervising psychologist, etc.). In most states, you must be licensed in order to provide psychological services and you must be sure that you have the requirements to sit for the licensure exam.

Graduate program at WMU

Western's behavioral analysis graduate program has been pre-approved by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board. At graduation, WMU undergraduates will have completed the necessary coursework to apply to take the Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst exam. Students will need to supply additional documentation regarding supervised applied experience and proof of a B.S. degree.