If you're considering going to psychology grad school, you might want to stop and take a good, honest look at what's driving you. However well-intentioned you are, there are some motivations that just don't pan out in the end — and it's usually because students just aren't clear on why they want to do it or what they're getting themselves into, says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, chair of Yale University's psychology department.
"Students have lots of reasons for pursuing graduate degrees in psychology — some are more compelling and motivating than others, " she says.
Going to grad school for the wrong reasons can make for an unpleasant experience, put you on the wrong career path and waste your time and money. Here, psychologists, career advisors and students weigh in on the most misguided motivations for going to psychology graduate school.
Bad reason #1: You just want to help people
The desire to assist others is not enough to justify six or more years studying graduate-level psychology, says Nolen-Hoeksema. Many jobs allow you to help others, without all the added years and expense of an advanced degree. You can always help humanity by, for example, working at a refugee camp in Kenya or at a homeless shelter in your own town. But providing psychological services to people takes a lot of training.
Also consider that there are many distinct disciplines within psychology, and they all provide different opportunities for helping people. Puncky Heppner, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, makes sure his "students really grasp the differences and similarities [among] counseling psychology, clinical psychology, school psychology, human development, social work or health-related professions."
These differentiations, he says, depend on the types of clients you want to work with and the types of problems you will be helping them solve. For example, if you want to work with patients after stroke or other types of brain trauma, a neuropsychology program would be best. But if you want to work with people dealing with depression or anxiety, you'd probably do best in a clinical or counseling psychology program.