Graduate school can look very different depending on your school or what subject you are studying. I thought it would be a good idea to share with you the timeline of becoming a psychologist. When I first started applying to programs I was obsessed with reading the various curriculum at different schools. I was so excited to learn about what classes I would be taking (nerd alert!) and when I would start my practicum. Every program and school is different, so I can only speak to the curriculum at my school. Basically, you spend the first 3 years balancing classwork and externships and your last year at a paid internship! Four years may sound like an eternity…but trust me, it goes by very fast!
Your first year is probably your easiest year. Although, it may not seem like it. This is the year you spend “getting your feet wet” and taking a bunch of foundational courses in psychology. You learn about the various types of psychiatric illnesses, the many types of psychological theories, how to interview clients/patients, and you start taking psychological assessment courses. By the end of your first year, you’re ready to start your first practicum in the population of your choice! Every program is different…at my school, we were required to apply to various sites and interview with them. At other schools, students are placed directly into a practicum and do not have the option to pick. Each route has its own pros/cons.
During your first year – coffee becomes your best friend.
Year 2 is undoubtedly your hardest year! You’re starting to work with clients/patients for the first time and honing your psychological assessment skills, while still balancing 18-20 credits in the classroom (per semester). This is definitely a writing intensive year! For me, year 2 involved taking stats classes (yuck!), learning about group and individual therapy, and picking my dissertation topic! Regarding externship, my program separates them so that students can maximize their skills. During your second year you do a diagnostic practicum where you spend your time conducting psychological assessments and writing reports.
Side note: this photo is from my third year; however, it gives a pretty accurate picture of how your time is spread out across various activities both within and outside of the classroom.
Your third year is a little more “slowed down” (if that’s even possible) but can still be intense. This is the year where you start your therapy practicum and spend the majority of your time learning about and conducting individual/group therapy. I remember feeling as though I had finally settled into graduate school and was learning a lot about myself personally and professionally. This can be a fun, but also scary process for some people. The exciting thing about third year is that you finally get to start taking electives! One of my favorite electives was a class on hostage negotiations!
For some people, fourth year may be the start of your clinical internship (which is when you finally start making money!). For many others, including myself, fourth year was a year to gain more clinical experience before applying for internship (which can be insanely competitive!). In addition, this year can also be spent on finishing your dissertation.
YEAR 5 (optional)
You are finally done with “school!” In the traditional sense that is. There is still a lot of learning to be done, but, you don’t have to worry about sitting in a classroom. Internship is the finally step before graduation and is the most exciting because it’s an actual job where you get paid! This is the time where you hone your skills as an emerging clinical psychologist and get to do things a little more independently (while still being supervised).
After internship and graduation, many clinicians decided to do an additional year of training referred to as a postdoctoral fellowship. A fellowship allows many people to specialize in one particular area (if they choose to do so) of psychology such as, neuropsychology, health psychology, forensic psychology, or child/adolescent psychology. After graduation, you’ll spend time studying for the licensing exam. After successfully passing, you can apply and accept your first job as a Clinical Psychologist!