The following is an interview with Julie, a graduate student in Forensic Psychology* at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Julie agreed to be interviewed about her academic experience - how she became interested in forensic psychology, how she found the right graduate school, what she did to get accepted, and more.
We hope her experience will help you as you prepare for your own journey into graduate psychology school.
Please note that you can request information for any of the schools mentioned in this interview by clicking here.
Ron: Julie, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. As I stated on the phone, I'd like to talk about how you became interested in Forensic Psychology, your educational experience, including how you chose a graduate school, and experiences in the forensic psychology program. Several students like you have difficulty choosing universities and programs that are a good fit for their goals and aspirations, so I think your story will be really helpful to other people as they consider applying to graduate school.
Julie: I'm glad to help. Thanks for the opportunity.
Ron: Could you start by telling us how you first became interested in forensic psychology?
Julie: Sure. Well.... I guess my first exposure to forensic psychology came from watching the TV show, Law and Order when I was in high school. I've always enjoyed watching crime shows and my favorite is Law and Order Special Victims Unit. I like other crime shows too, mainly ones that have an emphasis on criminal profiling and the psychology aspects of the stories. You know... NCIS, CSI, Mentalist, Lie to Me.... I also read some books here are there about the meaning of body language and stuff like that. I was a senior in high school at the time, and I enrolled in my first general psychology class.
Ron: And how did that go?
Julie: Oh I loved it. It was fascinating to me. I didn't know then what I wanted to do for a career, but I definitely enjoyed my psychology class. I think my teacher played a big role in that too because he made it really fun and interesting.
Ron: So that was basically your first experience with psychology?
Ron: So what happened next?
Julie: Well, I graduated from high school and I wanted to go to college. My parents were really supportive - they've always encouraged me to take my education as far as possible. I decided to go to a University nearby so I could live at home. I wasn't the "go out into the world and discover my identity" type.
Ron: Not everyone is.
Julie: No. So... I started off taking general courses and after my first year of college, I finally chose Psychology as my major.
Ron: Had you decided to go into forensic psychology at that time?
Julie: Oh, no. I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my degree. I just knew that I was really interested in psychology. Most of my friends that were also majoring in psychology wanted to be some type of counselor or therapist, but I really hadn't decided.
Ron: What happened next?
Julie: I was talking to one of my professors after a cognitive psychology class and I had expressed some interest in research. He was looking for a research assistant and said it could help me get into graduate school. We talked about some possible career choices post graduation and I told him I was having a difficult time deciding what I wanted to do with psychology. He asked me what it was about psychology that interested me the most and I told him I was interested in understanding why people do the things they do, specifically, what it was that drove people to commit crimes.... You know, why people do bad things.
Ron: How did he respond?
Julie: We talked a little about profiling and some CSI episodes I liked that he had seen too. That was when he mentioned that perhaps I should look into forensic psychology and he told me I should talk to another professor he knew that taught a criminology class.
Ron: What about the research?
Julie: I signed up to be one of his research assistants and I worked with him on a project for the whole next year.
Ron: What else did you do during that time?
Julie: I was finishing my last classes for my Bachelor's degree and I started searching for universities that offered masters degrees in forensic psychology. I used some search engines on the internet and looked at current ratings.
Ron: Which search engines did you use?
Ron: What type of information were you looking for?
Julie: I wanted to know about their programs, tuition, how long it would take, and whether or not they offered online programs. I heard some universities had online classes that made it easier for adults to have jobs and work school into their schedules instead of the other way around.
Ron: It sounds like that was important to you.
Julie: Totally. I didn't want my entire schedule to have to be adjusted to fit the times the school offered classes. I'd rather fit school around my life. I know that isn't for everyone, but it's what I wanted. Plus, the idea of being able to take classes from home while sitting in front of my computer with popcorn and pizza sounded awesome.
Ron: Awesome and unconventional.
Julie: Yeah, definitely. My parents thought so too.
Ron: So what schools did you look at?
Julie: Some of the universities that kept coming up in my search were Argosy University, John Jay College, The Adler School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University, Walden Univerity, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. They all had master's programs in forensic psychology and most had the online part I was looking for.
Ron: That sounds like a lot of schools to choose from. How did you do it?
Julie: Well I separated them by the costs and benefits of each. Some were more expensive, of course, and not all of them had online options. They all had different requirements for admissions like the GRE and letters of recommendation and stuff. I really wanted an online program so I didn't have to leave home and the university by my house didn't have a forensic program.
Ron: Family is very important to you.
Julie: My mother has Cancer. Her treatment is successful so far, but I still wanted to stay nearby. I have some younger siblings too and I help out a lot. So yeah, my family is really important to me.
Ron: Tell us a little about the schools you researched.
Julie: Sure. Well, Alliant was definitely out because they didn't really have a dedicated online program for forensic psychology. They had some online classes available but it looked like I would really need to do some on campus. I liked Walden University because it had a forensic program that's online, but it was missing some other things I wanted. I liked that the John Jay College had lots of elective courses to choose from but they weren't really all online either.
Julie: Yeah. They all had online forensic programs. Adler's forensic program was 62 credits but the courses were quite as flexible as I wanted. Argosy had more choices. Their program was 36 semester credits and allowed for 6 of those credits to be elective choices. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology didn't have as many electives but they had a Psy D program that I could move to later. I learned all about their forensic program by filling out a request form and then a school representative contacted me to give me all the details (click here to complete the form) really struggled between Argosy and the Chicago School, but I finally chose The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Ron: What was it about Chicago that tipped the scale?
Julie: Well I spoke with people from the admission departments at both schools and I corresponded with a few professors from each school and to be honest... part of choosing a school is researching and part is that gut feeling of where I want to go. I know that isn't very scientific. But I just had more of a connection with the people I spoke with at the Chicago School. The people at Argosy were great too, don't get me wrong, but I just clicked more with the professors I corresponded with at the Chicago School.
Ron: So how did you get enrolled in the program?
Julie: I actually found all the information about applying and requirements on AlleyDog.com. I had to fill out an application. They look at undergrad grades and want their students to have some background in psychology. Specifically, I had to have a course in general psychology, research and statistics.
I needed 3 letters of recommendation that had to be in a specific format and I had to write a personal essay of why I was interested in the program, what my future goals were, and any relevant field research experience I had. At first I was dreading having to write the essay, but in the end I was glad I had to do it. It really forced me to look specifically at my goals and helped me make some difficult decisions. The people in the admissions office were very helpful and walked me through the admissions process.
Ron: So, you got admitted.
Julie: Yes. It's always a tough wait no matter what school it is. I was really excited when I found out I was accepted.
Ron: So then what?
Julie: Well, I took several classes. The required classes were: Psychopathology, Basic Interviewing skills, Survey of Forensic Psychology, Ethics, Psychology of the Lifespan, Mental Health Law, Trauma and Crisis Intervention, and Substance Abuse Treatment. Then I could choose a specialization of either Adult or Juvenile Offenders. I chose Adult Offenders.
Ron: Was that all?
Julie: No. I also had to complete an applied research project. There were different ones to choose from. Mine was based on ethics in forensic psychology and the manipulation of offenders and victims in the court system. Plus, the Chicago School has an amazing Forensic Center http://forensiccenter.org/ where students can get hands on experience. I left home for a few months at a time to do some studies there and really got some good experience. It really allows students to reach out to the community.
Ron: About how long did this all take?
Julie: The program can be done in as little as 20 months but I did it in a little over 24 months.
Ron: And what now?
Julie: I wasn't sure when I started if I wanted to go on to finish a doctorate program but now I think I really do want to go that route. I just want a stronger base in profiling and am planning on taking some additional training to work with police investigations. There are really several careers in forensic psychology such as working in the prison system for treatment of offenders but I'm more interested in assessing victims and offenders and making recommendations for court hearings and aiding in criminal investigations.
Ron: So you still have some work ahead of you.
Julie: Yes, I do. But I do enjoy the work and I did like my program at the Chicago School.
Ron: Well thanks, Julie, for talking with us. And good luck in the future.
* Julie is a pseudonym. Julie is used to show students the experience they may have applying to particular graduate schools.