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The Journey of a Psy.D. Student

The following is an interview with Shawn, who recently received his clinical PsyD (doctorate of psychology)* at the Adler School of Professional Psychology.

Shawn agreed to be interviewed about his academic experience - how he became interested in clinical psychology, how he found the right graduate school, what he did to get accepted, and more.

We hope his 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.


Ivy: Hi Shawn. Welcome and thank you for being with us.

Shawn: I'm happy to be here.

Ivy: Before we begin, let me quickly summarize what we're doing today. In this interview we're going to talk about your path to getting a graduate psychology degree. We'll cover topics such as how you became interested in psychology, your decision to get a graduate degree, the application process, and your experiences at school. The goal is to help students out there who might be considering a graduate degree in psychology. Sound good?

Shawn: Yup, sounds great.

Ivy: Terrific. Let's get started. Today our guest is Shawn, who recently received a Psy.D. in psychology from a professional psychology university...but more on that later. Shawn, let's start with some background information. Can you tell us a little bit about your undergraduate work?

Shawn: For the first two years of school, I went to a college that was close to home. I really hadn't decided on a major, so I spent the first year or two taking care of all my general classes. I was also taking extra classes here and there that interested me like orchestra (I play the trumpet), statistics, and psychology.

Ivy: Even though you weren't majoring in psychology, was it one of your interests at that time?

Shawn: At first I really didn't know anything about psychology, but once I took a psychology credit to fill a humanities credit, I was kind of hooked. I liked the course enough to enroll in a couple extra classes on human development and cognitive psychology.

Ivy: So your interest began with one course and then grew with each course you took?

Shawn: That's right.

Ivy: What happened after the first couple of years and classes?

Shawn: I actually got my associates degree from that college and then I transferred to a larger University that was about an hour drive from my home.

Ivy: What made you change?

Shawn: Frankly, I just really needed a change. I was still living with my parents, which was fine because I saved a lot of money, but I was ready to move out. Going to a different University was a better excuse for moving out- well as far as my family is concerned. They we say in psychology, totally enmeshed.

Ivy: I see.

Shawn: I think part of my interest in psychology was trying to figure out my family! But I've learned that is pretty typical for some psych students. So after the move, I finally settled in on a major in psychology. I knew a bachelor's degree wouldn't be enough to be licensed so I started looking at Masters programs.

Ivy: What did you want to do with psychology?

Shawn: It was an easy choice for me. I wanted to be a clinical psychologist all the way. And let me make sure to emphasize "clinical" - I'm not into the social work / case work aspect. Not that it isn't important, but it's not what I wanted to do.

Ivy: Did you want to do a doctorate program at that time?

Shawn: I was thinking about it. I liked the thought of the doctorate degree because it gives you more options down the road than a Masters degree. And since I really wanted to be a clinician, it seemed like the way to go.

Ivy: Does this mean you were also interested in research, since a Ph.D. is a research degree?

Shawn: Actually, no, I'm really not interested in conducting research. When I say I wanted to get a doctorate and I want to be a clinician, what I really mean to say is that I wanted to be a therapist and I really wanted to go to a school that focused on therapy and training to be a clinician.

Ivy: Ok, I think I see where you're going with this, but before we dive into the actual degree you got, let's first talk about the process of applying to graduate school. How did you decide on a school...and if you can, tell us about the application process.

Shawn: Sure. I found out about schools a few different ways. Some was word of mouth. My professors always talked up the schools they went to. I guess this is good because, if they had a bad experience they probably wouldn't be recommending them to us.

Ivy: Good point.

Shawn: I also used a grad search engine from, which helped a lot. I started with a pretty big list of schools, but I had to trim that down pretty quickly. I mean, everyone probably wants to go to Harvard, but it's just not realistic - or I should say, it just wasn't realistic for me.

Once I narrowed my list down, some of the schools that I liked were the University of Michigan, The Adler School of Professional Psychology, Walden University, California Lutheran, University of North Carolina, and Alliant International University.

Ivy: That still seems like a pretty good size list. How did you chose from those schools?

Shawn: A few of them I had to take off the list just because of where they were. Even though I thought they were great schools and would be good for me, I just couldn't justify the cost of moving across the country. I mean, you have to consider cost of living, the cost to travel home on vacations, and just being so far away from family.

In the end, two schools were really tops for me - Adler and the University of Michigan. When I really did my research, I was actually surprised that I ended up believing Adler would be better for me than Michigan. I decided that I really wanted to go to a school that focused on psychology, and since Adler is a professional psychology school, it's their number one focus.

Ivy: Sounds like a great fit. So did you apply to a Masters program?

Shawn: Actually, no. I applied to the Psy.D. program. I thought I had to go to a masters program first, before I could apply to a doctorate program, but that's not the case. Many doctorate programs have the master's work built in and you can get the masters certificate about half way through. So I decided that was the way for me to go.

Any chance I can talk a little bit about the school I went to?

Ivy: Of course.

Shawn: Great. As I mentioned, I ended up picking The Adler School of Professional Psychology over all the other schools, including the University of Michigan. There were several reasons, but I really want to mention two in particular. First, they're the oldest independent school of psychology in the country. Many people aren't familiar with the Adler school or professional psychology schools in general, so knowing that the school is a pioneer and has been around for so long made me feel really good.

Also, the Adler school focuses on social responsibility, which is based on the work of Alfred Adler. What this means is that the school is founded on principles of respect for the individual, compassion, doing what's best for your clients, and so on. All of this means a lot to me, so it was just a great fit.

Ivy: Wow, it sounds like you really found a school that fits you perfectly.

Shawn: Absolutely.

Ivy: It would be great if we could take a step back and talk a little bit about the application process. This is something a lot of students ask questions about. What were the application requirements?

Shawn: Sure, I can talk about that. I think the application process for Adler was pretty standard. I say that because pretty much any graduate program requires the bachelor's degree from an accredited University. They look at grades and service to community and research or work in the field. I was working in a children's program for abused children during my undergrad so that looked really good on my application. Also, I had to write a personal statement, which was pretty much an essay about me, my goals, and aspirations. I also needed three letters of recommendation and they conducted a final interview.

Ivy:The whole process sounds tough and a bit nerve wracking.

Shawn: I'm not going to lie, I was really nervous, especially about the interview. Fortunately they were very nice. I think they could tell I was really passionate about the clinical side of psychology by my answers. Anyway, I did get accepted and it was a great experience.

Ivy: Tell us more about the program and what you had to do.

Shawn: The program is 5 years long. Some examples of classes were lifespan development, social psychology, assessment, and basic skills. And as I mentioned earlier, they're founded on Adler's theories, so a lot of classes incorporate that perspective.

Ivy: Was that difficult for you to focus on that one theory?

Shawn: Well, I wouldn't say we focused only on that theory. We learned about tons of theories, but when it came to establishing you method of therapy, we used Adler's approach. That said, there were a few times it bothered me a bit, but overall it was really a good thing.

Also, other Universities teach about every theory and that in itself can be overwhelming. In the end, I think students don't really understand any theory completely and end up making up their own mixture of techniques. In contrast, I really understand Adlerian psychology and am specifically trained in that theoretical orientation and how to conduct therapy.

Ivy: It sounds like they gave you quite a bit of experience.

Shawn: I think residency is a vital part of any psychology program. Practicum hours in my program started the first year, so we were getting hands-on experience from the very beginning. The final year is pretty much all internship hours and I also did a doctoral dissertation. It was a lot of work. But the professors were amazing, I had great cohorts in my classes and like I said, it was a really good experience. I would definitely recommend the Adler school to anyone interested in clinical psychology or getting a PsyD.

Ivy: Well, I think we've used all our time, so I just want to thank you for your time and being so open with us. I think this will help a lot of students.

Shawn: Thank you. I really enjoyed myself and I hope it helps.


    * Shawn is a pseudonym and is used to show students the experience they may have applying to particular graduate schools.