Do I Need Work Experience Before Pursuing a Master's in Psychology?

Getting into graduate schools can be a challenge, for a variety of reasons. The size of a master’s class in Psychology is very limited, so admissions boards look for candidates who seem most likely to succeed and continue pursuing work in the field. While some students do manage to get into a Psychology master’s program without any work experience, generally you will need at least some volunteer experience. Keep in mind, work experience can help your application in more areas than just your curriculum vitae.

Increased Fitness For The Program

The primary function of experience in the admissions process is to prove that you are both dedicated to working in the field and capable of performing the tasks necessary. Getting work experience is usually looked upon most favorably, since the responsibilities and selection process of employees are usually much greater than those of a casual volunteer.

A master’s of Psychology is primarily an academic degree, so unlike primarily professional degrees, you will probably not need a full year of working experience to be accepted, although it would definitely strengthen your application. If you want to go directly into a master’s program, try getting a part time job or volunteer experience while you are attending class in undergrad. Ask local hospitals and residential programs if they need volunteers or staff. You should also talk to your professors, as they often know of many opportunities for students.

You will most likely also need research experience to get into a graduate level Psychology program. Speak to your professors to see if they could use a research assistant. If you have the opportunity to conduct your own research, take it, since this will make an even stronger application. Depending on the program, your research experience may be more important than your work and volunteer experience.

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Greater Sense of Direction

Getting experience is as much for you as it is for the admissions board. Psychology can be a stressful field with a high burnout rate. Getting experience now will help you determine if this is really something you want before you make a larger commitment.

There are also many specializations available in Psychology. The experience you get now can help you decide what direction you want to go with your career. Making this decision early can help you get more career oriented experience and classes, and may even reduce the amount of time it takes to get your degree.

Letters of Recommendation

Every program will require letters of recommendation for admission. Most often you will need three letters, one from a professor, one from an employer or volunteer supervisor, and one of your choice. The more experience you get, the wider array of choices you have for recommendation letters. Make sure to spend some time getting to know the people you work with and for and letting them get to know you. The better your letter writers know you, the better the recommendations will be.

Interview and Personal Statement

Work and volunteer experience in Psychology will also help you in your interview and personal statement. Telling anecdotes of your experience will demonstrate to the admissions board that you understand more of the unique challenges and procedures involved in the practice of Psychology, making you a much stronger and more knowledgeable candidate.

While work experience is not strictly necessary for those pursuing a master’s degree in Psychology, it will greatly strengthen your application. Demonstrating that others have taken a chance on you in a professional capacity will make the admissions board more comfortable doing so as well, and will make you sound much more knowledgeable and professional in your communications with the school.

Further Reading

Top 10 Best Online Master’s in Psychology Degree Programs

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