Frequently Asked Questions About Graduate School

Introduction: What is psychology and what will I learn at the graduate level?

Psychology is the scientific discipline of the mind, brain and behavior. Some individuals pursue graduate study in psychology because they are interested in contributing new knowledge to the discipline — such as answering questions about how the brain works. Others pursue graduate study in psychology because they want to provide services to individuals or groups based upon psychological science — such as being a clinical psychologist or a consultant to help improve teamwork in business settings. Thus, graduate study in psychology prepares individuals as both members of a scientific discipline and professional practice.

Individuals interested in answering questions about the brain and behavior pursue graduate study in psychology to engage in research that advances the discipline. During graduate school these individuals will learn core scientific principles of psychology, often including statistics and experimental procedures. This training often results in a research doctorate (PhD) or a master’s (MS) degree. These individuals usually continue a career in academic or basic research, often as a professor at a college or university (usually with a PhD). Some individuals with MS degrees work for business, or teach psychology at the community college level.

Those interested in providing psychological services will also study basic scientific principles of psychology, but also learn skills and experience to serve clients and patients. This training often results in a PhD, a doctoral degree of psychology (PsyD) or an MS degree. Those wishing to serve patients in a health service or educational settings usually require a license from the state to practice. Most states require a doctoral degree to be a licensed psychologist. Some individuals combine both research and providing psychological services, often at a university or medical research institution.