Experience as Counselor vs Research Experience

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Jun 13, 2020
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I have several questions about getting into a PhD program:
1) I’m close to finishing my Bachelor’s in Human Services with a concentration in Substance Abuse Counseling. In quite a few states, after a year or two of supervision, I will be able to qualify for Substance Abuse Counselor credentials. Can a few years of independent practice as a Substance Abuse Counselor take the place of research experience or do I really need the research experience?
2) If I pursue a research assistant job, does it have to specifically be Psychology research? I see a few postings in my area for Social Work and Sociology research assistant positions, so would those be acceptable?
3) My degree is going to be from Southern New Hampshire University, is that an okay school or will it be looked down upon? I feel like it’s prepared me well enough for Human Services, but with all the advertisements they place on TV, I’m curious if it will be taken seriously for a PhD application?
4) My gpa will most likely hover around 3.4 upon graduation, is that good enough?

Any responses will be greatly appreciated, thank you!


Answers below but I have a question for you: why do you want a PhD?

1. You need the research experience because psychology is foremost a scientific discipline. Your clinical experience may not necessarily hurt, but it will not really help you either.

2. Research in a psychology setting is best. Social work research that involves clinical populations would be okay.

3. Have you completed all or most of your coursework online? In most cases, this will work against you. Another issue is your degree type. The majority of psychology PhD students enter with a bachelor's degree in psychology. I'm not sure how much psychology coursework you've had to complete, but the degrees are not interchangeable. You need psychology coursework (ie, taught in a psychology department) as a prerequisite for PhD program admission. Some programs will explicitly list a minimum expected set of courses to be completed before applying, others won't, but it's expected that you will have taken multiple psychology courses including research methods and introductory statistics.

4. Your GPA is a bit on the low end but not bad. Again, though, degree type matters and a human services degree may be viewed as less rigorous.

Overall, given your limited exposure to psychology and the other information you provided, you may need to complete a master's degree in psychology before you can be competitive for admission to a funded PhD program.
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Counseling Psychologist
10+ Year Member
Mar 2, 2013
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in addition to what was said above, the reason that research is valued more is because it can / should build the skills you have that contribute to the work of the PI. Our passions and jobs involve research, so the more you can offer a value added aspect the more competitive you are. I'm always looking for people with whom I can easily work, and who can rely on to help with that work. Doing the type if counseling work you can do prior to a graduate degree does not reflect what you can and will be doing after.
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