I have been looking at different PhD (and even Master's programs) for psychology and it seems as if almost every program is looking for someone who has had extensive experience in research as an undergrad or has been ar part of some frat/sorority... given that I commuted back and forth to college as an undergrad and worked full time, I never had the time to do extensive research....am I basically screwed if I want to apply for grad school or do I have some sort of hope? are there any opportunities for research in universities for non-students? if you have any suggestions please let me know--
YES! Research experience is vital! Research experience was consistently ranked as THE most important thing to admissions committees when I was doing my research on getting in. It's really vital to show that you have the desire and ability to handle the research work that comes with a PhD program. You can show that experience in a lot of different ways--most often, it's shown through an undergraduate thesis and work as a research assistant (RA). Did you do a thesis in your undergrad?
If you really didn't get any research experience, you still have opportunities! MANY profs will hire Bachelor's-level grads as paid RAs in their labs. Here, your duties would be anything from lit reviews to data entry to writing. A big goal would be to make a significant enough contribution to the work to be listed as an author on anything (a publication or presentation) that comes out of it. Some profs might let you work on your own research in the lab (although I think this is less likely... my experience is that the RAs typically help the prof, grad students, and honours students with their work). If you get on this NOW, when application time rolls around next year you'll have a full year of work under your belt and probably at least one really solid letter of recommendation. Several of my friends who took a year off before applications did this, and done right it significantly boosts your chances of getting into really good programs.
If you didn't do a thesis, your school may let you re-enroll as a special student (or non-degree-seeking student or whatever they call it). You could take a thesis course and do research that way, and maybe enroll in one or two graduate-level courses. I'm guessing it's too late to do that for this year, but it's something to consider for next year, if you decide to wait two years before applying.