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Second Career & Non-Traditional Students

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by coloradocutter, Mar 26, 2007.

  1. coloradocutter

    coloradocutter Junior Member

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    Beware - long post, need help, encouragement, advice. Please, please.

    Interested in establishing some solid resources on the board who are nontraditional students in terms of life circumstances, career, age, etc. whatever. I am in my early 30s and an attorney at a large, national law firm (working in their Colorado office :love:), graduated law school at 26 after a year in in university administration. Currently, specialize in patent and intellectual property law, I make an obscene amount of money, I am 2 years away from partner. I have a nice home in a great neighborhood in a beautiful place. I made $125K plus $45K bonus in my first legal job right before I turned 26. I say this not be cause I give a rat's patootie about it - money is not everything, but I know that is hard to believe when you are eating ramen noodles. Going to Fiji is nice but crying every night is not and working 80-90 hour weeks is not. Especially when that 80-90 hours revolves around demanding, unhappy, rude people who like to yell and fuss about why you haven't responded to their email in 5 minutes or why you can't turn around a 50 page patent license in 30 minutes.

    I have been thinking about the psych thing for a long time - took a leave of absence from my job, did course work and research at UNC, got letters of recommendation, got a 1250 on my GRE (I am going to try one more dreated time). I got accepted into a great program in Florida last year and turned it down. I know, I know. I couldn't live there. I went and just said to hell with alligators and 100% humidity and just plain out wierdness. At 22, I would have said who cares, but now, things are different. My husband and I are thinking about starting a family, things are different. I want to live someone where I like - I just can't help it. Does that make me bad?

    I am an only child and left my parents 1500 miles away and it absolutely broke my heart, but the program near where I was living is top 5 and was just not an option. Also, I am looking for a more clinically-oriented program. I don't want to hang out in an academic theoretical program for 7 years.

    Fortunatley, I have been saving a crap load of money to start this adventure. I don't know if I am doing the right thing - I hear about the glut, the low pay, the BPD patients, the dissertation, etc. Also, I think that I want to pursue the Ph.D., but don't really love research more than life itself - it's ok, I am good at it, but I am there to absorb everything there is to know about psychology and perhaps be an excellent clinician, perhaps professor, perhaps community leader, perhaps indudstry consultant, and/or author. Is a Psy.D., a PhD in counseling psychology, an MSW, MA, etc., going to offer me those opportunities - does it matter?

    I also don't want to hide who I am for these programs - I have been touched by mental illness in my family and I believe that if the theories that we research don't help people or are understanding and treatments for mental illness then we have all failed. My greatest single asset is my ability to movitiate others - I really suck at helping myself. I want the most options and the most opportunities to learn and grow. Not sure what program or degree that is.

    After giving up my slot at the Florida program and also one at another program. I half-heartedly applied this year to a few programs - got waitlisted a most. I was actually invited for interviews, but was out of town working on a deal in San Francisco and we were moving and didn't have a home phone in place and they didn't call my cell, so oh well. I only applied to 3 schools, so not a big deal. I think the turmoil of turning down the Florida program wacked me and I just wasn't ready.

    Maybe I am just running for something different - just to escape a job that i don't like. I don't know. I think if I can find what it is I am meant to do that I will make money and I will be successful. I am not worried about that.

    I just don't know anymore, and I am despondent and somewhat hopeless that I will never get out of the law - the rat race is unbelievable seductive. Ok, here goes, I am new to the Denver metro area, work mostly with men, and I have no one to talk to. I guesss I need to see a career counselor pronto... but I just don't know what to do. I

    I make a great living. I live in Boulder, for goodness sakes, I am shoveling money into my savings accounts have been maxing out my 401k for 6 years. But I want out of this soon - it is interfering me with my life, my health, my smile. I am beginning not to recognize myself anymore.

    But am I just running? Chasing another pipe dream? I have loved and been comforted by academic programs forever. What does that mean.

    Here are my thoughts -

    - My GRE is a 1250, Higher on verbal, I think that I can improve this, but math 650 is my tops probably. 4.0 psychology. 3.8 overall, 3.5/top 7% law school class top 15 school, law review, etc. Volunteer work, research experience, no publications, worked in Trauma 1 hospital in acute rehab for a year.
    - If I get into a program this year, do I go - screw the house payment and move again. I won't have as much in the bank, but some.
    - Reapply next year, take the GRE again, take a class at UC-Boulder, network my ass off at the programs.
    - Reapply next year at clinical/relaxed programs that are either close to Denver or in a more afforadable place: DU PsyD, I have one connection at UC-Boulder who isn't a complete wacko, University of Wyoming, University of Alabama - psych/law, East Carolina University in NC (its a new program), University of San Diego (seems like a stretch), University of Reno in Nevada, any other idea? I don't want to move to Chicago, New York, Atlanta. Could never get into Chapel Hill or Duke and don't know that I want to. Looking for a good fit that is friendly to non-traditional students.
    - Or maybe I should drop this whole thing and try photography, teaching, something else - do I really need a Ph.D. to earn a living, to make myself valuable - I have worked my tail off for a long time and I have a big pile of money to show for it. Oh well, what does it mean in the grand scheme of things when you don't have your soul - nothing.

    I don't know, I am beyond rambling.

    I am just feeling lonely and wishing that that there was someone out there in my boat who could commiserate.

    :confused:
     
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  3. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty
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    I know where you are coming from (though a few years younger), and I understand. I had a fledging career, but I worked 7 days and 80-90+hr/wk, but I hated my job. The industry went bust (tech), the IPO's dried up, tech stocks tanked....and I gained a wealth of experience, but lost most/all of my $ (I went for the big kill, and lost...doh!).

    I should have left, but I stayed in it for another year or two and tried again. I started getting some really nice offers (in cash, no contingent vested private stock options, etc), but I was so fed up with everything.....I just walked. I took 9 months off so I could figure out what I wanted to do, and ended up doing the grad school route.

    My point.....$ just isn't worth it if you don't like your life. If I were smart I would have taken another job for a year or two, lived frugally, and have no debt coming out of grad school.....but I knew if I didn't do it now, I'd end up at some biz or law school (no offense) because it'd pay better than psych, and the expectation of my position NEEDING that type of degree. I jumped out while I could, and I haven't looked back.

    I love getting up in the morning; I love what I do. Some days I wish I had my old staff back, big office, etc.....but then I realize what the 'cost' would be, and my daily life just isn't worth that.

    So....do what makes you happy, and you'll thank yourself.

    -t
     
  4. Ollie123

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    Wow, that was actually really weird for me to read your post.

    Please don't feel alone. You're basically me a few years from now if I had made a different decision during my junior year of undergrad. I was oh-so-close to being exactly where you are. Had the wind been blowing in the other direction on that fateful day, I could very well be in your exact position.

    I did a dual degree in business/psychology. When I came to college I was dead set on going into law. Heck, I wanted to go into corporate law when I was 12. Probably to specialize in something computer-related(intellectual property seems likely). My dream job was to end up working in Silicon Valley. I started reading details about my parents mortgage and looking up lease agreements online when I was 14 (yes, I WAS in fact that nerdy. Still am).

    Junior year of college I took corporate finance at the same time I took abnormal psychology. By the end of the semester I had turned my whole life upside down and abandoned my plans for law school. Haven't looked back since.

    I'm a big proponent of doing what makes you happy. I'm assuming you know psychology pays like crap compared to most fields. I will be spending 6 years in grad school instead of 3, and will come out earning closer to 50k instead of 120k. I've made peace with that. Its possible some day down the road I might go back to law school if a mid-life-crisis decrees it so. Or if I get interested in health policy and things of that nature. If that sort of thing interests you at all, your law degree sets you up well to get involved in that. It would probably allow you to more directly utilize some law school knowledge while avoiding that whole soul-deadening aspect of the legal field that you mentioned;) While I obviously can't see into the future, I expect that will become a VERY hot area sometime in the next decade or so. With the increasing prevalence of mental disorders, radical new developments in pharmaceutical and even surgical treatments for mental disorders, and the possibility of a universal healthcare system upcoming, having a legal background could prove incredibly useful.

    You should also know that the life of a clinical psychologist is also not terribly light on the workload. Some do definitely put in 80 hour weeks, though I would guess 60 is closer to the norm. So while its probably lighter than your current workload, I feel you should have fair warning that if you're looking for a strict 9-5, this probably ain't the place.

    Some other points:

    1) Psychology in general I find to be more accepting of non-trad than most other fields. This isn't like med school, there are no early acceptances or combined BA/PhD programs. At this stage in the game, I actually think MOST people have to take at least a year or two off after their Bachelor's degrees. The only people I know of who went straight into doctoral programs did so at the more "diploma mill" type schools. 31 will still probably make you older than most or even all of the incoming class. But it isn't like it would be a bunch of 21 year olds who just finished undergrad, and you. I'd have to guess the average age of first year students is more like 25-26 (though I admittedly have no actual numbers to back that up, its just a guess). At 23 I've been on the younger side of the people interviewing at many places.

    2)1250 isn't a great GRE score, but you CAN get in with it. Its the exact score I got, and I got an acceptance to a pretty respectable PhD program. That being said, if you can break 1300 it will help a lot. Get that math as high as you can, it matters more than verbal at most schools.

    3)Spend some of your hard-earned cash on the Insider's Guide to Clinical and Counseling Programs in Psychology. Its under $20 on amazon so it sounds like you can afford it;) It will list every program available, and give you average stats that you need to get in. It is a god-send.

    4) BE SURE to have clearly defined research interests when applying to PhD programs. You're essentially applying to the advisor more so than the school. They want people with similar research interests. You don't need to have your dissertation planned out when you walk in, but you need to be able to discuss more specific ideas than "I want to research eating disorders".

    5) Know that you have options for degrees. Others will disagree with me here (they have before) but it sounds like you want to keep your options open. I'm still convinced a PhD will GENERALLY give you more flexibility than a PsyD. That doesn't mean PsyDs are bad, I just think its a bit tougher to get into research/academia with a PsyD then it is to get into clinical work with a PhD. Just my opinion. Also keep in mind I'm not saying if you go for a PsyD you will be relegated to private practice and never have hope of teaching or doing research. Anything is possible, but in a competitive field like this one, I think avoiding even the slightest possible handicap is for the best in the long term. That being said, if you don't like the idea of doing research, there's no need to make yourself miserable for 6 years if a PsyD would be a better fit for you.

    6) Lastly, be warned that being out of the psychology area for so long, you may have a hard time getting in. The fact that you've proven you can handle advanced coursework definitely works in your favor, but be sure to address the reason for your career change in your personal statements. Be clear that psychology is something you WANT and that it isn't just changing on a whim because law wasn't everything you hoped for. If you can find time, doing something psychology related on the side will definitely help you.

    Anyways, I'm off to bed, but I'll let you know if I think of anything else. Feel free to PM me if you have more questions or you think I can be of help in any way. Your post really struck a chord with me and I can definitely relate to where you are at. Don't lose hope, and I wish you the best of luck whether you decide to go into psychology or not:)
     
  5. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty
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    All is not lost...if she is willing to go into some consulting areas (forensics can be $$$), then 6 figures is EASY.

    -t
     
  6. Ollie123

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    True, and that is a fair point. We've discussed the benefits of doing consulting before.

    Forensic psych would be great for someone with a legal background, though admittedly patent law is probably less helpful than say criminal law. Then again, regardless of whether you specialized in patent or criminal, you would know the legal field 100000x better than pretty much anyone else with a psych PhD:)

    Almost makes me wish I liked working with a more severe patient population, but I'm pretty sure I would hate working in a prison system. Then again, since my research area is emotion I could probably make a decent living consulting on civil cases involving "emotional damages".

    Hmmm, I may have to think about this...
     
  7. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty
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    I know my clinical interests are different than my consulting interests, but I'm unwilling to give either up...so I need to make it work. :laugh:

    -t
     
  8. cammie790

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    I'm also a non traditional soon-to-be student (I took ALOT of time off between undergrad and grad schl., I have a toddler, and I had a career in development/fundraising all before finally returning to psychology). My two year break from school turned into 6! So to reiterate what's already been said, if a career in psychology is really what interest you most, then go for it!

    Forensic psych. consulting was mentioned. Would you guys tell us more about that? I too have an interest in working in a forensic setting, but also have a dual interest in health and neuro psych. I was just accepted into a clinical forensic and clinical health/neuro psych program. Which do I choose?!!! I figure that I can apply the health/neuropsych training more easily in a forensic setting, than vice versa. Is forensic psych. consulting as lucrative as a health and neuropsych. consulting?

    Sorry. Didn't mean to change the topic. Please feel free to PM me.
     
  9. positivepsych

    positivepsych Member

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    Is this really true? I haven't talked to many psychologists, but I did not get the impression that they work 60 hours on average. 60 hours is a lot, and for 50k is nuts.
     
  10. Ollie123

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    I can't use numbers to back it up, but I don't think I'm that far off.
    Though admittedly I'm speaking of academic psychologists. I flat out have no concept of what hours/pay clinical folk get.

    You can check out salary.com or something like that. Average starting pay is generally in the neighborhood of 50k unless you're in NYC, SF, or another really expensive city. This obviously varies depending on what kind of school you're at too....community colleges usually pay like crap, universities with doctoral programs tend to pay best. This of course scales up to closer to 6 figures later in your career.

    Also EVERY professor I have spoken to says that at least pre-tenure, you are working quite a bit, generally 60ish hours. Keep in mind that unlike some other fields a LOT of this will involve reading/writing or other things that can be done at home, so it may still provide a better quality of life than say, being a medical resident who is required to be AT the hospital 24/7.

    One thing to keep in mind though is that the 50kish is SALARY not necessarily income. There's always room for intelligent people to make money on the side (though that of course would mean working more hours). I'm not worried about keeping food on the table, I expect to live quite a comfortable life. I just think its important to accept that in this field MOST people never earn the salaries that they likely would have gotten if they had gone into medicine, law or business. That being said, there IS a professor at my undergrad school making around 500k a year. He is the exception rather than the rule though.
     
  11. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty
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    I 'think' starting in academics is 50ish (not my area), though I know clinically it REALLY depends on what you do. For instance, I've seen community mental health jobs (1-3 yr post licensure) in the 55-65+ range. CMH seems to be the low side for salaries (not something I'd consider)....but it seems to be an area of need. A lot of jobs seem to be 30-40hrs, which allows for people to do side work to subsidize some of the salary. For clinical work, I'm looking mostly at private practice individual/group, and maybe some assessments. I've been told I can make a nice living (100k+)doing that, though it will take some work to build up a sustainable practice. Some people can do it more easily than others, so YMMV.

    -t
     
  12. Drums4all

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    First, you are not alone. I am in the process of letting go of a six-figure salary in the corporate world, after working close to 20 years. I don't hate my job, but I have decided to spend my energies toward something more meaningful than an anonymous shareholder's portfolio value. I entered a Masters degree program in Counseling in my mid-40's, and I was NOT the oldest student. It all depends on the school and the program.

    I have just accepted an invitation into a university-based Psy.D. program. I'm sure I'll be on the older end of the spectrum of students, but . . . so what? I applied to five schools and was accepted into four. Obviously my age (48) was not a significant factor.

    Second, you would likely benefit from getting clear on what you want first. I would encourage you to spend some time taking a breather from your current worries. Take a break . . . take a leave of absence (it sounds like you can afford it), work half-time for awhile (I understand the demands . . . but whose life is it?) or even just take a series of long weekend retreats if that's all you can put together. The point is . . . PAUSE. Get clear.

    You may find that when you're clear about what you want, you may be able to create that life by making small to moderate changes in your current situation. While we are all influenced by our surroundings, our internal sense of satisfaction comes from taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions. You might find that you really want to make changes in areas other than career.

    Or, maybe after you take some time you'll come to see that what you really want does require a major career change. If so, then GREAT. You'll be able to move forward into something that works for you.

    These programs are long, challenging, and expensive. They are worth it if it's a good fit. When the fit is good, they're fun, they're "easy," and soul-satisfying. When the fit is wrong, you end up in 7-8 years still asking, "Who am I? What should I do?" Those are great questions. But take the time to stop and answer them now.

    Then, whatever you do will come naturally. You'll have the energy of teenager and you'll wonder why everyone doesn't just do what they love.

    Last, a book recommendation . . . short and easy but powerful: Parker J. Palmer, "Let Your Life Speak."

    Good luck
     
  13. sicologia

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    I think you said it best when you stated that you may have been "running" away from something (Law). My suggestion is to take a good look and make sure that Psychology is not a replacement job, but your priority.
     
  14. PizzaButt

    PizzaButt New Member

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    Hello!

    I'm a career changer, who is interested in applying to PhD clinical (or counseling) psych programs. I'm 30, married, and have a law degree. I thought it would be great to start a thread where people who are non-trads/second career students could share experiences.

    I had the following questions:

    1. What made you decide to change careers to psych? What factors impacted your decision? For me, I love working with people, and found all of my post-law school jobs to be completely lacking in this. Also, I hate desk jobs, and can't stand to be behind a computer doing research and writing (which is what I've been doing). I need to interact with others, face-to-face. Also, I am looking for a career where I can make a meaningful contribution. I did not feel that I was helping others in the work I've been doing.

    2. It's my understanding that starting salaries are pretty low compared to the length of time that's required to complete this course of study. How do you feel about that? Is it a major consideration? For me, I'm looking into other healthcare careers simultaneously, including PA, medicine and dentistry, as well as speech pathology.

    3. From making the decision to apply to actually applying, how long did you give yourself to get all your pre-reqs done? For me, I'd like to apply for fall '08, and I realize this will be pretty tight but I think I'm going to try. That means taking summer classes. How did you schedule your pre-reqs?

    4. How will you combine family and grad school? Since I'm married and 30, we will likely start trying to start a family within the next year or two. How have others balanced grad school and kids? How doable is it? My spouse is in a very demanding profession, so I'm thinking day-care or an au pair will be a must.

    Thanks!
     
  15. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty
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    *merged two similar threads*

    In the spirit of simplicity and future inquiries, I thought these threads should be merged.

    -t
     
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  17. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty
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    Since I am currently avoiding the stack of articles I need to read, I figured I'd post a reply or two. ;)

    My previous career was challenging...but frustrating, secure....but "live to work", financially rewarding....but personally unfulfilling, etc. I loved aspects of my job (some of which I can bring a clinical slant to), but hated day to day stuff. I always found it ironic to be exceptionally good at something I couldn't care less about.

    Compared to most other degrees....it is definitely not proportional to the amount of time you spend doing it. The financials suck in general, but I came in with a plan on how to get what I want from it, while also being able to incorporate parts of my previous career to make it financially viable.

    It is definitely a major consideration; never make a career change without doing your research and going into it with your eyes open.


    I was a double major (one of which was psych), so I only had to do the GRE related stuff. I already had a good amount of RA experience and training.

    For me it was easy....I came down single, and I made grad school my priority. It is definitely tougher when you have a g/f, wife, kids, etc.

    -t
     
  18. PizzaButt

    PizzaButt New Member

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    How are you non-trads paying for pre-reqs?

    I've been looking at courses in my area and they're nearly $3000 each. Since i figure I need to take between 3 and 6 pre-reqs, that's going to be between $9K and $18 K. :eek:

    I guess I need to take out student loans, but taking out that much in student loans for programs that have such a low acceptance rate kind of gives me pause. Is it even worth it? If I don't get in I'll be paying off $18K in student loans for nothing.

    I really don't know if I can afford to apply to grad school.

    What did you all do about this?
     
  19. coloradocutter

    coloradocutter Junior Member

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    I did all coursework at state university nearby, tell me that those prices aren't state university prices? Good grief. Fortunately for me though, I lived in North Carolina - so pretty easy decision between Chapel Hill and Duke.
     

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