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Taking a year off before grad school?

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by twelvesixteen, Jul 28, 2011.

  1. twelvesixteen

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    This new thread is probably beating a dead horse, but I feel like I need to explain my personal situation. I am a 19 year old student and I am going into my fourth year of my undergrad working towards my BSc in psych and will be graduating in April 2012. Originally my plan was to work towards med school (and be admitted in September 2012) but there were a couple minor setbacks in second year when I switched from majoring in biology to majoring in psychology. Eventually, working hard, I finished all my prereqs and now just have to write my MCAT. The problem is, my brain is absolutely exhausted from these past... 19 years. All I've done is blow through school, but since I basically chained myself to my room to study, I haven't socialized very much (at all), I don't feel like I have "real life experiences" and am very behind in a lot of other aspects of my life other than academics.

    My original plan for this summer was to study for the MCAT, write at the end of August and get everything together to submit applications in October. The problem is, I don't know if it's what I actually want. Also, this past winter semester was a living hell for me. There were a lot of family matters going on, and I lost one of my closest friends. Getting up and just going to school was a huge effort for me some days. Right now, I'm just exhausted in all ways.



    Practically of course, the money is appealing, but I know my heart is with counseling, particularly at the post-secondary level. Now, I'm really scared that if I go into med school and end up hating it I'll feel like I wasted a bunch of time, energy, and money. At the same time, it's not too late to write the GRE and get applications ready for grad school (MEd in higher ed counseling) for Jan/Feb applications for September 2012 admission.

    I just honestly don't know what I want. Plus, I am extremely young and don't have any lab experience and I don't know if that will look bad on my part.

    I would appreciate any advice re: taking a year off or what the right decision for me would be career-wise, practically. Thank you in advance!


    ETA: This is probably in the wrong section... Sorry Mods!
     
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  3. Psychology 76

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    Lots of people take time off before pursuing higher education. I think it would be quite advisable for you to do so given your uncertain career goals. Take a year off, try to do some productive things, and see what you really want to do!
     
  4. syzergy

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    I definitely agree with Psychology76. If you're unsure, hesitant, or just a little burned out, take the time off! I took a year off which turned into two years off and it's been great. I just couldn't push myself so study for the GRE and prep apps while still in school and even immediately after graduating.

    I used my time off to continue to work in research labs, publish my senior thesis, and present at conferences. I went from having a decent application to a pretty competitive one. But most importantly, I had a break from class. I'm still pushing myself with multiple research projects but I don't have the added pressure of grades. Now, I'm even more confident of my decision to pursue a clinical degree and I feel very comfortable with my application.

    Take some time off, do some research, go to the bar, watch some tv. It's worth it. :)
     
  5. isupsych253

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    I'm in the exact same situation, twelvesixteen. I will graduate in December with a BA in psychology, but this final semester coming up will be a tough one. Right now I am trying to study for the GRE, psych subject test, get 8-10 applications ready to go, and school starts in 3 weeks. I am not a person who likes to do things half-ass, and that's exactly what I'm worried will happen with all of the things I just listed.

    On top of that, I've even had some MINOR hesitation about going into psych grad school. I've heard so many downers on this website, I don't know who to listen to and who not to. I'm not going to lie, after spending 5-6 years in grad school, I want to make good money and live comfortably, but a lot of people on this website make it seem impossible to make a good living in psychology, but we have some family friends that are definitely an exception to that! I just don't know who to believe! Any advice would be much appreciated!
     
  6. 2012PhD

    2012PhD Psychology Resident

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    I think part of the contradiction you are seeing is that the field has changed dramatically over the past 4-5 years. We now have a serious internship crisis and post-doc shortage that wasn't an issue even 6 years ago. People who went to graduate school even 10 years ago were generally able to secure an accredited internship and get their hours for licensure without too much hassle. Now, the competition is insane even for crappy internships and the process is much more grueling than applying to graduate school. I had never put in so much work into any application before. After you finish internship you still need a total of 3,000 hours for licensure. Things get tricky when states require 4 hours of supervision per week and you need to find a site that will give you those hours, yet there are very few.
     
  7. isupsych253

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    2012, how much does "knowing somebody" who is a clinical psychologist change this? Couldn't you just intern for someone that you know if they are willing to have you? Or is it more difficult than that?
     
  8. 2012PhD

    2012PhD Psychology Resident

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    way, way more difficult. Its a structured, match process that is administered by a national organization. You need to apply to 16-20 sites, write 4 essays, 20 cover letters tailored to each site, 3 letters of recommendation,transcripts, CV, and a detailed analysis of every hour you spent doing psychotherapy. Then you have to travel all over the country and the interviews are rigorous. Its similar to residency for medical school, but there are not enough apa accredited internships for clinical psychologists so the competition is keen. Most of the sites are at hospital and counseling centers. It makes applying to college and graduate school seem like a piece of cake.

    You can't just set up shop with a psychologist you know.
     
  9. isupsych253

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    Well that's good to know! How come SDN is the only place I hear about all of these negative things having to do with clinical psych? Or maybe I'm just not "in the loop?" None of the profs or current grad students at my university seem to be talking about this stuff. It seems as if everytime I log onto this site to see what everyone's talking about (once a month or so), I get hesitant and worried about going into psychology.
     
  10. twelvesixteen

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    I know exactly how you feel. Personally... no offence to anyone here or reading this, but people use the Internet for two things, which I'm sure you've heard, and maybe it's just the latter? My other choice, optometry, people have been complaining about as well. They are earning little money and working one to two days at Wal-Mart as compared to the four years of schooling which could rack up to be $200,000 at the end of it at a private college.

    I want to counsel students at a post-secondary institution, and since there are not many around, and only a handful of counselors at each, I'm really frightened that I'm pigeonholing myself. Even counselors of primary, middle, and high school students are having trouble finding placement in school. It really worries me that I won't be able to find a job after putting all this work into it.
     
  11. cmd0618

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    Hey twelvesixteen,

    First off, if you are 19 and have one more year of college left... you must have skipped a grade or two? I mean, I have one more year left as well and I am almost 22 (well, I had to repeat a year of college when I transferred, but still, wow!) But I've thought about this as well, and I realized that it was probably in my best interest to take a year off or so before I start grad school. I think it's very important to have that "college experience"... and you really can't do that when you are studying all the time. As you said, it wears you out!

    My dad agrees with me on this as well, and tells me I should get a job once I get out of school for about a year (though honestly, I don't know what kind of job he expects me to get with a BA in psychology and no previous work experience...) I figure it might be a good opportunity to save up money for grad school, so consider that as well (unless you're lucky enough to have your parents pay for that, which I wish I had!)

    Whatever you end up doing, I wish you nothing but the best of luck!
     
  12. 2012PhD

    2012PhD Psychology Resident

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    Sorry, but internship is a rigorous process like residency applications, but there aren't enough positions. If people are concealing this important information from you, then you aren't getting a realistic sense of the field. This is why lots of students drop out of the field later on because they thought they could get an internship by filling out a form or making a phone call. They also thought that when they graduate, they are licensed---nobody told them about the exams and the fact that they need to accrue 3,000 hours before licensure. It is an 8 year process from start to finish. If anyone is telling you otherwise, then they are concealing information.

    You can search for internships online yourself and get the facts if you are skeptical. Look under your home state. Getting an apa internship is what's important for many employment positions and about half of phd/psyd are getting them these days (others are going for unaccredited).

    http://www.appic.org/directory/4_1_directory_online.asp

    Here is an article about it written by the APA:

    http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/04/pc.aspx
     
  13. cara susanna

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    My advisor was just telling me that he thinks we'll end up having it where it will become standard to have to wait another year before going on internship, and it may even progress to two years. So my program definitely acknowledges the internship crisis, though they're not as "doom and gloom" about career prospects.
     
  14. twelvesixteen

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    Thank you! I was really pushed in elementary school and so I was accelerated two years. Plus I am a younger one in my year already, so it's kind of like two and a half years ahead. It sounds cushy but really it's not. 19 years of READ READ READ MATH MATH MATH STUDY STUDY STUDY is supremely exhausting.

    The "college experience" never really happened for me... I live with really overprotective parents, like the type you hear about on Dr. Phil, and I live at home in a smaller, less lively Canadian university so it's not really super "college-type" anyways.

    I too am a little worried about the type of work experience that I could possibly be getting. I'm thinking if I don't come across anything, I would probably just work as a hostess and rack up some extra tips. If not for the experience then at least the money. I'm currently heckling the psych profs for some volunteer experience but so far no luck. I have pretty extensive work experience, ie. tutoring, working with an optometrist, retail, food, coaching, you name it really, but I don't think I'd go back to any of that. Lab work is what I'm really looking for right now.

    I'd really like to hear more about your experience if you would like to keep in touch!
     
  15. G Costanza

    G Costanza Psychologist - Private Practice
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    FWIW- I took 5 years off after my bachelors and did some traveling and worked a few different jobs. The one thing that I took from those years is that it I know without a doubt that I belong in psychology. I never want to go back to rebuilding transmissions or marketing. I think it also helped me be "fresher" in the program. People in my cohort that came right out of thier bachelors are more burned out. It could be a coincidence but they say they are just tired of school whereas I'm excited for the day.
    The downside is that they have 5 more earning years of income.
    Just my 2 cents.
     
    #14 G Costanza, Jul 30, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2011
  16. G Costanza

    G Costanza Psychologist - Private Practice
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    Just wanted to add that another downside to taking time off is that it's incredibly difficult to go back. Once you get a real job and start making money, life's financial gravity tends to keep people in the workforce. You live a lifestyle that requires an income that's almost impossible to maintain while in school. Just one more thing to consider.
     
  17. bunderj

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    True enough, although I doubt most people with a BA in psychology are going to land a job that affords such a cushy lifestyle that they couldn't bear to go back:) At least I didn't, nine years ago when I graduated from undergrad. My friends with engineering undergrad degrees, sure...but me not so much!
     
  18. isupsych253

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    If one DOES decide to take a year or so off, what happens to the letters of recommendation from the professors? I'm afraid the strength of their letters won't be as good because it will have been over a year since they worked with me!
     
  19. psydtobe

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    i don't want to come off as rude but if someone forgets you in just one year, did you really stand out to them in the first place? i took a year off after my MA before pursuing a doctorate program and my rec letters ranged from people i worked with 1-3 years ago.
     
  20. futurepsydoc

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    Here is my .02,

    From personal experience, taking a few years off was a good idea for me. It provided me with an opportunity to work for a bit, make some money, take a break from studying, gain experience, build my vitae, and reflect upon what direction I wanted go in with regards to my career.

    If you go this route, I would see if you can find a paid research position that exists within a academic medical and/or mental health setting. This can get you research experience, limited clinical experience, and a better sense of what either field entails. Which ever route you do go with respect to the job, medical vs mental health, I would suggest taking a volunteer position of some kind in the opposite field, so you can get a sense of both psychology and medicine to some extent. I think this can help you in making a decision about which seems more fulfilling.

    Due to my interests in clinical psychology, I continued doing research with my undergraduate adviser after graduating (i.e., volunteer basis) and worked in mental health setting for children with behavioral problems (i.e., paid basis). Both experiences provided me with a better sense of what academia and clinical practice were like in tandem. However, I must say that while graduate work in clinical psychology was similar in some ways to these experiences, it is much more labor intensive than I had expected.

    Along those lines, I think both graduate school and medical school are grueling with respect to workload, demands, and degree of difficulty. A handful of people will tell you otherwise, but I think most would agree with that assessment. Each of us wants to put ourselves in the best position to succeed as a result. I believed that taking time off helped me in the long run for the reasons I mentioned above. The same is true for others as well. Though, it is important to note that some people find it easier to go straight from a undergrad through post-graduate education for a variety of reasons. The decision will always depend on a lot of factors: personal, financial, professional, etc. Its a tough choice to be sure.

    Please remember the following when reading my post: My experience is only anecdotal evidence for why taking a year off can work in your favor. Everyone has different views on this matter, as we each take a different path to get where we are at this point in time. For me, that is a doctoral program in clinical psychology. I suggest that you 1) consider everyone's comments on this thread as useful information but NOT facts, 2) that you review your options and considerations with trusted advisers/mentors at school, 3) mull over your options and considerations with trusted family members and friends, 4) think hard about what you want for yourself, and 5) consider how the paths you are now considering seem to align with your overarching goals for the future.

    In the end, this will be your decision and you will have to live with the consequences of it, whether they be good, bad, or neutral. Having said all of that, I wish you the best of luck in your pursuits no matter what they may be!!!!!
     
  21. Buzzwordsoldier

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    Uh-oh. Whose standard?

    To the OP -- I wonder how you'd answer the question, "Do you want a partner who's dated others before meeting you or do you want to be the first?" Me, I dated HEAVILY.

    Similarly, I took 3 years off before attempting my first graduate degree, and 16 years off between that and my current degree. I could have waited less, I suppose, but life does tend to intervene -- I strongly caution you against treating your however many year plan as though you could preserve it on a shelf while you pursue other interests/necessities. It will need tending.

    That said, my plan was actually more a dream and as such one I was not likely to give up on. Related experiences to be chalked up along the way were no way going to be average. And in fact those experiences were not simply formative ones (as in the formative years of one's youth) but transformative -- in love, work and play.

    And those years were not simply "tiime off" inasmuch as during that time I was a close observer of psychology in the field, providing mental health services along the way, tending my dream. Now that I'm actually working at an officially pre-doctoral level, I am stock certain my professional growth would have been stunted if by some twist of fate I'd gone straight to school. It's not simply that I wouldn't be the same person. Professionally and personally, I had to risk getting lost in pursuit of the fullest glimpses of the big picture. Maybe not everyone can relate to that, it's hard to be sure; oddly, I'm willing to argue there is no other way. :laugh:

    I don't think I'm talking through my hat -- maybe I didn't take any great risk of losing myself (I had that dream to tend). But, whatever you choose and no matter the stage of your career, I think there will always be compelling reasons to caution against trading in the person you are becoming for the professional you wish you could be.

    Best
     
    #20 Buzzwordsoldier, Aug 17, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2011
  22. 2012PhD

    2012PhD Psychology Resident

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    People should be thinking about investing and saving for retirement and kids in their early 30's at the latest. If you begin a clinical psychology PhD/PsyD program at 25, you will not get licensed until age 32/33, and this is under ideal circumstances (no delays, smooth licensure process). Before licensure, you are generally not making a comfortable income and cannot save a dime. If you want to have kids and a family, I would caution against taking too much time off (more than 2-3 years). It takes 7-8 years from start until licensure on average in our field.

    People who are sure they don't want to have kids or care to own an apartment/house or save for retirement often change their minds as they get older and priorities shift. I started my program in my 20's. At the time, I was unmarried and did not have financial responsilbitiies so it didn't seem like a problem that the training was long and I was already a couple of years out of college. I didn't care to have kids. However, now that i'm older, i want to have kids, would like to buy a condo one day, and my parents are ill and need financial support. I'll already be close to my mid-30's by the time i'm licensed and won't be able to have kids until age 35 at the earliest, and I completed the requirements of my program on time and did not take longer than most.
     

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