Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Question from a Student Reader

I got a question at my Facebook page, and I wanted to share my response for any other undergraduate students considering graduate school and a career in school psychology. Please share your own experiences as those who survived graduate school and found a successful career!

May I ask what it is that initially drew you to the field as an undergraduate student and how you went about securing yourself a place in a grad program? - Monica
My response:

I majored in psychology and sociology as an undergraduate and I always knew I wanted to work with children. My godmother is a school psychologist, so she made me aware of the field (because God knows no one really knows what we do unless they know a school psych). I knew I didn't have the patience to be a teacher, and didn't want to be a school counselor and do counseling/career involvement, so school psychology sounded like a great way to put my enjoyment of working with children and my love of psychology and the field of education together.

During my undergrad, I was a "psychology scholar" (honor given to 2 freshman every year, who then help professors with research and receive a small stipend for the duration of undergrad), secretary of Psi Chi, and a TA for three years for the statistics & research methods class. Any kind of stuff like that shows an involvement in and appreciation for the field will be great for a resume. I also did two semester long internships. My first one was with a social worker at an alternative school, for students who either had dropped out or who couldn't make it at the public high school and were there to get a GED. There, I did academic tutoring, individual counseling, and group social skills/life planning work. My second internship was with a school psychologist at a middle & high school. I got to do academic Response to Intervention (RTI) work with kindergarten classes using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), do screening tests for incoming students to the school, sit in on CSE meetings, observe students and gather behavioral data for intervention planning, and do a small group intervention on academic/organizational skills. Between the two of them, I got a great taste of the work that professionals can do to help students struggling in the classroom. I graduated a semester early from my undergrad program, and during the semester in between my graduation and when I started grad school, I continued working with kids at the local library, particularly with preschoolers.

I interviewed at a handful of graduate programs in the area, and I think that the fact that I had experience working with kids, had done research, understood the demands and expectations of a teacher (from my time as a TA, which was even discussed at my internship interviews), and understood the field all were factors that helped me get in. As a graduate student, I was on the interview panel in my 2nd and 3rd years to help choose the incoming 1st year graduate students. I can't remember exactly what our criteria were, but I know we looked at some of the following things in our candidates: experience with children, research experience/interests, why they want to be a school psychologist, knowledge about the field, and knowledge about education.

What drew you to the field of school psychology? How did you get into a graduate program? What advice do you have for students considering the field?

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  1. I am a second year graduate student and I had a similar experience. I wanted to combine education and psychology in one career so I did some research about what fields I could do that in. I did not know any school psychologists but once I realized who they are and what they do, I realized I had dealt with them many times in the past with my family. In the interview, they looked at my psychology research experience from undergrad. Unlike other people, I did not apply straight out of undergrad so they also looked closely at my work experience even though it was not work with children. They wanted to see that I was responsible, had a way to pay for college, and was committed to staying in the program once I started. My school also focuses a lot of multiculturalism so I spoke about my travels and work with diverse populations. I also looked up the research interests of the faculty because some programs are more behaviorally focused than other programs.
    I hope this helps!

  2. Thanks for the response, Mel! Experience, both work and personal, is so important when applying to graduate programs. It's one of my biggest recommendations to undergrad students looking into specified fields--get experience first! It'll make you look more marketable, you'll have more talking points, and you'll know if this is really the field for you before you dive in.


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