NOTE: The Department of Psychology at Columbia University DOES NOT have a clinical program. Those wishing to study Clinical Psychology may contact:

Teacher's College Clinical Program
Main Hall, 525 West 120th St. (Box 102)
New York, NY 10027
(212) 678-3267


Preparing for a
Career in Clinical Psychology


This handout is intended as general information. Each program has its own requirements and its own orientation. It is your responsibility to find out what the requirements are. Programs vary in the extent to which they emphasize research or clinical practice. They also vary in their clinical orientation. Some are heavily psychodynamic whereas others are heavily biological or cognitive-behavioral. Some programs provide a good mixture of theoretical perspectives. Programs also vary in their emphasis on child or adult psychopathology. You can get some idea of the varying perspectives in a course on Abnormal Behavior. However, you need to do your own research on the various programs to determine whether their orientation is a good fit with your interests.



Research Experience

Public Service


Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Application Process

Differences between Ph.D., Psy.D., and Counselling Psychology



The minimum requirements are:

--- the basic courses meeting the requirements for a major in psychology in this department (i.e., introductory psychology, statistics, research design, a course each in (a) cognitive, (b) social/personality/developmental/abnormal, and (c) physiological psychology). It is a good idea to take the abnormal course.

--- advanced seminars especially in the social/personality/developmental/abnormal area.

These courses meet the basic requirements for most clinical programs. However, some programs have idiosyncratic requirements. Your need to contact individual programs to determine their requirements.

It is not important to take courses on clinical orientations as such courses are provided by the Ph.D. programs.

Research Experience

Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology typically require students to conduct independent research for their Master's Thesis and their Dissertation. Therefore, the typical program is interested in recruiting students with some experience in research. To get experience in research, students should (a) find out what research faculty in this department are doing from the brochure available in the psychology office (406 Schermerhorn Hall), and (b) make appointments to talk with individual professors to find out more about their research and the opportunities that are available for student participation. Clinical programs are interested in the quality of the research experience not in the population on which the research is conducted. For purposes of admission to clinical Ph.D. programs, you need not be concerned about whether your research experience is with a clinical population.

Because professors get to know their research assistants better than the students in their classes, they are in a stronger position to write references for them. This is an important bonus of becoming involved in research. Most clinical programs require at least two academic references.

Public Service

Clinical programs vary in their interest in students' clinical experience. As with research experience, it is important to get some experience with clinical or high-risk populations because clinical work is an important part of what you will be doing in a clinical Ph.D. program. There are no formal ways at Columbia in which preclinical students can get this experience. Professor Sandra Stingle (877 - 5346), Barnard College, offers a course called "Field work and seminar in psychological services and counseling" (BC3473y). Information about the course, including the supervised placements, can be found here. Interested students should contact Prof. Stingle or the Barnard Psychology Department for further information.

Many relevant informal volunteer opportunities exist at Columbia, including the following: Community Impact (4-1492); Double Discovery (4-3897); the New York State Psychiatric Institute (Matt Gold, 960-2500). Information about the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center (4-4366), the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Response, the Men's Peer Education Program (4-2136), and Nightline (Ariel Fein or Grace Laidlaw) can be found on the following web page: Intership and Volunteer Positions.

Some students get experience with clinical populations through summer work or through research. Most clinical programs do not require you to have developed a high level of expertize in clinical work. They will teach you that. They want to know that you have some idea of what is involved in working with clinical or high-risk populations. Relevant clinical experiences include working with homeless people, tutoring children-at-risk, as well as working on psychiatric wards.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Ph.D. programs require applicants' scores on both the General GRE and the Advanced Subject Test in Psychology. High GRE scores, especially on the general part of the test, are particularly important. Because programs often have hundreds of applications for fewer than 5 slots, they typically do not consider applicants with GRE scores falling below a certain program-determined GRE. To get some idea of the GRE scores needed to get into a particular program consult the APA Guide to Graduate Degrees in Psychology. It is essential that you take the GREs by the October administration of the year you are applying. You must apply for the test several weeks before the test date. Booklets with applications are available at the CC Dean's Office, Hamilton Hall.

A few programs still require the Miller's analogy test (consult the APA Guide). These tests are administered at 657 Thorndike Hall, Teacher's College. The phone number is 678-3262.


People who know you well (e.g., professors with whom you are doing research) are in a better position to write references than people who know you less well (e.g., professors of large classes in which you were a student). So, find people who know you well and think favorably of you to write your recommendations. Professors usually like to see a copy of your transcript and your personal statement. Ask professors what information you can give them that would be helpful in writing the reference. Do not bug them about getting the reference in on time. Professors typically have a policy about whether they show the letters they write to students. If seeing the letter is important to you, it is important to tell the professor when you request the reference. The professor can let you know his or her policy.

Professors need plenty of notice about writing references. Because professors get requests from many students, each of whom is applying to multiple places, it is a good idea to ask professors to complete your reference on the Columbia College Graduate and Professional School Reference Form. This is available from 202 Hamilton Hall. The Dean's office then sends out a copy of the reference to all the schools to which you are applying along with a letter from the dean, which explains this procedure. A similar mechanism exists for General Studies students. Most clinical programs will accept this instead of their own reference form.

Application Process

The first step in the application process is to decide which progams to apply to. Because Clinical Programs are highly competitive. Your chances of getting in are increased if (a) you do not restrict yourself geographically and (b) you apply to a range of programs that vary in degree of competitiveness. Programs also vary in the extent to which they emphasize training researchers or clinicians. They vary in their clinical perspective. In deciding what schools to apply to, read the material the school provides and, if possible, to talk with people who know something about the different schools.

The majority of school in the New York area are psychodynamically-oriented. However, they do provide training in other clinical-treatment modalities. Because each program gets a huge number of applicants for a few places, they are extremely selective. Each year, people with good GREs and GPAs, strong recommendations and great research experience end up being disappointed.

Programs vary in the deadline for applications. Some are due in early December. Others are due in January.

You get applications directly from the programs. The APA Guide gives you addresses.

Completing applications is time consuming, so start way ahead of deadlines. Each institution has a different form and has different requirements. However, all require you to complete a personal statement (or two). In this statement you make your case for being accepted into their program. Next to GRE scores and course grades, it is the most important part of your application. Put time and effort into it. It provides the program with a sense of who you are and what you are interested in. It also provides a sample of your writing ability and your ability to put interesting thoughts coherently on paper.

The Applicant Selection Process

The first stage in the process is to exclude applicants with GRE's below a certain cut-off. Some programs bypass the interview process and select candidates based on their application. However, many programs conduct interviews. Between 20 and 40 applicants are invited for interviews at the institution. In selecting applications for interview, all of their application materials are considered.

Once a student makes it to the interview, the impression they make at the interview is critical to the final decision on their application. Applicants are invited for interviews between February and early April.

Some programs bring all interviewees in for the same week-end (e.g., University of Rochester). Interviewees interact with faculty and students and each other at social occasions as well as having individual interviews with faculty and students. Remember your behavior on the social occasions is also a source of information to the Clinical Program.

Some programs conduct group interviews with candidates (e.g., Adelphi University). Several candidates are put into a room together and their conversations and interactions are observed by faculty.

Other programs rely on individual meetings between the candidate and one or two faculty and students (e.g., NYU).

It is important to remember that programs are looking for (a) indicators that you will be a good clinical psychologist, (b) whether you will make a good Ph.D. candidate, and (c) whether you are a good fit to that particular program. It is important that you come across well in the interview. The content of the interview will depend on the program and on who is interviewing you. Psychodynamically-oriented faculty are often interested in your psychological "awareness" and your personal history as it pertains to your choice of clinical psychology as a career. So, be prepared to talk insightfully and coherently about personal stuff. Research oriented programs are interested in your research and in establishing whether there is a good research fit between you and the program. I do not want to suggest that there is a dichotomy between psychodynamically-oriented people and research oriented people, but simply that interviews you need to be prepared to discuss a variety of topics.

It's more difficult to tell people what to do in preparation for interviews than to do in preparation for the GRE, but here are suggestions:

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK ABOUT PROGRAMS THAT INVITE YOU TO AN INTERVIEW. The interviewers are looking for a good fit between students and faculty as much as for whether you will make a good Ph.D. candidate. This means that if you are interested in doing research on the genetics of schizophrenia and none of the faculty are interested in either schizophrenia or genetics, the chances of you getting into that program are limited.


If you don't know how you come across in interviews (based on experience not supposition), it might be a good idea to get someone to do a mock interview with you, which you videotape and review.

Following the interviews, programs make offers to a minority of interview candidates. This will occur prior to April 15th. Successful applicants are required to let the schools from which they have offers know whether they will accept the offer by April 15th. Accepting an offer and then changing your mind is considered bad form and can harm subsequent applicants from Columbia.

Some candidates are wait-listed and may not know their final status until after April 15th.

If you don't get in.

If you don't get in, it is always possible to try again next year. Use the time to shore up weaknesses and bolster existing strengths.

You may also want to consider other aspects of psychology or aspects of human services. Think about what attracted you to being a clinical psychologist and decide whether you can end up doing the same work through some other route

Differences between Ph.D., Psy.D., and Counselling Psychology

Ph.D. programs are housed in psychology departments and emphasize both research training and clinical training. They require that students conduct independent empirical research to complete the degree requirements. People with Ph.D's in clinical psychology are eligible to apply for jobs in research, teaching, and clinical practice. As such, their employment opportunities are broader than those of Psy.Ds. In Psy.D. programs the emphasis is on training clinical practitioners. Such programs are usually less competitive than Ph.D. programs and place less emphasis on the scientific basis of clinical psychology. They also provide much less financial assistance to students and, cost-wise, can be comparable to law or medical school. Counselling programs are typically housed in Education departments. They developed to train professionals to deal with "normal" people who are going through transitions in their lives or otherwise need counselling with difficulties. These programs are geared toward students interested in working with people at the less abnormal end of the abnormal spectrum. Because they are Ph.D. programs they require students to complete independent empirical work. They are less competitive than Clinical Ph.D. programs. Psy.D and Counselling programs are more likely to require applicants to have post-B.A. experience in the work-place than are clinical Ph.D. programs. However, taking a year or two off to work after your B.A. will not hurt (and, depending on what you do, may help) your application to a Ph.D. Clinical program. It is also possible to become a therapist by pursuing a Master's degree in Social Work and doing additional post-graduate training in therapy.

Differences between Psychiatry and Cinical Psychology.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who acquire specialized training in the field of psyciatry. Preparation for being a psychiatrist involves (a) completing undergraduate pre-med courses, (b) completing medical school (4 years) and a one-year medical internship, and (c) a residency in psychiatry. The main difference between what psychiatrists and psychologists can do is that psychiatrists can prescribe drugs. The majority of psychiatric residencies emphasize the biological basis of mental illness and psychiatrists tend to focus on drug-related treatments of mental illness. Psychologists engage in a variety of kinds of talk therapy. Often psychiatrists and psychologists work together to treat people with a mental illness.

Completing a Ph.D./Psy.D. Program

Most Clinical Ph.D. programs take 5 to 6 years to complete. An additional year is spent doing a clinical internship. This is usually in a hospital or mental health center and is intended to provide experience with a range of clinical work. After internship, additional supervised clinical work is needed to become licensed as a clinical psychologist. Psy.D. and counselling psychologists who also complete an internships and the other requirements of licensing can get a license. In addition to the degree and the clinical experience, candidates for a license must pass an exam.



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This page is maintained by Lois Putnam and Andres Torres. It was last modified by aft2109 on February 24, 2014 3:42 PM .

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