Frequently Asked Questions
How can I find the "best" undergraduate psychology program?
Your question about the "best" colleges and universities with strong undergraduate psychology programs is not an easy one. The American Psychological Association does not accredit or rank undergraduate programs. Accreditation applies only to doctoral programs in professional psychology.
However, there are some important factors to consider in choosing an undergraduate program. As you conduct your research about undergraduate psychology programs, probably the first question to ask is whether you would be comfortable in the program. There is no substitute for visiting a department while students are there, talking with them, and seeing what opportunities are available. The size or reputation of a department is not necessarily the best indicator of its quality.
If you are ultimately interested in attending graduate school, you should know that, in addition to good grades in your undergraduate classes, a very influential factor in admission to graduate programs is research experience. It will be useful to see what kinds of research opportunities are available, as well as opportunities to present the results of research at psychology conferences. Research builds skills, and allows the faculty to get to know students; subsequent letters of recommendation are thus stronger and more personalized. You can get a good deal of information about the nature of psychology programs and their commitments to undergraduates by going to the websites of undergraduate psychology departments.
So the general answer about finding strong undergraduate programs is that you should find an institution in which you feel comfortable and where students have access to faculty and opportunities for research.
I'm interested in pursuing a career in psychology. How should I begin?
Psychology offers many exciting opportunities for a rewarding career! The American Psychological Association has developed a number of resources that may guide you.
As a starting point, you may be interested to read our online careers booklet entitled Psychology: Scientific Problem Solvers — Careers for the 21st Century. This brochure discusses the various degrees available in psychology, types of careers and what psychologists do. The brochure also provides advice that covers each stage of the education process and outlines APA's many resources for students.
There are 53 professional divisions within APA that bring together psychologists of similar or specialized professional interests. Explore the websites of APA divisions to find a wealth of information about education and training, careers and opportunities for student affiliation in the APA divisions.
Information for students is available through APAGS (The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students). You might also be interested in learning about the many books that APA has published as resources for students. For information about best-selling books for students, go to APA Books.
Whether you study psychology in high school, as an undergraduate, or pursue a graduate education in psychology, you will be gaining important skills that will be an asset in whatever career you choose. Students of psychology have an opportunity to develop research and writing skills that will serve them well in any profession. Moreover, it is through the study of psychology that many students sharpen their problem-solving skills and develop a higher level thinking ability when it comes to analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating information.
You may be able to get financial aid to attend both undergraduate and graduate school. Assistance comes in different forms: fellowships, scholarships, grants or subsidies, work study programs, federal loans, and teaching or research assistantships. Undergraduate students will find their best source of support from federal financial assistance programs. In addition to the information listed below, we recommend that you contact your campus financial aid office to learn about other financial aid options.
Students seeking financial aid for a graduate degree should get advice as early as possible. Consult with both the psychology office and the office of financial aid on your own campus and also with the office of financial aid at the school to which you are applying. Students of ethnic minority background should also contact the APA Minority Fellowship Training Program. Graduate assistantships and work study require part-time work.
You may find some helpful information regarding potential sources of financial aid through visiting our Scholarship, Grants and Awards pages.
Some students wonder whether it is more advantageous to have a BA or BS in psychology. In truth, there is often little difference between the two degrees. Some schools only offer a BA, others only BS. The requirements for the two degrees might overlap completely. Even when a school offers a choice of either a BA or BS, your decision may not be all that critical. The more important consideration is taking courses that will prepare you for the program you want to enter as a graduate student.
In general, graduate programs require only introductory psychology, statistics and experimental psychology/research methods. Naturally, you would want to take more courses to show that you are serious about psychology and have adequate preparation to do graduate work. Graduate schools want a solid background in psychology; they will teach you the rest. It would probably be a good idea to investigate specific programs of study to be certain you have taken the appropriate undergraduate courses.
If you are interested in learning more about the diversity of graduate programs, obtain a copy of the APA publication Graduate Study in Psychology. This is also available as an online database. That publication, coupled with followup contacts made directly with graduate programs of interest to you, should help you determine which programs are best for you.
Distance learning opportunities are growing in the 21st century. Although the American Psychological Association does not regularly keep track of online psychology programs, a search of the Internet will likely result in a number of online programs of study. For example, students searching for information about distance education in psychology may find some valuable resources online. Although this is not an APA website, this URL provides a detailed compilation of Web links related to distance learning, including degree programs in psychology, web-based courses in psychology, megasites on distance learning, and more.
According to the report of the APA Distance Education Task Force, more than half of all regionally accredited colleges and universities now offer courses or degree/certificate programs through distance education and learning models.