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What to Look for in a Graduate Psychology Program
What is your area of interest?
Psychology is an area of academia that can differ widely from campus to campus, depending on the areas that the department head and dean emphasize. Are you interested in cognitive psychology? Educational psychology? Experimental psychology? Your area of interest could be as important as the quality of the program you choose. If you want to be a cognitive psychologist, for example, and you choose a school that is top-shelf, but emphasizes experimental work, you will not get the educational experience that you could have had at a more carefully chosen school.
What is the school's philosophy?
There are some areas of study (finance, mathematics, foreign languages) in which the guiding departmental philosophy shapes the course of the department significantly less than it does in psychology. What is your philosophy about the way the mind works? Does your paradigm match that of the university where you would like to study? It is OK if your philosophies differ, because you are going to school to broaden your horizons and learn more about the field, but you do not want to attend a program if its philosophy opposes yours -- you will encounter much more frustration than success.
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Programs to Consider
University of Wisconsin-Madison
This university was ranked #8 in the 2009 list of the best psychology graduate programs published by U.S. News and World Report. The doctoral program is extremely strong and has turned out solid research in the field, as well as research faculty who have joined the faculty of other recognized programs. For master's degree students, Wisconsin-Madison offers a terminal M.S. as well as a thesis-based M.A. in psychology.
Stanford's psychology department received the #1 ranking in U.S. News and World Report's 2009 rankings for graduate psychology departments. The graduate programs here focus more on producing researchers or teaching faculty at Stanford or other institutions, so if you are looking to transition into private practice, while Stanford would make for an excellent diploma, private practice is not an area that this school emphasizes.
Harvard boasts the fact that the field of psychology began as a study on its campus under the pioneer William James near the end of the nineteenth century. Harvard's graduate programs in psychology have a reputation for opening new territory in research year after year. Famous psychologists who have come through Harvard's program include Jerome Bruner, B.F. Skinner and Henry Murray.
University of Michigan
Despite the fact that Michigan has one of the biggest psychology departments in the United States, the school consistently achieves top rankings because of its reputation for providing individualized studies for each graduate students. Intense research programs are available in the fields of biopsychology; developmental, cognitive, clinical, and social psychology; and elements of the personality.