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Undergraduate Degrees in Psychology: A Path to Graduate Study in Marriage and Family Therapy

Psychologists need doctoral level education, yet psychology is one of the most popular degrees for undergraduates. Why? Is undergraduate psychology just an interesting liberal arts major, or is it advance preparation for a career as a psychologist?

psychology student

It can be a step in the path toward psychology or other mental health practice. Psychology is among the preferred baccalaureate degrees by master's level admission committees in a number of professions, including counseling and marriage and family therapy (MFT).

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Some MFT graduate schools accept students with any type of liberal arts degree while others have a preference for students with behavioral or social science backgrounds. The Chapman University MFT program, for example, requires a bachelor's degree in psychology or "equivalent" discipline and lists fully five prerequisites that would typically be found in a psychology program. Most programs do not expect such a strong foundation in the discipline. Still, you aren't apt to find a marriage and family therapy graduate program that frowns on psychology as an undergraduate major.

Programs Considerations: Curriculum and Degree

You aren't apt to find a marriage and family therapy graduate program that frowns on psychology as an undergraduate major.

Typical courses include introductory psychology, social psychology, abnormal psychology, and research methodology. Schools may offer concentrations or specialized programs, for example, developmental psychology or health psychology. Some general psychology programs allow you to choose many of the courses in your major from a list of approved electives.

Some schools offer a choice between a BS and a BA. The University of Washington explains that the BS is more research-oriented and provides the best preparation if you are planning on continuing for a PhD. The University of Washington recommends the BA for counseling and therapy and for other professions that are not research-oriented.

The University of Colorado notes that their BS in Psychology includes more coursework in the biological basis of behavior while their BA includes more coursework in the social basis. Again, they recommend the BA for counseling professions.

Does it cause a significant problem if you earn the 'wrong' one? No. Either degree should give you many options. Some schools offer just one degree, and the name may have more to do with the history of the program or the school where it is housed than the curriculum.

Program Considerations: Accreditation

At the bachelor’s level, the only accreditation you needto look for is institutional level. Accreditation by one of the six regional accrediting agencies is generally better than accreditation by a national accrediting agency; the latter is more often awarded to trade schools. Some master's programs will accept it. Many will not.

Programmatic accreditation is not necessary. The American Psychological Association (APA) does not accredit undergraduate programs, but does offer some guidelines for choosing an undergraduate program.

Program Options

Internships are typically optional, but are well worth considering. They may provide you with references as well as insights into the discipline; these insights may ultimately be shared with the graduate admissions committee. Some schools arrange internships on your behalf. However, you will first need to go through a screening process.

Organizational memberships provide networking opportunities. You may choose to become a student affiliate member of APA. You may start by browsing the free resources on the APA site (http://www.apa.org/about/students.aspx). You will find everything from tips on carrying out research and writing papers to contact information for very prestigious internship programs.

You may have the option to join Psi Chi, the psychology honor society. If you identify more with social sciences than with the psychology discipline, you might look into membership in Pi Gamma Mu. It is an honor society for students in the various social science disciplines. You will find career resources by browsing the site.

Schools sometimes have their own psychology clubs or associations. Even online schools may provide options for membership in some type of student association.

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