Doctoral Program FAQ

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Welcome to the Frequently Asked Question Page for the Doctoral Programs. Please feel free to send any additional questions to MSRG 

What is the difference between a PhD and a PsyD? How will I know which is the best fit for me? 

A PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is a program in which graduates are trained as scientists and practitioners. An equal emphasis is placed on clinical and research training to prepare students for employment in academia and professional practice. 

A PsyD or Doctor of Psychology are programs which train graduates as practitioners and focus on clinical training to prepare students for employment in professional practice. Students still take statistics and are taught to have a clear understanding of a research program, but students receive more clinical training and less research experience. 

Both programs have their pros and cons. Masters Students looking to apply for doctoral programs should look at the expectations of their career goals to determine the best fit. Additionally due to the difference between the amount of research emphasized in the programs, students can use the requirements of the program to guide their decision. 

Of note: PhD programs tend to be more competitive and have lower admissions that PsyD programs. PsyD programs, while having higher acceptance rate, tend to offer less funding options than the PhD. 

For more information of PsyD and PhD programs please visit: 

You mentioned the different types of programs (Clinical, Social, etc.). What should I know about these programs to help me make a decision about the type of program I am interested in? 

There are numerous psychological fields of study and the program you attend will depend on both your interests and ultimate goal for your career. Doctoral programs are a huge commitment, so the intersection of both the interests and goals can be a good starting point. In this section, we will be going over 4 different program types. 

  1. Clinical Psychology: Clinical psychologists tend to work with pathological populations with serious mental disturbances and it is common for them to receive training in specific areas of study. While there is some overlap with Counseling Psychology, these are not the same programs. For more information of the differences between Clinical and Counseling psychology, please visit this article on 5 core Differences
  2. Counseling Psychology: Counseling psychologists tend to work with populations that are relatively healthy and work with individuals through normal developmental processes. They receive a wide variety of training.For more information of the differences between Clinical and Counseling psychology, please visit this article on 5 core Differences.   
  3. Forensic Psychology: This area of study focuses on psychology and applying it to the law and legal system. This field is broad and encompasses many different areas of psychology, with some psychologists specializing in areas such as Sex offender treatment and research, psychopathy, child abuse, domestic violence, jury consultation, witness line up and testimony research, interrogation research and the study of violent offenders. For more information, please see AP-LS.
  4. Social Psychology: Social Psychology is the study of human interaction. This field of psychology examines how people think, feel, and relate to others. Social psychologists often study prejudice and stereotyping, inter-group behaviors, culture studies, social influence, and self and social identities. For more information, please see Social Psychology Network

When applying, how much research experience should I have? 

Research is an important addition to doctoral program applications. Most programs have both a research and clinical component so schools look for applicants who have experience and understand what the research process entails. 

Research can also be a great way to network here at John Jay college. Not only is research a key in your curriculum vitae, it allows you to work closely with faculty members who may be able to write a letter of recommendation. 

We advise that as a Master's Student, you become involved with several different research projects. This will ensure that you have positive letters of recommendation (providing that you maintain a good relationship with your adviser) and it is an important addition to your CV. 

What is the difference between a CV and Resume? Does it matter which I submit?

Both CVs (Curriculum Vitae) and Resumes have a similar purpose in that they demonstrate where you have been, what you have done, and it should convey the skills that you have acquired along the way. Graduate programs want to know about the research and relevant clinical work that you have already been involved with, and both CVs and resumes do that. They do differ in some big ways (length, layout and detail).

Curriculum Vitae or CV: is more in depth document that can be 2 pages or more. It contains more detail about your achievements and can cover your education, including published work, awards, honors and presentations. This document is typically static and does not change with each job application. A CV may be required for doctoral programs as it gives schools more of an overview of your accomplishments, including publications and your whole career.

Resume: is a more concise 1-2 page document that summarizes their experience. They should be tailored to each position to adapt it to the specific post. It does not cover a whole career which is what the CV does.

Make sure that no matter CV/Resume you include all of the experiences Graduate schools want and that you describe them appropriately. Include all dates, position titles, and project titles for each experience. In addition, you should describe the projects and what your responsibilities were. Most importantly, be honest, truthful, and clear in your writing.

In terms of submission, many people see a CV as a more academic tool because it contains publications and presentations. That being said, please send the school what they ask for. If a school asks for a CV, make sure you send them a CV.

For more information on the differences between a CV and resume please visit Undercover Recruiter- CV vs Resume: The Difference and When to Use Which.

Additionally for help with the CV, it is a good idea to consult the Center for Career & Professional Development. The Center can help you with formatting, layout, wording, and proofreading. If you are a student, take advantage of these services which are provided to you for free at your school. They are often invaluable resources. John Jay Master-level Forensic Psychology students and Forensic Mental Health Counseling Students are encouraged to reach out to the Assistant Director of Master’s Program Career Advising.    


Should I take the GRE? What about subject tests?  

Most schools require both the GRE and the GRE subject test. Please visit the schools you will apply to see a full list of their requirements and their idealized scores. Some schools have required minimums to be considered and others have an expected score to be considered. The best way to figure it out is to look at the statistics involving the GRE scores on the Website to see how the distribution looks. If you plan to retake the GRE's Psi Chi often hosts free Princeton Review and Kaplan workshops and Baruch College offers free practice tests. If your GRE score is really low you may want to consider schools in Canada or the UK. Check out this Understanding the GRE Psychology Subject Test by All Psychology Schools


Does GPA matter?  

As a graduate student, it is expected that your GPA remains relatively high throughout your studies. As you research doctoral programs, an important statistic to consider is the average GPA of the last entering class. Although this is certainly an important statistic, if your GPA is not quite as high as the average- you may still want to apply to the program because admissions will certainly take into account other factors like GRE scores and relevant experience.

Make sure to send transcripts to the school in advance. It is important to send schools transcripts and ensure that they reach the schools on time.

How much weight is placed on the Letters of Recommendation?  

Faculty letters of recommendation are extremely important. An ideal letter of recommendation will come from a faculty member who can attest to your research abilities, level of dedication and responsibility, as well as your degree of professionalism. Review committees will place considerable weight on letters of recommendation because they reflect the opinions of established professionals within a field. During your master's degree you should establish a great working relationship with several professors so that your letters of recommendation are both positive and personal. A great way to establish this relationship is by working with faculty members on their existing research projects.

Should I do a MA Thesis? 

Completing a Master's Thesis is also an important component of your CV. A thesis will definitively attest to your research abilities. It will also reflect your research interests and demonstrate your ability to contribute to academia and research. An important component of completing your MA Thesis at John Jay will be the presentation of your research at the Annual MA Student Research Conference. The MA Student Research Conference will provide you with the opportunity to present your work to other students, faculty members, and professionals within the forensic psychology field. By opening up the floor to questions, this conference will also allow you to informally defend your thesis. It is up to you whether you do a thesis or externship, but this decision should be based on your experiences and goals.

John Jay MA Forensic Psychology Program: For information on the MA Forensic Psychology Program at John Jay and the thesis track, please visit the MA Psychology Page. For information about finding a thesis advisor, please visit the Research page of this website.

Should I have an advisor for the PhD Program? 

It is recommended that you have some idea of who you want to work with and that you reach out to the prospective advisors before you apply. Some applications for schools ask who you want to work with, and it is a good idea to introduce yourself to the faculty in a new school. Identifying a mentor can help you match your interests to the schools and allow you to have an advocate for the program. To see why it is a good idea please visit APA's interview with the director of clinical psychology at UNC Chapel Hill about what they look for in an applicant

What is the Personal Statement? 

Content: Emphasize your development and growth as a student. In your personal statement it is important to convey why you are a good fit for the program. Highlight your relevant experiences (research and clinical) and explain how these experiences have prepared you for doctoral level studies. Describe your research interests and the faculty that you would like the opportunity to work with. Discuss your aspirations, goals, and what you hope to gain from receiving your Ph.D. Also, make sure that you include ONLY relevant information in your personal statement and that you have answered all of the questions that each application asks for. Most applications will ask that you provide specific information in your personal statement and you must make sure that you have answered all of their questions.

Form: Your personal statement should be professional. It should be properly structured, concise, and meet appropriate length requirements (most applications will limit the length of your personal statement). Refrain from discussing any childhood / family stories (unless really relevant) and refrain from discussing your personal mental health history.

Grammar: Make sure you proof read your statement and it is a great idea to have several people read your statement. Your statement is relatively personal, as it discusses your interests, your goals, and your experiences. Whenever you write something of a personal nature, it is important to also have an objective opinion. Have your friends and 
family read your statement and then ask your current supervisor to read it.

I got an interview, now what? 

Not every school will conduct interviews with applicants. If you are invited to attend an interview, do your best to attend the session. There are several different types of interviews that you may be asked to attend.

  • Group Interviews

  • Multiple Individual Interviews

  • All Day Events

If you are requested for an interview, preparation is extremely important. Find out who you will be interviewing with and research this person. Try to find out what their research interests are and the positions they may hold. Before your interview, you should also develop several questions to ask your interviewer about the program and opportunities at their school.

Always remember:

Dress and act appropriately and professionally

Make sure to send a Thank You email to all interviewers shortly after.

For more information, please visit

How can I choose which school after I am accepted?  

You may find that you have been accepted to several schools and now must choose just one. Making the right decision involves re-evaluating the program and what it has to offer you. Consider the research, teaching, and clinical opportunities available at the school. A big factor will be the financial assistance that the school offers you and don't forget- consider the location of the program.