What exactly is "grad school?"
"Grad school" in psychology
refers to graduate programs where students can pursue
specialized education and advanced degrees in
psychology, typically with the goal of becoming an
academic (i.e., a professor) or a clinician (a clinical
psychologist). We call students in these programs "grad
students;" students who are still completing their BA or
BSc are called "undergrads."
Undergrads usually apply to grad school in their 4th (or
final) year of their undergraduate studies; these
applications are due in the late fall/early winter for
entrance in the following year. Grad students in
psychology typically complete a Master's degree (an MA,
"Master of Arts" or an MSc, "Master of Science") and
then a PhD ("Doctor of Philosophy" or more simply, a
"doctoral degree"). These programs don't typically
recruit students who only wish to complete a Master's
degree (sometimes called a "terminal Master's"), as a
PhD is the necessary degree for an academic career or a
career as a clinical psychologist in Ontario.
Graduate school in psychology is grouped into two main
categories: Experimental psychology and clinical
psychology. These programs are offered by psychology
departments. Two other programs, Educational psychology
and school and applied child psychology, are offered by
faculties of education.
- This type of program trains
students to be researchers, creating new knowledge
through their work. Students in these programs
typically have the goal of becoming an academic
(professor!). Increasingly, graduates of these
programs are finding new and unique ways to apply
their skills and talents in a variety of employment
areas, including business, industry and
- Experimental programs encompass
areas like social, developmental, cognitive
neuroscience, behavioral neuroscience, cognition,
sensation & perception, animal cognition,
industrial/organizational, forensic, and health
psychology. (Areas like industrial/organizational,
health, forensic, community, and school/applied are
only offered at some universities.)
- Canadian universities use a
mentorship model in their graduate training. This
means that the grad student works closely with one
professor who trains and supervises the student's
research. Doctoral programs in experimental psychology
typically have only limited coursework, as most of the
grad student's time is devoted to developing their
- Most clinical PhD programs in
Canada follow scientist-practitioner approach:
Students are trained both as researchers and
clinicians, informed by evidence-based practice (i.e.
using research to provide the best treatment for
- A PhD in clinical psychology
usually leads to a career as a clinical psychologist
(i.e., a clinician who works in hospitals, private
practice, schools, prisons, etc.), professor, or
- Students usually specialize their
training, to focus on adults, children, or
- Similar to experimental programs,
most schools use a mentorship model, where students
work closely with one professor who trains and
supervises the student's research.
- Clinical students typically have
a heavier course load in their early years in graduate
school, to serve as a foundation for their clinical
- It's a great idea to have gained
some experience volunteering in a helping field
before applying to clinical psychology to (a) ensure
you enjoy this kind of work, and (b) to improve the
quality of your application.
- Some US schools offer a PsyD in
clinical psychology; as I understand, the PsyD degree
places relatively little emphasis on scientific
research compared to a PhD program (see this
article). But in Canada, a doctoral degree in
psychology is called a PhD.
- Following completion of the
Ph.D., trainees complete a 1-year residency (typically
in a hospital) and then write board certification
exams. Trainees who are successful then complete
1-year of supervised practice.
Some schools offer other specialized areas in
psychology: Forensic psychology, school and
applied child psychology, and community
psychology are offered at a handful of schools in
- Forensic psychology (also:
Law-Forensic, or Psychology-Law) programs may be based
in experimental psychology or clinical psychology.
- In Canada, specialized programs
in forensic psychology are at three universities: Carleton
Fraser University, and the University
of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).
- There are also individual
academics who do research in forensic psychology at
many other schools, including King's at Western (me!),
Wilfrid Laurier, UBC Okanagan, Ryerson, Memorial,
Windsor, Saskatchewan, Thompson Rivers, Brock, OISE (U
of T), and others.
- Forensic clinical psychologists
focus their clinical practice on offender populations.
At last check, Correctional Service Canada was the
country's largest employer of forensic psychologists,
with some 300 on the payroll.
- Forensic experimental
psychologists conduct research that addresses applied
questions at the intersection of psychology and law;
this includes things like eyewitness memory, jury
decision-making, and investigative interviewing.
School and Applied Child Psychology
Western's Faculty of
Education has an MA/PhD
program in school and applied child psychology.
Completion of the PhD program prepares grads to work as
school psychologists and to register with the College of Psychologists
departments offer MA (Master of Arts) and PhD (Doctor of
Philosophy) programs that are typically housed within a
faculty of education rather than a faculty of
Like more traditional psychology graduate programs,
these M.A. programs tend to be 2 years in duration and
PhD programs are generally 4-6 years in duration.
Educational Psychology programs serve to provide
graduate students with in-depth training in different
types of program areas such as human development,
learning, and culture; school psychology/applied child
psychology; measurement, evaluation, and research
methods; learning sciences; and special education.
Students who pursue graduate training in these types of
programs may work as registered school psychologists
within a school district, statisticians who work for
government or in the private sector, and academics
within universities. Some graduate students who enter
training in Educational Psychology may also be classroom
teachers and have returned to school to enhance their
knowledge and training.
Like traditional Psychology grad programs, grades,
experience working with different ages of children and
adults, and outstanding references are critical for
gaining access to these types of programs. We've had
King's Honors Psychology grads successfully enter in
graduate programs like this at Western, University of
British Columbia (Vancouver), McGill University
(Montreal), and the Ontario Institute for Studies in
Education (aka OISE; pronounced "oy-zee") at the
University of Toronto.
You can read about some of these Educational Psychology
This is a unique MA program
offered at Wilfrid Laurier University. Their MA
in Community Psychology program includes "a
practicum (field work) placement in a community,
organizational, and/or government setting."
Uh, how long will I be in
All told, grad school, from
Master's to PhD is usually about 6-8 years.
It typically takes 2 years to complete a Master's
degree, and 4 years to complete a PhD degree.
Clinical students also complete a 1-year residency
(typically in a hospital) after they finish their PhD;
then, they write board certification exams (to register
with the College of
Psychologists of Ontario) and those who are
successful complete 1-year of supervised practice.
Students who wish to pursue an academic position (i.e.,
be a professor) almost always complete a post-doc; this
is typically a 2 to 3 year trainee position in a lab
where the recently-minted PhD further develops their
academic research program with more autonomy than a
Note, however, that graduate
school isn't a whole lot like undergrad; it's really
like the first step in your professional career, and
feel much more like a job, with normal 9-5-type working
hours in the lab. Grad students in psychology are
typically well-funded during their studies; they receive
funding packages in the form of a combination of
scholarships (tax-free income!) and/or
teaching-assistantships. This means that grad students
in psychology don't typically incur loans and debt or
need to work part-time jobs.
It's worth pointing out that
most graduate programs in psychology primarily accept
students who plan to complete their doctoral degree,
since the doctoral degree is typically required for a
research career (e.g., a professor, research scientist)
or to be licensed as a clinical psychologist (except in
Next: Applying to grad school
Overview of post-BA programs
programs | Applying to grad school
| Funding | Gaining experience
© 2017 | lmg
updated april 21 2019