How to Sequence Your Psychology Major

See Major/Minor Requirements for current requirements:

The core courses for the major are designed to be taken in the Freshman (Principles of Psychology, PSYC 100), Sophomore (Statistics, MATH 107 or 207; Research Methods I & II, PSYC 280 & 281), Junior (an Advanced course with a literature review paper), and Senior year (Senior Capstone, PSYC 610). This may not always work out exactly as planned, especially if you come to the major late or have a double major – we can work it out – but the core courses are ideally taken in the above sequence.

Freshman year: Try to take Principles of Psychology (PSYC 100), unless you have earned transfer credit for it (e.g., by scoring a 4 or better on the AP exam, taking an IB course, or a course from another college).  This course will prepare you broadly with concepts, methods, and principles central to the field. After completing Principles, try to take a Group I course (especially if you are primarily interested in areas such as clinical, developmental, social, or health). Typically, majors only take Principles and one or at most two Group I courses their Freshman year – focus on getting GER courses and sampling other departments with your other courses.

Sophomore year: If you are fairly certain you want to major in psychology, take Statistics (most majors complete MATH 107) and the Research Methods sequence this year. This is not an absolute must, but the Research Methods sequence will prepare you for the rest of the major (especially lab courses) and help you in many subsequent classes. Students should generally avoid taking any lab courses along with Research Methods, which requires considerable time outside of class. If you need another Group I course to complete that requirement, Sophomore year is a good time to take it. As you think about which Group I courses to take, keep your career interests in mind. For example, if you are interested in clinical or counseling psychology, you should prioritize taking one of the psychopathology classes, which are gateways to advanced work in this area. Think ahead to the advanced class you want to take in junior year and make sure you get the prerequisite classes now.

Junior year: If you have not taken the Research Methods sequence already, now is the time. If you have, focus on getting a required advanced course with a literature review component (intended to prepare you for Senior Capstone) and one or more of the Group II requirements. If you want to pursue research with a faculty member, seek out opportunities this year – you are unlikely to be able to do significant research in your senior year unless you have made arrangements with a faculty member in your junior year. Talk to your advisor about life after Lawrence, especially if you are thinking about pursuing graduate school.

Senior year: Senior Capstone is the one course specifically designed for senior year and hopefully you do not need too many other courses to complete the major. If you want to go immediately to graduate school after Lawrence, be aware that this takes much more preparation, energy, and work than applying to college did – there are so many different subfields and allied fields related to psychology that even deciding on which type of programs to apply to requires considerable investment. Talk to your advisor and take advantage of the Career Center. A gap year is common and may be a good idea.

Doing Research

You will be trained to do research in the Research Methods sequence as well as in laboratory courses. Students who aspire to go to graduate school (especially if considering a PhD) should also seek out opportunities to collaborate with faculty members in independent study and through summer research grants at Lawrence and other schools. Students considering an honors project or an empirical project for the Capstone course should begin arranging research opportunities in the junior year.

Applied Opportunities

Students interested in human services or counseling/clinical careers should seek out applied opportunities through internships, practica, volunteer work, and coursework with an applied component, such as PSYC 451, Field Experience in Clinical Psychology. For information on practica, contact the Career Center (920-832-6561), Beth Haines (, or Lori Hilt ( For Masters programs, applied experience is a must.

When to Think about "Life After Lawrence"

Although nobody at Lawrence expects you to have your career path laid out when you arrive, it is smart to begin thinking about it early on - talk to your advisor even just at a very broad level. If your path suggests going to graduate school, what you find out early may influence the courses you choose and research opportunities you pursue.  Finding the right graduate program for you takes a great deal of research, as does the application process.  It is not something to leave until the last moment! Begin to talk to your professors, visit the Career Center, become a student member of APA, look up relevant websites and resource books when you are a Sophomore or Junior.

If you are interested in going to graduate school in psychology and related fields, talk to your advisor and take advantage of Career Center resources as well as Lawrence's alumni network (names and contact information for alumni can be obtained through the Alumni Relations office).

Which Type of Graduate School? Academic and Applied Psychology

Graduate programs in psychology fall into two broad categories- academic programs aim at creating researchers/teachers who pursue careers at colleges and university while applied programs include training that is geared toward jobs in a wide variety of possible setting, such as business, government, education, and so on. The academic/applied distinction is not always clear-cut. It is possible to pursue an academic career in applied areas of Psychology and many graduate programs in Clinical Psychology prepare students for both academic and applied work.

More Information on the Different Types of Degrees

PhD Programs. The major program prepares students well for graduate study in psychology or related fields. Students interested in pursuing a PhD in graduate school should gain as much experience as possible conducting research (beyond PSYC 280-281). PhD programs in Psychology have highly selective admissions requirements. To be competitive when applying, students ideally should have at least 2-3 terms (preferably more) of supervised research experience with one or more faculty members. There are PhD programs in each of the areas of specialization in psychology (e.g., clinical, social, developmental, health, cognitive, neuroscience, experimental, etc.). Realistically, you should have at least a 3.5 GPA and excellent GRE scores, as well as considerable research experience, to be competitive for a PhD program. You can boost your chances by doing unpaid volunteer work at a lab in a program you are interested so that faculty come to know you or by getting a laboratory manager job (many faculty at large universities have a lab manager to help them carry out their research -- these jobs typically require an undergraduate degree, with good organizational, statistical, data analysis, and writing skills). Lab manager jobs are often advertised on field-specific websites. On the bright side, if you do get into a PhD program, they typically provide support via paid Research Assistant and/or Teaching Assistant positions.

PsyD Programs (clinical psychology only). Similar to PhD programs, PsyD programs are designed for students who wish to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology. However, the training in PsyD programs focuses much more on developing clinical skills than research skills. As such, PsyD programs are designed for students who wish to become full-time clinical practitioners whereas PhD programs are designed for students who wish to become researchers and educators, typically as a professor in an academic setting. Students in clinical or counseling PhD. programs receive training in both areas—research and clinical work—whereas students in PsyD programs are trained to do clinical work, not research. Thus, PsyD programs are ideal for students who have little interest in conducting research and who, instead, wish to become practicing clinicians. Be aware, however, that these programs do not offer the financial support PhD programs do -- like other professional schools (e.g., Law School) they can be expensive.

Masters Programs. There are many different types of master’s programs in psychology and related fields, including clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and social work. The variety of Masters programs means that there is ample opportunity and admission to these programs are attainable for students who do not have the highest GPA or GRE scores. The variety of programs is also bewildering, however, requiring you to do lots of research into what might be best for you. In the mental health area, Masters programs are ideal for students who wish to become fully licensed practicing professionals without pursuing a doctoral degree. The people doing the front-line work with clients (e.g., actual counseling rather than supervising) typically have Masters degrees. There is considerable demand for Masters-level people in mental health and human services. Be aware, however, that if you want to be fully licensed (e.g., as a counselor), there are supervised hour requirements after you receive your Masters (e.g., in Wisconsin, 3,000 supervised hours are required; PhD's and PsyD's have similar post-degree requirements). Not all applied jobs -- even in mental health -- require licensure, but having your license creates further professional opportunity. 

Students with a Mental Health Focus

Students interested in mental health careers should pay particular attention to the department’s clinical psychology sequence: PSYC 250 or 290, PSYC 335 or 355, and PSYC 451. PSYC 451 allows students to gain supervised practical experience at a local mental health facility. If you are interested in graduate study in clinical or counseling psychology or related fields such as social work, speak to your advisor and take an advanced course related to their area of interest.

More Information on Career Paths and Graduate Study in Psychology

The research, writing, oral presentation, and critical thinking skills learned by majors are applicable to many careers. To find out about career opportunities related to psychology, visit the Career Center or the Library, which have useful books you can borrow: Career Paths in Psychology: Where Your Degree Can Take You (by Robert Sternberg), Graduate Study in Psychology (published annually, this gives information about all graduate programs in psychology), Getting In: A Step-By-Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology.  Visit the APA's website, which has resources for students as well.