Frequently Asked Questions About the Doctoral Program

A list of frequently asked questions about the Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program and their answers have been compiled below. If you have a question that is not answered here, please contact the Training Director, Dr. Bonnie Nicholson.

Can you please mail information regarding your program to me?

There is a wealth of information available on our website. Interested students are encouraged to review these pages. Printed material is not made available.

How many students do you admit?

We receive approximately 80 applications each year and accept 5 doctoral students for Fall admission. Spring and summer admission is not offered.

What are the average GRE and GPA of successful applicants?

During the past several years, the average combined GRE score (Verbal + Quantitative) has been around 1100; undergraduate GPA has been about 3.5.

If I took the GRE once, do I have to retake it?

GRE scores are only valid for 5 years. You can retake the test to improve your score as often as you would like and the best set of scores (V + Q) is considered.

Who should write my letters of recommendation?

Professional letters which speak to an applicant's potential for graduate study are highly valued. Such letters typically come from university faculty members who can comment on research, writing or other academic performance indicators. Personal letters from family members are strongly discouraged.

Do I need a master's degree in order to apply for admission to the doctoral program?

No. Applications are accepted from students with a bachelor's degree only and also from students who have completed a master's program. Some preference may be given to students entering with a bachelor's degree.

Does my master's degree count toward the required coursework for the doctoral program?

Students with master's degrees in counseling psychology or related fields may petition to have their coursework reviewed with the possibility of having certain course requirements waived. Waivers are granted after reviewing syllabi and other course materials and following successful admission to the doctoral program. While some requirements may be waived, most students find that about 4-5 courses may be waived as a result of this review process. Thesis documents and practicum experiences are reviewed using this same process. Students with completed master's degrees in fields unrelated to counseling psychology should assume that no course requirements will be waived.

Does my professional experience count toward the required coursework for the doctoral program?

No. While professional experience may benefit your success in the program and offer a good deal of perspective, they are not counted toward the degree plan. Practicum hours earned during completion of a master's degree may be reviewed and deemed an appropriate substitution for beginning practicum experiences in the doctoral program. Practicum hours should be supervised and program sanctioned, and therefore differ from employment.

Do I need to have research experience to apply?

No. While many students have completed independent research projects (e.g., senior honors thesis, master's thesis), it is not a requirement for admission. Research interests and research-related goals are viewed very positively in the admission process and to some extent, are more important than previous experience.

Should I plan to meet with the Training Director prior to applying?

Not necessarily. The Internet provides a good deal of information about the program, profession, and application procedures. You should carefully review these resources and determine the benefit of attempting to schedule a meeting. It is a common misperception that making a personal connection with the Training Director offers applicants some benefit with the review process. The Counseling Psychology program faculty prefer that applicants delay their on campus visits until the interview day. During this day, prospective students are offered a good deal of attention and exposed to faculty, staff, students, and the Hattiesburg area. Such attention cannot be afforded to each applicant individually. Faculty can be contacted individually by email to discuss research interests and availability.

Can I tour the campus?

While applicants are free to visit the USM campus anytime, a campus tour is made available for students during the invited, on-campus interviews in February. We do not offer private tours or appointments prior the on-campus interviews. We find that students are offered the best exposure to the campus, city of Hattiesburg, and to the students and faculty of the Counseling Psychology program when we can coordinate our efforts well.

Can I attend the program part-time?

No. The Counseling Psychology program has been developed as a full-time program where students are expected to be on campus throughout the week and attend classes during the day and evening. In addition to attending class, students participate in research activities, meetings, clinical work, and other program-related tasks which are scheduled throughout the week. Students are discouraged from commuting out of town on a daily basis. Online classes are not routinely offered.

Can the program be completed online?

No. Only in rare circumstances are some, specific courses offered online.

Are there scholarships and other funding opportunities available?

Yes. All students in good standing have been awarded assistantships which pay a modest monthly stipend and come with a waiver of tuition in exchange for 20-hours/week of department or community-based work. In the first few years, many students participate in grant funded research, offer support for faculty teaching, and oftentimes are responsible for teaching their own undergraduate courses. As training continues, students are funded on assistantships which again pay a modest stipend and include a waiver of tuition in exchange for supervised clinical experiences in the community. Students in the first four years of their training typically receive such financial support in addition to any financial aid received from private or federal loans.

Who should I contact for more information?

Please contact the Director of Training, Dr. Bonnie Nicholson with specific questions after reviewing the website carefully. If you are interested in a particular faculty member's research, review their respective website and email that faculty member with specific questions.

When should I contact the Training Director?

The Training Director regularly available to answer questions about the program, curriculum, and application procedures through email. Applicants are encouraged to first ensure that they have carefully reviewed the program web site for answers to their questions prior to contacting the Training Director. It is a common misconception that you should contact the Training Director in an attempt to promote your application materials or to make a "personal connection". Given the large number of applications received annually, faculty rely on the application materials themselves, rather than personal contact, to make admission recommendations.

When should I contact individual program faculty?

It is not necessary to contact individual faculty by phone. The Counseling Psychology program faculty are available by email to respond to questions regarding current research projects and research plans. Applicants are encouraged to review the individual faculty member's webpages to read the most current information on research interests, projects and other related information. It should be assumed that all faculty members are reviewing applications for the coming year unless otherwise noted on the program faculty pages.

How long does the program take?

The doctoral program in Counseling Psychology is a full time, intensive training experience. Data on time to completion are available, but typically students entering with an undergraduate degree take approximately 6 years to complete the program while students with master's degrees take approximately 5. Students enroll in 3-4 courses each semester, participate in supervised clinical training experiences, and conduct research each semester while in the program. A full time, one year predoctoral internship is completed during the last year of the program, following successfully having proposed a dissertation project and having completed all other coursework and examinations. Information about course requirements and sequencing is provided in the Program Handbook. Students are encouraged to consider a 6-year degree plan in order to take advantage of our array of clinical and research opportunities.

What is the theoretical orientation of your faculty?

While we are a diverse group, the majority of the faculty utilize a cognitive behavioral perspective.

Where do students complete their clinical training?

Students initially are supervised in practicum experiences organized in conjunction with the Community Counseling and Assessment Clinic. Students provide counseling to college students and members of the surrounding community struggling with daily life concerns as well as more serious, diagnosable conditions. Assessment experiences and specialized training in evidence based approaches are also provided. Counseling Psychology program faculty provide the supervision for all clinic-based practicum. Additionally, students are assigned to external placements working with psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment facilities, behavioral medicine, counseling centers and other mental health placements where licensed psychologists assume responsibility for the training and supervision of advanced students. Taken together, these provide doctoral students both breadth and depth in their clinical training. Our internship placement rates have been consistently high because of our ability to provide this quality training.

How are students exposed to research?

Students are admitted to work with a specific faculty member and become active participants in the research team directed by that faculty member. Each research team functions differently, but overall, students from all levels of training work collaboratively on personal research projects (e.g., thesis, dissertation) as well as on team-based projects (manuscripts, presentations). Research teams are topic focused and under the leadership of the program faculty member, therefore fit between applicant's research interests and those of the program faculty is highly weighted. Students are offered opportunities to present and publish their work and to participate in the dissemination of the team's work. Contact individual faculty with questions that you may have about opportunities on their research teams.

What types of courses do students take?

As an APA-accredited doctoral program, students are exposed to the core areas of psychology via coursework in cognitive, affective, and biological bases of behavior, research, statistics, human development, and diversity. Additionally, students learn applied skills through courses in counseling theories and assessment, vocational counseling, multicultural counseling and evidence based approaches to treatment. Because of the demands inherit in maintaining accreditation, elective options are limited, however students are able to take additional research and statistics courses, can participate in coursework related to substance abuse counseling, counseling and assessment of child and adolescent problems, and coursework on marriage and family counseling, to name a few. Applicants may find that most counseling psychology training programs have similar coursework and are encouraged to focus on research interests when making decisions to apply.

Will I be trained to be a practitioner or a researcher?

As an APA accredited doctoral program, students are exposed to the core areas of psychology via coursework in cognitive, affective, and biological bases of behavior, research, statistics, human development, and diversity. Additionally, students learn applied skills through courses in counseling theories and assessment, vocational counseling, multicultural counseling and evidence based approaches to treatment. Because of the demands inherit in maintaining accreditation, elective options are limited, however students are able to take additional research and statistics courses, can participate in coursework related to substance abuse counseling, counseling and assessment of child and adolescent problems, and coursework on marriage and family counseling, to name a few. Applicants may find that most counseling psychology training programs have similar coursework and are encouraged to focus on research interests when making decisions to apply.

What is the relationship between your doctoral program and your master's program?

The doctoral and master's programs overlap substantially during the first two years of training, however admissions requirements and review processes are different for both programs. At times, qualified applicants to our doctoral program are encouraged to apply to the master's program if additional spaces are not available in the doctoral cohort. Because of the overlap in coursework and requirements, applicants may find that they are well prepared to reapply to the doctoral program after completing their master's program.

What are the strengths of your program?

As a scientist-practitioner training program, students are offered unique research and practice opportunities through the Community Counseling and Assessment Clinic. Such intensive training is unique among applied counseling psychology programs as faculty are actively involved in clinical supervision as well as applied research. In many instances, these experiences are one in the same. A focus on evidence based approaches to treatment prepares our students well for the demands of clinical work and offers students exposure to those critical thinking skills essential for good research and for good practice. Students are exposed to the research and clinical process beginning in their first semester and continuing throughout their training. Mentoring, both peer-to-peer and between faculty and students, is readily available.

Do I need an undergraduate degree (i.e., B.S., B.A.) in psychology to be considered for this program?

A bachelor's degree in psychology is not required but preferred. Students having earned degrees in other academic areas may want to complete some undergraduate coursework prior to entering a graduate program. Suggested classes include: behavioral statistics, research design, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, learning theories, multicultural counseling, and counseling/personality theories. There are no prerequisite classes required to begin the counseling psychology graduate programs; however, students will be expected to demonstrate familiarity with behavioral statistics prior to enrolling in graduate level coursework in this area.