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School of Psychology

Counseling Psychology Programs: Frequently Asked Questions

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A list of frequently asked questions about the Counseling Psychology Doctoral and Master’s Programs and their answers have been compiled below. For more information visit: Applying to Graduate School, a website developed by the American Psychological Association to assist students in applying to graduate programs in psychology. If you have a question that is not answered here, please contact the Training Director of the correct program, Dr.%20Emily%20Yowell, Doctoral program; Dr.%20Bonnie%20Nicholson, Master’s (CPY MS) Program.

The CPY faculty are working to determine what format for interviews will work best in the coming years. We have traditionally held an in-person interview day but had some successful virtual events (e.g. program information session; interview day) via Zoom during the height of the pandemic. It is likely we will hold a hybrid of some in person and some virtual experiences to both interview applicants and allow for some orientation to the program.

Contact the CPY MS training director for specifics when closer to the typical interview time period in late March/early April.

Doctoral program interviews will likely occur in late January/early February. Details will be shared with individuals invited to interview in mid-December. Contact the doctoral training director for more details if needed.

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

CPY MS Program

We receive approximately 60 applications yearly and accept approximately 15 students for fall admission as full-time students. Spring and summer admission is not offered. Part-time or online-only admission is not offered.

Doctoral Program

We receive approximately 80 applications each year and accept 5-6 doctoral students for Fall admission. Spring and summer admission is not offered.


CPY MS Program

While the admissions process is competitive, there are no specific minimum scores set as we review the entire application as a package. Please review the Counseling Psychology MS Program Outcome Data on our program page to determine whether your scores compare well with those admitted to our program. 

Doctoral Program

Admission to graduate school is a competitive process. We review approximately 80 applications each year for 5-6 spots in our doctoral program. Therefore, please review the Student Admissions, Outcomes, and Other data on our program page to determine whether your scores compare well with those admitted to our program. 

At this time the CPY graduate programs are not requiring the GRE as part of the admission application. 

  • Faculty with some familiarity with your academic potential are the best choices for letter writers. These individuals can comment on your academic accomplishments, involvement in the classroom, writing ability and potential for success in an academically-challenging graduate program. 
  • Faculty who have supervised your research projects are also excellent letter writers. The research you have engaged in prior to your application does not need to match the research interests you may have in graduate school. The letter writer can speak to your understanding of the research process, critical thinking skills and writing abilities rather than your knowledge of a particular aspect of psychology. 
  • Supervisors of your work are acceptable letter writers, but not preferred over academic faculty. Supervisors can speak to your work ethic, timeliness, ability to organize and manage multiple tasks, and your ability to get along with others. 
  • You should avoid letters from family or friends, or other letters that only speak to your personal attributes. 
  • It is preferable for applicants to offer letter writers information about the programs they are applying to so that they may be able to speak to specific qualities in their letters. Remind non-academic work supervisors about the importance of writing a detailed letter. Further, avoid asking faculty that you may have not had a specific connection with, such as a faculty member teaching a large undergraduate class. Letters which offer specific examples are most positively received. 
  • APA offers several good considerations when deciding who to approach to write letters of recommendation. 
  • Personal statements are common requirements for application to graduate programs in psychology. The best advice: Write a unique personal statement for each program you are applying. Generic personal statements are rarely going to make your application stand out from the crowd. When admission committees are reading 100 or more applications, it is important to make the effort to ensure your materials are carefully considered. Do this by ensuring that you are responding to the questions asked; modify your personal statement each time to tailor it to address the instructions. 
  • Proofread your statement carefully. It is smart to ask a trusted faculty advisor to review your materials. Take their advice if they suggest changes. 
  • Focus on "fit". Work to convince the faculty that your research and career goals overlap with the types of training provided in that program. Do your homework to ensure you know enough about the program to be able to offer specific examples in your personal statement about the training provided by that program. 
  • Avoid any personal disclosures about mental health concerns, family problems, or other overly sensitive information. 
  • Remember that you are competing against a large number of other highly qualified applicants who also have good grades and volunteer experiences, so consider how you can set your application apart in a professional way. Consider specifying research interests, career goals, and other personal attributes that make you a strong fit for the graduate program. 
  • APA has great information on applying to graduate school and writing a personal statement. 
  • 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. 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.
  • Suggested classes include: behavioral statistics, research design, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, learning theories, multicultural counseling, and counseling/personality theories. 

No. Applications are accepted from students with a bachelor's degree only and also from students who have completed a master's program. There is not an advantage to having or not having a prior master’s degree.

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.

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.

No. While many students have completed independent research projects (e.g., senior honors thesis, master's thesis for doctoral program applicants), 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. Previous research experience is expected more from those applying to the doctoral program, where independent research is a larger portion of training, than of applicants to the CPY MS program.

No. The Counseling Psychology programs have been developed as full-time programs 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.

No. The Counseling Psychology programs are only offered face-to-face as a full time program in Hattiesburg. Full time engagement in the program, in Hattiesburg, is expected. 

CPY MS Program

The master's program in Counseling Psychology is a 60-credit hour, 2 year, full time program. Students admitted begin as a cohort in the Fall semester only and complete the program following a full time internship during the second summer semester. Only in rare circumstances do students deviate from this 2-year model. No students are admitted part time.

Doctoral Program

The doctoral program in Counseling Psychology is a full time, intensive training experience. Data on time to completion are available, but typically students entering the doctoral program with an undergraduate degree take approximately 5-6 years to complete the program, while students with master's degrees take 4-5. 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.

CPY MS Program

Yes. Before applying, we encourage prospective students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This will assist the Office of Financial Aid in determining your eligibility for graduate work-study and other loan information in case you are accepted into the Program.  By fully engaging in a competitive application process, most students in good standing have found assistantships across campus working in offices such as Career Services and Financial Aid. These assistantships pay a modest monthly stipend and come with a waiver of tuition in exchange for 20-hours/week of department, university, or community-based work. Information about these opportunities is made available upon admission to the program.

Doctoral Program

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.

Applicants can take a general, university-offered campus tour at any time if you happen to be in the Hattiesburg area or prefer to tour virtually. 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 (doctoral program) or April (master’s program). We are re-envisioning how we may handle CPY interviews and the campus visit process. Those invited for an interview will be made aware of any plans for on-campus interview events or tours closer to the typical interview time periods (January/February for the doctoral program; March/April for the CPY MS program). 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.

The Training Director is regularly available to answer questions about the program, curriculum, and application procedures via email or phone, so usually a meeting with the training director is unnecessary. 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. The Internet also 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. Campus visits are not necessary to determine whether to submit an application, but certainly will be important in the decision to attend if offered admission. After initial review of the applications, a small number of well-qualified applicants are invited to campus and will meet with the Training Director, the Counseling Psychology faculty, and the students. If invited to interview, please plan to make arrangements to attend the campus interview day. (For the 2022 Fall application cycle, the interview process is being re-imaged as likely a mix of required virtual interviews and optional on-campus events. The program Training Director will be in touch with applicants with specific interview plans/schedule closer to the interview dates.)

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 visiting campus. 

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

CPY MS Program

CPY MS students’ clinical training begins in the first semester of the program via pre-practicum experiences embedded into courses that will often occur in the School’s in-house training clinic.  In the second year of the program, CPY MS students are placed with an external agency that provides behavioral health services and employs licensed mental health practitioners. Placements typically begin in the Fall 2 semester when students accrue at least 100 practicum hours. The internship experience typically occurs across Spring 2 and Summer 2 during which students earn at least 600 internship hours. Placements provide the opportunity to work with a variety of populations and presenting issues.  Pine Belt Mental Health and Pine Grove Behavioral Health are two of our most common practicum/internship placements. Working with the Training Director, students will consider, be evaluated for, and be placed in a setting. Attempts to fit the setting with student preferences and career goals will be made.

CPY Doctoral Program

Students in the doctoral program initially are supervised in practicum experiences organized in conjunction with the School of Psychology's in house training clinic, the USM Behavioral Health 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.

For doctoral students, in subsequent years, 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.

CPY MS Program

In addition to preparing students for licensure as professional counselors, the Counseling Psychology Master’s Program trains counselors to be informed consumers of psychological science. As such, students will complete research and statistics courses during the program, find that most other courses incorporate research training into their specific content, and complete some CITI research ethics training. Clinical training will include didactics and implementation of evidence-based therapy. Additionally, some students may acquire additional research training by participating in faculty research teams when opportunities are available and compatible with student goals.  

CPY Doctoral Program

Doctoral 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. 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.

For the doctoral program, where research training is a large part of the program, fit between applicants’ research interests and those of the program faculty is highly weighted.

CPY MS Program

As an MPCAC-accredited program, each course in the program curriculum has been carefully selected to ensure students are offered the highest quality training experiences. Courses are selected which prepare students to apply for licensure at the master's level (e.g., Licensed Professional Counselor) and which can serve as the foundation for continued doctoral studies. Students take courses in core psychology areas (e.g., Neuropsychology, Development), research and statistics, and counseling theories and approaches. Sixty credit hours are required; students take approximately 3-6 credits of electives in an area of their choosing. Review the sample schedule here

Doctoral Program

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 PhD training programs have similar coursework and are encouraged to focus on research interests when making decisions to apply.

Both. As scientist-practitioner programs, our goals are to prepare graduates to appreciate the ways in which research informs practice, and how practice informs research. You will see that most of research focuses on topics easily applied to counseling. Similarly, we train students to utilize evidence-based approaches to intervention and assessment. Most graduates of the doctoral and master’s program go onto practice-oriented careers. 

No. While you will find the thesis option on the CPY MS Plan of Study, it is uncommon for CPY MS students to complete a thesis.

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. 

No, but highly qualified students may be encouraged to apply to the doctoral program during the second year of master's coursework. As there is substantial overlap between the two programs, students who are accepted from the master's program into the doctoral program find that many of their classes and clinical experiences transfer easily.

As scientist-practitioner training programs, students are offered unique research and practice opportunities through the USM Behavioral Health 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.

CPY MS students can benefit from the small cohort model of our program and the readily available CPY and other faculty. Also unique to our program are the opportunities to apply to Graduate Assistantship positions, a process in which our students tend to be very successful.

Doctoral students have the opportunity to provide supervision to novice peers and to teach undergraduate courses. Externships in a variety of community agencies are available. Funding is available to all students admitted to our program. 

Yes. The M.S. in Counseling Psychology is accredited by the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) for the period of April, 2018 through April, 2028.

The Counseling Psychology doctoral program has been continually accredited by the American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation since 1985.

CACREP stands for the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. It is an accrediting organization interested in promoting Masters-level counseling education and licensure for those trained in Counselor Education and related programs. CACREP has been clear in its refusal to accredit Counseling Psychology programs. As you might suspect based on our program's mission and identity, we are not CACREP-accredited. We are not CACREP-accredited because of our identity as a Counseling Psychology program, and psychology programs are not eligible for that accreditation. As a counseling psychology program, we take pride in both aspects of our dual professional identity: counseling and psychology. We believe that the mental health needs of communities that can be served by well-trained counselors from all disciplines. From this perspective, licensure restrictions based on academic discipline are a social justice issue -- vulnerable populations may be not receiving the counseling support that they need. At-risk populations and the general public need competent and well-trained counselors, independent of academic discipline.

Yes! Our program is modeled after the licensed professional counselor (Master's program) and psychology licensure requirements (doctoral program) in the State of Mississippi. We do not guarantee that we meet the licensure requirements of other states. You will be responsible for verifying that your program of study meets your desired state’s licensure requirements.

While many of our master's students go on to doctoral programs in counseling psychology, others practice counseling at the master's level in hospital settings, community mental health, private practice and at university counseling centers. Doctoral graduates, upon completion of a licensure exam and other state-specific requirements will be eligible for licensure by state psychology boards. Many practice in private practice settings, VA Hospitals, Counseling Centers and other hospital or mental health settings. 

Consider your goals. Those wishing to practice therapy may be most interested in master's programs in counseling or counseling psychology. If you are looking to build your credentials to be a more competitive doctoral applicant in the future, you may also consider applying to our counseling psychology MS program due to its opportunities to engage in research and practice. If you hope to teach, conduct research and/or complete psychological assessments, then you may wish to pursue a PhD. Doctoral programs are very competitive, so review data on Student Admissions, Outcomes and other data for these programs to determine whether your application will be competitive. Consider applying to master's programs as well. These can be a good first step toward completing a doctoral degree. APA offers great information regarding choosing the right program. Be sure to apply to several programs to ensure you have options to consider.

  • There are more similarities than differences between Counseling Psychology and Clinical Psychology doctoral programs. They both train students in research and practice. Both lead to licensure; you are licensed as a "psychologist" whether you completed a clinical or counseling psychology degree. Read more about the differences between Clinical and Counseling Psychology here
  • The differences are often in the emphasis that counseling psychology programs place on diversity, vocational psychology, supervision and developmental issues. 
  • Applicants should focus more on the faculty research interests and training opportunities available at the sites they are considering rather than whether it is Counseling or Clinical psychology. Review the Counseling Psychology faculty research interests for more information on the exciting work happening at Southern Miss. 
  • This can be very disappointing. Graduate programs in psychology are often very competitive. This means that many talented applicants are not admitted. Often graduate programs are unable to offer specific feedback on your application. 
  • Consider reviewing the data available on the program's website to re-evaluate your competitiveness for that program. 
  • Ask trusted faculty advisors to review your application materials. Consider engaging in additional research opportunities, and/or volunteer opportunities in order to bolster your chances for success. 
  • Students sometimes decide to apply again the following year. 
  • Consider Master's programs as a good alternative. Many Master's program application deadlines occur after doctoral deadlines, making it possible to apply and be accepted in the same cycle where you may not have been successful with your doctoral applications. 
  • Please note that the GRE is not required.
  • Hattiesburg is located in southern Mississippi, less than 65 miles from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 100 miles from Mobile and New Orleans, and 90 miles from the capital of Jackson, giving it the title of the region’s “Hub City.” With a population of approximately 50,000 and a combined metropolitan population of over 100,000, Hattiesburg is the fourth largest city in the state and serves as the educational, retail, and medical center for more than a quarter of a million people in the southeast Mississippi region. 
  • Hattiesburg offers a unique blend of a high standard of living, affordable housing, and a low cost of living. In fact, Hattiesburg was recently recognized by as one of the nation's top college towns. The mild winters, pleasant summers and falls, pine forests, and abundant parks, make Hattiesburg ideal for year-round outdoor recreational activities. Historic downtown Hattiesburg is undergoing a revitalization that includes homes from the antebellum and Victorian era, a restored Saenger Theater for performances and Hattiesburg Cultural Center with an art gallery and historic museum. Recently, development of the Hattiesburg Midtown district has brought several new restaurants, shops, and housing options within walking distance to campus further improving the great atmosphere of campus.

Please contact the Training Director of the program you are interested in applying with specific questions after reviewing the website carefully. Dr.%20Bonnie%20Nicholson is the Interim Training Director of the Master’s Program, and Dr.%20Emily%20Yowell%20is the Training Director of the Doctoral program. If you are interested in a particular faculty member's research, review their respective website and email that faculty member with specific questions.

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School of Psychology

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School of Psychology

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