BY Nicole Gull McElroyNovember 23, 2022, 2:05 p.m.
A couple enjoy mild weather along with an ocean view from a bench on the grass in Alumni Park at Pepperdine University, as seen in October 2022. (Brian van der Brug—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)
Demand for mental health professionals has only increased in recent years as the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change in the way we relate to ourselves and each other. In fact, a report from the American Psychological Association shows that the number of adults treated for anxiety and depression was four times higher between April 2020 and August 2021 than in 2019.
As a result, there is a great opportunity to explore a career in psychology, even without direct experience in the field. That’s true among many applicants to Pepperdine University’s psychology master’s program. And whether or not a student has clinical experience isn’t always at the top of the list when considering her qualifications, says Robert deMayo, program director of the Pepperdine program.
“Often our most interesting candidates don’t know they want to study psychology,” says deMayo. “We found that there are many candidates who come from diverse backgrounds. We believe it improves the educational environment.”
Ranked #1 on Fortune’s 2022 list, Pepperdine’s online master’s program in psychology takes a “scholar-practitioner” approach that places an emphasis on real-world experience, leveraging faculty who blend their teaching with continuous practices outside the classroom. The program requires 36 credits to graduate and can be completed in as little as 18 months and as long as 3 years, depending on the program and its clinical or non-clinical specialties.
Students hoping to enroll in the program must have a 3.26 undergraduate GPA, though they don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree in the field or have taken the GRE. Besides the basic ongoing application process, deMayo says, there’s more to consider. The following is a short list of what Pepperdine’s admissions professors look for in candidates:
- Consider what drives you
- Be open to changing your mind
- Emphasize the meaning behind the title.
- Set a realistic timeline and stay focused
1. Consider what drives you
In general, the field of psychology has its roots in service. And a commitment to helping others should be at the heart of your decision to study psychology. “We’re looking for people who are service-oriented,” deMayo says. “People who can treat others with compassion, dignity and respect.”
Mental health professionals can work in all kinds of settings, from schools and community centers to hospitals and businesses. It’s important to want to develop the broad range of skills necessary to address a diverse population no matter where you find full-time work after you’ve completed your degree, and to focus on impulses that can help define your goals while you’re in school.
2. Be open to changing your mind
One of the benefits of a master’s degree in psychology is that it has meaning and use in many different settings. Often, students enter the set program on a specific path, deMayo notes. Perhaps the student feels that working in a clinical setting is what will resonate the most or perhaps the student has an idea about working with a specific population: children, married couples, families, adolescents.
Pepperdine’s program is designed to give students a firm understanding of how the degree will fit into real-life scenarios, so it’s important to communicate that you’re open to what you’ll learn and how it can inform your future in the profession, fromMay advises Most of the time, students change their minds about what kind of work they will do once they have completed the program.
“It gives them a broad education so they can focus on whatever environment is most interesting to them,” says deMayo. “I used to teach a class. At the end they read his personal statement. [from the beginning of the course] and 90% had changed their interest when they finished the program. We look forward to that and we hope they’ll be open to different experiences.”
3. Emphasize the meaning behind the title
Many people applying for psychology master’s programs are looking for ways to create more meaning in their daily lives and work. Some applicants have had solid careers doing other things, even making a lot of money doing it.
Still, they are not satisfied and are looking to shift gears towards a profession that feels more connected to others and to themselves. “The extent of mental illness and emotional distress in our society has increased dramatically in the last 10 years, which has led to greater awareness of psychology as a career,” adds deMayo.
As a result, the experience level of the new students has been broadened. That’s why it’s important to be able to talk and explain what can be built in terms of the psychology of your current life and career. Being able to link your past experience to the potential for a path in this new field can help admissions teams understand your goals, advises deMayo.
For example, since Pepperdine is based in California, it attracts many apps from the entertainment industry. “In Southern California, there are many people who have been in the entertainment industry and realized that they are not satisfied, but their interest in human behavior that may have led them to pursue creative careers has made it relevant to they follow psychology”, adds deMayo.
4. Set a realistic timeline and stay focused
There is no one way to earn a master’s degree in psychology, and how you plan to use the degree in your career will inform which program is best for you. At Pepperdine, the clinical program can take up to 3 years to complete and requires a practice within a mental health setting, while the non-clinical program can take anywhere from 18 months to 2 years to complete.
The school’s largest program is designed for working adults juggling a career while completing their master’s degree. Be honest from the start about what your life is like and set realistic goals in terms of pace and time of your courses.
“To be successful, students must possess the ability to organize and manage their time to meet multiple demands,” says deMayo. “Having said that, we find that the work and life experience our students have often helped them develop the skills necessary to be successful in both their graduate program and professional graduate school.”
take a look at everyone Fortune’s degree program rankings and learn more about specific career paths.