Applying for your Masters in Psychology – Tips for your Application
It is almost a year since I wrote my blog post about applying for your Masters in Psychology. With closing dates coming up at the universities in South Africa, I’ve been inundated with requests from students regarding their applications. Once again, I must add that I am not involved in any selection process at a university and it has been some time since I applied for Masters (2001 to be exact!). I’m just sharing some guidelines that I think are important to consider for your application.
What makes you unique?
Some universities receive over 200 hundred applications and they may invite 30 applicants for interviews (with final selection being 8 students). What can you do to make your application stand out from the rest? Remember, most applicants have excellent academic records and many have work/life experience. Many universities ask for an autobiography. Start with some brainstorming to think about why you want to be a Psychologist – what life experiences have you had (positive or negative) that led you to this career path? If there are some negative ones, write about how you have overcome them. A basic summary of your life that is just factual is not the way to go. Think about your experiences on a deeper level; focus more on reflections and life lessons. Show the selection committee that you are a critical thinker.
Psychology in a South African context
Recognise that lying on the couch with Frasier is not an accurate reflection of Psychology in a South African context, particularly when you are in training. Many universities are asking this question in their applications – where do you see yourself within this context? Master’s training involves individual, group and community work in the communities close to the university. It is not always practical to apply the DSM and therapeutic techniques to people who are struggling to meet basic needs like food, water and shelter. Resources are limited in rural areas and you often need to be creative with interventions that are culturally relevant and that will have a wider impact. If you have personal stories of work experience where you have learnt some of these lessons, share them! Be critical in your thinking. The selection committee wants to know that you are willing (and passionate) about working in communities and that you are committed to a career in South Africa.
Select strong referees
I mentioned this in my previous blog post; find referees that are preferably Psychologists who know you well. Take a look at the referee report and ask yourself if your referee can answer all the questions. If your application is not successful this year, work on forming a relationship with a Psychologist over the next year. Perhaps you may consider doing research (through a Masters in Research Psychology) and your supervisor could be a referee. I recommend that students enter individual therapy and your therapist may be willing to be a referee in the future (discuss it with them from the initial consult). Another option is to get involved with a community project or work experience in the field and your supervisor or manager could be approached as a referee.
Make contact with the university
I always recommend that students apply at as many universities as possible to increase your chances for selection. Try to contact the Master’s coordinators to find out what their programme entails and the therapeutic approach of the university (if the information is not online). Your application will be stronger if you have done your research on what the university has to offer that is in alignment of your specific needs or interests for your career. Even better, perhaps there are specific lecturers at the university that do research that interests you for your Master’s thesis. It’s always ideal to do a thesis linked to a lecturer’s studies.
Always have a Plan B
My Plan B was to continue with Social Work and gain work experience to apply again in future. I was fortunate to be selected with my first application at Stellenbosch University. Not everyone will be selected. If you are unsuccessful, find out what you need to work on for your application for next year. Perhaps they’ll recommend that you redo an Honour’s module to increase your marks. They may suggest therapy if you have a particular issue to work on or just for personal growth. They might just think that you are too young. Travel overseas, gain work experience and come back to show them that you are committed to a career in Psychology! Some of the most respected Psychologists were not accepted first time (some even applied up to 5 times).