Grad school takes time, money, and a lot of work. There are two good reasons for going to grad school. One is that you've decided on a career that requires grad school training. The other is that you love learning in an academic setting, and just want to get as much of it as you can. If either is true of you, then give serious consideration to grad school.
There are also two bad reasons for going to grad school. One is that you're avoiding looking for a job as long as possible; the other is that you're unsure what you want to do. If you're unsure, try writing a statement of purpose. It's not a waste of time because a statement of purpose is required as part of all graduate school applications. It describes why you want to go to grad school. That should help you decide whether or not you really want to go.
Grad school definitely isn't for everyone. If you write a statement of purpose and are still unsure, then you probably should not apply at this time, but don't fret. You'll find many opportunities without an advanced degree.
If you do want to go, the next question is, can you go? That is, do you have what it takes to be accepted, and can you afford it?
Admission to graduate programs is competitive. High grades, high scores on the Graduate Record Exam (taken early in your senior year), good letters of recommendation, and courses in statistical methods, research methods, and fundamentals of behavior are required. Focus on developing your writing skills, analytical thinking, and quantitative skills.
Graduate schools also require some practical experience in your chosen field. If you plan to pursue graduate work in psychology, you should engage in appropriate activities outside of class while you are an undergraduate.
Future academicians, and anyone who expects to use research skills in their career, should become involved in research, possibly working as an assistant to a faculty member. Assisting with teaching and giving papers at a professional meeting or publishing research as an undergraduate demonstrates that you are cut out for the career you have chosen. Active involvement in research greatly enhances your chances of acceptance into an appropriate graduate program.
Future counselors and clinical psychologists should seek an internship or volunteer work with an organization that provides services related to your area of interest. Graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology want to admit people who can handle the tough challenges they will meet in working with clients. Most insist that applicants have some practical experience. Our course in Fieldwork in Community Psychology, Psyc 4430, provides such opportunities. Many volunteer and some paid internships are available in centers for suicide prevention, parental stress, women's shelters, and other similar settings. Future clinical psychologists seeking the Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree also need research experience, GRE scores around 600/600, and a GPA of 3.50 or higher.
Paying full fare for grad school can be very expensive. Loans are available, but you must be careful not to create an amount of debt that you will not be able to manage on your likely future income. A $25,000 loan is likely to require payments of over $300 per month for 10 years. Many graduate students work while attending school, but doing so lengthens the time required to earn a degree.
Some scholarships are available for graduate study. Visit the Office of Academic Programs and Graduate Study in Student Services and Administration Building, Suite 4500 for general information about scholarships.
Graduate programs offer assistantships to some of their students, and forgive them the cost of tuition. Many of these assistantships are paid from grants controlled by individual professors. Your chances of receiving such assistance are greatly enhanced if you have interests that coincide with those of the professor. It pays to spend time learning about different programs and the interests of individuals who work at those institutions. The ideal plan is to contact professors who have active research programs in an area of interest to you and see if you can get involved doing research in that area during your junior year. Teaching assistantships are also available in many programs.
To learn the cost for each program, to learn whether assistantships are available, and to learn about scholarships specific to a given program you must do research for each program you are considering.
Start looking for schools early---no later than three months before you will apply, and preferably before that. That would normally be over the Summer months for application for Fall one year later. The Department of Educational Psychology, a separate department at CSUH, offers programs in which you can earn a Master's degree in several areas, including counseling psychology, but there are thousands of other programs available in the United States alone.
A good way to find a good school for you is to talk with faculty members who are interested in the area in which you plan to apply. These web sites can also be helpful:
Another useful aid is the APA publication Graduate Study in Psychology. It is a voluntary listing of graduate programs (both Master's and Doctoral level) which provides information about deadlines, application and admission requirements, program emphases, student characteristics, etc. You can purchase it by phone through APA's order department (202-336-5510), or on-line for about $25 (search by title). The Psychology Department usually has one copy available for use in the Department Office.
If you know you want a doctoral degree, apply directly to doctoral programs. While doctoral programs do accept students who have obtained Master's degrees from other institutions, your chances of being accepted into a doctoral program as an undergraduate are better, and you will need less time to complete the requirements.
Your chances of acceptance by a reasonably priced doctoral program are much better outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, and even better outside of the state of California. Apply to several schools if you can.
Graduate programs generally start in the Fall. Plan to apply to several graduate programs during the Fall one year before you want to attend graduate school. Again, there is variation among programs. Don't apply to a program just because it has a more convenient application date. Waiting a year for a program that fits your needs and interests is worth it.
The Academic Advising and Career Education (AACE) can provide further assistance with grad school plans.