The following list includes the most commonly asked questions (and our answers) related to Psychology at Penn State Altoona. If you want us to add one for next year’s edition, please email Dr. Pinter.
What’s the most important advice you can give to help me be successful?
Use an academic planner and use it effectively. Get a paper planner and use it to record, on the left, places you need to be, and (crucially), on the right, the “chunks” of work you have planned to complete that day. The real secret of organization is the planning. At the beginning of the semester, take all known due dates for assignments, daily readings, projects, exams, etc. and put them in the planner (on the left). You’ll no doubt add and subtract and move things as the semester progresses (that’s why a paper planner will be more useful than your phone). Next, work backwards from when assignments are due and plan when you’re going to the work. It’s very important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses when you do this. Not a morning person? Then don’t plan to get up at 5 am to read. Consider your attention span. Most students can’t read more than 15 textbook pages (or a half an hour) without needing a short break. If you need to read a 30 page chapter, consider breaking the reading up into two chunks separated by something else. Write your specific plan in the planner (right side). Something like “PSYCH 100; pp. 15-30.” If you do that for all of your classes, you will be able to have just a few reasonable chunks of work per day to fit in amongst the rest of your activities. In this way, every day (likely including most weekend days), you will have places to be and a set of manageable work goals. It may take some adjustment for you to get used to the system, but stick with it and make it work for you. Cross things off each day as you accomplish your goals and enjoy how unstressed you will be!
What can my academic adviser help me with?
Among other things, your adviser can help you keep track of your progress toward graduation, help you develop effective study skills, provide you with information about additional resources on campus, and help advise you regarding graduate school and/or career goals. You are not required to meet with your adviser, but it can be helpful to check in with them from time to time and/or when you have specific questions that you have not been able to answer on your own.
How many math classes do I have to take?
For the Altoona College degrees you will take STAT 200 (ideally in your third semester) and one other GQ course of your choosing. The MATH faculty currently recommend that you choose from among MATH 17, MATH 34, or STAT 100. You should not schedule MATH 21 unless you have a good reason (e.g., required by medical schools you will eventually apply to). Students who will finish their PSYCH degrees at UP will be required to take a third MATH class.
I have to take 15 credits of 400-level PSYCH courses in addition to the other requirements?
No. The “15 credits of 400” requirement simply means that of the total number of PSYCH credits you will take, 15 of them have to be at the 400-level.
Can I schedule for a Capstone course (or Field Experience course) if it’s not on the schedule?
Yes! Provided that you meet the requirements and have followed the directions in the Capstone Application document, which can be found on the Department website, and you can find a PSYCH faculty member who is interested and available. Typically, adding one of the capstone courses to the schedule happens as the last step in the process (unlike other courses). Talk to your advisor in your junior year (or earlier) about your capstone interests if you think you will want one of the application-based ones.
In my Academic Plan (Degree audit) courses don’t always go where I think they should. Can they be moved?
Possibly, yes. Talk to your advisor. If it is permissible and useful, courses can be moved.
How do I get involved in psychology at a deeper level?
One of the best ways is to join the Psych Club. They provide frequent presentations that often cover areas of professional development (e.g. writing an academic resume, how to do a successful interview), provide opportunities for students to attend psychological conferences, and engage you with other like-minded students aiming to engage psychology at an advanced level. They also schedule plenty of social activities (e.g., game night).
How should I study for the GRE?
There are many books available and also test prep companies (e.g., Kaplan in State College, PA) that can give you a sample test to determine your likely range of scores and then provide you with courses to address areas of weakness. Should I take the GRE again? Answer: only if your test scores will significantly improve. You may need a different/alternative strategy when taking the test again.
Do I need to take the Psych subject test?
Probably not. The Psych subject test evaluates your general knowledge in psychology, and is similar to the GRE, but subject specific. Some graduate schools use this in addition to your GRE, but in our experience this test is rarely required. Of course, select the schools you wish to apply to and then see how many (if any) require it.
What type of courses look good on a transcript for graduate school?
It depends on the type of graduate school. A research intense graduate school that prioritizes biological mechanisms may want to see good grades from science courses (e.g. biology, chemistry). Even if you aren’t the BS Science option, you can still take these courses as electives. Advanced statistics courses are a plus as well.
Is it common to take a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school?
Maybe. People often use this year to get further research and/or clinical experience to strengthen their CV (academic resume). This is also useful if you don’t know which specific path you want to go down (spending a year doing the work may help you avoid a 5-7 year graduate school program doing work you don’t enjoy). The longer away from graduation, the less important GPA becomes (though it is still a central factor in evaluating graduate student performance).