If you’re considering psychology as a major and eventual career path, you’re probably already overflowing with questions you want to ask and explore about your prospective program. However, the real question is if those are the right questions to be asking.
Before we get too meta, we’ll introduce Lesa Rae Vartanian, associate professor of psychology at IPFW. As a university faculty member, Professor Vartanian often gets an onslaught of questions from high school students with an interest in psychology (and their parents) during campus visits, but feels most questions students ask are not exactly the ones they need to be asking.
Instead of defaulting to questions like “What classes will I take?” you could try asking for a copy of an introductory course’s syllabus. That kind of reiteration and use of specifics can make all the difference.
Thankfully, we have Professor Vartanian to guide us through a few questions she recommends prospective students ask instead.
Not only will these help students learn more about the psychology program, but if you end up going to one of the schools where you’ve asked a professor these insightful questions, Professor Vartanian confirms that, “If a student asked these questions, I would never forget them.”
1. Can I see some sample syllabi?
If you’re planning on majoring in psychology, you’ll want to ask psychology department faculty about old syllabi to have for reference, namely for required courses. Asking a professor for the “nitty-gritty” about a course they or the program offers will give you a better idea of what studying psychology will be like, rather than just looking up the names of the courses online and getting the bare bones of what to expect.
2. How did you become interested in psychology? Why do you teach?
Remember, you’re essentially interviewing the faculty members, so—much like in a job interview—you want to find out what makes them tick and what they’re passionate about in their research and teaching careers.
3. What’s your favorite course to teach, and why?
This question will help you get a sense for how enthusiastic the professors are—and whether their passion lies more in teaching or in research.
4. How many students are involved in research? Can I get involved in research?
Students tend to come to a psychology department with only somewhat of an understanding as to what psychology actually is. The common knowledge is the mental health aspect of psychology, but few are aware of how much the subject is based in scientific research.
In terms of the research component, it’s more important to know how many students are involved in research than it is to know if there are research opportunities available. At IPFW, we have approximately 300-400 psychology majors enrolled and make it an annual habit to accommodate research.
Professor Vartanian adds that students also have the opportunity to attend conferences—each year, 12-30 students are able to attend the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference in Chicago, where some students are even co-presenters on different pieces of research and are able to learn from other researchers and interact with them in the conference “climate.”
5. What supports or opportunities are available for student success within the department?
It’s a must to know if there are resources that serve high achieving, motivated students as well as resources for students who may be struggling. Professor Vartanian mentions that IPFW’s psychology department is proud to offer great support for both the high achievers and students who may need more academic support.
For example, a common practice here is for professors who teach introductory level courses to involve “advanced” students (junior or senior undergrads) as teaching assistants (who have their own office hours and often run review sessions for exams). This enables those juniors and seniors to gain leadership experience, and it’s a great opportunity for newer students who aren’t yet comfortable with directly contacting the professor to get help.
6. What’s the student “climate”? How is student life?
Ask to be put in touch with some current students who are majoring in psychology. This is a common piece of advice for students looking at graduate schools, but it’s rare for undergraduates to take this step, which is why it’ll set you apart. Professor Vartanian says that, while the Admissions staff and the psychology department faculty are both great resources, it’s still important and useful to get the student perspective.
7. How does the department celebrate student success?
What opportunities are available for reward programs? Are there travel grants for research? Both are important questions. Students are often unaware of how they can succeed beyond simply earning good grades. IPFW offers opportunities to work within the community and get that “real-world” experience outside of the classroom.
Our biggest suggestion? Visit campus! Express your interest in a campus visit via email to someone in your department of choice, namely the department chair. Ask to talk to faculty and students and schedule a visit through the Admissions site.
Also make sure to “stalk your program” online to see what courses are offered and who teaches them. If you do that, you’ll have even more insightful questions by the time your visit date rolls around.