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Grad Uses Degree to Support Students Outside the Classroom

Sarah MurphySarah Murphy

Director of College Counseling and Student Support, the Downtown School

After earning anthropology degrees from Stanford and Oxford and working as a teacher and school administrator for 10 years, Sarah Murphy knew it was time for a professional pivot. 

“I needed a change,” Sarah said. “I was burnt out and couldn’t see myself just doing the same thing for 25 more years.”

Sarah tried her hand at a few more things — consulting schools on curriculum development, innovation and design thinking and writing about food — before realizing that she missed working with children more directly.

“It had been a big part of my life, but I didn’t want to go back to being a classroom teacher,” she said. “I wanted another way to work with kids because I knew it brought a lot of energy to my work life.”

This realization brought Sarah to the University of Washington Master of Arts in Applied Child & Adolescent Psychology degree, which she completed in 2018. The master’s helped Sarah land a job with the Downtown School, where she now works as the director of college counseling and student support. 

Here’s how a UW master’s degree helped Sarah take her career to the next level.


What drew you to the master’s in Applied Child & Adolescent Psychology?

Surprisingly, there were almost no programs in the country that only focused on youth and adolescents. There were school counseling programs, but that wasn't really what I wanted to do. While I was in the process of looking at programs, they announced the Applied Child & Adolescent Psych program, and I thought, Oh my God, this is perfect. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted: I was going to get this degree and go into private practice working with kids. And so that's what I did.

How did you transition from graduate school to private practice?

I applied for my credential the day my transcript posted, and I started scheduling clients in my private practice the day my credential went through. I opened a private practice and saw kids and parents for a year. I really liked the flexibility of that work, which is part of what drew me to the field.

But it can be very isolating. You're working all by yourself and brand new to the field. That's really hard to do. And so I said, well, I'll just keep pivoting.

There was a school, the Downtown School, that I had been interested in for several years that was just being founded, and I talked to them to let them know I’d be interested if something opened up. They reached out when they had an opening, so now I do college counseling and student support, all of which are totally new to me. But the counseling background I got from the master’s degree serves me really well.

I may reopen the private practice one day a week and see kiddos that way, and I know I have that in my back pocket to have a source of income that’s totally flexible and highly paid and that I can go to any time.

Did you have a counseling background when you started the program?

I was a total clean slate. What I knew about therapy was from my own therapist. After I started the program, I told her, “Wow, you’re really good at this.” We hit the ground running, and we started learning a lot right away. It was a really good learning environment for me: I thrive in a fast pace where you learn as you go.

What was your classroom experience like?

One thing that I really enjoyed about the program is that there was a range of students and backgrounds, and I think that allowed us to learn more from each other. There were quite a few people who were either just out of undergrad or a couple of years out, and lots of them had studied psychology, and they knew a lot that I didn't know. There were also probably five to seven of us out of the cohort who were in our thirties and forties. I think we jelled really well.  It was a good mix.

Do you keep in touch with people from your cohort?

I certainly have a few close colleagues from the program that I know, and I have colleagues in the field who I meet with regularly for consultation and who I provide coverage to while they're gone. We help each other build the rest of our network because the demand is huge. Within two months of starting my private practice I didn't have any room, so I referred people to colleagues from my program.

What would you say to someone who is considering the program?

You’re not going to learn everything during your program because it’s an experience-driven field, and your education is going to continue for the rest of your career. Going in with curiosity and patience is important, and having that approach will serve you really well. I would also say that there’s good faculty, good colleagues, it’s right here in Seattle and you end up as part of a network that then supports you on your job track afterwards. For what I was looking for, it worked.