Preparing for graduate school


Important information regarding graduate programs

Graduate programs in psychology are very competitive, particularly at the Ph. D. level.    Keep up your GPA (most Ph.D. programs are looking for at least a 3.5).

Master’s programs and less competitive programs usually require 3.0 minimum.   Do some serious thinking about why you want to go to graduate school and what you would like to study.    It is a big investment in time and money so check out the resources listed below and on other parts of this website.    The department also has a library with relevant materials.

This is a timetable for students who want to go directly to graduate school from their Bachelor program.   Many students take a year or two off after graduation to solidify their interests.   

Freshman year

Take PSY 101, meet with your advisor and map out a four year plan.

Sophomore year  

  • Take PSY 275 (Research Methods) and PSY 250 (Statistics).   These are key courses for the science of psychology. 
  • Start attending psychology colloquium or workshops.
  • Begin compiling a portfolio (term papers, projects, volunteer work, syllabi, accomplishments, honors, etc.) These will help when you are filling out your applications for grad school.
  • Start investigating careers and grad school requirements
  • Join Psi Chi/Psychology Club and get involved with others who love psychology
  • Talk to professionals in the field to get a better understanding of what they do and what   training is necessary

Junior year  

  • Clarify which area of psychology you want to study (social, organizational, biological, clinical, sports, etc.)
  • Investigate research opportunities in the department (this is very important if you are applying to Ph.D. programs)
  • Familiarize yourself with resources and requirements for graduate programs, including Archived website: Psych Grad and books available for use in the Psychology Department Office. 
  • Take PSY 488 Practicum in Psychology
  • Begin preparing for GRE (take summer before your senior year)

Senior year

  • Check due dates for grad schools – allow plenty of time to prepare your application
  • Make and follow a timeline
  • Ask for letters of recommendation.   Allow professors 2-4 weeks to write them and give clear instructions on what you need.   Supply stamped addressed envelopes if required.   (If a professor declines your request, it is probably because they do not know you well enough to provide a strong letter. Letters of support are critical and professors do not take this responsibility lightly.      So thank them and decide who else you can ask.)
  • If you are not accepted into the programs you selected, consult with faculty about other options. These may include working for a year in the field, re-taking the GRE, and/or applying to programs in related fields.
  • Once you receive notification of acceptance(s), consult with faculty before making your final decision. You may wish to visit these schools if you have not already done so.
  • Make sure you let the people who wrote your letters that you were accepted and thank them for their help.

More advice

Courses recommended for grad school: 250, 304, 320, 330, 335, 345, 475, 480, 488, 498, 499

If you want to “work with people”, do an internship, volunteer work, or paid position to try it out and get experience.   You can also take courses in Human Services Program (HUMS) to develop skills in interviewing, substance abuse counseling, crisis management, etc.

If Psychology is not your only interest, consider alternative graduate programs such as Counseling, Social Work, Justice, Public Health, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Marriage and Family Studies or Student Affairs.

More Resources

Preparation for Graduate school American Psychological Association. (1997). Getting in: A step-by-step plan for gaining admission to graduate school in psychology . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (available at Rasmuson Library)

American Psychological Association. (2010).Graduate study in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (available at Rasumuson Library)

Some Advice from a Chair of Graduate Admissions Archived website: Psych Grad

APA online: Getting into Graduate School American Psychological Associaton website

General advice on applying to graduate programs

Many graduate programs in psychology and related disciplines maintain admission deadlines that occur in the fall of the year preceding the year the student would like to start.  Most schools require Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores along with student applications, as well as transcripts, written statements, references, and interviews. Application to graduate school is a long process and involves many steps that rely on the student's diligence to complete. Regardless of the time remaining until an individual student's graduation, she or he should now be beginning the process of selecting and applying for graduate school.  In order to give students a cushion of time for last-minute delays or unanticipated difficulties, they  should plan on being able to complete all of the necessary components required for admittance into the programs to which they have chosen to apply at least one month prior to the time the program has established as a deadline for applications for admission (generally mid-November for the more exclusive programs, and mid-spring for the more inclusive programs).

Students interested in graduate programs of an interdisciplinary nature should know that the international (and in many, but not all, respects the national community) is increasingly moving toward integrating interdisciplinary knowledge in the very structure of university systems (see the Canadian higher education system--particular that of British Columbia--as an example).  However, in Dr. Lower's experience the relatively more traditional disciplinarily-divided knowledge structure of higher education in the United States can require more work and effort on the student's behalf in order to show that their interdisciplinary degree is of equal standing and merit as the disciplinary degrees of others.  Students that are seriously interested in interdisciplinary graduate studies should contact Dr. Lower if they would like advice on the process of applying.

What follows is some advice from Dr. Lower on the process of applying for graduate programs in psychology that students can take or leave at their discretion. If students have not already decided on their universities of interest, they should spend time now surveying programs and selecting their top choices. They should then get ready for the GRE (many people buy study guides for this). They should take the GRE soon. They should not be afraid of the test.  Dr. Lower waited until after his master's degree to take the GRE, because he was nervous. It turned out that he should not have been nervous. Many students should not be nervous. But they all do need to study for the exam.

Students should study for the general GRE, as well as the psychology subject test--though do not necessarily take the subject test. Many schools do not require the subject test, so students should check to see if they do in fact need to take it as an admission requirement of the programs to which they want to apply.   However, studying for it will give students an idea of what the common expected knowledge-base in the discipline is for someone with a bachelor's degree. Students should try to be able to know this material to an extent that they can have a pleasant 3-minute cocktail party conversation related to many or most of the sub-disciplines generally covered in the psychology subject test. This should help for interviews.

There are some graduate programs that do not require the GRE. These programs generally require and examine more experiential aspects of the applicant's life.  They also tend to look in a much more focused manner on the way in which the student expresses ideas, integrates knowledge, analyzes scenarios or conditions, and synthesizes information.  Some of these programs are particularly interested in students' philosophical or theoretical approach to psychology and the command of the relevant literature that the student displays.  Students preparing for these programs should generally seek to expand their preparation in the arts and humanities or other social science disciplines.

Students should make sure in their graduate school selection process that they look at the specific interests of faculty members in the programs and the specific research, theoretical, or practice focus of the program in general. Students should not apply to graduate schools because they would like that university's name on their degree. They should instead apply to graduate programs that match both their professional and personal goals and interests. They should pay attention to whether or not the faculty of the program are selecting graduate students individually or as cohorts--the former requires the normally expected skills and attributes for graduate school, while the latter also generally relies heavily on a particular student's fit with the other students in the program or applying to the program at the time of application.

Also, students should pay attention to whether or not there is funding for graduate research assistants (RAs) or graduate teaching assistants (TAs) or graduate fellowships available. If so, students can usually get tuition paid and a monthly stipend in return for 20-hours of work for the program or faculty member per week. These positions also generally provide experiences that will be useful for students' professional goals. Some schools assign graduate students to faculty members fairly permanently. In this case, students will likely see that the school requires that applicants identify in their applications for admission the specific professors that they want to work with when matriculating there. If this is so, students will need to make sure that they are tailoring their application specifically to the identified faculty member for whom they would like to work.  RAs, TAs, and fellowships may maintain separate application deadlines and procedures, so students should be sure to check on these.

Application advice

When asking for references, students should give the person from whom they would like a reference sufficient notice and information to write a nice, individually-tailored letter of recommendation. When asking people to write a recommendation, students should provide a brief (one paragraph) written summary of each of the programs to which they are applying (including in the paragraph information on any specific foci they maintain). Then, students should provide a written paragraph on how their qualifications and goals match those of each of the programs to which they are applying. After this, students should provide a written summary the experiences or skills they have that they think the referee would be prepared to note or highlight in their reference letter. Students should give referees plenty of time and remind them (nicely) often. Students should not wait until the last minute for references. They will not get them in time if they do so.

Students should pay attention to their applications. Do not submit applications, papers, or materials that have typographical errors, misspellings, large errors of syntax or grammar, or are disheveled in appearance. Students must submit all of the required materials by the deadlines posted and with absolute attention to the specific information required. These requirements are not simply formalities. Rather, they are the easiest and most objective means of eliminating candidates. Students' applications to graduate programs will generally be eliminated at the earliest possible convenience if they are unprofessional or do not comply with the standards and deadlines established by the graduate program to which they are applying. They do keep the fees associated with student applications for admissions, however.

It's not too late for students to get many of the experiences they will need for graduate school.  Students should get involved in research, community service activities, practica, and academic societies now.

 Please check out the following links for handouts on relevant topics for undergraduate psychology majors considering graduate school and careers in psychology:

Preparing for life after graduation


Looking for a JOB, a CAREER.....

TRY the "encyclopedia" link and be amazed!

Encyclopedia of Psychology, Career Options & Information

Career options in psychology

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