Applying to grad school in psychology?

So…what do I need to know about grad school in psychology?
  1. It’s necessary.  Graduate school is a must for students who want a career in psychology.  Want to teach at a university or conduct research?  Want to do marriage and family therapy?  Want to work in the criminal justice system?  Want to help streamline human resources practices in high-level businesses?  You’re going to need a grad degree for all of those things.
  2. It’s competitive Countless psychology majors aspire to attend (and excel in) graduate school.  Many of these students are excellent students, with high GPAs, strong GRE scores, and plenty of research and/or teaching experience under their belts.  If you want a seat at the table, you need to show the admissions committees that you are as good as or better than your competition.
  3. It’s difficult Graduate school isn’t undergrad 2.0.  It isn’t necessarily easy or always fun.  It’s a challenge that weeds out those who aren’t dedicated self-starters with a sense of purpose and responsibility.  Brace yourself, surround yourself with friends, and persevere.
  4. It’s worth it.  Trust me, it will be worth it in the end.

What you need to have:

  1. A strong GPA.  The stronger the GPA, the better.  Work hard in your classes; it will be worth it when those applications are due.
  2. A good GRE score.  First, check to see if your schools of interests require the GRE.  If not, move to the next item on the list.  If so, well…start studying.  Some schools won’t accept your application if your GRE score doesn’t meet their minimum or average score threshold.  Find out what that score is, and then beat it.  If you’re like me and perform terribly on standardized tests, then strengthen your application in other areas.
  3. A near-perfect fit.  When trying to find the graduate school that’s right for you, look carefully for a program and mentor that fits your interest.  If you apply to a school where the fit is less than ideal, you will probably be rejected (or miserable if you get accepted).
  4. Research experience Get involved in research immediately.  Research experience will help your application stand out amongst the hundreds of forgettable ones.  Also, regardless of whether you plan to go into experimental or clinical psychology, research is required in grad school, so get used to it now.
  5. Teaching experience Another way to stand out from the applicant crowd is to become a teaching assistant (TA) and/or tutor.  Want to know more?  Contact Dr. Fisher for details.
  6. More research experience.  I’m not kidding.  This is important!
  7. Strong letters of recommendation Average or weak recommendation letters will break even the strongest application.  Get to know 3-4 faculty members very well by conducting research with them, serving as their TA, or being attentive and inquisitive in class.  Only ask faculty who you are sure will write you the strongest recommendations.
  8. Honors and awards.  Have you received a scholarship, academic achievement, or relevant award?  Have you been a part of a research team who worked on a mini-grant?  Are you a part of Psi Chi, the National Honors Society in Psychology?  It would be advantageous if you could answer “yes” to at least one of these questions.
  9. A strong statement of purpose and CV (or resumé) Check out this article for details about the statement of purpose.  Feel free to contact me for an example student CV and the Center for Calling and Career for help designing your resumé.
  10. More research experience.  Now you think I’m lying, don’t you?  Well, I’m not.
  11. Perseverance Once you get in, let nothing stop you from walking across that stage with your new title and degree.  Keep your head down and move forward…no matter what stands in your way.  If you’re going to survive grad school, you have to want it.

Requesting a recommendation from me:

If you would like me to submit a recommendation letter on your behalf, please complete this recommendation form and return it to me within 2-4 weeks of when you need the letter submitted.  This will help me keep track of the myriad recommendations I juggle every semester.

Recommended readings:

Appelby, D. C., & Appleby, K. M. (2006). Kisses of death in the graduate school application process. Teaching of Psychology, 33(1), 19-24.

Silvia, P. J., Delaney, P. F., & Marcovitch, S. (2009). What psychology majors could (and should) be doing: An informal guide to research experience and professional skills. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sternberg, R. J. (2004). Psychology 101 1/2: The unspoken rules for success in academia. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.