Getting into a graduate program in psychology can be rather complex and confusing. There are many different paths you can take and a number of choices involved. Take it one step at a time. This information1 provides a place to start. Also, keep an eye out for announcements of our annual “Graduate School Information Night” and “Careers in Psychology Night” faculty panels. Ask in the Psychology Department office for copies of books and other printed information about the graduate school process, and check out the bulletin boards in the Psychology lounge. Most importantly, collect your questions and bring them to us, the Psychology faculty, ideally in your junior year. We will be happy to help.
The Different Areas of Graduate Study
There are several types of graduate programs in psychology, the most common ones being: experimental, developmental, social, behavioral neuroscience (sometimes called biopsychology) , cognitive, clinical, counseling, school, and organizational psychology (also known as industrial-organizational psychology, or simply “IO”) . These last four (clinical, counseling, school, and IO) are considered by the American Psychological Association (APA) to be the four distinct areas of applied psychology.
Other more specialized graduate programs might be devoted to psychology and law, sports psychology, human factors psychology, or behavioral medicine, to name a few. Large psychology departments at large universities may include many of the most common programs, but most universities will only have a few of them.
The best source of information about these various programs is the book Graduate Study in Psychology published by the American Psychological Association. It lists, by state, most of the graduate psychology programs in this country. It includes information about admission criteria, how many students are accepted each year, number of faculty members, and where to get more information and an application. You can borrow this book, and related others (e.g., the Insider’s Guide to Graduate Study in Clinical Psychology, from Beth Stachelek, our Administrative Assistant, in the department office. Or, you can order your own copy (Graduate Study in Psychology) directly from: American Psychological Association, Order Department, P.O. Box 2710, Hyattsville, MD, 20784 (800) 374 2721
Applying Now or Applying Later
Many students think that they should apply to graduate school immediately after they finish their undergraduate work. If you are the type of person who will lose steam (i.e., motivation) after taking a year or two off, then maybe you should apply right away. But it’s not critical that you apply immediately. If you take a year or two off to work, especially if it is a psychology-related job (e.g., research assistant, mental health worker), that can enhance your application and help you sharpen your career goals and graduate school choices. The Psychology Department maintains a notebook listing of these kinds of Bachelors-level job announcements that we have received over the years (again, see Ms. Stachelek) and as a senior you will automatically be forwarded any such notices that we receive electronically from alumni who are in the positions or leaving them to start grad school, or from professional listserves that faculty are on.
Some Good News About Money
Education costs money and graduate school is no exception. However, unlike undergraduate education, most Ph.D. programs will offer full or partial financial support regardless of need. These may be in the form of an outright “stipend” or fellowship, a paid Research Assistantship, or a paid Teaching Assistantship, or some combination of these. Also, many universities may waive tuition and in any case, if not, once you have established residency in the state (within your first year) you would be paying in-state tuition if yours is a state university. There are also several national fellowship programs to which you can apply for funding, such as the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and others. The Dean’s Office and the Psychology Department office can provide further information.
The Application Process Itself
Choosing the best schools for you depends on which subfield of psychology you are pursuing and your particular interests and career goals. Beware of “Top Ten” and “US News” type lists; they may or may not be relevant to your goals and interests; the best source of information is faculty members in the field of psychology that you are pursuing. We can also help you gauge the competitiveness of each program and decide on a reasonable number of schools to apply to, given your qualifications. Also, the department maintains an Excel file of the alums who have gone on to graduate school, which can be sorted by state, program, year, etc. This can be very helpful for networking and learning more about what the programs on your developing list are really like.
START EARLY! Applications deadlines range from December 1 to February 15 and the process of planning should begin in the late spring or summer of your junior year, as outlined below.
Spring semester of your junior year:
- think about what type of program you’re interested in
- start talking to faculty members
- if you haven’t already done so, find out if you can get involved in faculty research or an Independent Study project; also consider taking a fieldwork course or doing some kind of related summer work if you are interested in some area of applied psychology.
Summer before your senior year:
- look over Graduate Study in Psychology
- make a rough list of schools you might apply to
- start writing your personal statement (a 2-4 page summary of your academic and work experience, interests and goals)
- begin studying for the GREs
- take GREs anytime between August – October (earlier if you think you may take them more than once)
Fall semester of your senior year:
- near the start of the semester or during the summer, search online or write to schools for information about their programs
- as you receive this information, start making your final list of schools you will apply to
- continue studying for the GREs and take them by OCTOBER
- ask professors to write letters of recommendation (3 are usually required)
After the fall semester:
- complete remaining applications
- prepare for interviews, which usually take place in February or March
- if possible, visit schools that you are very interested in and contact alums who are there or who graduated recently.
- Acceptances will typically come in February, March and early April. Consult with faculty about your choices or about what to do if your outcomes have been disappointing. The decision day is April 15; you are required at that time to notify the programs into which you have been accepted of your decision.
1Adapted, with permission from: http://www.rider.edu/~suler/gradschl.html#areas
Links to Helpful Websites
- GENERAL INFORMATION, PLANNING & FINANCIAL AID
- APA (AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION):
- APS (ASSOCIATION FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE):
- GRE (GRADUATE RECORD EXAM):