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Undergraduate Program - Graduate School Preparation

Application Process

GRE Scores

Like your GPA, GRE scores are important. The GREs consist of three sections: verbal, math, and analytic. Some schools require you to take the psychology portion of the test.

There are study courses and books that help you prepare for the GRE. You should take the GREs no later than the October of the year you plan to apply to graduate schools. Although you receive your GRE score the same day that you take the GRE, it will take longer for schools to receive the scores. Also, many programs will not look at your application until your GRE scores are received.

The importance of GRE scores

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is an important source of information about students' academic potential. Strong GRE scores (Verbal+Quantitative GRE scores > 1200) increase your chances of being admitted to a graduate program; extremely low scores (Verbal+Quantitative GRE scores < 800) may make admission to any graduate program unlikely. Graduate programs with large numbers of applicants may use GRE scores and undergraduate GPAs as a way of reducing the pool of applicants to a more manageable number. For example, faculty on the admissions committee for a competitive graduate program may read the applications materials only if applicants meet certain cutting scores for GPAs and GRE scores. Fortunately, graduate programs that are not highly competitive often accept students with average GRE scores (Verbal+Quantitative GRE scores = 1000) if those students have other evidence of academic potential, such as high undergraduate grades, good letters of recommendation, and previous experience working in psychological research.

Plan to complete the GRE no later than October, so that your scores will be available to the programs where you will be applying. Be aware that some programs require the GRE advanced test in psychology while others do not, and that some programs require tests in addition to the GRE, such as the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). At a minimum, prepare for the GRE by becoming aware of the basic structure of the test--the sections that are included, the type of questions asked, and the time length.

Writing your personal statement

Your personal statement is a critical part of your graduate school application. As with recommendation letters, the personal statement can often make the difference in whether a candidate is accepted or rejected by a graduate program. Neither the importance of the personal statement nor the time required to prepare it should be underestimated. The most common problem students have with the personal statement is not allowing sufficient time to develop their essays. To write a good essay, you must allow ample time to write, revise, edit, and proofread. It is recommended to have someone else proofread the essay as well as proofreading it yourself.

Graduate programs will vary in the type of essays they require of applicants. The three themes most typical of graduate program essay requirements are 1) long-term career plans; 2) areas of interest in psychology; and 3) your reasons for choosing that particular program. It may be necessary to write an original essay for every program to which you apply in order to tailor the essay to the program. Focus on summarizing important events and/or experiences that influenced your career goals and shaped you as a person, but do not go into great detail describing your entire life history.

Ideally, your essay should reveal the relationship between your interests and goals and the focus and philosophy of the program to which you are applying. Graduate admissions committees are looking for students whose interests, ambitions, and career goals most closely match what the program has to offer. It is a good idea to look at the research interests of the faculty and to show how your interests fit with those of a few faculty. Mentioning faculty members by name and discussing your interest in their work can help you to be admitted.

Take great care to follow the instructions provided. Do not hand-write if the instructions say to type, and do not exceed the specified length. The essay should come as close as possible to the word limit specified in the instructions. If no length or word limit is specified, keep the essay between 500 and 1000 words.

For more information on writing your personal statement, refer to Getting In: A Step-by-Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

Letters of recommendation

Many graduate schools weigh letters of recommendation very highly. Strong letters of recommendation can compensate for GPAs and GREs that are a bit weak. The better you get to know the faculty the better your letters of recommendation will be. Talk to the faculty. When you ask a professor to write a letter of recommendation for you, be sure to give the professor some written information about yourself, the courses you took with him/her, your grades, any activities you undertook in our department or on campus, etc.

Whom should you ask for letters of recommendation? Most of your psychology courses may have been in large lecture sections, so the faculty may not know you well.

The best way to deal with this problem is to make sure to become acquainted with faculty. One way is to have worked on research with a faculty member. Faculty who teach large lecture sections of courses may be interested in becoming acquainted with their students, especially those students who are doing well on examinations and term papers, or who are interested in doing graduate work in the faculty member's specialty area.

ember that admissions committees for graduate programs are usually made up of faculty members who are primarily evaluating your academic potential. The best letters of recommendation for you will be from faculty in psychology, but letters written by faculty in other departments can also be helpful. If you have been out of school for a while, a letter from an employer may be helpful, but generally avoid letters from people who know you well but can offer little direct information about your academic potential.

courteous to those people you are asking to write letters of reference for you. Ask them several weeks before the deadlines, and give them the appropriate forms and stamped and addressed envelopes. If you have any doubt about whether faculty members will write a good letter for you, ask them directly. If they say 'No,' thank them for their honesty and go find someone else.

When to apply to graduate school

Most graduate programs in psychology accept students only in the Fall. Application deadlines vary from December 1 through about March 15. Doctoral programs (especially in clinical and counseling) tend to have earlier deadlines than master's programs. Almost all programs require the general portion of the GRE. You will need to make arrangements to take this well before the application deadline.

Start preparing for graduate school begin at least one year in advance. You will need to invest a lot of time in choosing a school and applying to one. Trying to get everything submitted at the last minute is not recommended. Deadlines are usually firm; programs will not look at late materials. Also, financial assistance is sometimes on a first come-first serve basis therefore, early application is recommended.

GPA requirements

Many graduate school programs require a certain GPA or higher. If you have a lower GPA than what is required, many programs will immediately reject your application. Very competitive programs may look for GPAs at 3.5 or higher and less competitive programs may accept 3.0 or slightly lower. Obviously, the higher your GPA the better your chances of getting in.

What should you include in a personal statement or cover letter for an application?

Take care in writing your personal statement or cover letter. Be clear about your interest in the specialty area that you want to do graduate work in, and say why you are interested in the program you are applying to. If there are specific faculty whose research interests appeal to you, say so. Including that information will be especially important to those programs that have an apprentice model of research training.

Plan to write several drafts of your personal statement, obtaining suggestions for revisions from friends and from your faculty adviser. Avoid writing personal statements and cover letters that are either too brief or exceptionally long.

An effective way to organize personal information is to prepare a resume or a curriculum vita. Most undergraduate students can get all relevant information on one or two pages. Avoid padding, such as mentioning your spelling awards from the 6th grade or listing term papers from your courses as unpublished manuscripts.

Where can I find information about graduate programs in sport psychology?

At many universities, graduate programs for some areas of applied psychology, or for areas related to psychology, are often found in academic departments other than psychology departments. For example, graduate programs in sport psychology are rarely found in psychology departments; more commonly, they are found in departments of health, physical education, and recreation.