- When should I start thinking about research?
As soon as possible, even as early as your first semester. Look through our faculty labs page to identify and get in contact with faculty whose research interests you.
- How much research experience do I need?
Ideally, you will work in three different labs, in order to get your three letters of recommendation. As most labs prefer you stay with them at least two semesters, you will be looking at around three years of lab experience.
- I'm already a senior and I have no research experience, is graduate school even an
Though it is ideal to have a bunch of research experience, it is not impossible to be accepted without as much. Do your best to start working in a lab and get to know faculty to write you letters. You might also consider taking a year after you graduate to gain more experience.
- I fear my grades/test scores/research experience may not be adequate.
While graduate school is competitive, you do not need to be perfect in every area; use your personal statement to explain weaknesses and emphasize strength, and look into schools with faculty who share your interests. You can also consider applying to masters rather than, or in addition to doctoral programs as they are often less competitive.
Graduate education can lead to stimulating opportunities to expand one's knowledge and skills, and ultimately to a higher-paying job. However, graduate education is usually far more demanding than undergraduate education, and it may be frustrating to continue to be a student for several years after other people your age have already started their careers. Ultimately, the decision about going to graduate school depends on your own assessment of your resources, both personal and financial, and on your career goals.
Individuals planning to attend graduate school ought to be well-informed about job prospects in their field of study. The job outlook for individuals who have earned a Ph.D. in psychology remains generally positive. Recently, US News and World Report reported that employment opportunities for Ph.D. psychologists are growing. Unemployment among individuals with a new Ph.D. in psychology has been reported by APA as being about 3%, with overall unemployment for all individuals with a Ph.D. in psychology being 1%. However, there are some areas of the country, some types of employment (e.g., college teaching), and some specialties within psychology, where there are shortages of jobs for psychologists. It is certainly possible to read extremely pessimistic accounts of the employment prospects for psychologists.
How to obtain information about graduate programs in psychology
The best starting place is the APA publication entitled Graduate Study in Psychology. Write for more information to those programs that sound interesting or visit the programs' Websites.
How to decide on a program (PhD, PsyD, MA, MSW)
Graduate programs in traditional academic areas of psychology (developmental, physiological, social, etc.) usually emphasize research and often are aimed at preparing people for careers as college professors. In contrast, graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology differ in how much of an emphasis they place on research and whether they attempt to prepare people mainly for clinical or academic jobs. At times those differences are reflected in either the type of doctoral degree that is awarded or the setting in which training takes place. Beginning in 1968, a number of programs have been developed that award the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. In contrast to traditional Ph.D. programs, Psy.D. programs place more emphasis on the development of clinical skills and less emphasis on training in research. Most graduates of Psy.D. programs are pleased with their training, but a Psy.D. program would be a poor choice if you are seeking an academic or research career. Until the mid-1970s, all Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs were found at universities. Since then, a number of professional schools with no affiliation to a university have been developed. These professional schools emphasize the development of clinical skills, and many of them place little emphasis on training in research. One disadvantage of professional schools is that the ratio of students to faculty is much higher than it is in graduate programs at universities. Although Ph.D. programs generally emphasize research more than Psy.D. programs, and Psy.D. programs generally emphasize clinical training more than Ph.D. programs, there are exceptions. For example, some professional schools award the Ph.D. degree.
There are two reasons to attend a master's degree program in psychology--to earn a degree leading to a job, or to enhance one's prospects of being admitted to a Ph.D. program. Many individuals with master's degrees have good jobs and satisfying careers. In psychology, the job prospects and salaries are not as good overall for individuals with master's degrees as they are for individuals with a Ph.D. Three cautions about programs that award master's degrees: There is a wide variety in the quality of master's degree programs in psychology, having a master's degree may not be an advantage in applying to Ph.D. programs, and if you earn a master's degree from one university, you may not be able to transfer much academic credit to a Ph.D. program at another university.
There are a variety of graduate programs in areas related to psychology that ought to receive strong consideration from undergraduate students in psychology. For example, students who are primarily interested in working as counselors might do well to pursue training in social work (M.S.W. programs) or in master's degree programs that prepare individuals to become licensed professional counselors.
How many schools should you apply to?
There is no simple, easy answer to this question. For many students, the correct answer is probably some number between 5 and 15. For example, the average applicant in clinical psychology applies to around 13 programs. Instead of being concerned about the exact number of programs to apply to, consider carefully how competitive the programs are that you are applying to, how strong or weak your credentials are, and how much time, money, and effort you realistically can put into the application process. There may be circumstances that dictate a special answer to this question. If your spouse is already employed and has limited job mobility, then you may want to apply to only a few programs in the area where the two of you live.
The exact number of schools that you apply to is far less important than selecting appropriate schools to apply to. Follow these rules: (1) Only apply to graduate programs that you know offer the type of training you want and that you are seriously interested in attending. For example, if you would despise living in a big city on the East Coast, do not apply to graduate programs there. (2) Apply to graduate programs where the students have about the same level of grades and GRE scores that you do. Be cautious about applying to programs that are a "long shot" for you. In other words, if your Verbal GRE score is 450, avoid applying to programs where the average Verbal GRE score is 650 (2 standard deviations higher). (3) If you are applying to graduate programs that receive a large number of well-qualified applicants, you should probably apply to at least 10 programs.
Considerations in selecting a graduate program
Deciding where to attend graduate school is a big decision and should be made wisely. One important factor to take into consideration is the location of the graduate programs you apply to. How far will you be from loved ones? If you expect to visit family often you may want to consider graduate programs that are closer to home. Climate is also something to keep in mind. If you have any allergies or preferences do some research on the regions you are considering moving to. If you are planning to attend a doctorate program you will be living in this new location for about five years. You want to make the transition as easy as possible.
In deciding to go to graduate school, you need to understand what it will be like when you get there. This link to an article on "How to Succeed in Graduate School" has a lot of good advice on getting financial aid, choosing an advisor, and selecting a thesis or dissertation topic.
Is it a good idea to take time off before graduate school?
Taking time off can give you the opportunity to better define your career goals or to acquire experiences, either in research or in community service, that will enhance your chances of being admitted to a graduate program. However, in making a choice about this issue consider what is best for you, not what someone else thinks you should do.
Research experience is an important key to getting in to a graduate program. This will impress many graduate programs. Graduate programs that emphasize experimental research will favor an applicant who has been involved in research.
In our department you have the opportunity to work closely with professors on research projects, when you take the individual problems course (4000). Take advantage of this! Find a faculty member that is doing research in your area of interest then talk to them about doing a 4000 course with them.
What undergraduate classes should be taken to prepare for graduate school?
Most psychology departments have requirements that guarantee that their undergraduate majors are prepared for graduate school. Whether you major in psychology or not, courses in statistics and research methods are essential. It is also wise to select undergraduate courses so that you are knowledgeable about several of the fundamental areas of psychology (cognitive, developmental, personality, physiological, and social) and about the specific area in which you want to do graduate work. For example, if you want to attend a graduate program in clinical psychology, you should take an undergraduate course in abnormal psychology and you might also want to take an additional undergraduate course in some area such as interviewing, counseling, or tests and measures.
Students who are aiming for admission to Ph.D. programs in psychology should plan to become involved in research as undergraduates, ideally by the start of their junior year. Many universities award course credit for such research work. Working on a research project with a faculty member while you are an undergraduate student has several advantages. You gain a much better idea of what psychological research is all about, while also demonstrating your interest and motivation in doing research. If this work goes well, you have a faculty member who can advise you about applying to graduate school and can write a strong letter of recommendation for you. Students who wait to begin their involvement in research until their senior year will have begun that work only a few months before they are applying for graduate programs and asking for letters of recommendation.
Careers in psychology
There are many different careers paths that can be taken in psychology. Please visit our Careers section for more information
Timetable for preparation for graduate school
Spring Semester of your junior year:
- Decide or at least think about which type of program you are interested in. Are you interested in a doctorate program or masters program? If you want to do a doctorate program do you want to get a PH.D. or a Psy.D.? Do you want to attend a program that is within the school of psychology or within the school of education? Do you wish to attend a clinical, counseling, or experimental program? These are all very important questions that you must think about.
- Talk to the faculty about letters of recommendation. Also just talk to the faculty to find out about their interests. They are valuable sources of information.
- If you have not already been involved in an independent research course (4000) with a faculty member, do so.
Summer before your senior year:
- Get a copy or borrow a copy of Graduate Study in Psychology
- Make a list of schools you wish to apply to
- Write your personal statement
- Begin studying for your GREs
- Write or e-mail schools for applications and information about their programs
Fall semester of your senior year:
- At the beginning of this semester, make a definite decision on which schools to apply to and start the application process
- Ask faculty for letters of recommendation
- Keep studying for the GREs and take the GRE toward the end of the fall semester
More information on applying to graduate school
Several types of resources can help answer your questions about being admitted to graduate school in psychology:
- Information about the availability of jobs. An objective source of information about the job prospects for psychologists is the Occupational Outlook Handbook (available from the US Department of Labor for $32, or on-line at http://stats.bls.gov/oco/ocos056.htm#outlook).
- Information about specific graduate programs and about applying to and being admitted
to graduate programs. A number of valuable publications are available. Some are relatively
inexpensive and may be available in the university library, in your department, or
from your faculty adviser.
- Getting In: A step-by-step plan for gaining admission to graduate school in psychology. (1993). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Available from APA books, call 800-374-2721).
- Graduate study in psychology. (1998). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. [Available from APA books, call 800-374-2721]. Detailed information for over 500 graduate programs. A new edition is available each year.
- Keith-Spiegel, P. (1990). The complete guide to graduate school admission: Psychology and related fields. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Sachs, M. L., Burke, K. L., & Salitsky, P. B. (Eds.) Directory of graduate programs in applied sport psychology. Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology. [Order from Dr. Michael L. Sachs, Department of Physical Education-048-00, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122; telephone: (215) 787-8718; E-mail: V5289E@VM.Temple.edu] Briefly discusses careers in sport psychology, types of graduate programs in sport psychology, and certification requirements.
- Sayette, M. A., Mayne, T. J., & Norcross, J. C. (1998). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology: 1998/99 edition. New York: Guilford Press.
- Other information about applying to and being admitted to graduate schools. Talk to faculty members, graduate students, or professional psychologists. Do not hesitate to contact people you do not know.
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.
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.
What do you do if you are not admitted to any of the graduate programs that you apply to?
If you do not get admitted to any graduate program the first time you apply, you could be admitted to a program the following year, especially if you take steps in between to enhance your likelihood of being successful. If your GRE scores are average, consider preparing for and retaking the GRE. Graduate programs usually accept the highest scores when an applicant has taken the GRE more than once. If you lacked research experience the first time that you applied, arrange to acquire that experience before you reapply. If you applied only to a few highly competitive Ph.D. programs, consider applying to more programs, applying to good Ph.D. programs that are less competitive, or applying to master's degree programs.
If you applied unsuccessfully to a number of graduate programs, one possible strategy for evaluating your chances of success if you reapply is to call and ask someone on the admission committee to give you a candid evaluation of the strength of your application. Be courteous in making such calls. Do not argue with the person you talk to or attempt to convince him or her that you should have been admitted. Be prepared to hear some information that may be upsetting. For example, the person may tell you that your personal statement sounded arrogant, or that your letters of reference were neutral about your personal and academic qualities. Remember that such candid information can help you have stronger applications the following year.
If you receive offers from several graduate programs in psychology, how much time will you have to decide which one to accept?
The Council on Graduate Departments of Psychology has adopted April 15 as the standard deadline for making decisions about accepting offers of admission and offers of financial aid for graduate programs in psychology. If a graduate program offers you admission, that program will expect to hear your decision by April 15, and that program should not pressure you to make a decision before April 15.
Visiting Graduate Programs
It is a good idea to visit the programs that you wish to apply to. Although the expense of this may limit the number of schools you visit, it will be helpful in deciding which program to attend. Also, call the program and ask to talk to faculty and students. Do some research on the faculty and see what research interests they have. E-mailing the faculty is another good way of finding out about schools. The more you find out about different schools the better you will be able to make an appropriate choice in a graduate program for yourself.
- APA preparation and application video guide
- Things to consider before applying
- Becoming a school psychologist
- Decision tree for psych majors
- Application related Costs
- Master's Level Options
- Career Planning Timeline
- Sample Personal Statement
- Sample Interview Questions
- Interview questions to ask
- Applying to clinical programs
- Psychiatric Social Work
AddressTexas Tech University, Department of Psychological Sciences, Box 42051 Lubbock, TX 79409-2051