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What do I need to apply to graduate school?

Graduate schools vary. But in general, at state-supported graduate schools you will need:

  • A good grade point average (GPA)
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores on the Verbal and Quantitative tests
  • Letters of recommendation from faculty and an internship supervisor
  • A personal statement
  • Field work or internship experience
  • Research experience with a faculty member or researcher
  • Meeting the course prerequisites for the program
  • Private graduate schools do not always require the GRE or research experience.

For a listing of Psychology graduate programs and admission requirements, see this site.

What GPA do I need?

In general, you will need at least a 3.5 GPA to get into competitive schools, and at least a 3.0 GPA to get into less competitive schools. Clinical Ph.D. programs are usually the most competitive. Private graduate schools and alternative graduate schools may have lower GPA requirements.

What kind of scores do I need on my GREs?

In general, for Master's programs you will need at least a score of 500 or 550 on each of the verbal and quantitative tests. Some Master’s programs will admit students with scores of 450 on each test, but lower than that is unusual. For Doctoral programs, you’ll need at least a score of 550 on the verbal and on the quantitative test; scoring 600 or above on each test is even better. Each test is scored from 200 to 800.

It's important to study for the GREs. Studying will improve your scores, and this will improve your chances of getting into graduate school. Buy one of the review books and plan a systematic study schedule; plan on study groups with friends; or attend a GRE preparation course. Time spent studying will pay off later.

If you will be taking the Advanced GRE in Psychology (known as the Subject test), get a good Intro to Psych textbook and study it. Gleitman’s Psychology is a good Intro text, with enough detailed information to make you knowledgeable in the field.

How do I register for the GREs?

Registration is due about 6 weeks before the exam, so for an October test date, register in August. Contact the Career Resources Center at the end of your Junior spring semester for information on how to register. Plan on taking the test in October of your Senior year. Then if you don't do well, you can retake it 2 months later in December. This will still give you enough time to apply to schools and have the GRE scores count. Keep in mind, though, that no matter how well you do on a retest, both sets of scores will be sent to the schools you indicate.

How do I get letters of recommendation from faculty?

Make a point of doing well in your classes, and of talking to your professors some time during your junior or senior years. Use office hours and advising appointments to ask questions. The better a professor knows you, and the better your work, the better the letter you will receive. If you have worked on research with the professor, and done well, you could receive an even better letter.

What information do I need to give to professors to have them write a letter of recommendation?

Professors vary in what they ask a student to provide, but in general giving a professor the following items will provide more than enough information for a letter:

  • A record of coursework and grades in Psychology
  • A record of internships or field placements
  • A record of research
  • A record of courses you’ve T.A.d, and your responsibilities
  • A writing sample, usually a paper you’ve written, or specific projects you’ve worked on—this will help your professor remember the specifics of your work
  • A short life history or biography that describes who you are, your background, difficulties you’ve encountered in your life, how you’ve surmounted them, your goals, your plans for the future
  • A personal statement (very similar to the bio above)
  • The type of program you’re applying to, and why
  • All the appropriate forms with clearly marked deadlines and clearly marked mailing addresses
  • All of this arranged neatly!

What is a personal statement?

This is a statement that graduate programs ask you to write to give them an indication of who your are, what your experience is, what motivates you, and what your ultimate goals and plans are. Write a separate letter for each program you apply to— tailor your letter to the program. Most schools want vigorous, interested, highly motivated students, and the personal statement is an important way of discerning this. Spend time writing yours. Make sure you highlight your assets and strengths so that your application will stand out. Ask friends to proofread it and give you feedback. Check for spelling and grammar errors—many schools will not look at a candidate who writes poorly or makes habitual spelling errors.

Do I need an internship?

To attend graduate school in clinical or counseling psychology, yes! For some schools it is necessary, and for many schools it is becoming increasingly important. Usually some time during your junior or senior year will be spent doing some kind of applied internship or field work. See Lorna Catford, the Internship Coordinator in the Psychology Dept. to set up an internship. The Career Resources center in Salazar also provides information about internships.

Do I need research?

For traditional Doctoral programs it's usually necessary to have good research experience. Working with a faculty member on research, and doing well, or working on your own research, presenting at a psychological conference, or even publishing, are valued very highly. Psy.D. programs do not always emphasize research; usually internships are needed instead. Private and alternative graduate programs do not generally emphasize research.

What courses do I need to take to get into graduate school?

Some courses are considered fundamental for many graduate programs, but this varies, so check Graduate Programs in Psychology for more specific information. Do internet searches on the program you’re interested in to find out their prerequisites. Do this early so you have time to take the courses before your graduate.

In general, these courses are considered basic to many graduate programs:

  • Statistics
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Personality Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Research Methods or Experimental Psychology

How many graduate schools should I apply to?

As many as you can. Apply to 3 programs; or 5 programs; or 7, depending on what you want to do. The more programs you apply to, the better your chances of getting in. Highly competitive programs are harder to get into, and therefore you should apply to more of them. Less competitive programs such as some private and alternative programs are easier to get into, you may want to apply to fewer. Apply to a range of programs--some easy, some hard, some in your target range.

What is a good timetable for applying to graduate school?

Junior year

  • Talk to faculty and other students on options in psychology
  • Talk to professionals working in the field to find out what their work and lives are like
  • Attend the Dialogue Series for ideas on career choices
  • Go to professional conferences such as WPA for career info and networking
  • Line up an internship
  • If you might want Ph.D. training, line up a Research Assistantship with a faculty member

Summer before Senior year

  • Make a list of areas of psychology you’re interested in
  • Check Graduate Schools in Psychology and make a list of programs you’re interested in
  • Start studying for the GREs
  • Line up an internship or research assistantship
  • Make sure you’re registered for required courses for programs you’re interested in

Fall Senior year

  • Call or write the programs you’re interested in and request information
  • Make your final list of programs
  • Study for the GREs
  • Do an internship or research assistantship
  • Contact particular professors you might like to work with at the schools you apply to
  • Take GREs in October
  • Start early on your personal statement
  • Ask professors early or midway through the semester to write you a letter of recommendation
  • Retake the GRE in December if you need to

Intersession Senior year

  • Complete your applications and mail them in-due dates are usually January or
  • February (though some are as early as December)

Spring Senior year

  • Finish whatever courses you need to graduate, or as prerequisites for graduate study
  • Present research at conferences such as WPA
  • Some schools schedule interviews in February
  • Acceptances usually come in March
  • Notify your acceptance by April 15 for many schools

What are some good books on applying to Psychology graduate school?

The Psychology Department has a small lending library of references for graduate programs in psychology and related fields. Here are some good books on programs and options in psychology:

American Psychological Association (1986). Careers in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

American Psychological Association Graduate study in psychology and associated fields. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

American Psychological Association (1993). Getting in: A step-by-step plan for gaining admission to graduate school in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Mayne, T., Norcross, J., & Sayette, M. (1996). Insider’s guide to graduate programs in clinical psychology. New York: Guilford.


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