Preparing for Graduate School
There are several factors you should weigh before you decide to apply for graduate school. This page answers students’ most frequent questions about graduate programs and options. It also lists resources that can help you choose a program, prepare for entrance exams, and stand out as an applicant.
Guidance and Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
Many of the topics are covered in depth during the Department of Psychological Sciences Grad School Prep Workshop. See below for a list of upcoming workshop dates.
I know I want to go to graduate school. How do I decide what program is right for me?
This is a very common question. While the prospect of attending graduate school can be exciting, it is important for you to think critically about this decision. Ultimately, your goal should be to have the following view: "I know I want to do X, therefore I know I need to go grad school."
Identifying what you want to do in your day-to-day job is critical to determining whether you need to attend graduate school. For example, human resources is a field where students can get an entry-level job with just their bachelor's degree.
In addition, you want to be 99% sure that you want to pursue a job/graduate program. Otherwise, it could be a waste of time, money, and energy if you end up dropping out of a program or finishing a program and having a degree that you do not use.
The psychological sciences undergraduate advisors are happy to help you with these decisions. Schedule an appointment with your advisor to discuss.
Do I need to go to grad school?
This will depend greatly on what you want to do in your day-to-day work after graduation. If you are not sure what you want to do, then you should take some time to consider this question.
We recommend that you get a job or internship in a field you are interested in to gain experience, transferable skills, and exposure before you decide to dive into a graduate program. Usually, students learn much more about a field by working in it and seeing what people do and what education is required for various positions. Therefore, internships are critically important for career exploration.
What types of graduate programs are there?
Graduate school is a specific education for a specific career or set of careers. There are many different graduate programs in various fields. Students should try to identify the field or area where they want to work; this will usually dictate which graduate program is right for them.
There are various fields where you can earn a master’s degree, Psy.D., or Ph.D. Examples include:
- Mental Health
- Drug and Alcohol
- School Counseling
- Marriage, Couples, Family Counseling
- And more
- Educational Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Clinical Psychology
- Industrial and Organizational Psychology
- Health Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Sports Psychology
- Criminal Justice
- Human Development
- Social Work
- Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences
- Higher Education
- Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA)
- Teaching (K-12)
- Human Resources
- And so many more
What’s the difference between a master’s degree, PSY.D., and Ph.D.?
Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Sciences (MS) degrees:
- Typically, 2 years
- Moderately competitive (3.2+ GPA)
- Tend to be small programs - 30 students or less
- Typically, no funding, but this can vary.
- Most common path for students who pursue graduate degrees
Psy.D. - Doctorate of Psychology:
- Typically, 4-6 years
- Competitive programs (3.5+ GPA)
- Tend to be small programs - 20 students or so, maybe less
- Typically, no funding, but this can vary
- More clinical, practice-based education
Ph.D. - Doctorate of Philosophy:
- Typically, 5-7 years
- Extremely competitive programs (3.8+ GPA and a lot of research)
- Tend to be extremely small programs – 5 students or less
- Even students who meet these criteria still do not get into Ph.D. programs right away
- Typically funded
- More research focused
How do I choose a program?
Once you have decided that you need/want to go to graduate school based on the job/role you want to have and what type of program is right for you, then the next step is researching programs that are best for you and your career goals.
Create a spreadsheet with important information from each school to help you decide. Here are some factors to consider:
- Location - Where is this school located? Do you plan to live at home? If so, start searching for schools in a reasonable driving distance. If not, you can broaden this search.
- Price - How much does it cost? Grad school is expensive and considering how much you will owe in loans is very important.
- Curriculum - What will you learn? What classes are offered? This info is usually found on the program's website.
- Research/Faculty - What are their faculty doing? Are they conducting research? Do you get to work with them? Have they published anything? What is the background and experience of the faculty that will be teaching you?
- Internship - Usually a part of the program where you earn credit for your time/work. Does this program offer an internship? Most/many programs do.
- Assistantship - Usually part of the program where you are placed into a position and are given some stipend (compensation) for your work.
- Percentage of graduate employment - What is the percentage of graduates from this program that are employed within 6 months of graduation?
- Licenses or Certifications - Does this program prepare or help you get licensed or certified?
- Accredited - Look for an APA accredited program.
- GPA requirement - What is the GPA requirement for this program? Do you meet that requirement? If not, how else can you stand out?
- GRE requirement - Does this program require the GRE? If so, you must sign up and take it.
- Size of program - How large is the cohort of students being accepted? Most programs have relatively small cohorts (20-30), which makes them very competitive.
What’s the application process like?
Graduate School applications are very similar to the process for applying to college. The general timeline is as follows:
- Summer before senior year/early fall of senior year: research graduate programs
- Fall of senior year: apply for chosen programs (usually around 5)
- Deadlines vary between December through February
- Interviews: early spring of senior year
- Acceptances: late spring of senior year
When applying to programs, each will require the following:
- Application and fee - $60+ each
- Resume - Work with Center for Career Development to finalize
- Letter of Intent and/or essay questions - Work with the writing center to check your letter
- Letters of recommendation (typically 2-3)
- Official transcript/s
- GRE scores (maybe)
What will make me a competitive applicant?
When applying to a competitive program, there are several ways that you can stand out.
- A strong GPA - Is your major GPA higher than your cumulative GPA? If so, you’ll want to showcase that. It indicates that although you may have struggled academically, you have a strong ability in your PSYC courses.
- Rigor of coursework - Stand out by taking higher level coursework in various departments. You can even try taking a graduate level course.
- Multiple Internships - Not only does this ensure that you are confident about your career path, but it gives you a variety of transferable skills and experiences that you can bring to your graduate program and future career. This is also a great way to get letters of recommendation from people who have seen your work.
- Research - Participating in research, for credit or not, is a top way to stand out when applying to graduate schools. Find out how to get involved in psychology research.
- Volunteering, work, clubs - All additional ways to earn skills that can be utilized in your future and demonstrate your varying interests.
How do I ask for a letter of recommendation?
Letters of recommendation are a key part of a student's application for graduate school.
- Typically, students need 2-3 letters of recommendation.
- 1 Academic - this should be a professor who knows you well enough to speak to your academic abilities.
- 1 work related/relevant - this should be someone who has supervised you, ideally during an internship or a job.
- A third recommendation is sometimes optional, but another academic or work-related reference is a good idea.
- Who to ask:
- You want to ask professors and/or supervisors who know you well and you can speak to what makes you special.
- To stand out, you want extremely personal and well-written letters of recommendation.
- Staff advisors do not typically write letters of recommendation for students, except for peer advisors, as they work very closely with them.
- How to ask for a letter of recommendation:
- You are asking; do not assume the person will write you one.
- For faculty, ask them via email if you can meet to discuss the possibility of writing a letter of recommendation for you.
- If the person agrees, give them a deadline with plenty of time before the application is due.
- Do not ask right before your application is due, as these take time to write.
- Sample of how to ask: "Hi XX, I was wondering if we could meet to discuss the possibility of you writing me a letter of recommendation for my graduate school programs. I know you are busy, so I wanted to give you plenty of time. My deadlines are in XX."
What is the GRE?
Some programs will require the Graduate Records Examination, or GRE, which is like the SATs for graduate school. Students must register and take the exam. Learn more about the GRE General Test, including testing dates, location, and format.
Where can I find more information and test prep help for the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, and other entrance exams?
Graduate School Resources
Grad School Prep Workshop for Psychological Sciences Majors
The Department of Psychological Sciences offers a Grad School Prep Workshop several times each semester. Dates for fall 2022 coming soon.
Can’t make a session? Check out the recording from spring 2020.
Center for Career Development
The Center offers resources for undergraduate students who are interested in applying to graduate school. Their website can help you understand graduate education, factors to consider when exploring graduate school, and typical application timelines.
- Kaplan Grad School Summary
- Planning your route - APA
- Roadmap to Graduate School - Finding the Right Program - APA
- Finding Fit - Application Materials - APA
- Roadmap to Graduate School - Webinars - APA
- Roadmap To Graduate School - Navigating Interviews - APA
- Getting Into Psych Grad School During the Time of COVID - YouTube
- Dr. Joseph Hammer, Grad School Advice
- Difference between Psy.D. and Ph.D.