Since this blog is geared toward students in psychology – that is the perspective from which I will be writing.
Research, Research, Research!!!!!
Applying to graduate school is definitely a stressful process, but, it’s not impossible. My best advice is to RESEARCH! Research various programs, research various schools, and research the various types of populations in which you are interested in working. This will help you to make an informed decision about which program and school is right for you. Also, it definitely helps to talk to people who are in the field you are trying to pursue or who are already in graduate school. Having people explain their own process beforehand can help to dispel rumors and decrease some of the anxiety you might be feeling.
First and foremost it is vital that you know what type of program you want to enter. This can be a master’s program, which will typically grant a Master of Arts degree in psychology (others may award a Master of Science), or a doctoral program which may grant a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD – more traditional) or a Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD).
Many people enter graduate school without knowing what type of work or population they want to do. Which is completely normal! However, you should have some understanding because this can save you a lot of money on the backend. For example, if you want to work with children you may not necessarily need a doctorate degree to do so. You can do the same type of work with a MA and save yourself a lot of money in loans! However, if you want to do psychological assessment, you will definitely need a doctoral degree! If you are interested in a more research oriented career, then a PhD program may be more suitable. However, if you want to spend more time on practical skills such as therapy and psychological assessment, then a PsyD program may be more appropriate for you.
Also, check your states licensure requirements. Many states require that you take certain classes in order to become licensed so you want to be sure that the program you are applying to has those classes listed in their curriculum. If you plan to practice in the state in which you live, most likely the course curriculum will be aligned for licensure in that state. However, if you plan on moving to work in a different state, be sure to check that state’s licensing requirements.
Now that we got some of the basics out of the way we can focus on the actual application.
Application – Fee
Every application starts with the written application and the fee.
Resume – Curriculum Vitae
These are two different types of documents. Make sure you double check to see what is required for the application you are submitting. Resumes tend to be more career focused,whereas CVs tend to focus more on academic achievements. There are plenty of resources on the internet that can help you with formatting. It also doesn’t hurt to have someone proofread your document.
Essay – Personal Statement
Perhaps one of the most important pieces to the application. This allows the admissions committee to get to know the type of person and student you are and what you can bring to their program. Usually, the essay will be a personal statement that will prompt you to tell the committee about yourself. Or, you may be required to answer a specific question such as, “Why are you interested in this field or program?”Your essay may go through several drafts before it is ready to be submitted. As stated before, it doesn’t hurt to have someone proofread your document.
I feel like this goes without saying but you definitely want to make sure that your undergraduate grades reflect a good academic standing. While programs will look at the entirety of your application, having a lower GPA may not reflect as well as another prospective applicant with a higher GPA.
Letters of Recommendation
Similar to the personal statement, letters of recommendation allow the admissions committee to learn about you through the perspective of someone who has taught or worked closely with you. Choose your letter writers carefully (I’ve heard some horror stories)! Pick someone with whom you have a positive relationship (trust me, not everyone does this), someone you’ve worked with or alongside for several months, someone who knows you on an academic and personal level, and someone who can contribute meaningfully to your graduate school journey. Think of someone that you would like to stay in contact with over the course of your academic career. Someone that would enjoy receiving updates about your progress and your journey to becoming a psychologist – this is your letter writer!
Some people may do a review course. I just bought the workbook and the huge stack of vocabulary cards and studied on my own for the entire summer. I probably did more not studying than actual studying. But, I made a decent score. I’ve taken so many standardized tests that I honestly don’t remember my score for the GRE. It wasn’t super high, but it wasn’t low either. I scored just what I needed to make my applications strong.
Most programs may require that you have taken certain courses in undergrad. If you majored in psychology you’ve probably already completed the required courses. If not, you may want to take an Intro to Psychology course and an Abnormal Psychology course. Programs will have the required courses listed on their application requirements.
PhD program versus PsyD program
Earlier I spoke about some of the differences between the PhD and the PsyD. Their application process is also a little different. Mainly, for PhD programs in psychology you are applying to a research laboratory. Most of your time as a student will be spent conducting research while also taking courses on the side. As a PsyD applicant you are applying directly to the school/program of your choice. PhD programs tend to be extremely competitive mostly because the research lab in which you are applying will be paying for your education. Thus, they tend to only have a few spots open each year – some not at all. That’s why it’s super important to research as many programs as you can. On the other hand, PsyD programs tend to have more openings for prospective students, but tend to be more costly.
In a nutshell, there is something out there for everyone!