Applying to grad school: Advice from a graduate student in clinical psychology

Applying to grad school can feel daunting, and that is why it is essential to start the process as early as you can. After you have chosen the schools you want to apply to, it is time to make a list of the requirements for each program. It is important to note that many doctoral programs do not require a master’s degree. I know several individuals who mistakenly believed they needed a master’s before venturing into a doctoral program, leading them to invest unnecessary time and resources on an unrequired degree. Always verify the specific degree prerequisites for every program you consider.

Every school will have different requirements for applying to their program. While some schools may require research experience (PhD programs), others prefer their applicants to have some clinical experience (PsyD programs). Most institutions no longer require the GRE, but it is crucial to determine the testing requirements in order to apply. According to the APA, roughly 25% of psychology doctoral programs require the GRE. In contrast, almost all require a good undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a CV or resume.

Maintaining a good, if not great, undergrad GPA is vital for your grad school application. Most schools will not consider a GPA below 3.0, and many require an average closer to 3.5. Work hard in all your classes, and ensure you are taking the prerequisite courses required by your preferred programs. Aside from the required courses you will take for your undergrad degree, many grad schools require prerequisites such as Abnormal Psychology and Cognitive Psychology. It is important to make good grades, especially in your psychology courses. Undergrad GPA is one of the most critical metrics that grad schools assess when considering your application.

Letters of recommendation are an essential component of a grad school application. Some institutions will require three letters, while others will only want two. These letters will typically come from a professor in the psychology department or a supervisor in a relevant work setting. When considering who to ask to write your letters, you want to consider a professor or supervisor with whom you have a good relationship. This person should understand your academic or work abilities and have a good impression of you as a student or employee. Think about a class you enjoyed and excelled in, or maybe you are currently taking. Build rapport with your professor, and let them know you intend to apply to grad school.

When the time comes to ask, give the writer plenty of time to prepare their letter. At a minimum, request a month before you need the letter. If you want to be safe, I highly recommend asking them two months in advance. When contacting a professor or supervisor, be professional and polite, and ask them if they are willing to write a positive letter. Your letter writer will most likely want to see a copy of your CV and the personal statement you will be submitting to grad school. If you have doubts about how to ask, just search the internet for information regarding grad school letters of recommendation. There are plenty of resources available.

The personal statement is probably the most stressful and time-consuming aspect of the grad school application. Every program is different, but most schools want to get to know you through your statement. Please do not wait to start working on this piece of your application. I worked on my personal statement for about two months. I went through countless revisions and submitted a document that looked nothing like the one I started with. I had my trusted friends read over it and suggest edits, and I worked hard to ensure my voice and personality came through.

Admissions forums are an indispensable resource that most schools will offer during application season. These are usually held over Zoom and provide invaluable information about the programs. You can ask questions about the application process and what they are typically looking for in an applicant. Call the admissions office of your prospective grad school, and talk to an admissions counselor. These hardworking folks will become your best friends throughout the application process and are usually very gracious and helpful. The admissions office will most likely be the first to read your application and decide whether you get an interview for the program. If you create a good impression with the admissions office before sending your application, they will be more likely to take it seriously.

Posted in: Psychology News

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