How to get in to graduate school?
- Grade Point Average (GPA)
Maintaining a high GPA through all four years of undergraduate study is important to being accepted by the graduate school of your choice. Graduate programs are very competitive. In the most highly competitive programs (specifically clinical and experimental programs) a GPA of 3.5 is the minimum requirement to be considered. Even less competitive programs expect applicants to have a GPA of 3.0. However, some graduate programs put emphasis on a high GPA in the last two years of your undergraduate studies. If your grades are not in this range, do not throw the idea of graduate school out the window quite yet. Good grades are a part of being accepted by a graduate program, but they are not everything.
- Letters of Recommendation
Faculty that have supervised your research and know your abilities are the best people to write letters of recommendation. Strong recommendations from accomplished faculty are essential for a successful application and may even compensate for a lower GPA or graduate records exam (GRE) scores. Make an attempt to know the faculty. The better a faculty member knows you and your abilities, the more capable that person will be to write an effective letter of recommendation.
- Graduate Records Exam (GRE)
The GRE is a standardized exam designed to assess an individual's analytical (measure of abstract thinking), verbal, and quantitative abilities (mathematical abilities). Some schools will also require completion of the GRE Subject Test in Psychology. This test consists of multiple choice questions about the various fields of psychology. The best way to study for this test is to look at a good introductory Psychology text book. Since introductory texts are specifically designed to cover a considerable number of psychological sub-fields, they are the perfect resource for a test that is as broad as the GRE. Typically, the higher the GRE score, the better a student's chance of being accepted into his or her desired program; but, high GREs alone will not guarantee acceptance.
- Letter of Intent
This is a short (2-3 page) letter where you spend some time describing yourself and your reasons for pursuing graduate school. Some schools take the letter of intent very seriously while others may not even look at it. However, this letter should explicitly describe your reasons for applying to this particular graduate school, how your acceptance will benefit both you and the school, and what attracted you to this program.
- Practical Experience and Research
Experience is essential. Participating in research or volunteering in an area that interests you will allow you to decide whether or not this area is for you before applying to graduate school. If possible, get involved in data collection. Take a Directed Studies class or help a professor with his or her research. Take advantage of every opportunity to involve yourself in the research activities you will be undertaking in graduate school.
The Graduate Records Examination (GREs) are a standardized set of tests that assess an individual's analytical, verbal, and quantitative skills. Nearly all graduate schools require students to complete the GREs prior to applying.
The analytical writing section tests critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It assesses a student's ability to articulate and support complex ideas, analyze an argument, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion. It does not assess specific content knowledge.
The verbal section measures a student's ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, to analyze relationships among component parts of sentences, to recognize relationships between words and concepts, and to reason with words in solving problems. There is a balance of passages across different subject matter areas: humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.
The quantitative section measures a student's basic mathematical skills, his or her understanding of elementary mathematical concepts, as well as his or her ability to reason quantitatively and solve problems in a quantitative setting. There is a balance of questions requiring arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. These are content areas usually studied in high school.
The Psychology Subject Test of the GRE may also be required by some of the programs you are applying to. The Psychology Subject test consists of multiple choice questions about the different fields of Psychology.
Find out more about the GREs by visiting their website at www.gre.org.
Some students pursue a master's degree because they are not certain they want to spend the time and resources for a doctoral degree. In general, a master's degree provides training for a variety of applied settings such as in schools, business and industry, mental health, and government. In a traditional master's program, students take courses, do a major project (e.g., research thesis, a major literature review/critique), and write and defend the project. Of course, master's degrees prepare individuals for entry into doctoral programs of study. Others consider a master's program as an intermediate step in their education towards eventually obtaining a doctoral degree in psychology or another field.
While employment in research, teaching, and human service positions are possible for those with a master's degree in psychology, the doctoral degree is generally considered the entry-level degree in psychology for a broader array of employment opportunities, and certainly for the independent, licensed practice of psychology as a profession. A doctoral degree is especially important if an individual wishes to provide psychological services (e.g., as a clinical psychologist) or become a university professor. Typically, such individuals choose between a Ph.D. and Psy.D. program. In a Ph.D. program, students normally take courses, pass comprehensive examinations, conduct original research, and write and defend their dissertation. For those wishing to provide psychological services to clients, they also have to spend at least one additional year interning and receiving supervision. Thus, a Ph.D. program requires research and practitioner expertise. In a Psy.D. program, often referred to as a "professional school" program, there is greater emphasis on training and professional practice. Therefore, students usually take a more structured series of courses and receive considerable practical experience. At the present time, there are no Psy.D. graduate programs in Canada.
The Ph.D. is the oldest doctorate and is generally regarded as the research degree. Though many professional psychology programs award it, they typically have an emphasis on research training and the integration of that with applied or practice training.
The Psy.D. degree, first awarded in the last 1960's, but increasing in popularity among professional schools, is a professional degree in psychology (similar to the M.D. in medicine). Programs awarding the Psy.D. degree place major emphasis on preparing their graduates for professional practice as practitioner-scholars, and less extensive research training. Presently about 75% of the doctoral degrees in psychology are Ph.D. degrees.
Master's degree programs generally require 1-2 years to complete, with the exception of the Education Specialist degree (in school psychology) which is usually a 3-year program. Most doctoral programs require a minimum of three years residency or its part-time equivalent. Actual time to earn a degree varies, however, due to program requirements and differences among students (e.g., the extent to which they are financially supported, time to complete dissertation, etc.). The average time to earn a doctoral degree is approximately 6-7 years, with some requiring less time and others more. Programs in certain areas of professional psychology require a 1-year internship as part of the doctoral program.
You may wish to apply for a fellowship, a scholarship, an assistantship, or another type of financial assistance. Many fellowships and scholarships are outright grants or subsidies and require no service to the department or university. Assistantships, however, are forms of employment for services in a department. Teaching assistantships may require teaching a class or assisting a professor by grading papers, acting as a laboratory assistant and so forth. Research assistants ordinarily work on research projects conducted by program faculty. Visit www.apa.org/students/funding.html for more information on financial assistance. Also, contact the schools you are interested in attending and research what types of funding are available for graduate students.