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Planning for Graduate Study in Psychology

Advice for Applying to Graduate Schools

Many programs in psychology are highly competitive, and there's no guarantee that you will get into the exact program at the exact university that you want. But there are some things you can do to optimize that possibility:

GPA. Grade point average (or cumulative quality point average) is one index that many graduate schools take seriously. Obviously, the higher your GPA, the better your chances of getting in. Highly competitive programs may look for GPAs at 3.50 or higher. Less competitive programs may accept 3.00 or a bit lower.

Letters of recommendation. Many graduate schools weigh these letters highly. Strong letters of recommendation might compensate for GPAs and GRE's that are a bit weak. Your letters of recommendation could become one of your greatest assets! In our Psychology Department at URI, you have the opportunity to get to know the faculty. Get involved in the Psychology Club and other activities in the department, review the section of this web site about student honors and awards and advanced experiences in psychology. Talk to the faculty! The better they know you, the more likely they can write a convincing letter.

GRE's. Many graduate schools require you to take the Graduate Record Exam (or some other standardized test such as the MAT). The GREs consist of several sections, including verbal and quantitative (math). Some schools will require you to take the "advanced" portion of the test, which, for you, would be in psychology (it consists of multiple-choice questions pertaining to all the different fields within psychology). Often programs use cut-off scores. Information about cut-off scores can sometimes be found on the web sites of graduate programs. Also, "Graduate Study in Psychology" lists the average GRE scores for students who are accepted into programs. A few less competitive graduate schools might not have a cut-off score or might not require you to take the GREs at all. Descriptions of the GRE, sample questions, and registration information available online at Use of GRE training software is also available for URI students by contacting Professor Boatright-Horowitz (Chafee 310, x44231) or the FCCE Psychology Office. GRE Information and Registration Bulletins also can be obtained at the URI Counseling Center, 217 Roosevelt Hall or by calling (609) 771-7670 (Educational Testing Service). Test Prep Review Courses are offered by the URI Counseling Center (401) 874-2288) and the Feinstein College of Continuing Education (401) 277-5050).

Personal statement. There may be wide variation in how graduate schools react to your written personal statement in which you describe yourself and your reasons for going to graduate school. Some take it seriously, others do not pay much attention. In order to be safe, you should prepare a well thought out letter. Avoid platitudes like "I'm really interested in psychology" or, for an applied program, "I want to work with people." Try to tailor your letter for each program to which you apply. Say something about your background, your accomplishments, what exactly about psychology interests you, what you plan to do in the future, and why you are applying to that particular program. For example, what is it about the program that attracts you? How will it benefit you, and what do you have to offer it? Be as specific as possible. If you are interested in one or more of their faculty members' work, say so, and explain why you are interested. Adhere to the requested page limits, be sure to type the statement, and ask your college professors for comments on what you have written. Remember that Psi Chi and Psychology Club events are often organized to provide information about applications for graduate school, including discussions about appropriate content for personal statements.

Multiple applications. To maximize the possibility of acceptance, apply to several schools. Apply to a few really outstanding programs; also apply to a few programs that are less competitive, so you are likely to receive at least one or two offers. Try not to be too upset if you do get rejected, because the odds are that some programs will reject your application. If you're willing to go to another part of the country, you will have a wider selection of schools to which to apply, and a better chance of being accepted.

Going for a visit and interviewing. If possible, go to the school even before you know whether or not you are accepted. Talk to the faculty and students. It may help you decide whether or not you want to be there. It also may help you make an impression on them. Making a personal contact can be effective (even on the phone) as long as you are not pressuring people or being a pest in some way! Definitely try to visit the programs that accept you. Talk to the faculty, and try to find out everything you can about the program. Do they seem like people you could work with? Make a point of talking to beginning and advanced students -- they will tell you things that the faculty may not.

Financial aid. Many programs may offer you some financial support. Some programs will support students in the form of "stipends." Others may offer a "Research Assistantship" in which you help a professor conduct research in return for pay. For a "Teaching Assistantship" you would help a professor teach a course, or perhaps teach a section yourself, in return for pay. Also, some universities may waive tuition or offer fellowships. Find out about stipends, teaching and research assistantships, tuition remission, and fellowship opportunities before you decide to go into a program.

  There are several kinds of graduate programs in psychology,
the most common ones being: experimental, developmental, social,
biopsychology, cognitive, clinical, counseling, school, and
organizational psychology (also known as industrial-organizational
psychology, or simply "IO"). These last four (clinical, counseling,
school, and IO) are considered by the American Psychological
Association (APA) to be the four distinct areas of applied psychology.

Other more specialized graduate programs might be devoted to
sports psychology, psychology and law, or health psychology. Large
psychology departments at large universities may include many of
the most common programs, but most universities will only have a
few of them. For example, here at URI, we have clinical psychology,
school psychology, and experimental psychology.
Go to graduate programs in the U.R.I. Psychology Department

Go to search engine for other graduate programs in psychology

An excellent source of information about these various programs is
the book, "Graduate Study in Psychology," published by the
American Psychological Association. It lists, by state, most of the
graduate psychology programs in the US. It includes information
about admission criteria, how many students are accepted each
year, number of faculty members, and where to get more
information and an application. Our department has a copy of this
book that you can review. The library also has a copy, as well as
other books about graduate school. You can order "Graduate
Study in Psychology" directly from: American Psychological
Association, Book Order Department, P.O. Box 92984,
Washington, DC, 20090-2984 (1-800-374-2721).

Another source for planning your graduate school career is the
American Psychological Association's web site that gives
additional tips to help you prepare applications for graduate
programs, as well as lists of accredited graduate programs in

Furthermore, the URI chapters of Psi Chi and the Psychology
Club offer workshops and panel discussions regarding applications
to graduate schools. Joining one or both of these student
organizations will add to your credentials and help to make you a
more informed candidate for graduate school. Subscribe to our
Psi Chi and Psychology Club list server so that you can
receive email messages about these events.