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University of Rhode Island — Psychology
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What should I do now as an undergraduate?

Getting into graduate school in psychology can be challenging but rewarding. The number of applicants typically exceeds the number of spots available so competition can be stiff. That’s why it’s important to prepare yourself now to optimize your chances of being accepted into the program of your choice.

Specific admission requirements will vary from program to program, although many are similar across the board. First, programs want to evaluate your educational background, academic abilities and potential. Most programs prefer or require significant undergraduate coursework in psychology (e.g., a major or minor). Grades matter too – the higher your grade point average (GPA), the better. Highly competitive programs look for GPAs of at least 3.50, while others may accept GPAs of 3.0. Many programs also require the Graduate Record Examination and/or the Miller Analogies Test.

Clinical Psychology is the most competitive area in Psychology for graduate admissions. Clinical Psychology program are usually based on the scientist-practitioner model. Therefore, to successfully apply to a clinical psychology program, you must be interested in both psychological research and practice.

Here are some steps you can take now to prepare yourself for your graduate school application:

  1. Learn as much about the field of Psychology as you can. Take courses or do independent studies that will allow you to learn about current psychological research. When you apply to a graduate program you will usually be asked to state what your interests are in the field. In order to answer this well, you need to learn about the field and discover what you find most interesting.
  2. Become involved with faculty research. You should start this as early as possible in your undergraduate training. There is an application form for independent study that you can complete and submit to the Department of Psychology.
  3. Begin well ahead of time preparing for the GRE exam. – there are courses, review books, and practice tests just like the SATs. Consult your advisor or attend our career workshops to learn more about how to prepare for the GRE exam. You can begin preparation by regularly reading complex texts including books (the classics are good because they tend to have more complex sentences and vocabulary), newspapers (e.g. the Wall Street Journal, New York Times), and/or magazines such as The Economist. We recommend reading A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston because much of the GRE focuses on logic and your ability to analyze an argument.

Most programs also want to hear from you and from others about your past achievements and future goals. First, letters of recommendation are one of the most valued components of a graduate school application. Start developing good working relationships with faculty members in your undergraduate program – the better they know you, your skill set, and your interests, the more convincing, detailed letter they can write for you. Most programs also require a personal statement, or statement of goals and objectives. This allows you the opportunity to describe your background, experience, and reasons for seeking graduate study, tailored to each program to which you apply. Some programs may also ask for a Curriculum Vitae or resume, request a writing sample, or invite you for an in-person or phone interview.

Other criteria often considered as admission factors may include aspects of your involvement in the world of psychology so far. Therefore, if you want to apply to graduate school, get involved! Many programs, whether applied or research-based, value research experience. As previously discussed, consider taking an independent study course or completing a research project or thesis in order to work closely with a faculty member on their research. Many applied psychology programs value clinical experience; taking a fieldwork course or taking on an internship would be beneficial for this. Most programs consider service in psychology to be important as well. So - join the Psychology Club, apply for Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology, and join professional organizations as a student affiliate, such as APA and APSSC.

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