The search for a graduate school:
What to look for?
Before you begin filling out applications, you need to figure out where you want to apply. Finding your ideal program involves two parts: figuring out your big interest in life and deciding on your research interest. The more specific you can get in settling on what you want to do, the easier it will be to find a school that will matches what you are looking for; thereby making the application process simpler and your chances of being accepted greater. Some resources to give you a start are listed below:
- www.usnews.com- click on “education” link on the sidebar.
- Doctorate Programs in the U.S.- You can download a searchable Excel document with information about graduate programs in the United States. The website provides instruction and demonstrations on how to effectively use the document to research graduate programs.
- www.apa.org- contains more advice about applying than actual school info, but still could be helpful.
- The book "Graduate Schools in Psychology 2014" from the APA is located in the Psychology Department on each campus, and it does not leave the department.
- Finding the ideal program
- Your big interest: This is your general area of study. You want to go to graduate school in psychology, but what field of psychology? Experimental? Clinical? Social? Developmental? Counseling? Psychology majors also attend graduate school in human resources, law school, and medical school. Decide what you are passionate about.
- Your research interest: No matter where you attend graduate school, you are going to have to do research. Of course, some programs will emphasis research at a greater level than others, but it is still going to be there. You need to find a school with faculty who are researching something you are interested in. Example: If you are going into developmental psychology and the faculty at one of the schools you are looking at does research with children - but you don’t like kids! You are interested in development at a later age. Obviously, this school is not for you and you wouldn’t be happy there. Therefore, you need to find a program at a school which matches what you like and are interested in.
Narrowing the list down . . .
Most people don’t have the time nor the funds to apply to every school which has the program they are looking for. You need to narrow the list down to a reasonable number. The recommended minimum number of applications one should send out is 6. A typical range, however, extends from 1-20 something. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering where to apply.
- Location, location, location: If you hate hot weather, you aren’t going to want to attend school in Arizona. Likewise, if you hate humidity, you aren’t going to want to go down to the southern states. It may sound superficial, like wanting to date a person for their looks alone, but location does make a difference and if you truly hate where you are living, you aren’t going to succeed at graduate school.
- CO$T…always a factor: One of the biggest myths of graduate school is that it is expensive. Ph.D. programs are so difficult to get into for one primary reason: the school is going to pay for you to attend. Your tuition is going to be waved due to receiving a research or teaching assistantship. That is why schools report ranges in their acceptance predictions (ex: A school will be accepting 5-10 students in 2008). It’s because they are never quite sure how much financing they will have available in any given year, until the year is already present. Masters programs, law school, and medical school differ from this trend (they’ll accept more people than they have $$ for), but assistantships are available in limited amounts!
Research Assistantships and Teaching Assistantships: The schools that have these are ideal to apply to – but they are also going to be the more competitive programs too.
On/Off-campus job opportunities: Where are you going to work if you don’t get an assistantship?
Get those loans deferred! If you are one of the many students to leave their undergraduate institution with loans, when you attend graduate school you can fill out paperwork to have your loans deferred – meaning you DON’T HAVE TO PAY THEM BACK RIGHT AWAY!!
The forgotten cost: application & test score fees -Application fees average around $40 and to send official test scores out cost around $25 per school. It adds up fast if you aren’t prepared!
Do I really want to do this…Finally, ask yourself if you want to go to graduate school for the right reasons. Is this something you are passionate about and really want to do, or it is something to do because you don’t know what you want to do? If you are passionate and really want to study whatever it is you want to study, then you are going to be successful at graduate school. If you are going because you don’t know what else to do instead, chances are, you aren’t going to like school and are not going to complete the program. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working or volunteering for a couple of years after your undergraduate career. In fact, a lot of graduate schools look favorably upon such work. Simply put, take the time to double check what’s going on in your mind and if graduate school is the right choice or you.
Paying for graduate school: "Career services"
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Sorting through the application process
There are five basic parts to the application:
- 1. General data forms: These are your basic “name, address, phone, DOB" sort of stuff. Busy work, but important!
- 2. Official transcripts: You can obtain your official transcript from the Registrar’s Office, and you usually need an official transcript from each institution you have attended. Most schools provide transcripts free of charge for current a students, but may cost a few bucks after you graduate.
Request transcripts early: Everyone else is applying to schools too!
- 3. Standardized test scores: Before you can submit scores, you have to take the tests! Every school lays out test requirements clearly. The most common is the GRE General Test. Some schools require the GRE Psychology Subject test. There are lots of others too like the LSAT, MCAT, GMAT…the list goes on. Test as early as you can because depending on the test, it can take awhile to get those scores back. Check the testing website for more information regarding the length of time it will take to receive your scores
- Know your codes! When you take your test you get to send your scores to 4 schools for free. It’s all nice and automatically laid out for you. After that you have to request additional scores and every school has a ‘test score code’ that you send them too. Know your codes…they should be listed on your schools website or in their printed information. Sometimes the codes for a department differ than a code for a school as a whole – you want to make sure your scores are sent to the right place!
4. Letters of recommendation
- Request early! Again, like the transcripts, you aren’t the only one applying to graduate school. When you add course work preparation & grading, your professors are darn busy!
- The longer they’ve known you the better! A professor who has had you for 2 classes will write a better letter than a professor who has had you for 1. Likewise, a professor you did a research project with is better than that ‘1 class’ professor! You can also have supervisors from internships and related jobs write your letters – as long as they can speak of you as if they know you on a personal basis – they work just as well!
- 3 letters per school: Most schools require letters from 3 different recommenders. They may also have a standardized form to supplement the letter – don’t forget that!
5. Personal statement or essay
- The need to make clear WHY you are interested in this program: You need to convince the admissions committee, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are the perfect candidate for their program. WHY are you the best? WHY are you a good fit? WHY are you absolutely sure this is what you want to do in life? It’s the challenge of telling them all about yourself (selling yourself!) in the most full & detailed, yet simplest & concise way possible.
- Miscellaneous requirements: Some schools require a resume, some writing samples. Just be aware that every school can request additional things to the Basic 5 if they choose to do so.
- I have to apply twice? In addition to the program you are applying to, some schools require that you also apply to the graduate school itself. (Ex: You are applying to the Developmental Program at the University of Montana. You may also have to apply to of the Graduate School of the University of Montana.) It typically involves a general data form, transcript, and a copy of your essay.
- Web vs. paper: In the age of technology, some schools have all their application materials online, some don’t have anything online, and some have both. There are advantages and disadvantages of both systems of applying. Look for cues in the program material. Often times you’ll see something written, for example, ‘we prefer you fill this out online.’
These are broad and general and VERY IMPORTANT! If ALL your application materials aren’t into the school by their specific deadline, the school is under absolutely no obligation to consider your application. It could easily be automatically tossed, so be aware!
PhD’s & Law School: December/first week of January
Masters: Mid December-March
Psy.D: December –March
Motto: Each school has their own requirements and their own way of handling the application process…so double & triple check EVERYTHING!!
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The Waiting Game…yeah, it stinks! The good news: once you have turned in all of your application materials, there is nothing left for you to do. The bad news: once you have turned in all of you application materials, there is nothing left for you to do. It’s a horrible, yet wonderful double edge sword. Literally, you can do nothing but wait. The graduate schools make the next move by notifying you of your application status. Since deadlines are typically the beginning of January on average, you won’t hear back from a school until mid-March, I would highly recommend “forgetting” about your applications and enjoying the last semester of your senior year! You could also worry and fret and pace and be nervous and make a several back-up plans (one or two would be nice to have…but not 10!)….but I wouldn’t advise it at all! You have done the best you can do…let fate take it’s course!
When you finally hear back in the age of mass communication:
- Mail, email, or phone calls: Nowadays, you just never know how you are going to hear back from a school! Rejection letters haven’t changed – they still come in the standard sized envelope on a single white piece of paper – but acceptance notification or offers for interviews can and could happen in any shape or form depending on your school. Be patient. The national deadline for acceptance/denial notification is April 15th. This is frustrating, but schools technically don’t have to tell you anything until then.
- Request for an interview: If all goes well, you will get a couple of requests for an interview! Hurray! If you have any intention of actually getting accepted to that school, you will stop at nothing to go to their campus for the interview. Seriously. It’s your grand opportunity to meet these people face-to-face and sell yourself in person. Unless they ask for a telephone interview, or there are extenuating circumstances which do not allow you to go to their campus, interviewing in person is the best way to go.
- Handling denials: You are going to receive rejection letters. Graduate school is competitive to get into – much more so than undergraduate. My best advice to you is to not take it personally. If you do, you’ll make your life miserable. Anyone can be graduate school material; it is just a matter of finding the school that is the best fit for you. Not getting into a school just means there is another school out there that is a better fit for you. Even if you don’t get into any school your first time around, don’t lose hope! Build your resume up for a year…re-evaluate your goals and ambitions…and go for round 2. It may sound cliché, but where there is a will, there is a way!
You’ve been accepted! Now what? Congratulations! If this is the school of your dreams, immediately send them your letter of acceptance of the offer and begin the next stage of your life. If the school falls into any other category…let them know your decision ASAP. Every school compiles a waiting list for acceptance. If they offer a spot in their program to you, and you don’t take it, they can go to the next person on the waiting list and offer it to them – that school may be the dream school of that person – you never know! This conundrum is the same reason why you may not be hearing back from certain places right away. You’re on their waiting list and they are waiting to hear back from the people they have first round offers too. It’s kind of an interesting circle effect…but the key is to reply back with any decision to any schools that offer you a position as soon as you can.
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