Admission to graduate programs in psychology is extremely competitive. Plan ahead to make sure you have all the necessary pieces in place. Here are some helpful tips on navigating the process:

  • Identify target schools. Refer to Graduate Study in Psychology (ISBN: 978-1-4338-0535-6), the American Psychological Association’s compendium of all the graduate psychology programs in the United States and Canada. It includes valuable information about the application process and admissions history at each school. You may refer to the Department of Psychology’s copy of the book or purchase your own.
  • Allow enough time. Application to graduate school can be a long process, particularly if you are applying to several programs. Allow enough time to search for graduate programs that may interest you, prepare and take admission exams if required, send transcripts, give faculty members enough time to write letters of recommendation, and make certain that you have completed the application process before the deadline dates. Graduate programs often have deadlines that may not allow for late applications.
  • Obtain letters of reference. Most graduate schools ask for letters of reference as part of the application process. Reference letters offer the opportunity to showcase you and your accomplishments. The best letter will be written by a faculty member who has taught you, advised you, supervised your independent research and spoken to you about your plans and goals.
  • Take the Graduate Record Examination. Many graduate programs require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). This test has two main parts, the General Test and the Subject Test. The General Test includes Verbal, Quantitative and Analytic Writing sections. The Subject Test covers your undergraduate major. This test must be taken before you begin the application process.
  • Consider location. Because graduate study in psychology is very competitive, limiting yourself geographically (“I must stay in Chicago”) can have a serious impact on your ability to find a program that is a good fit. Schools in major metropolitan areas are very attractive to applicants from around the country. If you are willing to travel to a different location (such as North Dakota, Alabama or Oklahoma) for the few years that it will take to earn a graduate degree, you may increase your odds of being admitted to a graduate program.

For more tips, check out Mary Petrosko’s paper, “So You Want to Go to Graduate School (pdf).” A 2009 graduate of Dominican, Petrosko successfully navigated her way through the graduate school application process.

PhD Programs

PhD programs are offered by major research institutions such as DePaul University, the University of Illinois and Northwestern University. PhD students ordinarily must attend on a full-time basis.

PhD programs are competitive. A university may receive 300 to 400 applications for fewer than 10 open slots.

It is difficult to enter a PhD program without completing an independent research project as an undergraduate. At Dominican, you can gain research experience by doing an Honors project or a Degree with Distinction project. Get an early start: ask your Dominican advisor about doing independent research before the end of your second year of study.

PhD programs favor applicants who have a strong mathematics and natural science background. Take as many courses in these areas as you can, particularly biology, neuroscience and math through calculus. Even better: earn a minor in one of these areas.

PsyD Programs

PsyD programs are typically offered in freestanding schools of psychology. This degree is based on the professional model of training, which focuses on applied training in clinical settings. Students are prepared for professional clinical service, not research or teaching.

PsyD programs typically admit much larger classes of students than PhD programs, and they usually offer little, if any, financial aid. PsyD students typically fund their education through savings, earnings or educational loans.