Things to know before applying to graduate school in Psychology

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THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE APPLYING
TO GRADUATE SCHOOL IN
PSYCHOLOGY
Courtesy of Dr. Greg Neimeyer
University of Florida
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU APPLY
1. Areas Within Psychology and Beyond
2. Level of Training: Masters vs. Doctorate
3. Ph.D. vs. Psy.D.: the Model Matters
4. Clinical vs. Counseling: Similarities--Differences
5. Reputational Rankings: All that glitters is not
gold
6. Admissions criteria and acceptance rates
7. Attrition Rates
8. Grad School Funding
#1 AREAS OF PSYCHOLOGY
Percentage of Doctorates by area
-44% clinical
-11% counseling
-6% educational psychology
-6% I/O
-5% school
- 4% developmental
- 3% social
- 3% quantitative
-1% cognitive
-1% personality
-12% other
TWO CRITICAL POINTS
APA-accreditation ONLY applies to doctoral
training in professional areas
 Psychology is only one of several overall
behavioral healthcare professions (Education,
Marriage & Family Therapy, Psychiatric Nursing
Psychiatry, Social Work)
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#2 LEVELS OF GRADUATE TRAINING:
MASTERS OR PH.D.?
Master’s degrees require 2 years
 Enables you to work in research contexts or
clinical/counseling contexts
 Thesis or Non-Thesis tracks
 May or may not provide an advantage
for subsequent doctoral work

MASTERS OR PH.D.?
WHY YOU MIGHT WANT
TO DO A MASTER’S
want
to work at the master’s level (salaries may be
comparable)
not sure about commitment to doctoral study
want to work for a couple of years first
want to develop greater focus and interests before doctoral
study
applying to counseling psychology programs that require a
master’s first
MASTERS OR PH.D.?

Why you might NEED to do a Master’s first
1. boost GPA
2. remediate course deficiencies (non-majors)
3. enhance clinical experience
4. enhance research experience
5. weak letters of recommendation
(no mentors)
#3 PSY.D. VS. PH.D.
To understand the difference between these
degrees requires knowing something about
the history of training in professional
psychology
 Boulder (Ph.D.) vs. Vail (Psy.D.) Model

BOULDER MODEL (1949)
established Ph.D. as the terminal research
degree, as in other sciences
 clearly reinforced the idea that the university
setting was the context for training
 established “scientist-practitioner” model

VAIL MODEL (1973)
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psychological knowledge warrants professional training,
as in medicine, dentistry and law
offers Psy.D.s (designed to complement the Ph.D.)
“Scholar/Professional” model (consumers of research
rather than producers of research)
housed in different contexts- university psychology
departments, associated schools of psychology, or
freestanding schools of psychology (e.g. CSPP)
can be APA-approved
is license-eligible
#4. CLINICAL AND COUNSELING
PSYCHOLOGY: SIMILARITIES
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Acceptance rates similar (about 8%)
Average GPA identical 3.5
GREs: Very similar (just over 1200 on average)
Similar salaries
Same license
Similar Training and
Common Curriculum
Similar Workplaces
CLINICAL AND COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY:
DIFFERENCES
 Size
-over 220 APA-approved clinical programs
-approximately 75 APA-approved counseling
programs
 clinical graduates about 2,000 doctorates/year;
counseling graduates about 600
doctorates/year
 Both are vibrant, growing fields
CLINICAL AND COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY:
DIFFERENCES
 Training
Models (Ph.D. vs. Psy D.)
Clinical has a much broader range of training models, ranging
from almost exclusively clinical science programs through
almost exclusively practitioner programs (Psy.D.)

Clinical Science: over 40 programs are members of the
Academy of Clinical Science

-Regarding practice, virtually ALL Psy.D. programs are
in clinical psychology, not in counseling psychology
-Vail model programs tend to enroll many more
students than Ph.D. programs

Virtually all counseling psychology programs are
“scientist-practitioner” programs
CLINICAL AND COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY
Theoretical Differences
 Clinical is more oriented towards the medical model,
diagnosis, disease, disorder, and dysfunction, and treatment,
recovery, rehabilitation and psychopathology
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Counseling is more humanistic and pluralist,
and oriented towards growth, development,
adjustment, function and strengths
CLINICAL VS. COUNSELING QUIZ
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Course in existential psychology?
Course in career counseling?
Course in life span development and adjustment?
Course in neuropsychological assessment?
Course in assessment of mental status/competence?
Training in family systems theory and therapy?
Training in psychopharmacology?
Want a job in a VAMC?
Want a job in a university counseling center?
True or False: both clinical and counseling psychologists
have the same license and both can be APA approved
programs
#5. REPUTATIONAL RANKINGS
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#1 factor applicants consider in making
admission’s decisions
where to access reputational rankings
-APA journals and
website: psychgrad.org
variable criteria for ranking
-straight reputation
-# of faculty with ABEPP
-faculty productivity
-national offices/journal editors
#6 ACCEPTANCE CRITERIA AND PERCENTAGES
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Overall acceptance rate: 10% for clinical and
counseling, 20-60% for experimental areas
Psy.D. accepts 1/3 to 1/2 of its applicants
10% is deceptive; between 1/3 and 1/2 off all
grad applicants receive one or more offer of
admission in a given year
The Yield Rate (Offers/Acceptances)
ACCEPTANCE CRITERIA AND PERCENTAGES
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GRE average = 1066 for M.S., 1206 for Ph.D.
GPA average = 3.3 for M.S., 3.5 for Ph.D.
all criteria show wide variability; overall profile and
goodness-of-fit trump numbers
More likely to increase chances of admission by
tailoring your applications rather than applying to a
large number of programs
#7. ATTRITION RATES
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My graduate school experience
On average, doctoral programs lose about 20% of their
graduates
Important to know because graduate education is an
investment and attrition rates represent a risk
Attrition can occur for at least three reasons- poor fit
(avoidable), personal decisions (e.g. family), termination
(impaired students)
Obtain list of students in the program
and contact at least two who have
left the program
#8 GRADUATE SCHOOL FUNDING
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Financing Graduate School: How to Get the Money You
Need for Your Graduate School Education (Patricia
McWade)
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M.S. programs only provide support for about 25% of
their students
Psy.D.s support about 35%-40%
Ph.D.s support 90% +
Funding can be fellowship, TA or
RA with/without tuition waivers
tuition waiver is important issue
GRADUATE SCHOOL FUNDING
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Level of “real” funding needs to take into
account
-cost of living differences
-”hidden costs” not covered by tuition waivers
-availability of health insurance, education
expenses for children, job opportunities for
spouses, etc.
Do not make decisions based on differences in
graduate stipends
SO, YOU’VE DECIDED TO APPLY?
Successful Graduate Applications
YOUR APPLICATION STARTS
BEFORE YOU APPLY
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Email faculty with inquiries regarding
-research
-training
-special interests
The “A List”
-Ask (about research, training, interests)
-Acknowledge (acknowledge and thank)
-Anticipate (express interest in contact)
-Alert (about potential application)
PERSONAL STATEMENTS, RESUMES AND
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
The Seven Components of Graduate
Application
 Volume of Graduate Applications and
Review Procedure

7 COMPONENTS OF GRADUATE APPLICATIONS
Application form
 GPA
 GREs
 Transcripts
 Personal Statement
 Letters of recommendation
 Vita
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VOLUME AND REVIEW OF GRADUATE
APPLICATIONS
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200 applicants x 15min = 3000 min / 60min= 50 hours of
admission’s review per faculty
This is only ONE of roughly 10 steps in the overall review
process
-wait for deadline for materials
-review all folders
-meet to discuss
-review and identify top 30-40
-select and schedule interviews
-conduct interviews (phone or on-site)
-discuss
-identify top 20-30 and rank order
-submit for funding programs
-notify you of acceptance or status
OTHER TIME CONSTRAINTS
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Needs to happen within a 6-8 week window
during which other duties still impinge-supervise doctoral advisees, theses and dissertations,
conduct, develop, propose, defend, research, clinical
supervision, edit and review books and journals, service at
departmental, college, university and national levels, teach
two or more courses, write and submit grants, and do
admissions. Overall faculty work week = 56 hours
RESULT
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Time dedicated to the review of your folder is
likely to be 15 minutes or less
TIME PER COMPONENT
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1 to 2 rule: each component of your application
will be reviewed for approximately 1-2 minutes
OBJECTIVE VS. SUBJECTIVE COMPONENTS
Application, GREs and Transcripts/GPA =
“objective” components
 resume, personal statements and letters of
recommendation = “subjective” components
 each provides some distinctive information and
built-in redundancy

OBJECTIVE COMPONENTS
GPA: Overall, last 2 years, in the major
 GPA average = 3.3 for M.S., 3.5 for Ph.D
 GRE: Verbal and Quantitative
 GRE average = 1066 for M.S., 1206 for Ph.D.
.

SUBJECTIVE COMPONENTS: RESUME
Purpose- to clearly display in synoptic form the
information and experience that qualifies you
for graduate study
 Use high quality, white, bond paper
 It will be reviewed for ~1-2 min, so limit to 2
pages + C.V.
 Likely to be consulted again prior to interview

RESUME
Name and Contact information
 Educational Background
 Clinical Experience
 Research Experience
 Presentations and Publications
 Honors and Awards
 References
 Course Listings

RESUME
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Name and Contact information
- top center
- include email, phone, fax
- boldface in slightly larger type (18+pt)
RESUME
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Clinical Experience
- what counts?
Peer counseling
crisis center
volunteer work in nursing homes
working in nursery
habitat for humanity
-list dates
-if supervised,
describe & list supervisor
RESUME
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Research Experience: short narrative
accounts of research experiences
-class projects (e.g. in lab courses)
-independent research
-senior/honor’s thesis
RESUME
Publications and Presentations
-papers completed (like senior thesis)
 -paper presentations
-publications
-list author(s), title, and presentation venue or
publication outlet
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RESUME
Awards and Honors
 scholarships
 recognitions or awards
 leadership positions
 Dean’s or President’s Honor role
 do NOT include
High School Honors
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RESUME
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References
-identify three or four people to contact
-get prior approval from them to serve as
references for you
-provide complete contact information
-use strategically to augment written letters of
recommendation
RESUME
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Course listings
-provides opportunity to “package” yourself
-do NOT rely on transcripts to do this for you
-identify four or five clusters of courses such as foundation in
psychology, research methods and statistics, clinical and
personality, assessment, specialty courses, women’s issues,
mental health, etc.- don’t forget to include any special topics or
independent research courses- include grades, if good
-paperclip as a single page onto the back of your vita
-don’t worry about redundancy
RESUME: WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE
Hobbies, pets, favorite books or movies,
workshops attended, numerous extracurricular
duties/activities
 consider that your resume will be reviewed for
only 1-2 minutes; during that short time, what
do you want the reader to see most?
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PERSONAL STATEMENT
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Purpose: to present yourself effectively and
to make the connection between your
interests and the program to which you are
applying
-don’t depend on the reader to make this
connection- do not stop with “I’m an
excellent and interested person”- take the
extra step: “why I would be a
Personal
good fit for your program”
Statement
PERSONAL STATEMENT
Ordinarily only 1 to 2 pages, and no two are
alike
 start with broad statement, usually with H.S. or
college
 Then focus on specific experiences, events, and
opportunities that have sharpened your focus
and interests
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PERSONAL STATEMENTS
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Use “upbeat words” and expressions
-e.g., “excellent”, “terrific opportunity”, “very
pleased to have been chosen”, “gratified to
have been selected for…”, “surprised at how
excited and interested I was in…”
PERSONAL STATEMENT
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Identify current research interests and two or
three faculty you might like to work with
-natural if you have already emailed faculty
-do not list everyone
-check to make sure they are “core” faculty
PERSONAL STATEMENTS: STYLE
Enthusiasm
 Humility
 Focus and dedication
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PERSONAL STATEMENT: STYLE
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Do not stretch, modify, or enhance anything,
including your level of interest in research if that
is not true- recipe for disappointmentDo not try to sound “smart” or prove yourselfjust be yourself
Attribute flattering things about yourself to
sources other than yourself, e.g., “A number of my
faculty have noted the level of dedication and initiative that I have
taken in my work, and I have been gratified to have been chosen to
serve as the head of the research team.”
PERSONAL STATEMENT
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Read the statement out loud. Time it.
Give it to friends to read (does it sound like
you?)
Give it to a faculty member to read and
provide feedback on
Ask him/her what overall impression it
leaves? “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would
he/she view this statement?”- How could you
improve it?
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
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Purpose: to secure outside evaluations of you from
sources that most closely approximate the faculty
with which you will be working. Includes
professional, personal, and interpersonal
commentaries.
Research demonstrates that letters of
recommendation are the single
most important source of
“subjective” information in your
Letters of
application
Recommendation
CHOOSING LETTER WRITERS
Knowing this, choose carefully
 First, how many: 3-4
 Second, who: academic, clinical, research
 All Ph.D. or co-signed by Ph.D.
 No politicians, family friends, practicing
therapists, etc.
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LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Choose people who know you well, who can
speak to different aspects of your experience,
and who can and will take the time to write a
strong letter
 ask, “Would you be willing to write me a strong
letter of recommendation for graduate study in
psychology?”
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PROVIDE LETTER WRITERS WITH:
Department Questionnaire
 Thumbnail sketch that includes
-name and contact info
-how they know you
-your GRE and GPAs
- bulleted items that you want them to include
e.g. Psi Chi president, APA convention, focused
area(s) of study, honors or awards
-redundancy is fine
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PROVIDE LETTER WRITERS WITH:
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Prominent deadline for completion, one week
earlier than earliest deadline
Provide a complete list of ALL schools and
addresses at one time, if possible
be sure to identify the type of program,
(counseling, clinical, developmental, cognitive
social, etc.), and call attention to any differences
in this regard- stating the wrong program can be
“kiss of death”-
OTHER POSSIBLE INCLUSIONS
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Published papers (seeing is believing)
FINAL WORDS
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Now your materials are off and you can prepare
for your interviews. Not a time to be passiveemail any faculty you have had contact with
and indicate that you have appreciated the
contact that you have had with them and,
based on that experience, you have decided to
apply to their program.
FINAL WORDS
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In addition, email two or more grad students
from the program to get their take on the
program “what has your experience been like
so far?” “In what way has the program met your
expectations and in what ways is it different”,
etc.
FINAL WORDS
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The entire purpose of applying is to get an
interview. Period. You are more likely to get an
interview if your file is viewed as a person,
rather than as another “unknown applicant”.
So advance contact by phone or email is one of
the biggest things you can do to advance your
graduate application.

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