Applying to Graduate School in Psychology: Choosing Programs & Preparing

I received a question on my Tumblr about how to plan for graduate school applications. The question asker wanted to know how they should go about selecting programs to apply to, and planning for applications. Here was my response:

First, borrow or buy a copy of Getting In: A Step-to-Step Guide by the APA. This will guide you in picking programs, locating them, evaluating them, locating advisers, getting your materials for application in order. It also breaks down a semester-by-semester timeline of what you should be working on at each stage in the process. I read this book in freshman year of undergrad and followed its guidelines to a T, and it helped me feel informed and empowered, and helped me to get accepted into 5 of the 20 the programs I applied to.

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This book’s advice is evergreen, and it’s super direct and straightforward.

Next, borrow or rent or buy a copy of the APA’s guide to graduate programs. Many psychology departments have a copy in their main office that you can borrow. Read through it.

Use it, along with the Step-by-Step Guide, to select at least 10 programs in the field you are interested in. Ideally, more.

Then: Go to the websites of those universities. Go to the psychology department page. Look up the faculty. Each faculty member should have a profile, a CV, a review of their research, and more. Look at their research. Does it interest you? Pick at least 10 professors you want to work with, in at least 10 different university programs.

Email those professors whose work interests you. Ask them: will you be accepting new students next year? Adviser fit and availability is the number one determinant of who gets into a grad program. It is an utter waste of time to apply to a program if the person you want to work with is not taking people on.

There is no secrete cache of this knowledge. A good adviser should make it available to you. As for me: I read the “Getting In” book and followed it, and it led me to apply to 20 programs and get into…let’s see? 5? And since the graduate school acceptance rate is like 10% for PhD programs, 5/20 is way better than average.

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