Whether you are currently enrolled in an undergraduate psychology program or have already earned your degree, it may be time to consider applying to graduate school. Although there is no magic formula for being accepted into a program, there are ways to increase your chances and find a program that meets your academic and career goals.
Think About Program Nuances
You need to decide whether you are applying to masters or doctoral programs. If you meet the requirements to apply to a doctoral program, this is often a better strategy. The main advantage of entering a doctoral program from the beginning is you only need to worry about maintaining the requirements to continue the program. If you start by entering a masters program, you will need to go through the application process again for your doctorate. No matter how well you perform in your masters program, it does not mean you will be accepted into a doctoral program. Most doctoral programs allow you to earn a masters degree en-route to your doctorate. If you choose to stop pursuing education at this point, you typically have the option.
When you are certain you want to apply to a masters program, either because the program meets your career goals or you need to start with a masters program to help you gain admission into a doctoral program, know the difference between a terminal and non-terminal degree program. In general, a terminal degree is a Master of Arts (M.A.) or one without a thesis requirement. Most students select a non-terminal degree program and write a thesis because these programs are considered more rigorous. You might consider a terminal degree program if you are pursuing a clinical path, such as a therapist, counselor, or want to enter a Psy.D. program. Even clinical programs that lead to a Ph.D., tend to prefer students who have completed a thesis because these programs are more research-oriented.
Cast A Wide Net
Ideally, if you can afford the costs associated with applying to several graduate programs, you will have the best chances at being accepted. Fortunately, the American Psychological Association publishes an annual guide on psychology graduate programs. Although the information is one to two years old before it is published, you can gain a better idea of the types of students each program accepts, such as the average GPA and GRE scores of applicants, the number of applicants the program typically sees, and how many applicants are usually accepted into each program.
Most of the programs you apply to should accept students similar to you. It is acceptable to add a few schools that might be a long-shot. Although it may sound ideal to include a few schools that often accept students with lower test scores and GPAs than you have, you may find this method can backfire on you. An exceptional student applying to a mediocre program can make you appear desperate to be accepted. Furthermore, even if you were accepted, you may find yourself dissatisfied with the program.
Rock Your Personal Statement
Personal statements are an important part of the application process because they are used to determine "fit" between prospective students and faculty members. Once you have reached the point of applying to a school, you should have a general idea of the faculty members you want as your mentor. Try to broadly work your educational and career goals into your personal statement and align them with a faculty member in the department without directly stating who you want as your mentor. Unless the directions for a personal statement instruct you to name faculty members you want as your mentor, you could inadvertently exclude another faculty member who is interested in your application but whose research does not align perfectly with your interests.
If you have clinical goals, it is not enough to want to help people. This is the most common cliche seen in personal statements when students want to enter the helping professions. Consider including patient populations you want to treat. You might have a desire to work extensively with veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or in environments with low-income people who would normally have limited access to mental health resources. It is acceptable to have some emotional appeal, regardless of your career interest, but avoid anything personal.
Beyond the content of your personal statements, they should be impeccably written. If you need help, consider contracting with college essay editing services. They'll help ensure your writing is up to par.