ISSUES TO CONSIDER FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL
I. Typical GPA requirements/preferences (varies by program type)
Ph D programs—typically 3.25 and above. 3.5 and above for top programs
Masters—typically 3.0 and above; programs that focus primarily on practice alone (rather than research along with practice) may have lower expectations for GPA than 3.0. Despite their less competitive nature, there are disadvantages regarding cost and employment opportunities, compared to more competitive programs.
II. Graduate Record Exam (GRE) preparation/expectations (SEE WWW.GRE.ORG)
What is the GRE?
“GENERAL TEST”: The GRE general test is a 3-part test which assesses 1) verbal ability, 2) quantitative ability, and 3) analytical writing ability. As of Fall 2007, there will be one verbal section one quantitative section, and 2 analytical writing sections. In addition, there will be two sections used for research purposes. Each section takes approximately 30-45 minutes. You can expect it to take about 4 hours. It is a computer-based test taken at a GRE testing cite on a date you register for in advance. Typically, you would take the GRE in September or early October of your senior year. See
www.gre.org for up-to-date details.
“SUBJECT TEST”: A variety of both Master’s and Ph. D level programs require applicants to take the
GRE general test. Some of these programs also require applicants to take a “subject” test (i.e., a test
that assesses your knowledge of psychology). Some less competitive Master’s programs will not
require either of the GRE exams. NOTE: The subject test is only offered several days each year (i.e., unlike the general test, you do not have much flexibility for when you can take it).
All Doane psychology students wishing to attend graduate school should ASSUME THEY WILL BE REQUIRED TO TAKE THE GRE (both general and subject), and prepare for it accordingly. If you
will be applying to even marginally competitive Ph D programs, they will often require applicants to complete this subject test.
Performance on the GRE
Many graduate programs use the GRE to reduce the number of applicants to be considered for admission, and it can therefore be a crucial part of your application. Although the scores preferred by schools vary somewhat, here are some general guidelines (Two GRE sections—verbal and
quantitative—are scored on an 800 point scale. The analytical writing section is scored on a 0 to 6 scale).
Ph D programs—average 600 per section for verbal and quantitative.
Masters’ programs—average 500 per section for verbal and quantitative.
***Note: Because the analytical writing section is quite new (it replaced the old analytical section in October of 2002), it is unclear what graduate programs will consider an “acceptable” score, or whether
this section will be regarded with the same importance as the verbal and quantitative sections.
Again, these are rough guidelines provided to give you an idea of what a competitive score is. The American Psychological Association (APA) Guide to Graduate schools provides the average GRE performance for students accepted into programs at a wide range of universities. Consult this resource (Dr. Pauwels has a copy) for the expectations specific to the programs in which you are interested.
In addition, a recent review of a number of graduate psychology programs by Norcross et al. (2005) provides the following GRE information for
both Ph D and Master’s levels programs.
Norcross, J. C., Kohout, J. L., & Wicherski, M. (2005). Graduate study in psychology: 1971-2004. American Psychologist, 60 (9), 959-
III. Research involvement at Doane (key for most Ph. D programs)
All psychology majors at Doane are required to participate in research during the Senior Seminar class that is taken in the Fall of senior year. However, for students wishing to pursue a Ph. D, further involvement in research can be an important part of a competitive application. Such experience can be gained by joining ongoing research that is conducted by the Doane psychology department. These research opportunities may be available either through a lab (directed by Dr. Pauwels) or, when available, through summer research experience directed by a faculty member. If you are interested in pursuing these opportunities, contact one of the psychology faculty.
IV. Your application materials
Many application deadlines for graduate school are between early December and early February, although a few may fall outside this range. This means that much of your “preparation” work for
gathering materials, etc. will get done during the first semester of your senior year.
Requesting letters of recommendation from faculty
EARLY in your senior year, identify the faculty members (usually 3, sometimes 4) from whom you would like a letter of recommendation. You should be asking the faculty for these letters in August or September. Faculty members typically get multiple requests for letters, so it is important that you request them early. Some graduate schools will have a form for you to provide to your letter writers; others will simply request a letter.
Many programs ask applicants to provide a personal statement describing why they believe they would be successful in the program. Although the specific topics the programs request the applicant to comment upon will vary, you can assume that in general they will want you to discuss your abilities, interests, relevant experience, and career goals. For Ph. D programs, there will also be particular emphasis placed on research interests and past research experience.
It is important that you begin writing a general version of your personal statement early in your senior year. The first reason for doing this is so that as deadlines approach, you can make relatively minor changes to fit the specific requirements of each program to which you are applying. The second reason for starting early is to get feedback on the statement from faculty members at Doane, so that you can revise it several times to ensure that you have a well written, well organized statement.
Financial costs of applications
Many graduate programs require you to pay an application fee. Typically, these range from $10 to $50 per program (the more expensive fees are usually for Ph. D level programs). If you are serious about pursuing a career that requires a graduate education, keep in mind that spending a couple hundred dollars on application fees (assuming you are applying to multiple places) is a worthwhile investment to start that career.
V. Timeline for graduate school application/preparation process
March/April of JUNIOR YEAR
Gather GRE preparation resources. A good way to start is to visit the GRE website (www.gre.org) to
get familiarized with the test procedures, and to purchase a current GRE preparation guide, which is available at any major bookstore. They typically cost $20 to $30, and are published by a variety of
sources (Educational Testing Services and Barron’s to name two), in addition to the official guide
provided by the GRE organization itself.
April of JUNIOR YEAR
Take a practice test of the GRE general test. You can do this at home, and many of the published guides provide practice tests. This will give you an early look at what your GRE performance is prior to any studying. ASSUME NOTHING ABOUT YOUR VERBAL, QUANTITATIVE OR ANALYTICAL
ABILITY. You may be better or worse in these areas (according to the GRE, anyway) than you believe. Let the practice test tell you for sure.
Summer between JUNIOR and SENIOR year
Study for the GRE. Focus on the areas that your practice test suggests you need to improve upon.
September of SENIOR Year
1. Request letters of recommendation from 3-4 faculty members.
2. Begin writing general personal statement.
3. Start identifying research interests and possible programs to which you may apply.
4. Take the GRE.
October of SENIOR Year
1. Revise personal statement (you can ask faculty to look it over).
2. Continue researching possible programs. Begin identifying specific
specialty areas that you may like to pursue (e.g. counseling, clinical, social,
personality, developmental, social work, biological, occupational therapy, public health,
cognitive, etc.). TALK WITH FACULTY to identify which areas best fit your interests.
3. Take the GRE if you have not already done so.
November of SENIOR Year
1. Identify the specific programs to which you will apply.
2. Notify recommendation letter writers of the programs and their deadlines. Be sure to provide
your writers with your resume, along with addressed envelopes (with stamps, if they are to be
mailed directly to the graduate school). All materials should be typed. Finally, many programs
ask that you indicate whether you are willing to waive your right to read the recommendation
letter. You should waive this right. (If you are not confident that a given faculty member will
write you a strong letter, you should request the letter from somebody else.).
December/January/February of SENIOR Year
Apply to programs. This is the time frame during which most programs will have their application deadlines. Some programs may have deadlines even later in the year.
VI. Paying for graduate school
In general, the more competitive a program is, the less out-of-pocket cost there is for the graduate student. Some programs may be easier to get accepted to, but that usually means there will be less financial assistance available. Typically, Ph D programs (as opposed to Psy D or Master’s level
programs) with an emphasis upon conducting research (as opposed to an emphasis on applied or “practice-oriented” skills) offer more financial assistance. Such assistance can take at least several
A. Paid research assistantships
B. Paid teaching assistantships
C. Grants or scholarships that may be offered to particular graduate students by the department
based on need or merit.
D. Tuition wavers or reductions
E. A combination of the above.
For an example of how these forms of aid are distributed in clinical Ph D and Psy D programs, consult
the following table:
Comparisons Among APA-Accredited PsyD, Practice-Oriented PhD, and Research-Oriented Ph D Programs in Clinical Psychology
Psy D Practice-oriented and Research-oriented Ph D
equal emphasis Ph D programs
Tuition waiver only (%) 7.9 5.2 2.2
Assistantship only (%) 19.5 25.7 8.5
Both tuition waiver and
assistantship (%) 17.5 57.2 84.2
Note. Data refer to mean percentages.
Adapted from: Norcross, J. C., Castle, P. H., Sayette, M. A., & Mayne, T. J. (2004). The PsyD:
Heterogeneity in practitioner training. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35 (4), 412-
In many cases, competitive programs offer enough assistance so that the graduate students have to take
out little, if any, additional student loans (i.e., you do not have to add to your Doane loan debt!).
VII. Other issues
; Deciding where to apply, and how many applications to send out.
; Differences between Masters-level, PhD-level, and Psy D programs.
; Differences between research-oriented and applied/practice oriented programs.
; Educational programs preparing students for licensure as a “Licensed Mental Health Practitioner”
(LMHP) or as a “Licensed Psychologist” (pamphlet prepared by Marcia Freer, Ph D.).
VIII. Helpful resources
This is probably the most comprehensive website I have seen that is designed specifically for graduate study in
If you are considering taking the GRE (General AND the “Subject” test in psychology), this is your BEST