How to Apply to Grad School

Applying to Psychology Graduate Programs

The Application Process


Eight Steps to Begin Your Quest for Acceptance Finding the Right Program


Psychology Graduate Program Criteria

  • Grade Point Average
  • Required Courses
  • Recommended Courses
  • GRE
  • Research Activities
  • Professional Organizations
  • Work Experience
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Extracurricular Activities

Five Steps in Building a Professional-Looking Application

Writing Your Statement of Purpose

Vita Preparation

Suggested Activities to Prepare for Graduate School

    Sophomore Year
    Junior Year
    Senior Year
    Senior Year Monthly Check List

Addresses for Obtaining Material for Graduate School Information

Curriculum Vitae Worksheet

Vita Example

Examples of Program Requirements

Example of Statement of Purpose


Admission into graduate programs in psychology is an increasingly competitive process. Well-qualified undergraduates face the possibility of not being accepted into a graduate program. Some reasons are: limited number of openings; fewer sources of financial support, fellowships, or traineeships; and the failure of the applicant to obtain the necessary requirements for admission to graduate school sufficiently early in their undergraduate career to allow for a competitive application. Having the right materials, selecting schools, and getting accepted involves being well informed about the application and admission processes.

The goal of this booklet is to prepare prospective graduate students to be competitive candidates for graduate school and to assist them in the application process. Individuals applying to graduate programs in psychology often have similar questions about the application process. This document will hopefully answer many of the frequently asked general questions. While it is hoped that the limited suggestions supplied here will be of assistance to psychology students, it should be emphasized that there is no substitute for the advice and guidance of a knowledgeable faculty member.

Because criteria for acceptance varies widely from institution to institution and from year to year, this booklet is designed as a guide to supplement the materials received from specific programs. General criteria for programs across the country are usually consistent, but specific requirements (courses to be completed, application deadlines, etc.) may differ from program to program. At the end of this booklet is a list of sources which provide information about admission procedures and program requirements. Some are available in the library at OSU or from faculty and the undergraduate advisor in the Department of Psychology at OSU. The resource books are listed specifically so that students can follow-up on information provided in this booklet.

This booklet represents a compilation of materials from a variety of sources specifically written about application procedures. It is hoped that this booklet will serve as a useful resource to you.

Eight Steps to Begin Your Quest for Acceptance

  1. At the beginning of your junior year, investigate programs that interest you. Talk with faculty, students, and advisors about programs. Request that the schools or the departments send brochures, catalogs, applications, and other available materials to you. (Note: The Department of Psychology at OSU each year receives promotional and application materials from many schools throughout the country. This material is stored in room 219 North Murray. Students are encouraged to explore this material.)
  2. For each school, compile a list of all required course work, test scores, GPAs, and any recommended activities. It is recommended that required course work be finished and the grade reported on your transcript prior to your application to a program.
  3. Take the Graduate Record Examination-GRE-(or any other required test) and any required specialty tests (such as the GRE Psychology Subject Test). The scores must be available when you need them. Remember that General Test scores take three weeks to be sent to schools; Subject Test scores require six weeks.
  4. Make sure you know the deadlines for submitting your application and other materials. These deadlines will vary from year to year.
  5. Write your vita (resumé). Have it reviewed by a faculty member or advisor.
  6. Contact potential referees. Ask if they can give you a good, strong, supportive reference. Do not leave this to the last minute! Some faculty will allow you to review the reference letter they have written; others will not.
  7. Obtain extra copies of ALL transcripts or arrange to have them sent to the appropriate schools.
  8. Plan to spend around $200 in application, mailing, and transcript fees. Many programs charge an application fee which can range from $15 to $50 or more depending on the school. At OSU, transcripts are available from the transcript office. (Some schools will want two copies of each transcript.)

Finding the Right Program

What sort of career do you want to have in psychology? In what area of psychology do you want to specialize? Do you want to work with animals or human children, adolescents, or adults; what type of work do you want to do with your target population? What graduate programs offer training in areas of interest to you? Do you want to stop at a masterís degree or go on to a doctorate? These are just a few of the questions that you should be asking yourself when selecting a program. Help in answering these questions can come from many different sources: professional journals, graduate school guides, and faculty in your department. Faculty typically attend national conferences, read journals, and belong to professional organizations. They might know of the programs that will suit your interests.

In psychology, there is a wide range of degree programs from which to choose. Below are some of the main areas of graduate study in psychology. Not all areas of graduate study are listed. There is a wide variety of programs other than the ones described below. For example, there are psychology programs in substance abuse, special education, sports, art or music therapy, children, adolescents, gerontology, reading, health, behavior, and many other areas which are contained within the listed areas or are a separate, special area of study.

The terminal degree in psychology programs is considered either a Ph.D., Ed.D., or Psy.D. Programs in clinical, counseling, or school psychology can be accredited by the American Psychological Association. (Note that licensure in many states requires a degree from an accredited program.) Completion of a graduate degree in psychology can lead to work in academic or research settings. Other possible work areas are listed in each section.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology emphasizes the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of individuals in psychological distress. It involves research, teaching, and services relevant to the application of principles, methods, and procedures for understanding, predicting, and alleviating intellectual, emotional, biological, psychological, social, and behavioral maladjustment, disability, and discomfort applied to a wide range of client populations. The clinical psychologist maybe trained in individual, group, child, marriage, and family therapy as well as in projective, objective, and behavioral assessment. Clinical psychologists earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D. from a university psychology department or a professional school and complete an internship in a clinical setting. The two prevalent training models in clinical psychology are the Boulder Model (scientist-practitioner) and the Vail Model (for Psy.D. programs). Admission to clinical programs at the doctoral level is extremely competitive. Employment opportunities in clinical psychology are found in universities, university medical centers, research centers, clinics, mental health centers and hospitals, child outpatient and inpatient facilities, prisons, university mental health centers, and private practice.

Counseling Psychology

The distinctions between clinical psychology and counseling psychology have steadily faded over the last two decades. The more traditional counseling psychology programs maintain the distinction between the two types of psychology; the less traditional counseling psychology programs do not. Two of the classic distinctions are that clinical graduates tend to work with the widest ranges of disturbance from the more seriously disturbed populations to the least seriously disturbed populations, whereas counseling psychology graduates work with healthier, less pathological populations. The primary goal of the field of counseling psychology is to maximize growth in one or more of three life areas: family, work, and education. The counseling psychologist is trained in individual, group, marriage, and family counseling as well as in skills in the areas of careers, vocational and educational counseling and assessment, and rehabilitation. Employment opportunities can be found in universities, student counseling centers, mental health centers, business and industry, a variety of service-based centers, school systems, and private practice. Counseling psychologists also work through hospitals in the area of rehabilitation.

Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychology is a broad-based term that delineates the application of experimental methods of scientific study. Many departments will have seperate programs in cognitive, motivation, learning, perception, biopsychology, developmental, comparative, etc. Training in experimental psychology can be applied in any setting in which understanding the behavior of individuals is helpful. Until very recently, the majority of psychologists in the specialization were employed on the teaching and research staffs of universities and colleges. Now, many are working in industry and for the government.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology focuses on psychological growth and behavior changes that people and animals experience during their lifetime. These include changes in perceiving, learning, thinking, feeling, and relating to others. Most developmental psychologists study a particular aspect of development and a particular age group. The focus might be on the development of the visual system in infancy, on the development of mathematical knowledge in the early school years, or on the development of social interaction skills in adolescence. Gerontology, or the psychology of aging, has become a popular subspecialty of this area as the increasing elderly population in this country presents special needs that are currently being insufficiently addressed. Developmental psychologists can be found working in universities, research institutions, government programs with services for children, toy companies, head start centers, and day care centers.

Biopsychology (Physiological Psychology)

The biopsychologist studies the interrelationship between biology and behavior in humans and animals. For example, looking at factors such as environmental stimuli of light, sound, and temperature, or other stimuli such as hormones or chemicals, the biopsychologist investigates the influence of the brain on behavior. Research areas include learning, psychopharmacology, memory and motivation, etc. Work can be found in universities, hospitals, and pharmaceutical laboratories.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Contemporary organizational psychology is concerned with the behavior of people in organizations; the relationship between the individual, his/her work group, and the organization; and the structure and functioning of human organizations. In its application, industrial psychology focuses mainly on personnel selection, training, and placement; on personnel testing and performance evaluation; and on problems of employee productivity, absenteeism, and turnover. A Ph.D. in this area often leads to a job in industry or self-employment as a consultant.

School Psychology

School psychologists are trained in the application of psychological and educational principles and technology. School psychologists serve all members of the educational community and offer a comprehensive range of psychological services, including consultation regarding mental health, behavioral problems, and educational problems. The school psychologist develops recommendations for children with special needs and functions as a consultant to teachers in the resolution of a variety of classroom problems. Although most are employed in school settings, an increasing number work in hospitals, community facilities, university-based training programs, or private practice.

Social Psychology

Social psychology is the study of the influence of social and environmental factors on behavior. Issues such as personality, attitude change, group dynamics, interpersonal attraction, and self-constructs are targeted for research. The broad training received by social psychologists provides sufficient flexibility such that these individuals work as researchers, teachers, and practitioners/consultants. Social psychologists work in private industry, government organizations, advertising, personnel offices, and medical and public-health schools.

When selecting a career in mental health, keep in mind that you are not restricted to psychology. Psychology is only one of four nationally recognized mental health disciplines, the others being psychiatry (medicine), clinical social work, and psychiatric nursing.


Students interested in the biological aspects of psychological illness may find medicine an interesting area of study. The advantages of a medical degree include (a) an M.D. (allopath) or a D.O. (osteopath) can prescribe medication and (b) the average income for psychiatrists is higher than for psychologists. A medical degree (M.D., D.O.) earned concurrently or sequentially with a psychology doctorate (Ph.D., Psy.D.) may allow the greatest flexibility of all the aforementioned programs of study. This option allows one to practice medicine and psychology while also affording basic education in research and statistics. This is certainly the most challenging of all the alternatives. Earning two degrees will take almost twice as long as earning either one alone.

Clinical Social Work

A master's degree in social work (M.S.W.) is a popular area of study. Several advantages of this option are (a) the much higher rate of admission to M.S.W. programs, (b) GREs rarely are required for admission, (c) fewer research requirements, (d) an emphasis on professional training, and (e) completion of the M.S.W. requires less than half the time necessary to obtain a Ph.D. Social work is now legally recognized and regulated in 49 states and has attained third-party vendor status (insurance reimbursement) in 27 states. The major disadvantages lie in the less comprehensive nature of the training, which is reflected in a lower pay scale as compared to clinical psychologists. Not becoming a "doctor" and not being able to conduct psychological testing also proves troublesome for some.


The need for registered nurses (RNs) working outpatient care has increased over the past few years. This is due to a variety of factors: increased emphasis on preventive care, earlier release of patients from hospitals, and an increase in outpatient centers, to name a few. Additionally, more RNs will be needed to address the special health concerns of older people.

Students interested in psychiatric nursing would be required to obtain a bachelor's degree in nursing (B.S.N.) and to become a registered nurse (RN) prior to working toward a master of science in nursing (M.S.N.). Nurses do not get to prescribe medication or conduct psychological testing, but they do practice psychotherapy in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Psychology Graduate Program Criteria

Admission to graduate programs in psychology is based on the following factors:

  • Grade point average
  • Required psychology course work
  • Recommended courses
  • Scores on comprehensive examinations (e.g., GRE's)
  • Evidence of good research skills
  • Professional involvement
  • Related work experience
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Extracurricular activities
Each of these areas will be delineated further. This web page provides examples of the variety of expectations in graduate programs.

Grade Point Average (GPA)

  • Graduate schools may use one or all of the following grade point average (GPA) criteria: overall GPA, last two years GPA, and psychology GPA.
  • Graduate schools may set an absolute minimum GPA.
  • They may provide information on GPAs of previously admitted graduate students.

A GPA of 3.50 is often needed to enter into well-known doctoral programs, while GPAs for many master's-level programs are usually closer to a 3.00. Keep in mind that many students have good grades. You will need other qualifications to distinguish yourself. If your GPA is not a 3.00 by the end of your junior year, you should consider whether your grades reflect your ability level or a previous lack of motivation. It is advisable that students whose grades do not meet the particular school's criteria carefully consider whether or not they are sufficiently motivated to start the application process. Individuals who do not easily fit into the conventional model of the admissible graduate student (i.e., high grades, high GREs), but who could and would make valuable contributions to the field, should visit with their advisor or faculty about application strategies.

If you view your GPA as being too low, consider the following tactics:

  • Take additional courses to raise your cumulative GPA.
  • Retake courses to increase your graduation/retention GPA.
  • Apply to master's programs first to show doctoral admissions committees you can perform academically at a higher level.
  • Report your psychology GPA or graduation GPA (which includes only the classes counting towards your major degree).
  • Some schools provide the option to take a limited number of graduate-level courses on a nonmatriculated basis (OSU calls such a person a "special student"). If a student is not admitted into a program, he/she might have the opportunity to take graduate-level courses. At the end of a semester of work, the student would be reassessed as an applicant based on the grades received in those classes as well as the usual criteria. While there is generally no guarantee of admission, this is an option worth trying.

Note: A GPA far below 3.00 is considered by many competitive university programs as unsatisfactory. Regardless of the prestige of the undergraduate institution, some admissions committees view a GPA under 3.00 as below the acceptable limits for competitive programs.

Required Courses

Determine the prerequisite courses required by schools. Have the required courses completed prior to your application to schools. Success in these courses may help to determine whether you have the ability and knowledge base to succeed in a psychology graduate program. Graduate schools are primarily interested in whether or not you have earned a bachelor's degree and what courses you have completed. Many schools do not require that the bachelor's degree be in psychology as long as some preliminary courses have been completed. General Psychology, Statistics/Quantitative Psychology, and Experimental Psychology are often required as prerequisites. Each school sets its own required courses, so required courses will vary from program to program. For example, OSU requires Introductory Psychology, Experimental Psychology, Quantitative Methods in Psychology; the clinical program recommends Abnormal Psychology.

Quantitative Psychology/Statistics and Experimental Psychology are critical courses to the selection committee. If a student did not receive at least a "B" in these courses, it would be well advised to retake these courses. Both grades for a repeated course usually are included in the transcript, but the improvement will be noted.

Recommended Courses

Statistics/Quantitative Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Physiological Psychology/Biopsychology, Learning, Social Psychology, Personality, Abnormal Psychology, Psychological Testing, and Experimental Design may or may not be required in a psychology graduate program but will help prepare you for such a program and usually come highly recommended. These classes are also likely to help enhance your GRE Psychology Subject Test scores.

Graduate selection committees prefer a broad undergraduate background in a variety of arts and sciences disciplines. Exposure to biological sciences, computer skills, mathematics, and statistics are highly recommended. It is advisable that students take as many statistics classes as possible in their undergraduate career. Speaking and communication skills are also generally valued. If possible, taking a graduate course in a psychology area can add prestige to a transcript. If you are anxious or phobic regarding oral presentations, then by all means complete a public speaking course. Composition and writing courses are also vital; you may well face three or four major papers each semester in graduate school, some up to 40 pages in length. Additionally, you will have to write a thesis (for some programs) and a dissertation (all programs) plus write research articles.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Most graduate schools require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE); a few still require the Miller Analogy Test (MAT). Many graduate psychology programs require the GRE and the Psychology Subject Test. GRE aptitude scores will often be interpreted as a measure of a student's general intellectual ability and likelihood of success in graduate school. The GRE subject examination will be viewed as a measure of the amount and quality of your undergraduate training in psychology. OSU's psychology graduate programs in experimental and clinical require the Psychology GRE in addition to the Quantitative/Verbal Aptitude sections of the GRE, while the counseling psychology program will accept test scores from the Miller Analogy Test.

In order to score well, you must take some time to prepare for the GRE. Study guides, some with CD's, are available at many bookstores. Practice test software can also be downloaded from the GRE website ( Beginning in September 2001, free software will be mailed to students who register for the General Test. OSU students can also use the practice test software available on the computers in 015 North Murray. Study guides are also available at bookstores for the Subject Test. Beginning in September 2001, a free practice book will be mailed to registrants for the Subject Test. Information regarding the content of the Subject Test is available at the GRE web site.

The General Test is available only as a computer-based test. The OSU Testing Center, 111 North Murray, offers the test Monday through Friday and two Saturdays per month. The Subject Test is still a paper and pencil test, and is available in November, December, and April each year.

Research Activities

Graduate schools generally do not have specific requirements pertaining to research knowledge/expertise. However, experience with research is considered extremely important by many schools. Working on a project with faculty supervision is strongly encouraged. Notable research activities include papers published and papers/posters presented at research conferences. However, not all research projects will lead to publication or presentation. Research is viewed as a strong indicator of both capability and interest. A large portion of your graduate experience in many programs will include research activities. This activity is also perhaps the best way for a faculty member to come to know you better. You should be in a position to start research activities no later than the beginning of your senior year. At OSU, psychology students may earn credit for research activities by enrolling in Psyc 4990. A list of available projects in published in the departmental newsletter each semester, as well as on the undergraduate web page.

Professional Organizations

Student membership in professional organizations, such as psychology clubs, Psi Chi, American Psychological Association (APA), Oklahoma Psychological Association, Southwestern Psychological Association, Association for the Advancement of Behavioral Therapy, Society for Research in Child Development, Psychonomic Society, American Psychological Society, Oklahoma Psychological Society, etc., is encouraged. Professional organizations provide current information on the profession and may help you decide your choice of area of study and the degree of commitment to psychology you wish to make.

Work Experience

This is especially important for clinical, counseling, and school psychology programs. One criterion easily overlooked by applicants to clinical, counseling, and school psychology programs is experience working with people, the demonstration of interpersonal facility, and intrapersonal stability. Such programs often require demonstration of these abilities/characteristics. Furthermore, for your own benefit, getting psychology-related work as a volunteer, during summer vacations or as a part-time job, may help you to make decisions about your commitment to this type of psychology as a profession.

Consider working in one of the following settings:

  • Crisis hot lines
  • Psych wards in hospitals
  • Centers for homeless or runaway adolescents
  • In-house schools for emotionally disturbed children
  • College peer-counseling programs
  • Community mental health centers
  • Women's resource centers
  • Domestic violence services
  • Drug and alcohol treatment facilities
  • Summer camps for the handicapped, developmentally disabled, or emotionally disturbed
Letters of Recommendation

These are usually required and often are extremely important. The best letter is from someone who has been involved with you professionally. The most helpful letters come from faculty who have had considerable contact with you in a classroom setting or in a non-classroom setting such as research laboratories. Letters should be obtained (where applicable) from your class instructors, research supervisory faculty, and individuals who have supervised your work experience. At least one reference must be from someone who taught or supervised you in an academic setting.

The person writing the letter must know you well enough to write a good, convincing letter. A letter which says that the writer cannot remember who you were, but you did well in his/her class, is not helpful to your application. You should establish as close a relationship as possible with the person who will be writing the letter and let them know as soon as you can that you will be eventually asking for a letter of recommendation to graduate school. You should have in mind by the end of your junior year who you will be asking to write reference letters. Do not be shy about asking a faculty member to write a letter for you. Many faculty view reference writing as part of their job. Selection committees prefer letters from psychology faculty. They will sometimes assume that faculty in other disciplines or employers are not very qualified to judge your ability to succeed in psychology graduate programs.

Provide your referees (reference writers) with advance notice that you would like a reference letter. You should contact your referee approximately two months before letters are due. It can take 10 days to three weeks from the time you ask the faculty member to the time the letter is ready to be sent. Giving a referee a one-week notice is not only inappropriate, and it is not enough time for a convincing letter to be written. Make them aware of the deadlines for submission and allow them sufficient time to complete the letter. You should provide your referee with all information needed to write the letter (some programs will have forms to be filled out or specific information to be addressed in the reference letter). It is helpful to provide your referee(s) with a copy of your vita. Also provide your referee(s) with the institution addresses and, if needed, stamped, addressed envelopes. Some programs may want letters sent with the application, while others may want the letters mailed separately. Some programs may specify formats for the letters to follow or provide forms that the referee must use. Make sure you provide instructions and reference materials to your referee(s). If a particular application involves a printed reference form, be sure to fill in all the information that you can prior to giving it to the referee.

Extracurricular Activities

These are seldom regarded as highly important on the list of criteria for acceptance; however, their importance should not be overlooked. Activities such as student government, campus groups, and volunteer organizations provide good personal experience. These activities also provide evidence of knowledge, experience, and leadership that cannot be learned in the classroom.

Other sources of information for students applying to graduate programs:

Getting in: A step-by-step plan for gaining admission to graduate school in psychology. (1994). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Mayne, Tracy, J., Norcross, John, C., & Sayette, Michael, A. (1996). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology. New York: Guilford.

Tretz, Bruce, R. & Stang, D, J. (1980). Preparing for Graduate Study: Not for Seniors Only! Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Five Steps in Building a Professional-Looking Application

  • Allow three to four months advance preparation to complete your application. Send in the application prior to the deadline.
  • Make a copy of the application and type in the proper responses. This will give you a visual opportunity to see how it appears. All of your written communication with a program should be typed and should be grammatically correct.
  • Check and recheck for neatness, clarity, and accuracy in your application. Call the school if you need help providing an answer. (Note: Given budgetary considerations, some schools cannot return applicants' long-distance telephone calls. You must take the telephone initiative.)
  • Keep copies of your completed application, any documents sent, and anything that you receive.
  • Make sure all your application materials (reference letters, etc.) have been received. Some programs advise you if documents have not been received; call to check if you are in doubt. You might consider including a self-addressed, stamped postcard with your application with instructions that when the application materials are all received the postcard be returned to you.

Your application is the only document that will represent you to admission committees. Make sure it represents you in the best possible manner.

Writing Your Statement of Purpose

A part of many graduate school applications is the "statement of purpose." Sometimes, this is called an "autobiographical statement." What is being requested is (a) a statement of your interest in psychology, (b) how specific educational and work experiences have helped to build that interest, (c) what your goals and ambitions in the field of psychology are, and (d) how the program to which you are applying can help you to achieve those goals. A sample statement of purpose is included in this web page.

You should approach the "statement of purpose" as you would any other essay: it should be clear, concise, neat, and organized. The suggested length for the statement is two to three typewritten pages. Start by summarizing your undergraduate experiences both in and outside the classroom that have had an impact on you. Then describe the motivating factors leading to your decision to apply to graduate school. Include remarks on why you are applying to this particular program. Last, lay out your plans for graduate work and career objectives following graduation in the program.

Be attentive to what each program wants. If a program stresses research, clinic work, or work experience, then address those issues in your statement. It is wise to apply to schools that have faculty with interests that fit your own, perhaps including names of those faculty in your statement. If you are interested in specific areas of research, do your homework! Go to the library and look up the publications of the faculty; make sure they have completed recent research.

Have a friend or faculty member review your statement of purpose. Have them check for grammar, spelling, and typographical errors. Have faculty members review it for clarity and accuracy, and make suggestions.

Vita Preparation

A vita is similar to a resumé in that it provides a listing of the activities/work areas in which a person has participated. The vita should summarize your academic and employment history in a structured form. Keep the vita honest.

Remember, if you are qualified, there are a dozen others who are also. The slightest little stimulus could be reason enough to weed out your application. Poor attention to form, detail, content, or "what not to say" could be the stimulus.

A continuously growing vita is an important asset. Your vita should be continuously updated. Your vita should be typed, errorless, and very neat. Most importantly, you should start to assemble your vita now. Have faculty review it with you. It may not be long, and you may choose not to use some of the information when applying to graduate school, but if you start early, you will have plenty of time to develop an accurate and informative vita.

There are many guides regarding what format you should use. Categories of information that may be included on a vita are listed below (a worksheet for a vita and an example of a vita are included at the bottom of this web page).

Here are some of the areas your vita should cover:

Personal History: This includes your name and relevant addresses (always include your home, work, and school telephone numbers). You may consider providing such optional information as birth date, marital status, number of children, etc.

Educational History: List degree(s) earned or state when your degree is expected to be completed. List all institutions of higher education you have attended. Include major(s), minor(s), and titles of honors or master's theses (and the chairs of your advisory committees).

Honors and Awards: Especially include academic honors, but others may be included as well.

Memberships in Honor Societies: List memberships in such organizations as Psi Chi, Phi Kappa Phi, etc., and the year inducted.

Memberships in Professional Organizations: List memberships in such organizations as APA, OPA, APS, etc., and the year joined.

Papers Presented at Professional Meetings: List these in APA format.

Work History: From most recent to least recent, include a short description of job duties.

Papers Published (or Submitted for Publication): List these in APA format.

Teaching Experience: Include courses in which you assisted in teaching or in laboratory instruction.

Research Experience: List research projects you have conducted or that you have been involved.

Related Professional Experience: List volunteer work not listed in the Work History section. This includes any related work or committee experience and any skill or organizational ability that may be viewed as useful in professional psychology.

List of References: Include their addresses (make sure your referees have agreed to serve as references).

Suggested Timeline to Prepare for Graduate School

In order to assist you in the graduate application process, a yearly and a month-by-month check list of essential dates and procedures is included. To encourage students to stay ahead of their program application chores, this check list represents a suggested schedule for you to follow under the assumption that you have started the process early in your undergraduate career. However, if you find yourself in mid-October of your senior year wanting to apply to graduate school, there should be time to catch up. Since this check list is geared toward fall admissions, students seeking January placement should make the appropriate adjustments in sequencing. (Note: Many Ph.D. programs admit once a year, usually in the fall.)

Sophomore Year

  1. Have completed Introductory Psychology.
  2. Declare psychology as your major.
  3. Attend a professional meeting (SWPA, OPA).
  4. Participate in as many Psychology Club activities as possible--continue this throughout your undergraduate career.
  5. Elect to take one (or more!) mathematics, computer science, and science course beyond the general university requirements.
  6. Get to know the faculty members in the Department of Psychology. Note the department's faculty research areas. Make initial contact with them about participating in research activities.

Junior Year and the Summer Following

  1. Read materials identifying the various graduate schools to ascertain which ones are of interest to you. These publications may be found in libraries or psychology department offices. Some may be purchased. Some recommended sources are APA's Guide to Graduate Study in Psychology and Peterson's Guide to Graduate Programs in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  2. Send for applications and information from the programs that interest you. Often the psychology department has materials in addition to those provided by the graduate school/college.
  3. The summer months are a good time to prepare for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general and subject tests or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Buy review books or enroll in review courses. Take practice tests.
  4. Get to know the faculty members in the Department of Psychology. Find out if there are any opportunities for you to get involved in research. (It is good to start this process early in your sophomore year.) If you have had experience working on a faculty research project, if possible, begin to work on independent research projects such as a senior thesis.
  5. Attend a professional psychology meeting and, if possible, participate in an undergraduate paper or poster competition.
  6. Begin a folder which will contain your vita; write a first vita. Review it with one of your faculty instructors.
  7. Participate in as many Psychology Club activities as possible--continue this throughout your undergraduate career.
  8. Maintain contact with faculty who are likely to serve as referees.
  9. Complete Quantitative Methods and Experimental Psychology. Abnormal Psychology is also an option if one is interested in entering a clinical or counseling program. Also take as many of the courses as you can that are required by the program(s) to which you are applying.
  10. Take the Graduate Record Exam (if required).

Senior Year

  1. The student should begin reviewing information about graduate programs, application procedures, qualifying examinations, and completion of undergraduate requirements (if this has not been done previously).
  2. By the end of the fall semester, all course work and tests required by the programs to which you are applying should be completed.
  3. Continue to be active in research. If possible, do an independent research project and plan to submit it for presentation or publication.
  4. The student should request admission applications early in the fall. Check the deadlines. Prepare a list of all schools to which you are interested in applying. Note deadlines and special requirements/materials on the list.
  5. It is advisable to request applications for financial assistance, especially if these are not routinely sent with the admission forms. Information regarding nondepartmental financial aid is available from the financial aid office at most universities.
  6. Pick up/have sent all the necessary forms for assistantships, fellowships, scholarships, and/or loans from the schools to which you are applying. Deadlines for fellowship applications are even earlier than for admissions. If the appropriate material is not available through your school, consult the APA publication Graduate Study in Psychology or call the department/university to which you are applying. The department will likely have information on assistantships and fellowships. Call the university financial aid office for information on scholarships and loans.
  7. Register for your required test(s). Graduate Record Examination (GRE) applications may be obtained either from the school or at the following address:

    Graduate Record Examination
    Educational Testing Service
    P.O. Box 6004
    Princeton, NJ 08541-6004
    (609) 771-7670

    You can also register online at

    Miller Analogies Test (MAT) applications may be requested from the following address:

    The Psychological Corporation\
    304 East 45th Street
    New York, NY 10017
    (212) 754-3215

    On the OSU campus, application packets for the GRE and MAT may be picked up at University Testing and Evaluation Services, 111 North Murray. This office can also administer the MAT.

  8. It is strongly recommended that you request your own copy(s) of your transcript(s) from each undergraduate institution you attended. Have extra copies on hand.

Senior Year Monthly Check List

To more adequately assist you during your senior year, a specific check list is included. Again, this is meant as a suggested check list. You may need to modify this list depending on varying program admission deadlines.


  • Decide which schools/programs interest you, and be sure you have ordered application packets from each program.


  • Take the GRE (if required), especially if applying for financial aid or fellowships, etc.


  • Register for the GRE (if you did not take it in June).
  • Register for the GRE Psychology Subject Test (if required).


  • Begin narrowing down your graduate program choices.
  • Update or start writing your vita.
  • Write the first draft of your statement of purpose.


  • Verify with your instructor/professional referee(s) that they are willing to act as a reference for you. Talk to them about schools to which you will be applying and deadlines for the letters.
  • Arrange to receive copies of your official transcripts.


  • Take the Psychology Subject Test.
  • Prepare a short description of your qualifications, including grade point averages (overall GPA and psychology GPA) in order to familiarize the referee(s) with your record. Providing your vita may be very helpful to the referee. Provide all relevant forms to your referrees. A stamped, addressed envelope for each letter requested should be provided.
  • Write the final version of your vita.
  • Prepare the final version(s) of your personal statement of purpose so that it can be reviewed by a knowledgeable person prior to submission.
  • Narrow your program choices.
  • Make sure that you will have the money in December to pay for any necessary application fees. This amount could exceed $200, depending on the number of programs to which you apply.


  • If applications are due in January, it is time to prepare the final copies. They should be mailed at least two weeks before the deadline. Keep a copy of each application. Send important materials by certified mail and request a return receipt.
  • The following items should be sent out at this time:
    • typed application for admission
    • requests for financial aid information and proof of need, if requested
    • personal statement, if required
    • vita
    • fees (check or money order)
    • undergraduate transcripts from all institutions attended and graduate transcripts where relevant
    • writing sample if required
    • stamped, self-addressed postcard for verification of arrival of application materials (requested by most schools anyway). You could include a second postcard to be returned when all application materials have arrived (this could be very helpful when letters of reference are sent separately from the application materials).
  • The student should be careful to ascertain that each part of the application packet is sent to the correct address. Sometimes financial aid forms and application forms are sent to a different office than admission materials. Materials might need to be sent to the department, graduate college/school, or financial aid office.
  • MAT and GRE scores will be sent by the testing services to schools requested on the application forms. Requests for copies to be sent to additional schools may be made in writing (see addresses previously listed) accompanied by appropriate fees.
  • If letters of recommendation are to be sent out directly by faculty members, students should check to see if this has been done.
  • You may want to call the school and see if a site visit or interview would be encouraged. Some schools set up an interview process for the applicants who remain in the applicant pool after initial selection procedures have been implemented.


  • If the student has not received acknowledgment of the receipt of application materials within a reasonable amount of time, then a telephone call for verification may be necessary.

February - March

  • Some programs will require (or strongly encourage) interviews of candidates. Interviews will be conducted in person or over the telephone. Sometimes interviews are required prior to final acceptance letters being sent. If possible, participate in the interview. If, due to cost of travel or loss of school/work time, you are unable to participate in a face-to-face interview, ask if a telephone interview would be acceptable.


  • Depending upon the application deadlines, graduate schools begin to send out letters of acceptance in March and early April. Many schools attempt to reach successful applicants by telephone as well as send letters. The student is usually given a set period of time in which to make his/her decision. Graduate departments of psychology must give the student until April 15 to make his/her decision. It is sometimes difficult to make an intelligent choice since you may be on the waiting list of a more preferred school and on the acceptance list of a less-preferred institution. To complicate matters further, some schools do not inform students on the waiting list of their status until the primary candidates have either accepted or rejected their offers of admission. A telephone call to the graduate programs may, at least, confirm that one is still being considered. If you do make your decision prior to the deadline set on April 15, it is very helpful to immediately advise your chosen school as well as other schools so that your place may be offered to students on the alternate list.

How to Obtain Additional Information

*APA Guide to Graduate Study in Psychology.
*Preparing for Graduate Study: Not for Seniors Only! by Tretz, Bruce, R. & Stang, D, J. (1980).
*Getting in: A step-by-step plan for gaining admission to graduate school in psychology. (1994).

The above can be ordered from:

American Psychological Association
Toll Free Phone number: 1-800-374-2721
Or, order online at
Study guides on GRE aptitude and advanced tests.
Graduate Record Examinations
Educational Testing Services
P.O. Box 6014
Princeton, NJ 08541-6014
Or, order online at
Or from local bookstores
*Peterson's Guide to Graduate Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences
Peterson's Guides
P.O. Box 2123
Princeton, NJ 08543-2123
Or from local bookstores
*Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical psychology. by Mayne, Tracy, J., Norcross, John, C., & Sayette, Michael, A. (1996).
Guilford Publications
72 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
Toll Free Phone number: 1-800-365-7006
  • *These books are available from the OSU library and the Undergraduate Advisor

Sylvia Daggy, Academic Advisor
Department of Psychology
102 A N. Murray
Stillwater, Ok 74078

Kevin Seymore, Academic Advisor
Department of Psychology
102 B N. Murray
Stillwater, Ok 74078