From Dr. Glass
Graduate School in Psychology Info Session
Getting into a graduate program is similar in some ways to getting into college:
there’s a very clear timeline, you need to have excellent grades and GRE scores,
the right mix of experiences that will show you are prepared for doctoral study,
and apply to schools that are a good ―fit‖ for both your interests and your
likelihood of acceptance
You have several big decisions to make:
o What field of Psychology do you want to pursue (e.g., clinical,
developmental, cognitive, forensic, school) – or are you interested in a
similar helping profession like social work or school counseling?
o What level degree do you want – a M.A. (typically 1-2 years) or a
doctorate (typically 5-6 years)?
o Do you want to apply your senior year and go straight to grad school, or
work for a year or two first? Often this decision is dependent on whether
your application is missing critical elements that your grad program of
interest would be looking for (e.g., clinical experience, more in-depth
Even if you decide you’re interested in a doctorate in clinical psychology, there is
an additional decision to make—do you want to apply for a Ph.D. program or a
Psy.D. program? Ph.D. programs are a scientist-practitioner degree, where you
could go on for a career as a professor or researchers but most graduates choose
applied areas like assessment and psychotherapy. They would give you excellent
training in research but also significant applied clinical training, and generally
have financial aid that can amount to as much as full tuition + a stipend of near
$20,000/year. But in the early 1970’s, some psychologists questioned the
emphasis on clinical and research training for students who only wanted to
practice—after all, medicine and law have a professional degree, why not
psychology? Thus the Psy.D. degree was born, offered by some free-standing
professional schools of psychology as well as university psychology departments.
Many programs are not on traditional college campuses, are associated with for-
profit institutions, and offer very little financial aid.
And even if you decide you’re interested in a Ph.D. program, you may also need
to know what area of clinical psychology you are interested in. For example,
some programs may offer a ―track‖ in child-clinical, or marital and family
therapy, or clinical neuropsychology. And you need to figure out which programs
are the best fit for your interests
So what do you need in order to successfully gain acceptance into a doctoral
clinical program? I’ll focus on Ph.D. programs, because those are more selective.
At CUA, we might get 150 applicants, interview 50, and take a class of only 6.
What do we look for?
o GRE scores: V+Q of 1300+ is desirable, although 1200+ would be
acceptable. Just as when you applied to college, don’t waste your time
and money applying to the ―top‖ most-selective schools unless your GREs
are super high.
o GPA: At least a 3.5 is desirable, although we have accepted students with
weaker undergrad grades if they’ve proved themselves at the graduate
o Clinical experience: demonstrating an interest in working with people and
interpersonal skills, such as summer camps for emotional disturbed
children, crisis hotlines, conducting ABA with autistic children, etc.
o Research experience: the more the better, with as much responsibility and
involvement as possible. Some applicants now have co-authored posters
presented at conferences, and a ―fit‖ between the area you’ve gotten
research experience in and the research interests of the faculty members
you might work with in the doctoral program is also nice.
o Personal statement: an opportunity to inform faculty about your personal
and professional development, academic background and objectives,
research and field experience, career goals and plans. It is VERY different
from the 1-page essay you wrote for colleges. Work with a faculty
member to get feedback on your early drafts and polish this statement as
much as possible. It’s also an indirect writing sample and so poor writing
and lack of proofreading can seriously hurt you. See if a student who has
just successfully gone through the application process and been accepted
to a Ph.D. clinical program could email you her/his personal statement that
you could use as a model. Be sure to individualize each one to each
school you apply to (see ―fit‖ below).
o CV (―curriculum vitae‖): very different from the brief 1-page resume the
career services office might tell you to do. This should be several pages
long and detailed. Again, find someone who has done one before and use
it as a model, and ask for faculty input on early drafts.
o A ―fit‖ of research interests: your research interests need to fit those of one
or two of the faculty at the universities you are applying to. Thus you
need to do a significant amount of ―homework‖ on each program and
know clearly who you would want to work with, and can communicate
this through your personal statement. You are much more likely to get an
offer if there is a faculty member who believes you would contribute to
their research group and speaks for you. Every year, we don’t even
interview many fabulous applicants (i.e., GRE scores of 1400) who want
to do research in areas that none of our faculty study—so again, don’t
waste your time and money applying to schools that don’t match your
interests (or if it’s a program you’d like to attend, ―bend‖ your interests a
bit to better match those of several faculty).
o Letters of recommendation: from people who can speak to your
intelligence, motivation, responsibility, interpersonal skills, academic
excellence, and research experience. At least two professors should be
included, along with other individuals who have been involved in your
clinical and research activities.
o Personal interview: a chance for the faculty to meet you and assess your
interpersonal skills, depth in the field, what you’re interested in, and
whether you would be a good fit for their program. DO YOUR
HOMEWORK before going on an interview—use their website to learn
about the program, do a PsycINFO search and read not only the abstracts
but actual articles written by the faculty you might be interviewing with
(and especially those you would want to work with), come with numerous
good thoughtful questions that will demonstrate you are interested in their
program (and also help you learn more about whether it’s the best place
INFORMATION to help you apply to graduate programs:
o #1 best thing to buy is the Insiders’ Guide to Graduate Study in Clinical
and Counseling Psychology. This has detailed information about every
program, and will be invaluable to help identify ones that best fit your
interests and that you have a better chance of getting into (see info on
average GRE scores, number of applicants, etc.). There is also useful
information in this book comparing Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs.
o Another good reference is the APA book on Graduate Study in
Psychology that also lists the M.A. programs and non-clinical Ph.D.
o We have a binder in the Psych Dept. main office that I’ve put together
with really good material about getting into grad school in psychology. It
includes articles such as:
―Kisses of Death‖ in the Graduate School Application Process (and
how to avoid these mistakes)
Writing an effective personal statement
Quick tips for applying to graduate school in Psychology
Appreciating the Psy.D.—the Facts
Advice on Graduate School Admissions Procedures
Suggestions for applying to doctoral clinical programs
Appendix to a textbook on Clinical Psych on ―Getting into
Graduate School in Clinical Psychology‖
Master’s and Myth: Little-known Information about a Popular
o Talk to our current doctoral students about their experience, what they did,
where they applied, what interviews were like, etc.
o Talk to our faculty about your interests and get their guidance and advice.
Timetable for undergrads:
o Freshman year: Make a good transition to college and focus right away on
your academics so your GPA will be as high as possible. Start thinking
about getting research experience, explore the http://psychology.cua.edu
website for information, and talk to the faculty. Begin discussing the idea
of grad school with your advisor.
o Sophomore year: If you haven’t already, begin getting research experience
and start thinking about what areas of psychology most interest you. Talk
more with your advisor about career directions.
o Junior year: Make final decisions about the type of degree you want
(M.A., Ph.D., Psy.D.) and the field you’re interested in. Continue to get
research experience, and take on more and more responsibility if you can.
See if you can contribute enough to co-author a poster presentation. Look
into getting clinical experience if you haven’t already (if you’re interested
in clinical grad programs).
o Summer before senior year: Start looking into faculty you’d want to work
with and different schools and programs. Do tons of internet ―research‖,
use PsycINFO to see what people are doing research in your areas of
interest and see what schools they teach at, read the Insiders’ Guide.
Begin working on a draft of your personal statement and CV. Consider
taking a GRE prep course and take them for the first time over the
o Senior year: Take (or retake) GREs in October, and the Psychology GRE
in November. Work with faculty early in the semester to read the drafts of
your personal statement and CV. Talk to your advisor and other faculty at
CUA for suggestions about where to apply. Make sure you get all your
application materials in on time (many now by Dec. 1 or Dec. 15).
From Dr. Wagner
Research, research, research.
From Dr. Fedio
There are several avenues that students might consider to enhance their chances for admission
into Clincial or other programs. The review process in univeristies usually applies a best fit, that
is, whether the student's interest match the faculty's and intend a career solely as therapists [like
CUA] or whether the student seeks a more balanc ed career that cuts across teaching, clinical
practice and research. The option of a PhD vs PsyD should also be explored.
I usually enc ourage students to get involved in some clinical or research activities and try to align
with a presitigious agency [e.g., NIH, Children's Hospital]; even if this is done on a volunteer
basis, it factors heavily. And, it is also important to take clinically related graduate courses. GPA
and GRE scores count heavily in some programs, and it is also to the student's advantage to do a
clinically related thesis/paper.
Finally, it would be productive if the CUA faculty and students met in open and informal dialogue
to discuss your proposal, preferably in late fall or early spring. I certainly would be willing to share
some insights if invited. Please remember that students commonly see the clinical and reserach
world thru the eyes of their instructors; students should be encouraged to expand their
experiental horizons beyond therapy, clinical services, research, etc..
From Dr. Achilles
They should be sure to have some clinical experience and should be doing that this summer if
they haven’t already (hotlines, summer camps for children with disabilities, counseling at
residential centers, etc..). I’ll assume they are aware o f the need to have research experiences.
They should be looking at the materials from the APA - there is a book about applying to grad
school w/ info on doc programs - we have a copy in our main office. In terms of preparing
applications, it would be important to carefully choose where they are going to apply. They should
be thinking through their long-t erm goals and looking to see whether faculty at institutions they’re
interested in are doing research in their areas of interest. They should draft their essays now so
there’s time for them to get mentorship review before they are due. They should also be thinking
about who they want to ask to write letters of rec for them, and they should be sure to choose
people who know them well, i.e. have had enough interaction w/ them to really be able to speak
to their strengths. They should draft polite requests to those people to find out sooner rather than
later if they’re willing to write letters for them.
From Dr. Barrueco
1. Prepare for the GRE and GRE psych this summer. Study the material
and complete 50-100 practice questions each week (and review the
answers carefully). In the last three weeks, complete full practice
2. Gain both clinical and research experience as soon as possible. If
you start a project in the fall, right before applying, it is not
counted as strongly. Also, one might not have learned enough from the
experience to get feedback for what path to follow in their doctorate.
More hours is typically not as important as the quality of the site.
3. In the fall, select your schools with feedback from advisors. Write
your essays and get feedback from a professor. Feel free to contact
potential schools once if you need clarification about an issue.
From Dr. Safer
I have a slightly different perspective because I recruit many students
for the M.A. program who were not accepted in Ph.D. programs. Here are
a few points.
1. When you apply, you will have completed most of your M.A. degree,
including some research experience, and so you should be much stronger
than most students who have only a B.A. You can hit the ground
running, and that should be attractive to most programs.
2. Consider studying for and then retaking the GREs. You probably
should have 600-level for verbal, high 600s for quantitative, 5.0
writing, and 700-level for psychology. All of you should do quite well
on the psychology part if you study for it.
3. As some of the others have indicated, you need to know the research
interests of faculty at the schools for which you are applying. Think
about how your M.A. research skills might fit in with or help selected
faculty members at this school.
4. I would strongly urge you, if you can, to apply to schools with
accredited programs that are outside the big East and West coast urban
markets. A recent graduate was very successful in her application to
places like University of Southern Illinois, Wisconsin-Milwaukee,
Louisville, North Dakota, etc.
5. Make sure that you really want to be researcher and so need a Ph.D.
You should have a much better sense of this now than you did a year
ago. A Psy.D. may be what you need in order to do what you want to do.