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Applying to Graduate School

Am I qualified to go to graduate school?

Perhaps the best way to begin thinking about what you need to do is to consider what the graduate schools are looking for in prospective students. The five most important determinants are the following, rougly in order of impact:

  1. Your Transcript. Grades are important, with nearly all programs requiring at least a 3.0 gpa, and some of the more competitive programs rarely take students with less than a 3.75 gpa. In addition to your gpa, the admissions committee is also interested in the types of courses that you have taken. We have a very structured major with core courses that span a broad range of psychology, so most programs are happy to see a Rutgers transcript. We recommend, however, that you take some courses in research or fieldwork or additional labs. These non-classroom courses provide evidence that you have an interest in hands-on work in the field..

  2. Test Scores. Most graduate programs require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), a standardized test that is similar to SAT. A fair number of schools also require the advanced subject test in Psychology. A smaller number of programs require the Miller Analogies Test.  You should check with the schools you are considering well in advance of the application deadlines to see which standardized tests are required so that you have ample time to prepare for the exams. The Learning Resource Centers offer special tutoring workshops. Some students show improved scores after taking a preparation course for the basic GRE. It may be worth the time and money to take one of these courses, particularly if you have difficulty finding the time or motivation to study on your own. At the very least, you should go through practice booklets, online sample questions, or purchase self-tutoring software. For the advanced GRE in Psychology, it is probably worthwhile going through a good introductory psychology text and your class notes to familiarize yourself with the major names, theories, etc. Schedule this advanced test on a separate day from the basic GRE exam so you do not have to sit through nine hours of testing! The Miller Analogies Test is a test of general knowledge. There are books and computer programs available to help you prepare for all of these.

  3. Letters of Recommendation. Most graduate programs require three letters of recommendation. You may find this alarming if you have never talked to a faculty member at Rutgers! This is another reason why research courses, field work, seminars and other advanced courses are important—it puts you in an environment where you can become known. Often, faculty members know more about you than you may think! If you have done exceptionally well in a course, it may be worth stopping by to have a chat with the faculty member to see if a letter of recommendation might be arranged. Don’t go empty handed: Bring along a copy of your transcript, and if available, a list of programs to which you may be applying and a draft of your personal statement. You may also have a professor from another department who knows you well. Usually, one letter from outside the department is fine, as long as you have two psychology faculty members. Some students solicit a letter of recommendation from outside the university (e.g., from a long-term employer) in addition to the basic three letters of recommendation. Bear in mind that writing a letter of recommendation and sending it out to a list of schools is a considerable amount of work for the professor and very important to your future. To make this process as easy and as positive as possible, please look at these guidelines. Most students have their letters of recommendation sent directly to the graduate admissions committees. However, if you are going to apply a year or two after graduation, faculty members may forget you, or faculty members may move. You may want to consider setting up a letter of recommendation file before you leave. The Career Services office recommends Interfolio.

  4. Experience outside the classroom. One way to distinguish your application from others with similar academic credentials is to obtain some relevant experience beyond lecture based classes. Examples include: working in a faculty member’s lab, doing an honors research project, enrolling in fieldwork or an internship, volunteering or working at a job relevant to psychology during the summer. These experiences are particularly important for students entering the most competitive areas of psychology – clinical and research PhD programs
  5. Personal Statement. Going to graduate school is a major decision, and the admissions committees want to be sure that you have a genuine interest in their program and a commitment to see it to completion. Your personal statement should reflect your enthusiasm, your capabilities, and your interest in the field. Ask a faculty member or two to read a draft of your personal statement.

Where should I apply?

When you consider the time required to fill out an application and the $50 (or more) application fee, you will want to limit your applications to some reasonable number. Most students apply to at least 4 or 5 schools, and some may branch out to as many as 10 or 12. Beyond that, you are wasting everybody’s time and/or grasping at straws.

Obviously, you will want to apply to schools that offer the types of programs that interest you. This can be done by looking at research articles that are especially interesting to you and finding out where the authors are. Or ask a faculty member. There are also some excellent reference sources available in both hard copy and on the web:

1. Graduate Study in Psychology is available for about $20 from American Psychological Association; Order Department; P O Box 2710; Hyattsville, MD 20784) or you may look through a copy at career services or either of the psychology offices.

2. A lot of good information about programs, careers and jobs is available on the PsychologyInfo site.

3. The American Psychological Society (APS) and American Psychological Association (APA) are the two major professional organizations for psychology. Useful information about careers and graduate programs can be found on these sites

4. Other web sites offer useful ways to search for programs, especially http://www.gradschools.com/) and http://www.allpsychologyschools.com/ and Guide to Clinical Programs

Contact the schools for application materials. A good rule of thumb is to obtain application materials from a few schools that are a bit too competitive for you to expect admission (stretch schools), from a fair number of schools that offer good programs that you have a reasonable expectation of getting into, and from a few schools that you may have to settle for (safety schools.)

Can I afford to go to graduate school?

In general, students attending a Master’s or a Psy.D. program will have to finance the cost themselves. Most good Ph.D. programs offer tuition remission to full-time students and provide teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or fellowships for nearly all students they admit. This is because most Ph.D. programs are part of an undergraduate institution and receive funding for graduate training through a combination of undergrad tuition and research support generated by the faculty. (For example, grad students in the Rutgers Psych Department Ph.D. program are supported through university fellowships, teaching assistantships, and faculty grants.) The graduate stipend will not be enough to live in luxury but is usually sufficient for the life of the frugal student.

How long does graduate school last?

You should plan on two years to obtain a Master’s and on five years to obtain the Ph.D., although some may finish in four and a fair number take six or more. Students who have a focused research/academic career in mind frequently seek out a post-doctoral fellowship and spend a year or two beyond the Ph.D. conducting research in the laboratory of a specialist in their research field.

This sounds like you are spending half your life in school! In some ways, you will be spending all your life in school, or at least in the pursuit of knowledge. The thing to remember is that once you get beyond your bachelor’s degree, you are really already in the professional world and doing the work that you have chosen as a career. It is not a lot different than starting at the bottom and working your way up in the corporate world.

Do I really want to go through with this?

For many, there is no choice—it is something that must be done if you want to be a professional psychologist. You may not have quite that clear a calling, but you should definitely have an enthusiastic commitment. Without it, you will find graduate school to be demanding and tedious. If you need some additional input, talk to your teaching assistants, new faculty members, and others to help you reach a decision.

Here’s the calendar if you plan to go to grad school directly after you receive your BA

Second semester of Sophomore year

  • Look for research, fieldwork opportunities for the junior year

First semester of Junior year

  • Look for research, fieldwork opportunities for junior/senior year

Second semester of Junior year

  • Collect application materials
  • Study for GREs

Summer before Senior year

  • Take GRE (or schedule for early fall)
  • Start to narrow your list of programs
  • Work on your personal statement

Fall semester of Senior year

  • Arrange for letters of recommendation
  • Polish your personal statement
  • Re-take GRE if you were not happy with results
  • Fill out applications
  • Submit applications (typically due in December or early January)
  • Be sure that your application has been submitted before your GRE scores or letters of recommendation arrive—otherwise, they are likely to get lost.

Spring semester of last year

  • Wait for the good news
  • Decide which of the several offers to accept
  • If the news is  not good, consider taking a gap year in which you build up your credentials (e.g., retake the GRE if your scores are not very high, work in a setting close to your career interests to obtain a letter of recommendation)

 

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*Make a difference in the lives of children and families
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*Help create supportive learning environments and solutions to educational problems
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*Prepare for a career that pays well and has numerous job opportunities nationwide

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*A nationally ranked doctoral program
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*Accredited by the American Psychological Association and approved by the National Association of School Psychologists
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*Extensive training in the field in schools, clinics, and community agencies
*Preparation for psychology licensure and school psychology certification

Get Ready to Embrace the Process and Have Professional Fun! See our Website: http://gsappweb.rutgers.edu/programs/school

Have questions about applying?
Contact  Julie Skorny
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