FAQ's For Applicants

Applying to the Cognitive Area of the Department of Psychology at Rutgers - New Brunswick

1. What do you look for in an applicant?

No one factor is essential, but we look for applicants with: (a) strong grades in scientifically challenging courses;  (b) strong GRE scores (our admitted applicants typically have scores in the 80th percentile and above); (c) strong letters of recommendation; (d) research experience in cognitive psychology or a related field; and (e) intellectual interests that mesh with ongoing research at Rutgers.  We have often accepted students lacking one or more of these qualifications but who are outstanding in other ways. 


2. Do I have to have majored in Psychology to apply?

No. Many of our applicants have had Psychology majors, but others have had majors in Computer Science, Linguistics, Mathematics, Philosophy, and other fields. 


3. Does it help if I already have done independent research?

Yes, it helps a great deal. Our program places great emphasis on research, and hands-on experience is very helpful in demonstrating that you have both the aptitude for it and the commitment to pursue it. 


4. Do I have to take the GRE Subject (Psychology) test to apply? 

No. However, you do have to take a subject test to apply for National Science Foundation Graduate fellowship, which first year students are encouraged to do, so we advise that you do take one.


5. Do I have to have taken statistics?

 No, but it is strongly encouraged.  If you enroll, you will be required to take two graduate courses in statistics anyway (see question 10).  


6. Is there a minimum GRE score to be admitted?

 No, though most past admitted students have both Verbal and Quantitative scores in the 80th percentile and above (see question 1).


7. Do you provide funding for graduate students?

 Yes. Under normal circumstances, admitted students are guaranteed five years of financial support, including tuition remission, contingent on adequate and timely progress through the requirements of the program. Support may come in several different forms, including fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships. There are also several special opportunities for research support at Rutgers, including the NSF IGERT Perceptual Science program. Students are also strongly encouraged to apply (typically during their first year) for outside fellowships, such as the National Science Foundation graduate fellowship, which a number of recent students have been awarded. 


8. How long does it take to complete the program?

Typically, five years. The Psychology department guarantees funding for five years, contingent on adequate progress in the program, though sixth-year funding has sometimes been available in unusual circumstances.


9. Do I have to choose a research advisor before applying?

No. However, one of the factors any graduate program (including ours) considers when evaluating potential students is the fit between his or her research interests and those of potential research advisors, so it's a good idea to have one or two laboratories in mind. Students are required to have a research advisor at all times while enrolled in our program. Students may switch advisors during their graduate careers (and many pursue projects in more than one laboratory), but it's best to find your research "home" as early as possible. Look carefully at faculty webpages before applying, and give serious thought to where you would best fit in at Rutgers. You don't have to make any final decisions about your research topic before applying, but the more thought you have given it, the better prepared you will be to make decisions about what school to attend and which laboratory to join. Our program is research-intensive, and an essential ingredient to a successful graduate career here is a research environment that fits your interests, skills, and enthusiasms.  


10. What are the requirements of the program?

Students are required to take a set of courses, including certain specific courses and a number of electives, complete a Masters degree (typically after two years), pass a Qualifying exam (typically in the third year), and write and defend a dissertation presenting original research (typically by the end of the fifth year). Click here for details of the cognitive area requirements and here for the general requirements of the Psychology graduate program. 


11. Do you have talk series and other community events?

Yes. There is a colloquium series on cognitive science (sponsored  by the Center for Cognitive Science), and a talk series on human and computer vision (sponsored by the Perceptual Science IGERT program). Each fall, the Center also sponsors a weekly talk series called "What is Cognitive Science?"  There are also many less formal occasions for graduate students to get together to talk about ongoing research.


12. What is the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science, and how does it relate to the Psychology department? Can I apply there?

The Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science (RuCCS) is a separate unit at Rutgers that promotes interdisciplinary research and education in the cognitive sciences. It has faculty drawn from a number of departments, including Psychology, Linguistics, Philosophy, Computer Science, Biomedical Engineering, and several others. RuCCS does not grant degrees, and you cannot apply for admission to it directly. However it has close ties with all the above departments, including Psychology, and its many educational and research functions enhance the academic environment for students in the cognitive area of Psychology. 

In addition, RuCCS grants Certificates in Cognitive Science to students (regardless of home department) who have fulfilled certain course and research requirements. Interested students commence the process of qualifying for a Certificate by enrolling in the Proseminar in Cognitive Science, offered every Fall semester. Students enrolled in Cognitive Science courses join an intellectually diverse but collegial community of graduate students including others from Psychology as well as many from Linguistics, Computer Science, Philosophy, Information Science, Anthropology, and several other departments.


13. How is the program related to the Psychology departments at Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-Camden?

Although we have close relations and research collaborations with many faculty in those departments, they are separate departments and have separate admissions processes. Please see their websites (Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-Camden) for details.


14. I'm a foreign student. Can I apply

Yes. Our International Office can help you with visas and other matters if you are admitted. Foreign students are required to show evidence of competence in written and spoken English.


15. Where is the department physically?

Although the University is referred to as Rutgers University - New Brunswick, most science departments are located across the river in Piscataway, New Jersey. The Cognitive area faculty and labs are in the Psychology building on Busch campus in Piscataway. Piscataway is about one hour's drive from New York City, one hour's drive from Philadelphia, and one hour from the edge of the Appalachian mountains. Useful information about housing and life in the area can be found here and here.


16. I have other questions...

For general graduate admissions or Psychology department questions, contact the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more specific questions concerning the cognitive program, contact the Cognitive Area Coordinator, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.