Graduate School

These pages include a great deal of information about graduate school and training necessary to have certain careers in psychology and related fields including:

Reasons for Going to Graduate School

Identifying one’s motivation for graduate school can be the most important consideration. Either consciously or unconsciously, some students decide to pursue graduate school to avoid the risk of making a career commitment and/or the pain of searching for a job.

All who consider applying to graduate school should realize that receipt of an advanced degree can restrict the range of occupational alternatives. A premature or immature decision at this stage can have far reaching consequences. Thus, deliberation and counsel with one’s adviser is strongly recommended.

Another motivation for pursuing graduate school is that an individual has enjoyed and felt comfortable with the faculty and students in his or her undergraduate department. However, those conditions frequently do not exist in graduate school.

Graduate education is not an end in itself but is only a means to an end. Think of it as vocational training. You should make a decision about pursuing graduate school only after you have decided on a likely occupation and determined that graduate school is necessary to pursue that occupation. Read the sections on popular specialties in psychology carefully and ask yourself whether these are careers that appeal to you and seem consistent with your strengths. Bear in mind, for example, that while graduate study often demands solitary work and single-mindedness of purpose, both teaching and clinical practice require interactive skills and the ability to do several things at once.

Descutner & Thelen (1989) asked faculty in APA-approved clinical psychology programs to rate 25 characteristics and behaviors of graduate students. The top five items in order of importance were working hard, getting along with people, writing ability, clinical/counseling skills, and doing research. The next section of this booklet describes how the faculty can help you develop and expand your experience of working with people and your scholarly skills.

Academic Preparation

We have divided academic preparation into field placement experience, course work, and research. Each of these is an area in which you can work to prepare for graduate school.

Field Experience. One valuable experience for preparing for graduate school, particularly in the applied areas, consists of an undergraduate practicum. First-hand observation of and participation in assessment, therapy, and organizational practices can confirm or refute one’s expectations about career objectives. In addition, the experience from field placements can reveal the person’s interest in one specialty rather than another.

Course Work. There are relatively few courses that graduate schools require for admission. In addition to Introductory Psychology, the most frequently required courses are Statistics (75%) and Experimental Psychology (63%). Recommended psychology courses vary depending on the school and the student’s specialty area, e.g., clinical versus industrial/organizational psychology. Many doctoral programs prefer students with additional courses such as biology and math through calculus. Courses that promote skill development include those in computer science, composition and expository writing, speech, and a modern foreign language. The value of those communication skills cannot be overemphasized.

Research. Competition for gaining admission to graduate school has made it difficult to discriminate among students on the basis of only grade point average and scores on standardized tests. Moreover, most graduate programs at the doctoral level emphasize the training of psychologists as scientists. Thus, many graduate programs place considerable importance on evidence of students’ interest in and proficiency at doing research. Numerous opportunities exist for students to participate in faculty research and/or for them to initiate their own research. Students can take an independent study or research internship with a faculty member in the psychology department. There are also summer work study positions available for students seeking research experience. In addition, students hoping to go to graduate school should plan on an empirical senior comp project. There are undergraduate research conferences at which students can learn about others’ research and present the results of their own research. A student may also co-author presentations with faculty at a state, regional, and national meeting. Several students have co-authored articles that appeared in psychology journals.

Evaluating Your Credentials

The primary data you need for evaluating your prospects for admission to graduate school are grade point average and standardized test scores. Those tests include the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Both are described in a subsequent section called Taking Standardized Tests.

Separate grade point average calculations should include: 1) overall, 2) psychology course work, and 3) course work in the junior and senior years. The APA’s Graduate Study in Psychology and Associated Fields provides information about the minimum and average scores for those accepted into the more than 500 graduate programs in psychology and related areas in the United States and Canada. A comparison of your scores with those listed for a particular school will provide an indication of your likelihood of being accepted into that program. You can obtain a personal copy of Graduate Study by writing to the American Psychological Association. Information on the current price, shipping charges, etc. for this book can be found in the APA display on the bulletin board on the second floor. The Psychology Department has a copy for short term loan to students.

Ordinarily, only after a person survives a screening using grade point average and GRE scores do things such as field placement and research experience become important.

The most highly valued research activity is that published in psychology journals. The next most valued activity consists of presentations at psychology meetings and completed projects that have not been presented.

Thorough preparation for graduate school usually requires several semesters. Table 1 contains an idealized list of tasks subdivided according to year in school. Some items listed below will be expanded on later in this booklet. Use this schedule as a guide. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t accomplish all the items.

Table 1. Setting a Timetable

Sophomore Year– Complete courses in Statistics and Experimental Psychology.

– Attend Undergraduate Research Conference.

– Become acquainted with at least one or two faculty members in the department.

– Join and participate in the Psychology Club.

– Join Psi Chi, if eligible.

Junior Year

– Initiate and pursue research with departmental faculty.

– Develop tentative list of faculty to write letters of recommendation.

– Join state, regional, and national psychology associations as a student affiliate.

– Attend the state psychological association’s annual meeting in the spring.

– Continue attending the Undergraduate Research Conference.

– Participate in fieldwork through the Extern course or volunteer for a placement in a local agency.

– Prepare a research manuscript for presentation or publication (spring).

– Take the GRE General Test (spring).

– Begin investigation of prospective graduate programs.

– Study for GRE’s Subject Test.

– Write to prospective schools to obtain in formation and application forms.

Senior Year

– Complete relevant course work, research, and field placements by the end of the fall semester.

– Take the GRE Subject Test (fall).

– Complete autobiographical or goals statement and have a faculty member check it.

– Request letters of recommendation from faculty.

– Send completed applications to schools.

– Wait patiently for notification.

– Celebrate acceptance into graduate program.

Discovering Graduate School

As stated in the previous section, Graduate Study in Psychology and Associated Fields provides a complete description of more than 500 graduate programs in psychology and related areas in the United States and Canada. An important step in selecting graduate programs consists of deciding whether to pursue graduate study at the master’s or doctoral level.

Levels and Types of Degrees

Master’s Degree. Students enrolled in masters only programs obtain what is referred to as a terminal master’s degree. The terminal master’s program is ordinarily one that is designed to provide specialized training in some applied area such as educational, clinical or industrial/organizational psychology. Frequently, those who obtain terminal master’s degrees are not expected to work for a doctoral degree.

The terminal master’s degree in psychology has its advantages and disadvantages. Its advantages include less competitive admissions standards (Ware, 1984), only one or two years of graduate work, and usually technical training for a specific kind of occupational pursuit, such as psychometric assessment or supervised therapeutic practice. One disadvantage is that most state laws do not allow a master’s level graduate to practice independently as a clinical psychologist. Moreover, those with a terminal master’s degree earn a lower salary than those with a doctoral degree.

Because of limitations for long term employment with a terminal master’s degree in psychology, you should consider the range of other “people related” master’s degrees. There are many highly respectable programs in the following areas: family and child development, rehabilitation counseling, social work, criminal justice, college student personnel, education (school psychology, guidance and counseling, and special education), hospital administration, and business (management and marketing). Clearly each of these is more or less attractive depending upon the individual’s personal interests, values, and the like. Contact your adviser or some other knowledgeable person (Career Services, for example) to find more information about one or more of the aforementioned areas.

One frequently debated question focuses on the potential limitations of a terminal master’s degree for someone wishing to pursue doctoral training, particularly in clinical or counseling psychology. Evidence indicates that students from certain terminal master’s programs have been quite successful at gaining admission to doctoral programs However, the percent of all terminal master’s students among all clinical doctoral students is decreasing. The best advice for undergraduates who are interested in doctoral training is to make a concerted effort to get into a doctoral program since master’s credits usually don’t transfer to doctoral programs. However, application to respectable terminal master’s programs would be a prudent back-up.

Doctoral Degree. Doctoral level programs include the Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy), Psy.D. (doctor of psychology, pronounced Sigh Dee), and Ed.D. (doctor of education) degrees. All three can provide doctoral training in psychology. However, the Ph. D. degree is the traditional degree granted by departments of psychology. In clinical, counseling, and school psychology, emphasis is on the scientific practitioner. The training program concentrates primarily on scientific skills and secondarily on practitioner skills.

The Psy.D. degree emerged in the late 1960’s and emphasizes training as a practitioner first and as a scientist second. Most characterize the Psy.D. degree as a professional degree; its training objectives are similar to those of, for example, medical, dental, and law schools. For additional information about the characteristics of Psy.D. programs, refer to Scheirer’s (1983) article.

Admission to Psy.D. programs is as competitive or more so than Ph.D. programs. Research evidence (Peterson, Eaton, Levine & Snepp, 1982) does not support concerns that those with the Psy.D. degree would have difficulty obtaining a license to practice, employment in institutional settings, and so forth.

The research requirements for many Ed.D. programs are not as rigorous as Ph.D. programs. Many view the Ed.D. degree as inferior because it is rarely offered by a psychology department and frequently offers less training in the principles of psychology. Nevertheless, many administrative positions in college and university settings would not discriminate between applicants with an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. degree.

Areas of Specialization

When you decide whether to pursue a master’s or doctoral level degree, you should also have made a tentative decision about an area of specialization. Several sources document the competitiveness of various graduate programs in psychology (Couch & Benedict, 1983; Korn, 1984; Stoup and Benjamin, 1982; Ware, 1984).

Table 2 contains (in no particular order) descriptions of 17 of specialty areas in psychology. For more information about these areas and other aspects of a career in psychology, write to the American Psychological Association for a free copy of Careers in Psychology (1986). The address is 1200 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20036.

Table 2. Specialty areas in psychology

Clinical psychologists assess and treat people with psychological problems. They may act as therapists for people experiencing normal psychological crises (e. g., grief) or for individuals suffering from chronic psychiatric disorders. Some clinical psychologists are generalists who work with a wide variety of populations, while others work with specific groups like children, the elderly, or those with specific disorders (e.g., schizophrenia). They are found in hospitals, community health centers, or private practice. [Note that clinical programs are difficult to get into because of the large number of applications they receive.]Counseling psychologists do many of the same things that clinical psychologists do. However, counseling psychologists tend to focus more on persons with adjustment problems, rather than on persons suffering from severe psychological disorders. Counseling psychologists are employed in academic settings, community mental health centers, and private practice. Recent research indicates that training in counseling and clinical psychology are similar.

[The term counselor should be distinguished from that of a counseling psychologist.. The term “counselor” by itself is generic. It may include competent professionals in rehabilitation counseling, drug counseling, high school guidance counseling, as well as a bachelors level social work student who calls himself or herself a family counselor or simply a counselor. The term “counseling psychologist” ordinarily means an individual possessing a doctoral level degree in counseling psychology.]

Sport psychologists apply psychological principles to sport and physical activity at all levels of skill development. This emerging area of psychology frequently includes individuals whose primary training was in clinical or counseling psychology. Investigations examine the psychological characteristics of athletes and variables maximizing athletic performance. Applied sport psychologists work with professional and amateur athletes as consultants or as full time employees.

Forensic psychologists study legal issues from a psychological perspective (e.g., how juries decide cases) and psychological questions in a legal context (e.g., how jurors assign blame or responsibility for a crime). They are concerned with the applied and clinical facets of the law such as determining a defendant’s competence to stand trial or if an accident victim has suffered physical or neurological damage. Jobs in these areas are in governmental agencies, research organizations, community mental health agencies, correctional institutions, and law schools.

School psychologists are involved in the development of children in educational settings. They are typically involved in the assessment of children and the recommendation of actions to facilitate students’ learning. They often act as consultants to parents and administrators to optimize the learning environments of specific students.

Educational psychologists are concerned with the study of human learning. They attempt to understand the basic aspects of learning and then develop materials and strategies for enhancing the learning process. For example, an educational psychologist might study reading and develop a new technique for teaching reading from the results of the research.

Developmental psychologists study how we develop intellectually, socially, emotionally, and morally during our life span. Some focus on just one period of life (e.g., childhood or adolescence) while others focus on a particular area across the life span (e.g. friendships, memory, etc.). Developmental psychologists usually do research and teach in academic settings, but many act as consultants to day-care centers, schools, or social service agencies.

Family psychologists are concerned with the prevention of family conflict, the treatment of marital and family problems, and the maintenance of normal family functioning. They design and conduct programs for marital enrichment, pre-marital preparation, and improved parent child relations. They also conduct research on topics such as child abuse, family communications patterns, and the effects of divorce and remarriage. Family psychologists are often employed in medical schools, hospitals, community agencies, and in private practice.

Health psychologists are concerned with psychology’s contributions to the promotion and maintenance of good health and the prevention and treatment of illness. They may design and conduct programs to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight, manage stress, prevent cavities, or stay physically fit. They are employed in hospitals, medical schools, rehabilitation centers, public health agencies, and in private practice

Rehabilitation psychologists work with people who have suffered physical deprivation or loss, at birth or during later development, as a result of damage or deterioration of function (e.g., resulting from a stroke). They help people overcome both the psychological and situational barriers to effective functioning in the world. Rehabilitation psychologists work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, medical schools, and in government rehabilitation agencies.

Environmental psychologists are concerned with the relations between psychological processes and physical environments ranging from homes and offices to urban areas and regions. Environmental psychologists may do research on attitudes toward different environments, personal space, or the effects on productivity of different office designs.

Industrial/Organizational (I/O) psychologists are primarily concerned with the relationships between people and their work environments. They may develop new ways to increase productivity or be involved in personnel selection. You can find I/O psychologists in businesses, industry, government agencies, and colleges and universities. I/O psychologists are probably the most highly paid psychologists.

Social psychologists study how our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors are affected by other persons. Some of the topics of interest to social psychologists are attitudes, aggression, prejudice, interpersonal attraction, gender, race, and group dynamics. Most social psychologists are on the faculty of colleges and universities, but an increasing number are being hired by hospitals, federal agencies, and businesses to perform applied research. (At some institutions social psychology and industrial/ organizational psychology are related programs.)

Neuropsychologists and psychobiologists investigate the relation between physical systems and behavior. Topics they study include the relation of specific biochemical mechanisms in the brain to behavior, the relation of brain structure to function, and the chemical and physical changes that occur in the body when we experience different emotions. Neuropsychologists also diagnose and treat disorders related to the central nervous system. Clinical neuropsychologists work in the neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatric, and pediatric units of hospitals, and in clinics. They also work in academic settings.

Physiological psychology is one of psychology’s hottest areas because of the recent and dramatic increase in interest in the physiological correlates of behavior. These psychologists study both very basic processes (e.g., how brain cells function) and more observable phenomena (e.g., behavior change as a function of drug use or the biological/genetic roots of psychiatric disorders). Some physiological psychologists continue their education in clinical areas and work with people who have neurological problems.

Psychometric and quantitative psychologists are concerned with the methods and techniques used to acquire and apply psychological knowledge. A psychometrician revises old intelligence, personality, and aptitude tests and devises new ones. Quantitative psychologists assist researchers in psychology or other fields to design experiments or interpret their results. Psychometrists and quantitative psychologists are often employed in colleges and universities, testing companies, private research firms, and government agencies. Often, though, quantitative psychologists are also trained in and pursue research in other areas of psychology.

Experimental psychology includes a diverse group of psychologists who do research in the most basic areas of psychology (e.g., learning, memory, attention, cognition, sensation, perception, motivation, and language). Sometimes their research is conducted with animals instead of humans. Most of these psychologists are faculty members at colleges and universities.

Academic psychologists are not really a separate group since those who teach psychology in college are trained as a social psychologist, a clinical psychologist, an experimental psychologist, etc. In fact, most psychologists who do research are associated with a college or a university. There are, however, large differences among the teaching environments in which psychologists find themselves (e.g., large research universities, small liberal arts colleges, etc.).

The career of professor is multifaceted, usually involving research and campus/community service (advising, committee, and administrative work) in addition to teaching. Because the relative emphasis on these activities varies from college to college, what you have seen during your undergraduate years at Allegheny may not give you the full picture of the range of opportunities for faculty. What this means is that the diversity of institutional settings and missions–public vs. private, two-year vs. four-year, small vs large, secular vs. religious, undergraduate vs. graduate focus–and their variation in terms of expectations, allows you to seek a teaching job compatible with your own particular interests and abilities.

Taking Standardized Tests

Graduate schools use the results of standardized tests to help predict applicants’ likelihood of success in graduate school. Those tests also provide a common measure for comparing the qualifications of applicants who come from colleges and universities having a wide variety of standards. The most commonly used tests are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Miller Analogies Test.

The GRE is administered at several different locations and times during the year. The Counseling Center has a comprehensive, informational bulletin that describes the test, lists test dates, and includes applications.

The GRE has two components. The General (aptitude) Test measures verbal, quantitative, and analytic abilities that are important for academic achievement. The test contains seven 30-minute sections. The General Test is given in the morning on each of the test dates.

The Subject Test (in psychology) measures knowledge and understanding of subject matter basic to graduate study. The Subject Test lasts two hours and 50 minutes and is administered in the afternoon.

There are several recommended strategies for preparing for the GRE. General preparation includes a thorough familiarity with the test format and time limits. Practice at taking the test under test taking conditions is strongly recommended. One helpful book is Shortcuts and Strategies for the GRE (Gruber, 1982).

Study for the verbal portion requires long term effort. Practice on vocabulary and reading can be quite productive. A close examination of the instructions for the analytic test is the best preparation.

Study for the Subject Test should include a thorough review of at least one comprehensive, introductory psychology textbook. Concentrated study may improve scores.

Many students ask whether retaking the General Test can improve their scores. If a marked discrepancy exists between General Test scores and other measures of academic performance, such as grades in school and ACT or SAT scores, then you might expect improvement on retesting. Otherwise, retesting will not likely result in a substantial increase in your score.

Retaking the Subject Test may improve your score under certain conditions. In all but a few circumstances, it is unlikely that significant improvement in scores will result.

If you plan to retake the GRE, you should know that graduate schools use different procedures in interpreting the scores. Many programs average the two scores; others use the more recent one.

Students might also wonder whether they should take the GRE if they do not intend to go to graduate school immediately after undergraduate school. Because the Educational Testing Service maintains test results for five years, students need not delay taking the GRE. Having the test results also facilitates your decision making about which schools will most likely accept you.

The Miller Analogies Test (MAT) is a one hour test at solving analogies. You can arrange to take the test by contacting the Counseling Center. However, determine whether the schools to which you will apply require the MAT. Only a small percent of graduate programs do.

Selecting and Applying to Graduate School

The process for selecting schools depends primarily on two factors: that the school offers the specialty in which you are interested and that your GPA and GRE scores are competitive with the school’s admission standards. The APA’s Graduate Study in Psychology and Associated Fields provides information regarding both factors. The book’s index lists specialty programs and the schools that offer them. Inspection of each school will reveal GPA and GRE requirements.

You can expect that the most well known schools offering doctoral degrees with APA approval in clinical, counseling, or school psychology will require a minimum GPA of 3.5 and combined Verbal and quantitative GRE scores of at least 1200, which is about the 85th percentile. For lesser known schools and for programs without APA approval, the requirements will likely be a GPA in excess of 3.O and a GRE total of 1100, which is about the 70th percentile.

Many advisers recommend that you select about 20 schools for the purpose of gathering information. After you make your initial selection of programs, request application forms, information about the school, the program of interest, faculty teaching and research interests, and sources of financial aid.

Do not be discouraged about attending graduate school because of your financial situation. There are many graduate student assistantships, scholarships, minority scholarships, and other sources of financial aid, including tuition waivers or tuition

reductions. However, you should be aware that many schools are cutting back on teaching and research assistantships due to cutbacks in funding. The availability of these types of aid will vary and you should be sure to inquire about it when you visit a school or talk with faculty and student services representatives.

When evaluating a school, you might find it helpful to distinguish four levels on the basis of your GPA and GRE scores. The long shots are programs whose minimum requirements you don’t meet. Borderline programs are those whose minimum scores you exceed but whose average scores you don’t meet. Comfortable programs are those whose average scores you exceed. Sure things are programs whose average scores you significantly exceed. The Graduate Study book contains information about the number of students who typically apply to each program.

Selection criteria may also include geographic preference, size of school, and urban or rural setting. Remember that many individuals will prefer to locate in pleasant surroundings such as in a warmer climate. Conversely, fewer individuals apply to the more sparsely populated areas and to the colder climates.

Letters of Recommendation

Materials you should supply to those who write letters of recommendation should include:

– a copy of your transcript,

– scores on standardized tests,

– an autobiographical statement and career goals,

– a list of schools to which your are applying as well as the particular programs,

– the school’s recommendation form, when supplied,

– addressed, stamped envelope for each school.

The autobiographical statement should include a detailed description of relevant research and volunteer or field placement experience. A copy of a form to summarize your experiences, skills and so forth can be found on the network in the Psychology folder. Complete this form and provide one copy to each faculty member who will write letters of recommendation. Remember, faculty can only write as good a letter of recommendation as the data they have at their disposal!

Be sure to include among your recommender someone who knows you as a person. The ability to provide information about motivation, character, etc. is often as important as the presentation of “objective” indicators of success that can be found in other sources (e.g., a transcript).

Sometimes students are not ready to apply to graduate school in their senior year. For example, some find that their course work and experience is inadequate. Others report feeling “burned out” about school. There can be many advantages to taking an extra year or two or three before applying to graduate school. The delay itself should not decrease your chances for admission and may even increase them. For example, it may be an advantage for a student interested in Industiral/Organizational Psychology to have some business experience. However, the GRE probably should still be taken while in undergraduate school. During this period what can one do? One strategy is to continue research efforts undertaken during the senior year and to strive for a professional presentation or publication. Additional courses in traditional areas of psychology at the undergraduate or graduate level can be valuable. Employment in a setting related to one’s specialty area can help to assess one’s choice of specialty.

Deciding on Which School to Attend

Many factors can influence the final decision about which school to attend. You should work very closely with those individuals with whom you’ve worked all along. Patience and cool deliberation are frequently accomplished more easily by talking with a person who has already been through the process. In addition, an on-site inspection of the departmental facilities and personal interviews with the faculty and graduate students are essential before making your final decision. Sometimes a program that is appealing on paper appears quite different when you examine it in person.

When you visit a graduate school, you should try to determine if there are good interpersonal relations between faculty and students. Do the graduate students seem at ease with their faculty advisors? Do they volunteer examples of good (or bad) feelings among the students or between faculty and students? Is there a tension in the air that even a casual visitor can feel? You should be sure to get several opinions, as the perspective of different individuals can vary considerably on these factors.

In addition to interpersonal relationships, good faculty-student interaction can be seen in joint authorship of papers between students and faculty and in faculty providing students with support during job searches. Talking to graduate students at a variety of stages in their programs can be helpful.

There are many things that can lead to good faculty-student relations in graduate school and a short visit may not enable you to discover “what really goes on.” However, even a short talk with graduate students should help you avoid becoming part of a particularly bad situation.

Recently several psychologists who had just recently taken jobs at small liberal arts colleges prepared a list of things to consider in choosing a graduate school.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is life like as a graduate student?

Although most graduate programs are small, even when compared to Allegheny–a program with 20 new students each year would be called large–they are likely to be part of a large university. This carries with it the advantages of extensive libraries, big laboratories, etc. But it also means that you will be in an environment that is much more impersonal that what you have been used to at Allegheny. One student among 20,000, even one graduate student, will not receive the personal attention that Allegheny students have come to expect.

The faculty in graduate school assume that you are there to learn and that for the time you are there, you have totally dedicated your entire life to the study of psychology! You are assumed to be an adult who knows how to structure his or her time. Assignments are often much less structured that those in an undergraduate course.

Should my career goals influence my choice of graduate school?

Most certainly! If you really want a career in a research environment (a top graduate school, for example) where publication is the prime measure of success, then you want to go to a school that provides the type of training that will enable you to compete in such a job.

On the other hand, if you want to teach at small, liberal arts college, you may want to think twice about a large, research oriented graduate school. Small schools often look for people with broader interests who have had some experience teaching.

There is no, single “best” graduate program for a particular student and it is certainly possible to change one’s mind part way through the process, but it is important to add some consideration of your career goals to the list of items noted above when making choices about graduate school.

Should I go to graduate school immediately or can I wait a year or two?

There are actually two questions here. First, should I take the GRE’s now even if I plan to wait before going on to school? And second, how long can I wait before applying to graduate school?

As with most questions, there is no simple answer to either. The GRE’s try to predict what you can do in the future by measuring what you know now. Therefore, the best time to take them is when you feel the most confident in both your general knowledge and in your knowledge about psychology.

If you don’t plan to go immediately to graduate school, you may not want to take the GRE’s in October of your senior year (the traditional time) but rather wait until the summer or fall after you graduate. This may provide you with some additional time to study (and some time to catch up on your sleep!). Remember, however, that the graduate schools will want a “recent” set of scores so if you plan to wait three or four (or more) years before you continue your education, wait to take the tests. And, of course, the longer you wait, the more you forget.

“Graduate school: Now or later?” is a question that many students face as they contemplate their senior year in college. It is not possible to list and discuss all of the options and all of the things that should be considered in making such a decision but here are a few things you should think about.

1. What do the graduate programs that I am interested in want? Many clinical programs, for example, require one or more years of full-time practical experience before you can be admitted to the program. Applying to such programs right out of college is a waste of time and money.

2. Relative to the other applicants, am I a strong or a weak student? If your grades and/or GRE scores are not quite as good as you might like, a year or two of work experience and a course or two of graduate work (as a part-time or evening student) may greatly improve your chances for admission.

3. What do I really want to do? This is the most important question of all. Going to graduate school right from college because it is the “thing to do” can often result in anxiety, poor performance, and other psychological problems. To be successful in graduate school, you must be doing what you want to do. It makes no sense to spend 50 or 60 hours a week working at something you are not completely happy with.

If you have any doubts, questions, or concerns about “Graduate school: Now or later,” talk to one or more members of the psych faculty. You may be surprised at the various routes that were taken to graduate school and you may get some advice that will be helpful in making your very personal decision.

Resources and References

Bloom, L. J., & Bell, P. A. (1979). Making it in graduate school: Some reflections about the superstars. Teaching of Psychology, 6, 231-232.

Couch, J. V.,& Benedict, J. O. (1983). Graduate school admission variables: An analysis of 180-81 students. Teaching of Psychology, 10, 3-6.

Fretz, B. R., & Stang, D. J. (1980). Preparing for graduate school in psychology: Not for seniors only.Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association, Inc.

Gruber, G. (1982). Shortcuts and strategies for the GRE. New York: Monarch Press.

Korn, J. H. (1984). New odds on acceptance into Ph.D. programs in psychology. American Psychologist,39, 179-180.

Peterson, D. R., Eaton, M. M., Levine, A. R., & Snepp, F. P. (1982). Career experiences of doctors of psychology. Professional Psychology, 13, 268-277.

Scheirer, C. J. (1983). Professional schools: Information for students and advisors. Teaching of Psychology,10, 11-15.

Stroup, C. M., & Benjamin, L. T. Jr., (1982). Graduate study in psychology 1970-1979. AmericanPsychologist, 37, 1186-1202.

Ware, M. E. (1984). Helping students to evaluate graduate areas of psychology. College Student Journal 18, 2-11.