Graduate Study in Psychology

Professional work as a psychologist usually requires a graduate degree in psychology or a related field. In recent years, jobs in academia have tended to be more scarce than jobs in human services or business organizations. Openings in clinical, counseling, or applied psychology are more plentiful than those in academic or research psychology. Students interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology should be aware that admission is extremely competitive (more so than for medical school), requiring a high GPA and very high GRE scores for a student to be considered seriously at the best schools.

Deciding where to apply for graduate school. Graduate schools vary greatly in quality, and it is certainly in the best interest of the student to make the choice of graduate school with care. It is advisable for the students who are planning to attend graduate school to do three things in their junior or senior year.

1) Read the American Psychological Association publication entitled Graduate Study in Psychology and Associated Fields. Copies of this publication are on reserve in the Burke Library and can be purchased from the American Psychological Association, 1200 Seventeenth Street, Washington D.C. 20036. This publication lists all of the graduate schools in North America and information about the programs offered at each school. Additional details such as GRE scores of recent admittees and number of students receiving financial assistance also are included. With this book, in conjunction with your preferences for geographical location, school reputations, and financial circumstances, you should be able to generate a list of possible schools. Students interested in graduate school in professional psychology (i.e., clinical, counseling, and school psychology) should consult the list of APA accredited schools at Students interested in forensic psychology can find additional information at

2) Discuss your list with some faculty members, particularly those in the area that you might wish to pursue. They probably can give you additional information about schools that you have included or omitted from your list.

3) Gather more information from the schools on your list. The websites will provide a substantial amount of information.

Graduate Record Examinations. Most graduate schools require that both the Advanced and Aptitude portions of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) be taken. The Miller Analogies Test is also occasionally required. See the GRE website for more information. Some people take the Advanced and Aptitude GRE's on different dates to eliminate the stress from taking both tests on one day (each test takes 3 hours). Although the Educational Testing Service indicates that the scores on the test are not affected by practice, students should prepare for the examinations by studying tests of comparable format, and at least one on-line source is available that provides practice questions. Sometimes it is also advised to take the GRE for practice in one's junior year. An introductory psychology text is good to use in reviewing for the Advanced GRE.

Courses to take for graduate school. Most graduate schools require only the courses that a concentrator in psychology normally takes as part of the required curriculum, i.e., introductory psychology, research methods, statistics, and some electives that are usually not specified (it is strongly advised for students to have a course in the area in which they wish to concentrate in graduate school). It is probably the case that the course background is more important in being admitted to graduate school than is the concentration per se. Students interested in attending graduate school in neuroscience should have a foundation in organic chemistry, calculus, introductory physics, and general biology. Students interested in attending graduate school in clinical psychology should take at least one course in either abnormal, developmental, clinical, or social psychology.

Research experience. Graduate schools that provide training for a Ph.D. frequently favor students with research experience obtained in independent study or otherwise. Consequently, students who wish to pursue the Ph.D. are advised to obtain some research experience before they apply to graduate school (applications are usually submitted before February of a student's senior year). Research experience is as important for programs in clinical psychology as for those in other areas of psychology. The senior project serves Hamilton students well in this regard.

Internship experience. Graduate programs in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and social work, as well as medical schools look favorably on students who have internship experience in these areas. Summer internships as well as Psychology 455 (Field Study) should be considered.

Making the application. Some of the best advice is represented in this statement, provided by an admissions director of a clinical psychology graduate program at a large university: "The students selected this year had the following types of scores: average 3.6 GPA; average 720-740 of each of the 3 GRE subtests (this was significantly higher than previous years - more usual GRE's are around the 600 level); average of 2 years working in a research setting (usually with a professor) with excellent letters of recommendations. The successful students appear to have done their "homework." They researched who the professors were in the department, what areas of clinical/research they specialized in, and many wrote directly to these individuals prior to forwarding their applications. As a result, their statements of "purpose" reflected well thought out plans for graduate education (vs "I wish to study everything relevant to psychology)....I would recommend to your students that, aside from being well prepared, that they spend a significant amount of time studying who they are applying conducting literature searches on the primary professors, writing directly to these individuals expressing their interests (e.g., may wish to find out whether the professor is going on sabbatical that year - the program is unlikely to take a student for that individual), and the type of clinical-research work the professor is currently engaged in...matching mentors to student interest is a key to entry!" The importance of GRE, GPA, and specific courses in applications is shown in the following survey of admissions committees at leading graduate schools:  Purdy, J. E., Reinehr, R. C., and Swartz, J. D. (1989). Graduate admissions criteria of leading psychology departments. American Psychologist, 44, 960-961.

Paying for Graduate School. Many PhD programs will actually pay you to attend graduate school! For those not interested in a PhD, there are other financial aid options. For information about various scholarships and other financial aid advice for graduate school visit the Graduate Student Financial Aid Guidebook.