Share This

Applying to Grad School


Applying to Grad School

Making the decision to pursue graduate school training should not be taken lightly. Graduate education involves time out of the employment market, a high degree of critical evaluation, significant autonomy, and considerable financial expenditure. However, earning the degree is a rewarding experience and will provide you with the credentials you need to pursue your career in psychology. If your future career plans require further education, this section will provide you with the basics of what you need to do to pursue graduate work.                                                                                                

Here are some important tips that will help you with the application process:

  1. Start early. You should be thinking about whether or not to apply to graduate school at the end of your sophomore or beginning of your junior year. If you decide to pursue graduate school training, you should consider arranging an independent study course or taking additional courses that advance your research skills and knowledge. Find out what the minimum GPA is for admission to graduate programs.
  2. Prepare for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Find out about this important test NOW. Most graduate departments require that you take this standard aptitude test. There are many study aids available to help you prepare (courses, books, etc). Degree programs vary in their test score requirements so you should check with the particular schools you are applying to; successful applicants typically score above 500 on both the verbal and quantitative portions of the GRE.  Some psychology departments require students to take the psychology subject test. Check with the individual institutions to determine if they require this standardized test.  There are some programs within CUNY, such as Project Ascend describe in this handbook in Section III that help you prepare for this examination.
  3. Take time to choose an appropriate school. Here are some important tips:
    1. You should make sure you apply to schools that are accredited. Institutional accreditation certifies that an institution has met minimum standards of quality. 
    2. Locate institutions with appropriate programs. As you begin to explore which areas of psychology interest you, you will want to search for and apply to schools that offer a program in that area. Peterson's Guide to Graduate Study is a helpful publication for finding schools with programs in your area of interest. You should also use the APA publication, Graduate Study in Psychology and Associated Fields (see ) You can order the book from the web ( or by phone: 1-800-347-2721, ext. 5510. You can if you know of a faculty member at a particular institution that works in the area you are interested in; you should contact them for more information. Hint: Many universities have their faculty and their interests posted on the department's Website.
    3. There may be personal factors that help you decide where you would like to pursue graduate work.  Relationships, geographic location, tuition, availability of financial aid, student/faculty ratio and a host of other variables that may be uniquely important to you may also contribute to your choice of school.
    4. Apply to several schools. Graduate student selection is very competitive. Often there are very few slots for which hundreds of people have applied. There is no exact number of schools to which you should apply. Some students apply to 5 schools, others to 14. APA also publishes a list of graduate openings that can be found by going to this site:
  4. Take sufficient time to put together your application package. This takes planning, thoughtfulness and careful consideration. In addition to a personal statement and your standardized test scores, letters of recommendation are required in your application to graduate school. It takes a lot of time to collect this information, coordinate it and get it to the schools on time. Develop a time-line and follow it.
  5. Letters of recommendation are important. So, contact faculty early and in writing to request letters of recommendation.  Choose advisors carefully.  Does this person know you? How do they know you?  Can they give you a positive evaluation in terms of your potential for graduate study? Are there faculty members with whom you have taken more than one course?  Admissions committees usually consider the letter of recommendation quite seriously.  This is another reason to try and get to know the faculty outside of class and to do independent study and field work that allows faculty to get to know you.   When you know faculty and they know you it is more likely that they can accurately judge your performance and potential for graduate study.
  6. Be thoughtful about how you secure letters of recommendation.  Typically a school requires three letters of recommendation. You want to select faculty members with whom you have worked closely and can write a strong letter on your behalf. (Check the directory to the left of the Psychology Offices door to find out which instructors are faculty members.) It is also recommended that you request letters between four and six weeks in advance of their due date. It is advised that you provide your letter writer with pertinent information about yourself (what classes you had with them, what research or fieldwork you did with them, a copy of your transcript, your extra-curricular activities etc). You also need to provide your letter writers with a stamped envelope addressed to the institution to which you are applying. If you are requesting several letters you might want to make up a list of letters in the order of the due dates and list each due date so that the faculty member can use this guide.  Any faculty advisor or the Department Chair can answer questions you have about recommendation letters.
  7. Give the time and attention to detail to the personal essay that it deserves.  Graduate schools require admissions essays.  They are used to judge your potential for graduate study and the "fit" between you and the graduate program. Therefore they are very important in admissions decisions. You should take special care to produce an essay that will support your application.  A good essay begins with a careful self-assessment.  What is unique about you? Prepare a first draft and follow it with enough subsequent drafts to produce your best writing. Use samples and have someone edit it for you. Donald Ascher's Graduate admissions essays—what works, what doesn't and why,[1] is a useful reference for writing graduate school essays, choosing a school and getting letters of recommendation from faculty.
  8. Financial Aid Information is available from the APA: Phone: 202 336-5970 or and
  9. Information is also available from the U.S. Department of Education:

[1] APA, Careers for the Twenty-first Century, page 9.