Applying to Grad School

It is never too early to start thinking about when and where you intend to apply to graduate school. Applications for a given year are usually due before the end of the of the previous academic year: usually in December for PhD and PsyD programs and March for Masters programs.  Generally speaking, psychology PhD accept applications from students who have completed a Bachelors degree.  A Masters degree is not required to apply to PhD programs.  You will earn the MA as part of the PhD program.  Most PhD programs work on a mentorship model where applicants are connected to specific faculty/research labs.  An important step in identifying programs of interest is learning about faculty research interests and noting who is doing work that aligns with your interests.

For PhD programs, the most important part of your preparation is the research experience you accumulate.  The more the better.  Most PhD programs want to see at least one year of serious involvement in research. Research oriented clinical psychology PhD programs may expect to see 2 or more years of research experience for their successful applicants.  If you are preparing to apply to Clinical Psych programs, be sure to consult with the Psychology Department Pre-Clinical Advisor as you plan your application process.  All PhD, PsyD and Masters programs will expect that you will have completed coursework including statistics and research methods.  See the admission criteria for the specific programs you are interested in for details about specific course requirements.


The future of the GRE is uncertain.  Check with individual programs to determine whether they require the General GRE and/or the Psychology GRE.  Schools are increasingly making the GRE optional.

  • When is the best time to take GREs? The General GRE can be taken at any time.  It can be taken at a testing center or at home.  The Psychology Subject GRE is offered at testing sites three times per year.  Many students find that it is best to take the Psychology Subject GRE after completing Introductory Psychology and a course in each of the Groups (Group I-III).
  • What is a satisfactory score? Graduate programs/schools will often publish the average GRE scores of accepted students, in their school bulletins and catalogues. Use these as guidelines. Students with lower scores will typically be considered if the rest of their application is strong.
  • GRE Website

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are a very important part of your application package. Most schools require a minimum of 3 letters. Optimally, these letters will be from research faculty in Psychology. You can supplement these 3 letters with additional letters from professors in areas outside of Psychology or work supervisors (if you have been out of school and working for a long time), but your primary 3 letter should be from faculty or researchers in a Psychology or Psychology-related discipline. 

  • Whom should I ask? The best quality letters come from faculty with whom you have done research. If a graduate student or post-doc is primarily supervising your research or internship, this is not necessarily a problem. Faculty will often sign or co-sign letters written by a trusted graduate student. Furthermore, if you have participated heavily in lab meetings and had some meetings with the professor directly, he or she will often write the letter him/herself (with consultation from the graduate student who may have even more extensive contact). If it looks like you will primarily be working with a graduate student, see if you can arrange to meet the professor once or twice a month, possibly together with the graduate student, to discuss the project. Advanced seminars sometimes also provide the level of personal interaction necessary to get a good letter of recommendation (especially if you get a good grade). Generally, large introductory courses do not and many of these professors will not write letters for you unless you really stood out in class, came to office hours very regularly, had intense philosophical discussions with them, etc.

NOTE: Ask your professors well in advance of the application deadlines if they are willing to write you a letter - at least 1 month and preferably 2 months in advance. If that person says no, you will have more time to find another person. If that person says yes, it is best for the faculty member if you can prepare all the recommendation materials and given them to him/her at least 1 month in advance of the first deadline.

Clinical Ph.D. versus Psy.D.

If you are interested in Clinical Psychology, you will have to decide whether to pursue a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree. Other areas of psychology only have Ph.D. programs. Sometimes you will find that Ph.D. programs are often referred to as "scientifically-oriented" whereas Psy.D. programs are "professionally-oriented." Generally speaking, the Ph.D. program provides training in both clinical research and practice, but may be more heavily weighted toward research. The Psy.D. programs are more oriented toward training students for practice in clinical and other applied professional settings and research is often less emphasized.

These different orientations are reflected in what these programs are looking for in applicants. Ph.D. programs want to see research experience. Psy.D. programs want to see internship experience. 

In some ways, the Ph.D. degree provides you with maximal flexibility because you can pursue a career either in research or practice, whereas the Psy.D. limits you more to practice. On the other hand, Psy.D. programs are sometimes shorter and provide a broader internship/externship experience.  Finances are also a concern for many students.  Ph.D. programs tend to provide funding for their graduate students, while Psy.D. programs tend not to provide funding.  Finally,Clinical Psyc Ph.D. programs that provide funding for their students tend to be substantially more competitive than Psy.D. programs.  You should choose the program that best suits your needs and interests.  Practically speaking, many clinically oriented students apply to both Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs.