Getting into graduate school is no easy task. Not only does it require a lot of paperwork, a lot of preparation, and a lot of patience, but, on top of that, the truth is, acceptance rates for graduate school in psychology are extremely low. In some Ph.D. programs, for example, fewer than 10% (sometimes as low as 2%) of the applicant pool will be invited to join the program. In Psy.D. and Masters programs, acceptance rates are somewhat higher, but it's still really tough.
To be a successful grad school applicant, you need to stand out from the rest of the pool. The best - and perhaps the only - way to do this is to become acquainted with unspoken rules of applying to graduate school. That's right - the key to getting into grad school is to get insider information about what admissions committees (and individual faculty members) are looking for. The crux of the inside information is this: whether or not you will be admitted to grad school (and this is especially the case with Ph.D. programs), depends on if you are viewed as a match for the program you have applied to. What do I mean by a match? When you match with a program, there is something particular about your background or experience that makes you a better fit for that particular program than others who have applied.
Most people who apply to graduate school have a high GPA, good GRE scores, and research or related work experience. These qualifications, for the most part, are necessary for admission, but, the reality is, getting in is oftentimes a lot more idiosyncratic than having high scores. Here are some examples of unique qualifications that might push your application to the top of the pile: 1) working in a particular faculty member's lab as an undergraduate, 2) contributing to research that is considered a "hot" area in the program you are applying to, 3) having experience with a type of software that the program uses or is introducing, 4) attending a conference and meeting someone who is associated with the program by chance. This is by no means a complete list, but you get the idea. As you can see, the types of qualifications that will make you a better match for a program vary widely. The tricky part is showing in your application and interview that you are a match.
Postings on this blog will be about what really constitutes a successful graduate school application - that is to say, how to make it more likely that you will be considered a match. Think of this blog as an insider's look at the realities (some good, others not so good) of grad school admissions in psychology. The information provided will be based on my experience, first, as an applicant myself (I was admitted to a Ph.D. program in Social Psychology in 2004 and completed my degree in 2010) and, second, as a mentor to numerous undergraduate students who have gotten into grad school (in many cases even into their top choice program). They have been accepted to Ph.D. programs in Clinical, Social, I/O Psychology and Sociology, as well as Masters programs in General Psychology, I/O Psychology, Counseling Psychology, Marketing Research, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Education. Now, my knowledge and tips will be summarized in this blog. You can expect posts that cover topics such as, the differences between types of grad programs, letters of recommendation, online resources for finding programs to apply to, and personal statements.
Though the target audience of this blog is undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing graduate study in psychology and post-bacs who have taken some time off and want to go back to obtain a higher degree, current grad students and faculty members are also invited and encouraged to read my take on the admissions process and then provide comments with their own perspectives. The applicants reading this blog will greatly benefit from more than just my point of view.
Applying to grad school is tough, but with the right information (along with some hard work and dedication), you can get in! I hope the blog posts will be helpful.
Laura E. Buffardi, Ph.D. is a graduate school admission consultant in Psychology and related fields. Visit her website: www.gradadmissionsconsulting.com to learn more about improving your graduate school application. Follow Laura on Twitter for links to current grad school admissions news.