How to Apply to Graduate School
- How can I enhance my application to a Graduate program?
Acceptance to graduate school can be very competitive, so thorough preparation is a must. Start now to talk with your advisor about your professional interests and goals. You and your advisor should be discussing general strategies and opportunities for enhancing your graduate school (and/or employment) applications. For example:
- Take a challenging curriculum. Strongly consider courses such as Clinical Psychology (PSY 460), Advanced Physiological Psychology (PSY 481), and other “majors-only” seminars. Also consider taking a 500-level graduate class in psychology. You may do this if you are a junior or senior psychology major with a 3.0 or higher GPA and permission from the instructor. Discuss with your advisor your choices for “University-Wide” electives (found in the UNC catalog).
- Actively seek out research experience working with faculty members or graduate students. It is possible to earn elective credits for the major by participating in research through a Directed Study (PSY 422) or Practicum (PSY 493). In discussing a research opportunity with a faculty member, ask specifically about the possibility of making a presentation based on your work at UNC Research Day or at a regional psychology conference (e.g., Rocky Mountain Psychological Association conference). You may also acquire valuable research experience as part of UNC’s Honors Program and McNair Scholars Program.
- Select a Field Experience (PSY 491) placement that is appropriate to your goals and interests. Your field experience can provide valuable training and insights regarding psychology-related professions, so make the field experience coordinator aware of your graduate school and career interests to help you find a placement that is supportive of your goals. Although 3 credits of field experience are required for the major, a maximum of 6 credits is permitted, so you may wish to consider working at a couple different sites to broaden your skills and experiences.
- Become an active member of Psi Chi. Psi Chi is the national honor society for psychology students. Psi Chi members are involved in preprofessional, social, and philanthropic activities. These are students who have a passion for psychology and are considering psychology-related careers. Whether or not you join Psi Chi, plan to attend their annual workshop on preparation for graduate school.
- Choose your references carefully, following the directions of the programs to which you are applying. Select those professors who best know you and your work, and provide them with enough information (a resume, a statement of your goals, and information about the programs to which you are applying) so that they can write letters that are specifically about you (not ones that are full of vague generalizations). Give your references plenty of notice about writing letters of recommendation, and provide them with a complete list of programs to which you are applying, with clearly indicated deadlines for receipt of reference letters. If the programs to which you are applying provide a form for your references to submit, it will frequently have a portion to be completed by the student. Make sure you have filled in the requested information. If given the option, it is often recommended that you waive your right of access to the reference letter. This helps to ensure a candid letter from your reference that may be taken more seriously by the programs to which you are applying. References will appreciate it if you provide addressed envelopes for their letters. Visit the Careers Services site to learn more.
- What about writing essays or goal statements?
Many programs require some type of written statement. These statements can be a biographical statement, a statement of your goals, an account of the important life experiences that resulted in your applying to graduate school, or why you are applying to a particular program. Some programs require you to write an essay on a topic they provide. This statement/essay is a crucial part of your application. It tells something about yourself and provides a measure of your writing skills and your ability to express yourself.
When writing these statements, give yourself plenty of time to answer the question that you are asked and think about what you want to say. Write many drafts. Proofread it carefully after you have typed up the final version, and request feedback from your advisor or others.
- What if an interview is required?
Prepare for the interview. Read up on the program including its goals, faculty, and curriculum. Be prepared to articulate why you are a good fit to a particular program. Be on time. Be yourself, but be sure to dress, speak, and act professionally. Make sure to have thoughtful questions prepared. The questions you ask may be just as important as the answers you provide.
Note that UNC’s Center for Career Readiness Center can assist with interview preparation, including arranging videotaped mock interviews.
- Do I have to take the GRE?
Many programs require the Graduate Record Exam, either the GRE General Test (verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking and analytical writing skills) and/or the GRE Psychology Test. The GRE is given by Educational Testing Services only on certain dates. Results are mailed out approximately six to seven weeks after the testing date. Therefore, you need to ensure that you take the test in sufficient time to meet the application deadline of the programs to which you are applying. Check with Center for Career Readiness on campus for a GRE schedule. Some recommend that you schedule your test so that you can retake it, if necessary, before the scores must be submitted to the graduate programs.
Psychology programs use the GREs in several ways. Some programs place a great deal of emphasis on the GRE and rate it highly as a selection device. Other programs use the GRE more as a proficiency test--if you score above a predetermined level then you move on to the next stage in the selection process where the remainder of your application materials are evaluated. Still other programs rate the GRE no more highly than any other piece of information. These programs try to select applicants based on a picture of their overall qualifications. Sometimes, when two applicants are similar to each other in many areas, the GRE provides an objective way to "break the tie."
Students on financial aid can have the GRE fee waived. For more information on the GRE, visit ETS's GRE site.
Preparation is the key for both the General and the Psychology tests. Get familiar with the types of items on the test, because this builds confidence. Self-help books and classes may be useful in preparing for the General Test and/or the Psychology Test. Rereading introductory and history and systems psychology texts is also recommended. In addition, the Center for Career Readiness Center has a computer program for preparing for the GRE that you may find to be valuable.
- Can I get Financial Aid?
Graduate school is a rewarding, though expensive, endeavor. You should ask financial-aid related questions of every program to which you are thinking of applying. Find out what types and how much financial aid they have to offer. Apply for all possible types of aid that you do not have to pay back! Several types of non-loan financial aid exist:
Scholarships and fellowships are grants awarded to students. You do not have to work for these. Research assistantships, teaching assistantships, and traineeships require the recipient to work in research, teaching, or in some other program activities.
Another important question deals with the length of time for which a student can hold a particular type of financial aid. For example, how long does a fellowship last? Also, if possible, find out how students currently in the program finance themselves.
Some universities allow the application fee to be waived. Contact the graduate school of the university to which you are applying.
- How can I get more Information?