Choosing a Graduate School

A. If you're applying to a Ph.D. Counseling or Clinical program, make sure the program at the school is APA-accredited

B. Browse through PsycInfo in the area in which you're interested and note the authors of research studies that you find particularly interesting and where they are working

  1. Find the website for that department and see if that person regularly teaches psychology courses; OR
  2. Call the department and ask if that person regularly teaches psychology classes; OR
  3. Write that person and ask:
    • if they are actively involved in the department
    • what research they are doing now
  4. If the person is no longer at that university, and no one can tell you where they are, check the APA Directory of Members or the SRCD Directory for the present address of the person

C. Check the orientation of the program

  1. In Graduate Study in Psychology, check under the "Additional Comments" section for information on the orientation and objectives of the program.
  2. If you are interested in clinical programs, check out Appendix N in Insider's Guide to Clinical Psychology. It describes the orientation of the programs as well as the emphasis on research and clinical work.
  3. Read the information that's provided on the department or school's graduate school website.
  4. Read through the graduate catalog from the university to see if there are any additional information on orientation, etc. (All catalogs are on microfiche in the library.)
  5. When you talk to faculty and students in the program, ask them what they think.

D. Talk to students in the program and professors who teach in the program. This is doubly important for people applying to clinical programs. There are so many applicants for these programs that anything you can do to make yourself stand out is important. Visit before the application rush begins, however; and don't just drop in; make appointments to make sure that you see the people that you want to see.

  1. Visit the campus and meet with some people from both groups; and/OR
  2. Call and talk to them on the phone (call the graduate secretary and ask for the names of the people she or he thinks would be good people to talk to).
  3. Ask them the following questions (Figler, 1979) using a standard format:
    • What will I be doing three to five years after I complete my graduate program?
      1. It pays to find out what kinds of employment are most frequently taken by graduates of the program you are considering.
      2. Ask some of the near-graduates what they expect to be doing after they graduate.
    • Attrition
      1. Do students of this graduate department frequently fail to complete their degree programs? What structures are in place to help people complete their programs?
      2. Ask both faculty and students about this to get a more complete picture.
    • Depth in the faculty
      1. How many faculty members does the department have?
      2. Does the department's reputation rest heavily upon the shoulders of just one or two professors? What if they should go elsewhere?
    • Diversity in the faculty
      1. Are there a variety of points of view in the department, or are most of the faculty members' approaches to the discipline rather single-minded?
      2. Would you rather be a discipline or develop your own approach to the field?
    • Faculty publications
      1. What have the faculty members published lately? This will give you an idea of whether the faculty's interests are similar to your own.
      2. In many cases, what the professor publishes is what he or she spends the most time talking about, both in and out of the classroom.
    • Availability of faculty
      1. Are there several big names on the faculty? If so, ask graduate students how often they actually see or talk with these people.
      2. Would you be likely to work with the big name on a research project, see this person only in class, or just hear about him or her occasionally?
    • Internships and assistantships
      1. Does the program have any planned practical experiences?
      2. If so, where would you be likely to work and what would you do?
    • Fellowships and funds
      1. How much fellowship money is available?
      2. How many students receive fellowships or assistantships?
      3. Are you likely to be among the lucky few?
    • Ph.D. production
      1. How many Ph.D.'s has this department produced yearly?
      2. What is the average length of time it takes to complete the degree?
    • Assistance in finding a job
      1. What percentage of graduates and degree candidates in this department succeed in finding employment?
      2. To what extent is the department helpful in enabling the graduate to find suitable work?
    • Admissions preferences
      1. Does the department prefer to have applicants fresh out of the undergraduate school?
      2. Or, are applicants who have work experience relevant to their field preferred? (This is usually true for social work, clinical, and counseling programs, but check Graduate Study...)
    • Versatility
      1. To what extent can you use the degree from this department to get into other kinds of work?
      2. Is there much latitude for applying this degree to other fields?
  4. If for any reason you cannot speak personally with anyone, ask these questions in letter form, addressing your request to the department chairperson.

E. Choose some highly competitive, some moderately competitive, and some sure-thing schools, as compared to your abilities and performance. This strategy will maximize your chances of being accepted into a program.