Preparing to Get into Graduate School

A. Cultivate relationships with professors.

In general, the better your professors know you, the more detailed and accurate they can be in their letters of recommendation.

  1. Participate appropriately in class in whatever way possible. Keith-Spiegel (1989-90, pp. 24-33) describes some of these ways in her text.
  2. Outside of class, volunteer for tasks in the department, for research projects, for summer research, or for teaching assistant or lab assistant positions. Stop in to talk with your professors when they are available (Keith-Spiegel, 1989-90, pp. 34-37). Keep your advisor updated on your interests, your experiences, and your plans.

B. Courses to take

  1. Content courses
    • Get a broad background in psychology by taking as many psychology courses as you can; tailor your program to your interests and to the graduate program in which you plan to pursue your education.
  2. Psychology lab courses and other science lab courses
    • Most graduate programs want to see that prospective students can perform well in science courses, so show them that you can by taking lab courses both in and outside of psychology.

C. Get professional experience by accomplishing as many of the following as possible:

  1. Research experience
    • Senior Research for credit
    • Volunteer to help with faculty research projects
    • Summer research experience at, for example, NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program
    • Independent Study or Major Honors
  2. Paper presentation/publication
    • Student conferences:
      • Southern California Conference on Undergraduate Research
      • Western Psychology Conference for Undergraduate Research
      • Westmont College Research Conference
    • Regional conferences
      • Western Psychological Association
      • Southwestern Psychological Association
    • National conferences
      • American Psychological Association
      • American Psychological Society
      • Psychonomic Society
      • Society for Research in Child Development
    • Journals or student journals
      • Journal of Psychology and the Behavioral Sciences
      • Der Zeitgeist, Student Journal for Psychology
      • Modern Psychological Studies
      • Pittsburgh Undergraduate Review
      • Psi Chi
  3. Field/Applied Experience
    • Practicum or internship experience
    • Volunteer work in an area that you want to investigate
    • Summer or part-time job in an area in which you're interested

D. Join professional organizations to indicate your commitment to becoming a professional in psychology and to learn more about being a professional in psychology

  1. General Psychological Organizations
    • Psi Chi
    • Western Psychological Associaton (WPA)
    • American Psychological Association (APA)
    • American Psychological Society (APS)
  2. More Specialized Psychological Organizations
    • Neuroscience Society
    • Psychonomic Society
    • Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD)
    • Association for Applied Behavioral Therapy

E. Raise GPA or keep GPA up

  1. Take as little outside work during the school year as possible so you can concentrate on your studies
  2. Reduce your expenses as much as possible, perhaps by living at home, etc.
  3. Take only as many units as you can manage
  4. If GPA is low, begin improving NOW
    • Rationale:
      1. Evaluators will pay attention to dramatic increases over your college years.
      2. Psychology & Jr./Sr. GPA's are most important (rather than overall GPA)
    • Take care of problems that are affecting grades NOW:
      1. Get a tutor for courses that are giving you difficulty
      2. Reduce text anxiety
        • by developing better test-taking skills
        • with a systematic desensitization program
      3. Deal with personal problems that may be interfering with your work
        • make an appointment at Health Services (x6164); OR
        • stop in during their drop-in hours
      4. Go immediately to your professor if you're not doing well
        • to show that you are concerned about your performance
        • to ask about tips for studying and taking tests in the course
      5. Improve study, note-taking, and test-taking skills by investigating some of the resources that are available to help you become a better student
  5. If it's rather late in your senior year, read "What Can I Do if my Grades Aren't So Hot?" (Keith-Spiegel, 1989-90, pp. 87-101) for other strategies
  6. Develop special skills like computer programming; word processing or spreadsheet use skills; typing; language fluency; research and design skills; data coding and entry; running subjects; grading; tutoring