Although the information here suggests planning starts with your junior year, be prepared to begin your graduate school planning as early as possible. Many of the following tasks can be completed in your freshman or sophomore year (e.g. taking relevant coursework for graduate programs to which you are applying, getting to know your professors, etc.).
Keep in mind that the application process for graduate programs (especially Ph.D.) typically begins at the end of the fall semester of your senior year. Applying prior to graduation can help you to secure your placement in a graduate program early. Rejections are common, so if you wait too long you may end up having to take more time off from your academic goals than you anticipate.
- Begin researching potential careers in psychology.
- Read about faculty interests at your college or university that may be a good fit with your own interests. Read over recent publications and look carefully at faculty web pages to determine the faculty members’ most current research projects.
- Reach out to the faculty members who may have availability in research labs with whom you have taken at least one class with and did exceptionally well in (preferably an “A” grade in class).
- Find out about field work opportunities in the area of psychology that you would like to pursue to gain valuable hands on experience.
Second Semester (or Sooner)
- Begin to explore graduate programs in psychology that you may be interested in. Evaluate overall program requirements of a strong applicant. Most programs look for high GPA, GRE scores above the minimum criteria for the specific program, solid letters of recommendation (best if obtained by a faculty with whom you have worked closely) and research experience. A good resource to find out overall requirements for acceptance into psychology programs is the most current printing of a copy of Graduate Study in Psychology (this book can be found in most libraries as a reference). Be sure to make note of application deadlines for each program.
- Begin studying for the GRE. Obtain study materials, price out local courses offered and take as many practice exams as possible to assess your strengths and weaknesses.
- Review your transcripts to determine whether there are any courses that you are required to take to fulfill your major, and evaluate your GPA. (Most Ph.D. programs look for a GPA of 3.5 or higher in an applicant).
- Determine whether or not you are eligible for membership to Psi Chi International Honors Society. If you do not meet the GPA requirements, you may still have enough time to strengthen your GPA.
- Find out about state, regional and national psychology conferences that you may wish to attend. Attendance is an excellent way to learn about what research is being done in the field of psychology, and to network with professors and graduate students from colleges or universities that you may wish to apply.
Summer Prior (or Sooner)
- Design a “Program Application Plan.” Make note of specific requirements of programs to which you wish to apply: type of programs offered, minimum GPA/GRE scores, application fees, and deadlines for applications.
- Review psychology department web pages of potential graduate programs to which you wish to apply. Request more information specific to the program. Attend open house events, graduate school fairs, and schedule visits, if possible.
- Schedule the GRE for no later than October, if your plan is to start graduate school the year after you graduate with your bachelor’s degree.
- Identify potential advisors that you would be interested in working with in each program that you are planning to apply. Read over each professor’s Curriculum Vitae (C.V.) with whom you would like to work and obtain recent publications to educate yourself on whether or not the faculty member would be a good fit with your interests.
- Get copies of your undergraduate transcript(s).
- Determine which professors you would like to ask to write you letters of recommendation.
- Prepare your resume or Curriculum Vitae with experience that you already have acquired.
- Begin writing your personal statement. This will take many revisions, so start early and ask others for feedback prior to each revision!
- Take the GRE. Request all scores be sent directly from ETS to the schools to which you are applying. (If you choose not to send them immediately after the test, you will have to be certain to request that they be sent during the application process. Fees apply.)
- Begin filling out applications.
- Complete financial aid forms.
- Obtain letters of recommendation packet checklist and complete required materials for each professor from whom you wish to request a letter. Keep in mind that it usually takes at least 3 weeks for a professor to write a letter of recommendation from the time that you provide them with your letter of recommendation packet. Be aware of application deadlines! Few professors will put their own priorities on hold to write you a last minute letter request. Providing them with ample time to write one is only a benefit to you.
- Contact professors with whom you have a great rapport, in person, to request a strong letter of recommendation from each. Graduate programs generally ask for 3 letters, so you will want to ask at least three different professors. (If you are applying to multiple programs with different areas of concentration – e.g., cognitive vs developmental – it is acceptable to ask different faculty members to write letters that are in line with a specific psychology program.)
- Immediately (preferably first week) provide professors who have agreed to write you letters of recommendation with a completed packet. Be sure to provide due dates for each letter of recommendation, and most importantly, WAIVE your right to see the letter that each writes. If you choose not to waive your right, the professor may not feel comfortable writing a letter on your behalf. In addition, graduate committees generally do not apply as much weight to letters written on your behalf that you have read. (If you are skeptical as to how strong of a rapport you have with a professor, or you think s/he may not write you a good letter, ask. Most professors will tell you whether they will write something lukewarm for you, in which case you may wish to ask someone else.)
- Fully complete applications.
- Finalize financial aid forms.
- Prepare the final draft of your personal statement and C.V.
- Request official undergraduate transcripts be sent to each school to which you are applying.
- Be aware of application deadlines and submit on time.