Those who plan to acquire graduate degrees should begin exploring programs at different universities no later than their junior year. Although there are many different websites with information about graduate education, www.gradschools.com contains a relatively comprehensive list of graduate programs across disciplines.
Once schools of interest have been located, visit their websites to determine if courses and specializations important to your future goals are offered. By reading about the research activities of faculty members at each institution, you will also learn more about whether specific programs are a “fit.” If at least one, preferably two, faculty members at a school conduct research in your area of interest, you will likely have the opportunity to work with those individuals on projects, including your thesis/dissertation.
Information about program offerings and faculty research should enable you to narrow your choices to roughly three to five schools. (Applying to only one program is risky because there are limits on new admissions. Also, if faculty members conducting research in your area of interest have a number of students under their supervision, the program will not admit new students to work with those individuals.)
During the spring or summer of your junior year, you should contact programs of interest to request application materials. Understand that the application process will require much work. Although some programs have preliminary applications, most programs require that applications are submitted between December and February. Typically, you will have to complete a university application form and pay an application fee. Fees vary across programs and are usually listed on websites.
Official transcripts are always required, as are personal statements. Personal statements are usually restricted to 250 words or less and should be written to convey your research and career goals as concisely as possible. Furthermore, you should explain how enrollment in a specific program will help you achieve those goals. For example, you should mention the faculty member you would like to serve as your mentor. Mention of a specialization may also be important. Also be sure to include information about your research experiences, relevant internship experiences, and if applicable, completion of the Recognition in Scientific Analysis option. Your Drury advisor should review this letter prior to submission. To facilitate a thorough review, your advisor should receive a copy of your personal statement at least two weeks before it must be submitted.
Other typical admission requirements include submission of standardized test scores and letters of recommendation. Because our advice about letters of recommendation is also applicable to those who plan to pursue occupational goals, this information is provided in a separate section on our webpage titled Recommendation Letters.
Although there are other assessment instruments, such as the Miller’s Analogies Test (www.harcourtassessment.com), the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the most commonly used standardized test. Information about this exam, associated fees, and national testing dates may be found at www.ets.org. When you take this exam, probably during the fall term of your senior year or the preceding summer, be well-prepared. There are companies that provide preparatory courses, but they can be expensive. If you cannot afford to enroll in those classes, purchase a practice book. Prepare as though you plan to take the GRE once. Research reveals that scores do not dramatically improve on the second and third attempts.
In addition to the GRE, some schools require that prospective students complete an area exam, such as the Psychology Achievement Test. Most universities that rely on scores from these exams when making admissions decisions use the tests available through the same company that administers the GRE (www.ets.org). If you plan to take an area exam, review an introductory textbook in your discipline. To avoid the fatigue factor, do not enroll on the same day in which you are taking the GRE.
This is not an exhaustive list of admissions requirements. Some programs may solicit writing samples, while others may require a face-to-face interview. Interviews are common among clinical psychology programs, where admission is highly competitive. Plan for the cost of traveling for these interviews, and understand that you are on the short-list if invited. Spend some time with your advisor preparing for any interviews.
It should also be noted that many of our students contact potential faculty mentors at schools of interest to discuss opportunities for working together on future projects. This is one way to find out if these faculty members will be accepting new students. If you plan to contact faculty members with whom you wish to conduct research, it is imperative that you retrieve and review their published works before you contact them.