The decision to attend graduate school is an important one, especially for psychology graduates. Many helping professions (i.e. social work, counseling, therapy, research, etc.) require at least a Masters degree in order to work at a professional capacity. Many students question if graduate school is right for them, and if it is, which program(s) to apply to and how to get in. We hope that this FAQ will help you to answer some of the common questions you may have as you begin the process of exploring graduate school.
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Q: What do I want to study and what direction should I pursue?
A: Most areas that psychology graduates are looking into fall into one of two categories: Applied or Research. Applied jobs, such as counseling, therapy, psychiatry, and social work, involve helping people in a community or mental health setting. Research positions, like being a professor, involve teaching, researching new areas of study, and assessment. You should think about what kind of work you want to do and that will help you find the degree that is right for you.
Q: What degree will I need?
A: Master’s degrees are needed by people who wish to work as counselors or social workers in the community and typically take 2 to 3 years to complete. A doctoral level degree is typically not needed in these professions because individuals are considered professionals with a masters degree. A Ph.D. or similar doctoral level degree is required by psychologists to be at the professional level and usually take 4 to 6 years to complete. For those interested in Psychiatry, an M.D. is required. A PsyD is a Doctor of Psychology and is for those people who are interested in clinical work and not in research. You should think about what level of education you want to attain and also how long it might take to get that degree.
Q: What kind of GPA do I need to get into Graduate School?
A: Typically, Masters programs look for GPAs in the 3.4 - 3.6 or higher range. If you are looking into a Ph.D. program, the GPAs are usually 3.8 or higher.
Q: What is included in a typical graduate school application?
A: There are several different parts to an application and each one requires care and preparation.
- Transcripts: Transcripts are available through your school and must be sent officially. There is usually a small fee associated with this. You can request your transcripts to be sent to the schools you are applying to by logging onto Banner, going to Student Services/Student Accounts, Student Records, then Request Official Transcript.
- Test Scores: Most graduate programs require you to take the GRE, the M.A.T., or another similar exam. You should try to sign up for these as soon as you can because test dates are varied, you will need time to prepare and study, and tests can take up to a month or more to be scored. You can sign up for the GRE here and the M.A.T. here. Some schools might also like you to take the Psychology Subject GRE which you can sign up for here.
- Letters of Recommendation: Letters of recommendation are an important part of the application because they give acceptance boards a chance to hear what other people think of your work ethic and potential for success in graduate school. When thinking of whom you will want to ask to write for you, you should consider professors and professionals in the community with whom you have worked closely and who would speak highly and professionally of you. Many graduate schools prefer that you have professors write the letters, so if you have people from outside the university who you would like to write for you, try to use them sparingly. Remember that these people are very busy and may be being asked to write other letters for other students. You should always give your letter writers 6 to 8 weeks advanced notice for when you will need them. You should give them a copy of your CV or resume so that they will be able to list some of the things you have accomplished in their letter for you. You should also give them pre-addressed and stamped envelopes to the schools you are applying to so that they can send them without issue. It is also a good idea to write thank you notes to anyone who writes for you thanking them for their time.
- Resume: Your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) is different when applying to graduate school than when you are applying to a job. Your CV should list your professional and education accomplishments rather than the places you have worked. This is the place to list any and all honors, awards, research experience, professional memberships like Psi Chi, presentations, publications, leadership, and volunteer work. List any special positions like officers or lead research assistant. Keep it short and sweet and try not to go into long descriptions of what you have done. That is what your statement of purpose is for. Google examples of CVs for your area of study so you can see what a professional CV looks like.
- Statement of Purpose: This gives you the opportunity to tell your acceptance review board why you belong in the program. This should be well written and completely free of grammatical and spelling errors because they will reflect poorly on you. Remember that review boards are reading dozens if not hundreds of these letters, so try to make yours stand out by talking about meaningful experiences you have had, leadership you have shown, or goals you have. This is the time to show your review board your own personality and share your experience and interests, not to list your accomplishments. That is what your CV is for. It is also helpful to mention what research areas you are interested in to show how you might fit into the graduate program. Even mentioning professors’ work that you find interested will show your review board that you are interested and committed to being part of their program.
Q: When should I apply?
A: Deadlines vary from program to program but usually the end between November and December for Doctoral programs, and February and March for Master’s programs. In searching for programs you should always make note of when the application deadlines are so they don’t slip by you. Remember that creating an application is time consuming work so you should be ready to go several weeks before the deadlines end. You will also need to give whoever is writing your letters of recommendation at least 6 to 8 weeks to write their letters. Deadlines are the absolute last day that programs accept applications, so feel free to apply well before then.
Q: What sort of things should I get involved with as an undergraduate to help my application?
A: UNC Charlotte has three psychology related organizations that you can join. Psychology Student Coalition, Psi Chi, the International Honors Society in Psychology, and NAMI all provide members with great ways to be informed and involved with psychology. Students should also apply to be research or teaching assistants. Working with faculty not only strengthens your resume but also give you people to ask for letters of recommendation. We also offer a Practicum internship that gives students hands on experience in an area they may be interested in. Completing an Honors Thesis is another great resume builder for graduate school applicants.
The PASS Center in Colvard 4111 has a collection of books and catalogs that students are free to browse through. These include step-by-step guides to finding, selecting, and applying to graduate schools, the APA’s published catalog of every accredited graduate program in the country, and several books on career options that focus on psychology degrees that might be helpful in exploring careers and learning what degrees will help you reach those goals. The school library also has several copies of similar books that are aimed in helping you find and apply to graduate school.
A Google search for graduate schools can yield an overwhelming list of options that can feel impossible to sort though. Always try to narrow your search as much as possible so that it will yield more useful results. Instead of searching for “graduate schools”, search for “counseling masters programs” or “I/O Psychology Ph.D. in North Carolina”. This will help you to manage results and keep from getting overwhelmed.
Here are some websites that you might find useful in narrowing down your programs: