James Madison University

The Graduate School Application Portfolio

Graduate school admission is highly competitive. A recent report from the National Science Foundation indicates that the average acceptance rate for master's degree programs is 49%; for doctoral programs, the average acceptance rate is just over 11%. It is clearly important for undergraduate students to be adequately prepared to be viable candidates for graduate school admission.

Graduate program selection committees typically give greatest consideration to the following items in making admission decisions.

Undergraduate Educational Background. Many graduate programs in Psychology and Counseling will accept some students with minimal undergraduate experiences; however, students who have had extensive, challenging and professionally relevant course work have a more impressive undergraduate background and may increase their chance of admission to graduate school. (See the preceding section: Recommended Courses for Future Graduate Students.)

Undergraduate Grade Point Average. Your grade point average serves as an indication of your academic skills and potential for success in graduate school. It is obviously desirable for students to maintain high grade point averages. In addition to the overall G.P.A., many schools consider the G.P.A. in Psychology courses and a G.P.A. based on the students final two years in school. Grades in particular courses such as PSYC 210, Psychological Measurement and Statistics and PSYC 211, Experimental Psychology are often considered. It is important that your final transcript shows that you experienced many subject areas in college and you can do well in challenging courses.

Standardized Test Scores. Many graduate departments require applicants to submit scores for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Scores of successful applicants vary from program to program. More information about these examinations is available at GRE website and MAT website.

Letters of Recommendation. Most graduate programs ask applicants to submit three letters of recommendation in support of their applications. Preferably, these letters should be written by the applicant's undergraduate instructors. Recommendations should come from professional people who are familiar with the applicant and can attest to his or her potential for success in graduate school. Participate in small-group or individualized experiences to allow faculty who will be writing letters on their behalf to get to know you personally. Letters written by faculty who know students from large classes alone are generally very weak letters of recommendation.

Relevant Work Experience. Any practical experience in the field of Psychology is likely to be to the applicant's advantage. Acquire applied experience through Field Placement in Psychology (Psyc 495), part-time or summer employment, or volunteer activities.

Goals Statement. Graduate school applicants are usually asked to submit statements about their individual goals and reasons for applying to graduate programs. These statements should reflect a great deal of thought and a sense of purpose on the part of the applicant. An excellent goal statement explains the rational for the student's goals in terms of prior experiences. Your goals must match the goals of the program for which you have applied.

The process of preparing to apply to graduate programs is best approached as a long-term project rather than a task for seniors only. Through careful planning, students must begin building academic portfolios early in their undergraduate years. The Psychology faculty, Peer Advising Office, and the staff of Academic Advising and Career Development, are available to assist and guide students as they plan their programs of study.