Applying for Admission to Graduate School
While many employers value the skills developed by students who earn a bachelor’s degree with a psychology major, a graduate degree is required to become a professional psychologist or counselor, or to enter other related professions. The JMU psychology program is designed to provide the basic coursework required for admission to these graduate programs, however, to be a competitive candidate for graduate program admission, students should develop their graduate school application portfolio which may include courses beyond the basic coursework required for graduation. Follow the links below for additional information.
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.
Recommended Coursework for Future Graduate Students
Many JMU psychology students plan to pursue advanced study at the graduate level after earning their bachelor's degrees. The courses listed below are recommended for those students who intend to apply to graduate school.
- Consider taking a few additional credit hours of psychology courses at the 300- and 400- levels, beyond the courses that are required for graduation. Courses in the Social Science Core and Natural Science Core may be particularly relevant for graduate study.
- Participate in a individualized learning experience, such as:
- PSYC 202/203 - Project Assistance
- PSYC 402/403 - Independent Research in Psychology
- PSYC 495 - Field Placement in Psychology
- PSYC 499 - Honors Thesis
- Advanced statistics courses are highly recommended. Consider:
- MATH 321 - Analysis of Variance and Experimental Design
- MATH 322 - Applied Linear Regression
- MATH 323 - Exploratory Data Analysis
- MATH 324 - Applied Nonparametric Statistics
- MATH 325 - Survey of Sampling Methods
- A minor or a selection of courses from other departments that complements the Psychology Major for the professional field you are pursuing might be very helpful. Discuss your professional goals with your Faculty Advisor and ask for recommendations.
- Courses that emphasize writing skills.
- Courses that emphasize oral communication.
Strategies and Time Line
The following schedule is directed to students who plan to begin graduate school in September. A few schools allow students to begin in January. Students seeking admission for January will need to adjust the following schedule accordingly.
Sophomore & Junior Years
- Complete required courses in Statistics, Experimental Psychology, and all courses in Social Science Psychology (Area A) and Natural Science Psychology (Area B). Graduate schools will look especially closely at your grades in Statistics and Experimental Psychology, so you will want to do very well in these courses. Graduate schools will be evaluating your transcripts in January and February of your senior year so they won't know about your work during the Spring semester.
- Plan to take one or more courses from the professors from whom you will want recommendations by the Fall semester of your senior year. Also, take time to talk with them outside of class so they can get to know you. This will ensure that they be familiar with your work before they write letters. You will usually need letters of recommendations from three faculty members.
- Participate in PSYC 202/203 (Project Assistance), PSYC 402/403 (Independent Study), PSYC 499 (Honors Research), and other activities that permit you to demonstrate your independent learning skills, motivation, reliability, and initiative.
- Apply for Field Placement (PSYC 495) no later than January of your junior year, so you can participate no later than Fall semester of your senior year.
- Strive to meet the requirements for membership in Psi Chi, the national honor society in psychology. Apply to become a member during your sophomore or junior year.
- Begin some serious reflection on the areas in psychology that most interest you. When you apply to graduate school, you must apply to programs in specific areas (clinical, developmental, experimental, social, etc.) so you will need to be clear about your focus.
- Read the booklet, Not for Seniors Only: Preparing for Graduate Study in Psychology. This handbook will help you decide whether you want to apply to graduate school in psychology and inform you about the various things involved in this process. (This booklet does not tell you about applying to graduate or professional school in other areas such as medicine, psychiatry, social work, education, psychiatric nursing, law, or business, all of which are viable career options for psychology majors).
- Review Graduate Study in Psychology. This book describes the programs, admissions requirements, and application deadlines for almost every graduate school in the U.S. and Canada. You can purchase the book in hard copy or pay to view the online version through the American Psychological Association.
- Visit Peer Advising and discuss your career choices.
- Talk with your faculty advisor about your career choices.
Summer Between Junior & Senior Year
- Review the web sites of 20 or more schools that interest you. Among other things, look at the research interests and professional activities of faculty members to see if some faculty interests match yours. You might want to conduct a literature search on the faculty of graduate programs to which you are applying. This will help you further understand their professional interests and activities. Consider the coursework required in each program to see if it matches your interests. Find out what graduates of these programs typically do.
- Reduce your list of prospective programs to approximately 10. Of the 10 schools on your list, 2 could be programs that are "long shots" (schools whose entrance requirements--GRE and GPA--you don't meet); 2-3 could be "borderline" programs (you meet the GRE requirement, but not the GPA or vice-versa); 3-5 could be "good match" programs (those whose average scores match yours); and 1-2 could be "almost sure bets" (programs whose requirements you clearly exceed).
- Once you know the schools to which you will apply, organize your application materials by preparing a chart showing the application materials required (application form, GRE scores, autobiographical statement, letters of recommendation, etc.), financial aid application, and all relevant deadlines for all schools. Use the cards/chart to help you prepare materials in time to meet your deadlines.
- Use the summer months to prepare for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) (if you need to take it). Often, admission to graduate school will depend on your scores on the verbal and quantitative sections of the GRE more than any other single item. To do your best on these exams, you must prepare for them. Purchase and review GRE preparation books and consider enrolling in a GRE preparatory course.
- Prepare a draft of your autobiographical statement. Most schools require such a statement as a way to find out about your personal and educational background, your interests, the reasons you want a particular graduate degree in Psychology, and your long-term career goals. Strive to be honest, objective, and brief.
Fall Semester, Senior Year
- Obtain a copy of the GRE Information Bulletin or view it online. Send in your registration materials and fees for the GRE General Test, and the Psychology Subject Test if required.
- Submit a proposal for a conference presentation that describes the research you are completing in psychology. Conferences are typically held in the Spring, but proposals are due in the Fall. Ask your research adviser about possible
- Contact the faculty members you want to write recommendations for you to be sure that they will be willing to do so. Most schools require three recommendations.
- Work on your autobiographical statement. Ask faculty members to review the draft of your autobiographical statement. Make revisions as necessary.
- Request application materials from the schools to which you plan to apply.
Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
Graduate schools in psychology and counseling often require students to complete the GRE General Test, a test that measures verbal, quantitative and analytical reasoning skills that have developed over a long period of time and are not necessarily related to any particular field of study. Many schools also require students to complete the Psychology Subject Test.
The GRE General Test is taken in a Computer-Based Testing (CBT) format. With the CBT, tests can be quickly scheduled, taken, and scores can be mailed 10-15 days after testing. Subject Tests are offered in the paper-based format. As of October 2002, the Writing Assessment will be combined with the General Test.
The primary test date is in early November. For the November test, you must register by mid-September. You can take the GRE General Test during the morning of the November test day and the Subject test during the afternoon. Your test scores will be mailed to schools by mid-December. Alternatively, you may want to take the GRE-General Test in November and the Subject test during mid-December. If the Psychology Subject Test is taken during mid-December (registration in October) scores will be mailed mid-January. Both tests may also be taken in April (registration in February, scores mailed mid-May), but this administration may be too late for admission during Fall of the following year.
More information about the GRE examinations may be obtained on their website or by calling 1-800-GRE-CALL. Publications regarding the GRE, including study materials, are available by calling 1-800-537-3160. The first publication you should read is the "Information and Registration Bulletin." Feel free to stop by the Peer Advising Office for more information regarding the GRE.
December, Senior Year
- Give recommendation forms to the faculty who will be writing recommendations for you. Provide a typed, pre-addressed, stamped envelope for each recommendation. It is also very helpful to provide the following additional information:
- Your resume or vita.
- Details about how the faculty member knows you (courses taken, dates, grades, titles of significant papers written, etc.).
- Your scores (overall G.P.A., psychology G.P.A., GRE. Scores, etc.).
- A copy of your undergraduate transcript.
- Your personal statement that will be included with applications, describing why you are seeking your chosen career path.
- A list of the schools to which you are applying. (Include the name of each school, the name of each program, the degree sought, date the application is due, and to whom the recommendation should be sent.)
- Request that transcripts be sent to programs from all colleges attended--it will take JMU's Registrar's Office about two weeks to send these.
- Complete applications with January deadlines and mail them several weeks in advance. Each school has different application procedures. Be sure to precisely follow each school's instructions. Use a check sheet to be sure that you have included all necessary information in your envelope: application form, autobiographical statement (if required), application fee, request for financial aid, and a self-addressed postcard for verification of receipt of your materials. Also, be sure to: (1) TYPE all application materials, (2) PROOFREAD all materials for grammatical errors and misspellings, and (3) copy all materials before you send them.
January through April, Senior Year
- Send any additional applications to schools with February and later deadlines.
- If you do not receive any acknowledgement that your application is complete, e-mail departments to which you have applied to be sure that they have received your application materials including GRE scores and all letters of recommendation. (Most schools will not consider incomplete applications, and some will not notify you that your application is incomplete.)
- If there are any outstanding letters of recommendation, check with faculty to be sure that they have been sent.
- Most schools will notify you of your status (regular acceptance, provisional acceptance, on waiting list, application denied) on or around April 15.
- Upon receiving notification of acceptance(s), consult with faculty in making your final decision. Consider visiting schools to help you make the right choice. Once you have notified this school, be sure to notify any other school that accepted you that you will not be coming so that they can offer your place to another student.
- If all of your applications are rejected, consult with faculty about your options. For example, you might: (1) work for a year, prepare for the GRE, and re-apply to Psychology programs, (2) think about a master's program in General Psychology to strengthen your critical thinking and research skills, re-take the GRE, and reapply to doctoral programs, or (3) think about applying to degree programs in fields similar to Psychology such as Social Work (M.S.W.) or Education (M.Ed. or Ed.D.) if you have not already explored these options.