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Applying to Graduate School -- Strategies and Time-line

Revised 6/13/97. The following schedule is directed to students who plan to begin graduate school in September. If you are seeking admission in January, you will need to adjust the schedule. The specific course references are to Georgia Southern courses, but the general shape of the timeline should be useful for students at other schools as well.


1. Students at Georgia Southern should complete Careers in Psychology (PSY 210), which is required of all psychology majors.


1. Complete required courses in Statistics, Research Methods, and the social/personality/developmental grouping. Graduate schools will look especially closely at your grades in Statistics and Research Methods, so you will want to do very well in these courses. You can also enhance your application by completing a research project. You will do one in Research Methods and also in the laboratory course required of all majors. Taking a Directed Research course--in which you carry out an independent research project under the supervision of a faculty member--no later than during the fall quarter of your senior year--is also an excellent idea.

Georgia Southern students should complete Statistics and Research Methods by the end of the fall quarter of the senior year. These courses will help you improve your analytical reasoning abilities. The History and Systems course is essential if you are to do well on the psychology test of the Graduate Record Exam (which some schools may require you to take). Remember that graduate schools will be evaluating your transcripts in January and February of your senior year so they won't know about your work in the winter and spring quarters.

2. Plan to take one or more courses from the professors from whom you will want recommendations by the fall term 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 will be familiar with you and your work before they write letters (typically in January). You will usually need letters of recommendations from three faculty members. See the web page titled "How to Get Good Letters of Recommendation" for more advice.

3. Strive to meet the requirements for membership in Psi Chi, the national honor society in psychology, in your junior year so that you can list this on your application materials. (See the web page at Hunter College which has a good description of Psi Chi.)

4. Read about selected occupations in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) published every two years by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. This book is a comprehensive guide to occupations. It includes job descriptions, education and training requirements, salaries, advancement possibilities, and employment outlooks for 250 occupations. Go to the index at the back of the OOH and look up the page references for the occupations you are interested in--e.g., psychologist, social worker, counselor. Note the titles of related jobs listed at the end of each occupational description, find these job titles in the index, and then read about them. Reading the OOH can give you lots of information about a wide range of jobs in a short time with relatively little expenditure of effort. This experience will help you clarify your career interests and inform you about the graduate educational requirements necessary for specific careers.

5. 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. See the web page on "Areas of Specialization in Psychology."

6. Read all or part of the book, The Complete Guide to Graduate School Admission: Psychology and Related Fields. (Georgia Southern students can check this out from the secretary in the Psychology Department Office.) This book 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. However, this book does not tell you about applying to graduate work in business or law.

7. Review the latest edition of the book, Graduate Study in Psychology and Allied Fields. (Georgia Southern students can check out copies of this book from the department office.) This book describes the programs, admissions requirements, and application deadlines for almost every graduate school in the U.S. and Canada.

You can save yourself a lot of time by using this book to review all the possible programs in which you might be interested. Include schools that represent a range of (1) quality and (2) level of degree (doctorate/master's). When you narrow your list down to about 20, you should write to these schools to get their catalogs and the latest, detailed information about their programs and deadlines. The summer is a good time to begin collecting this information.

8. Don't hesitate to talk with your faculty advisor about specific questions that arise.


1. Early in the summer, write to the 20 schools you are interested in to request catalogs and application materials. Be sure to request information about and an application for financial aid, if these are not sent with the application materials.

2. When the materials arrive, use the rest of the summer to review the information. Among other things, look at the research interests of faculty members to see if there are some matches with yours. Reduce your list of prospective programs to 10.

Of the 10 schools on your list, 2 should be programs that are "long shots" (schools whose entrance requirements--GRE and GPA--you don't meet); 2-3 should be "borderline" programs (you meet the GRE requirement, but not the GPA or vice- versa); 3-5 should be "good match" programs (those whose average scores match yours); and 1-2 should be "almost sure bets" (programs whose requirements you clearly exceed).

3. Once you know the schools to which you will apply, prepare a set of index cards or a chart with information on all the schools, the application materials required (application form, GRE scores, autobiographical statement if required, letters of recommendation, etc.), financial aid application information, and all relevant deadlines. Use the cards/chart to help you gather these materials in time to meet your deadlines.


4. Use the summer months to prepare for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) (and the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) if you need to take it). More than anything else, your admission to graduate school will depend on your scores on the verbal and quantitative sections of the GRE (not the Subject Test in psychology). To do your best on these exams, you must prepare for them. For additional information, see the page titled, "What Is the GRE?."

5. Use the summer months to prepare a draft of your personal/autobiographical statement. Most schools require such a statement as a way to find out about your personal and educational background, your interests in psychology, the reasons you want a graduate degree in psychology, and your career goals. Strive to be honest, objective, and brief (2-3 pages). (See the page titled, "Preparing a Personal Statement.")

6. Send in your registration materials and fees for the GRE by late August. Since the registration deadline for the October test will probably be prior to your arrival on campus for the Fall Quarter, you will need to obtain a copy of the GRE Information and Registration Bulletin (which contains the registration form) by writing to: Graduate Record Examinations, Educational Testing Service, P.O Box 6000, Princeton, NJ 08541-6000. Your scores will automatically be sent to you and to those schools you list on the registration form about six weeks after you take the exam.

Note: Not all schools require applicants to take the Subject Test in psychology, but if you need to take it, you might consider registering for the verbal and quantitative tests in October (it will take all morning to complete these) and registering for the Subject Test in December (given in the afternoon). Splitting the testing will lessen your fatigue and also allow you to use the fall quarter to take psychology courses such as History and Systems and one of the required laboratory courses (these should enhance your performance on the Test). On the other hand, remember that it takes about six weeks after you have taken the GRE for the scores to be reported to institutions. If taking any part of the GRE in December means that your application will be incomplete at the time departments are reviewing applications, be forewarned that your application will not be given the same consideration as will complete applications.

For a list of test dates and sites, consult the testing office as your school.


You should complete the Statistics and Research Methods courses by the end of the Fall Quarter of your senior year. Graduate schools will be evaluating your transcripts in January and February of your senior year so they won't know about your work in the Winter and Spring Quarters.


1. If possible, take a Directed Research course Fall Quarter and submit your paper to one of the undergraduate research conferences. Being able to list such a course and participation in a research conference will enhance your application.

2. Contact faculty members to write recommendations for you.

3. Work on your autobiographical statement.


1. Take the verbal and quantitative sections of the GRE. (If you have decided not to take these in October, then register now for the GRE given in December.)

2. Ask faculty members to review the draft of your autobiographical statement. Make revisions as necessary.


1. Give recommendation forms to the faculty who will be writing recommendations for you. Provide a pre-addressed, stamped envelope for each recommendation. See the hand-out entitled, "How to Get a Good Letter of Recommendation."


1. Take the verbal and quantitative portions of the GRE if you have not done so in October. (If you registered to take the Subject Test in December, take it now.)

2. Request that transcripts be sent to programs from all colleges attended--it will take GSU's Registrar's Office about two weeks to send these.

3. Complete applications with January deadlines and mail them with several weeks to spare. Make and 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. Be sure to: (1) TYPE all application materials, (2) PROOFREAD all materials for grammatical errors and misspellings, and (3) PHOTOCOPY all materials before you send them.


1. Call the departments to which you have applied to be sure that they have received your GRE scores and all letters of recommendation. Most schools will not consider incomplete applications.

2. If there are any outstanding letters of recommendation, check with faculty to be sure that they have been sent.

3. Mail any remaining applications.

4. Most schools will notify you of your status (regular acceptance, provisional acceptance, on waiting list, application denied) on or around April 15.

5. Upon receiving notification of acceptance(s), consult with faculty in making your final decision. Once you have notified this school, be sure to tell other schools you will not be coming so they can offer your place to another student.

6. If all of your applications are rejected, consult with faculty about your options. You might: (1) work for a year, prepare for the GRE, and re-apply to psychology programs, (2) enter a master's program in psychology, 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.

APA-style reference for this page:

Lloyd, M. A. (1997, August 12). Applying to Graduate School -- Strategies and Time-line. [Online]. Available:

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