• Your 7-step guide to becoming a Psychology Grad Student

There are hundreds of graduate programs in psychology to choose from. Use our psychology graduate program directory to search for programs by location, area of specialty, and type of degree.

Finding and Learning About Programs

It can be a daunting task to search for graduate programs in psychology. A helpful solution may be to talk to faculty members who specialize in the area you are interested in studying. They may be able to suggest some programs that are right for you, whether local or out of state.

You can also bet that you will be spending a lot of time searching through websites of the different programs. Most of the websites will provide ample information to help you in your decision.

For those programs that you are serious about, take the time to contact program coordinators or department staff, either over the phone or email. There should always be a human being who you can speak to and should be happy to answer any questions you have about the program. Often you can get information this way that is not available online or to the general public. This will give you an upper hand not only in deciding where to apply but how to be a better applicant as well.

Keep in mind that you should select many programs to apply to. Do not put all of your hope into being accepted into one school. This is a very competitive process, and you are up against other excellent candidates. You definitely need a backup. On the other hand, you don’t want to apply to every program you come across. It requires a lot of time and effort to create and complete application materials specific to each school, and remember that the costs can add up for applying to many schools (i.e., ordering official transcripts, application fees, postage, etc.). The amount of programs you apply to really depends on your personal situation, but be realistic about applying to programs which are possible options for you.

Deciding Where to Apply

It might be easy to select graduate programs in psychology based on where they are located, but there are many other important factors that you will need to consider. Here are some questions you should ask about the programs in order to make decisions about where you should apply to, and where you will best fit in:

  • What is the minimum GPA and mean GPA of students who are accepted?
    • Make sure that you have the minimum GPA needed to be admitted to the program. It is also a good idea to compare your GPA to the mean GPA of students who are accepted to make sure you are a competitive candidate.
  • What type of experience is needed to be admitted?
    • The program may require research experience, clinical experience, etc. Make sure you have the correct experience, have a plan to gain the experience, or currently be gaining the experience before you apply.
  • What tests are required for admission? (General GRE, Psychology GRE, etc)
    • Some programs require completion of both the General Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and the Advanced Subject GRE in Psychology. Many programs will only require the General GRE. There are also programs that do not require any admission tests.
  • What prerequisite classes need to be completed?
    • Consider whether or not you have already completed the prerequisite classes. Keep in mind that not all programs (even of similar types or specialties) will require the same prerequisite classes. Also, some programs will allow to take you 1 or 2 missing prerequisite classes at the start of the program.
  • Who do my letters of recommendation need to be from?
    • Most programs will require 3 letters of recommendation. Each program will specify who the letter writers need to be (i.e., a professor, a supervisor at work, etc.).
  • What is the cost of tuition?
    • Consider whether you will have the funds, loans, be able to work, etc. in order to afford your tuition and books.
  • What kind of faculty mentoring is provided?
    • Consider whether the programs have a small faculty to student ratio, offer frequent mentor meetings, and provide opportunities for you to get any help you need when it comes to choosing your courses, choosing an internship, working on a thesis or dissertation, etc.
  • Are there any grants or scholarships available?
    • Some programs will have funding available from the department or university, while others do not. Those that do offer grants or scholarships will have amounts that vary greatly, so do your research to find out what kind of financial assistance might available to you. Private schools tend to offer more scholarships for students who excel academically, while public schools rely on federal or private based financial aid.
  • What is the average time to graduate?
    • Although the program may specify a timeline (i.e., 2 years; 5 years), find out what the average time to graduate is for students who complete the program. It may be very typical to take an extra year in order to complete the program requirements, whether it be due to internship hours, thesis or dissertation work, etc.
  • When are the application deadlines?
    • Some programs accept applicants in the spring and fall, but most programs only accept applicants in the fall. Keep in mind that application deadlines are usually around 6 months ahead. So, you really need to start planning at least a year ahead. Make sure to give yourself adequate time.
  • What is the program’s philosophy?
    • You need to be able to choose a program that is right for you, where you will fit in with the philosophy. What psychological perspectives are focused on? What type of training do they provide? Is it more of a research-based program, or is it more hands-on and emphasizes clinical skills? Who will be teaching and training you? You can usually read about the program’s philosophy on their website.
  • What strengths or achievements do the faculty members have?
    • Are the faculty members people in academia that you would like to emulate? What type of accomplishments have they made? Do they have prestigious research and publications? Are they successfully working in the field?
  • How are the classes scheduled?
    • Some programs will require you to be on campus most of the day, most days of the week. On the other hand, some programs will only require a few nights a week of attendance. Find this out ahead of time to make sure it will fit your schedule, if you have other obligations (i.e. family, work, etc.).
  • Can I work at an outside job while attending this program?
    • Many programs will not allow you to have an outside job while attending the program, because it is simply not feasible. Between courses, reading, homework, internship hours, and thesis or dissertation work, there really may not be time. However, some programs are designed for students who wish to, or require to, continue working at an outside job.
  • How much support is given for internship placement?
    • Find out what type of support is given for selecting and securing an internship placement. Also, you can find out what types of places current and past students have interned at.
  • What research opportunities are available?
    • Will you be completing a thesis or dissertation? Some programs will require you to carry out a scientific experiment or study, including literature review, data collection, and data analysis. On the other hand, some programs will require you to only complete an extensive literature review. Also, you may be interested in whether or not there are opportunities for publication of your work.
  • How many students are admitted each year?
    • Find out how many students are admitted into the program each year. Some programs may only accept a small number, such as 10. While it lowers each candidates chance for being accepted, these programs are usually very prestigious and offer a lot of individual support. In contrast, some programs may accept dozens of students each year, which may make it easier to become accepted. It is also possible to find out how many students actually apply each year. This information may not be publicly available, but you should be able to ask the program staff.
  • What is the average class size?
    • Of course, lower class sizes are related to academic success. Find out the average number of students that will be in your classes. Ask the program staff.
  • How many courses do I need to take?
    • Some programs will require more courses than others to earn the same degree. Find out how many courses or units are required, and how they will be scheduled throughout your semesters. Also, consider how your internship and thesis or dissertation project will fit in.
  • What is the cost of living in that area?
    • If you will be relocating, find out if it will be financially practical for you, and how you plan to make it work.
  • Is the program public or private?
    • Public schools have much lower expenses, while private schools can be extremely expensive. Private schools often offer more in the way of financial aid, but still, students graduating from public schools tend to have much lower debt. Private schools also tend to be smaller and offer more support. Think about the salary you expect to be earning in the future, and factor that into how much financial debt you should be taking on.
  • Do I need to complete a thesis or dissertation?
    • Some programs require a thesis or dissertation, while others do not. Some students try to avoid this undertaking, while others are drawn to these types of programs. Find out what type of project it will be and if you are interested in completing it, as well as whether or not you have the research experience to be admitted to a program that requires a thesis or dissertation.
  • What other requirements would I need to complete to get licensed after graduation?
    • If you are planning to attend a program that will prepare you for a clinical license, keep in mind that the program merely prepares you for the license. You do not graduate from the program and automatically earn the license. You will only complete a small fraction of the required internship hours during graduate school, and often, there will be a few short courses (i.e., a few hours on a few Saturdays) that you may need to complete as well. It can sometimes take a few years of working full time to complete your internship after you graduate. After completing all of the requirements, you will still need to pass an exam or exams in order to earn your license.

You will need to spend a lot of time doing research on each of the graduate programs you are considering. Some of this information may not be readily available from the programs’ websites. You should be able to call or email the program coordinator or department staff to ask any questions you have about the programs. A highly recommended book is Graduate Study in Psychology. It is an excellent guide that covers all graduate programs in psychology in USA and Canada, and includes details about average GPA & GRE scores of students admitted, cost of tuition, and much more. It is a great starting point to help you figure out where to apply, and is inexpensive.

Accreditation of Graduate Programs

What Does “Accreditation” Mean?

When a graduate program has received adequate accreditation, that means it has met certain professional standards set by an official private, non-governmental authority or organization in regards to the quality of the teaching and training it provides. Properly accredited programs have been evaluated on aspects such as teaching, research, curriculum, ethics, outcomes, faculty, resources, organization, administration, facilities, student support, and more.

Diploma Mills

Just because a graduate program or institution has earned some type of accreditation does not mean that the accreditor is adequate or reliable. Not all accreditation is of high quality. Programs that lack strong accreditation cannot be assumed to be providing the highest levels of education. Be wary of non-accredited or poorly accredited for-profit graduate programs, or so-called “diploma mills”, as they may offer degrees that will not fare well when it comes to their graduates qualifying for positions with many employers, being prepared to receive licensure, or being able to apply skills in your career field. Here is an article to help you determine whether or not a program or institution may be a diploma mill, more concerned about taking your money than providing you with quality education.

Accreditation Agencies & Databases

You can visit accreditation websites and use their directories to see if the programs you are considering have received accreditation.

U.S. Department of Education‘s Office of Postsecondary Education

The US Department of Education provides a comprehensive list of nationally recognized accreditation agencies that have been deemed to be reliable authorities, and you can look up any graduate programs you are considering in their database.

Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

Like the US Department of Education, CHEA provides a comprehensive database containing institutions and programs that have been accredited by nationally recognized accrediting organizations. You can check their website to make sure the graduate programs you are considering are accredited adequately.

American Psychological Association (APA)

Programs accredited by the APA have undergone an intensive peer review to evaluate their operating policies and practices and are committed to quality and continuously improving performance. The APA Commission on Accreditation only accredits doctoral programs, not master’s or bachelor’s level programs.

Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DECA)

Programs accredited by the DECA include bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs that are offered through distance education.