The most important thing to remember about submitting your applications is the deadline! Each program will have a unique deadline, which can make things quite complicated. In general, the application deadline for a master’s program will be somewhere around 6 months before the program starts. For example, a master’s program that begins in August will typically set its deadline in March. However, the application deadline for a doctoral program could be somewhere around 9 months. For example, a doctoral program that begins in August will typically set its deadline in December of the previous year. You can find all of the deadlines listed in one place in this highly recommended book.
Some of the application materials might be easy to submit, like an online application. Other materials, such as letters of recommendation, will involve other individuals in the process, so you will need to plan accordingly, and check in with the individuals to make sure they are working on schedule to meet your deadline. Additionally, official transcripts will need to be sent from various institutions, and you will need to plan accordingly to allow time for administrative issues that can take some time. Keep in mind that these offices can become overloaded with requests at certain times of the year, and try to plan ahead. GRE scores from computer-based tests will take approximately 10-15 days to be sent to your selected institutions. However, GRE scores from paper-based tests (including the Advanced Subject GRE in Psychology) can take up to 6 weeks to be sent to your institution, although you will be able to view your official scores online much sooner.
Each program will have specific instructions about how to submit application materials. For example, some will require you to gather all materials (that can be accessed in hard copy form) and mail them in as one single packet. Other programs have an electronically-based submission process where forms can be filled out online and documents can be uploaded to a website. Because you will be applying to multiple programs, pay close attention to the different instructions to ensure that materials do not get lost or forgotten. Also, when it comes to your letters of recommendation, make sure it is clear to your letter writer what he or she should do with each individual completed letter (i.e., mail it, prepare it for you to pick up, or upload to a website).
It is possible to submit your application while you are still completing your undergraduate degree. For example, you could be finishing up a spring semester as your last semester needed to graduate, and planning to attend graduate school that fall. While your courses would end in May, you may need to submit your application in March, 2 months before you earn your degree. This is not a problem. Your undergraduate degree does not need to be completed in order to apply for graduate school, as long as it is evident that it will be completed by the time the program begins.
It is also possible to turn in most (but not all) of your materials by the deadline, and still be considered by the admissions committee. For example, maybe one of your letters of recommendation will be arriving late. Or, perhaps your Advanced Subject Psychology GRE score is delayed, but everything else will be submitted on time. Just inform the staff of the graduate program, and let them know when to expect the late material, and often times, this will not affect your admission consideration. However, if it is a more important material that is missing, it is possible that they will not be able to consider your application.
Even though it is not always feasible or practical to do so, visiting the campus of institutions of the graduate programs you are considering can help you gain insight as to whether or not you would be a good fit. If you are able to plan a visit, try to schedule it for a time when there are helpful events going on, or for a time when you can meet with a program coordinator, faculty members, or current graduate students. You can schedule these meetings ahead of time. Take a tour of the campus, and more specifically, visit the psychology department and explore the facilities and resources. Find out if you can sit in during a class, or ask the program coordinator to see if any current graduate students would be willing to meet with you to discuss the program.
Some of the graduate programs you apply to who are seriously considering you as a candidate may request that you attend an interview. These will typically be held in person if possible, but may also be held online when necessary. In regards to the face-to-face interviews, some will be one-on-one, but it is more likely that the interviews will be group-administered. You may be grouped with other students and could be interviewed by one faculty member at once, or it is possible that multiple faculty members will be conducting the group interview.
Just like you would with a job interview, prepare ahead of time. This includes practicing answering questions that you would expect to be asked. Spend a lot of time reviewing your statement of purpose; try to memorize a few points from each paragraph or main idea. For example, you may want to discuss why you chose the program, why you chose psychology, what your career plans are, what qualities you have that make you a good student, how your work experience has prepared you for the field, what research you may have helped conduct, and where you see yourself in 10 years. Make sure to be very friendly and energetic in your interview, and try your best to portray confidence. After all, you want to be memorable.
You should also do a lot of research on the school and graduate program so that you are knowledgeable about it. Make sure to have a few questions of your own to ask the faculty members if there is an opportunity to do so. Don’t be caught in front of your interviewers with nothing to say when you are given the opportunity to ask questions. Your questions should not be those that can be easily answered with a bit of research on their website; make sure they are good questions.
Consider that it is not recommended (and sometimes not allowed) for graduate students to have a job when they are enrolled in a graduate program. Many programs are rigorous enough that you would not have time to work, on top of attending courses, completing reading and assignments, working at an internship (typically unpaid), and possibly completing a thesis or carrying out research. Add to that family and social obligations, and you can see that there really isn’t time to hold a regular job and earn a regular income.
Do not hesitate to apply for financial aid. There is much in the way of loans and grants that are offered to graduate students. For US students, make sure to visit the Federal Student Aid website and fill out the form. Loans through Federal Student Aid will have much lower interest rates than loans provided by banks, and grants provided through Federal Student Aid do not need to be repaid. There are also certain programs you can participate in, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, where you could qualify to have portions of your loans forgiven. Federal Student Aid offers over $150 billion each year to millions of students to help them pay for undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Graduate school applicants often have an easier time becoming eligible for financial aid than they did as undergraduate students, because when applying to a graduate program, students are considered independent from their parents and do not supply any parent information when filling out the form. It is free to fill out the form for Federal Student Aid, so it would be unwise to miss out on this opportunity. Also, after you receive a report of what you qualify for, you are not required to accept. You should apply, find out what you are eligible for, and then you can make a decision about whether or not you want to accept the loan.
Some states also offer financial aid for graduate students. You need to check with the state department where your program is located. Beyond federal and state aid, you can also apply for financial assistance through the school you have applied to. You should definitely visit or contact the financial aid office at the schools you applied to or are accepted to. You should also ask the department and program coordinator about the available fellowships, scholarships, and grants. These are awarded based on merit or financial need, and will typically cover tuition, school materials such as textbooks, and may include a stipend for living expenses as well.
You should also look into part-time graduate assistantships. Becoming a graduate assistant is a great way to earn income while completing a graduate degree. You can work on campus and through activities such as conducting research, tutoring or teaching students, or aiding faculty members with their courses. Additionally, it is possible to find a paid internship during graduate school, although most internships are unpaid.