When to Apply
The application deadlines for Ph.D. programs are usually from early to late January. The more competitive schools can have deadlines as early as mid-December. Less competitive schools have later ones. Some programs have "rolling admissions" with no set deadline. For these schools, earlier applications have a better chance for both admissions and for financial support.
Most schools now have on-line application processes. But many of their requirements may vary. It can help to make a chart for each school you to which you will apply. List the application deadline, essay topics, transcripts, recommendation letters needed, and test scores. Then check off each completed item.
The main factors are
- grades (overall and in key psychology courses),
- test scores,
- letters of recommendation,
- relevant experience, and
- the letter of intent - you should write a customized letter of intent for each application.
Some schools request biographical information as well. When that is the case, you should clearly and specifically describe interests and motivations related to your graduate school plans. Avoid bringing up personal material that is not relevant. Fully describe any research or applied experience and indicate how it was valuable and is evidence of your interest and motivation.
Every applicant to every graduate program should have good to excellent overall grades. A good predictor of graduate school performance is a combination of grades and GRE scores, but the weight given to each measure varies from school to school. The GPA for the junior and senior year is extra important. If you started slowly and then improved, make a prominent note of the last two years' GPA on the front of your application to avoid being filtered out due to a weak overall GPA. High grades in psychology courses can help offset weak overall performance. The more demanding courses (experimental, statistics, research and lab courses) get extra attention.
The key deciding factor for admissions committees is evidence of strong motivation. No one will do well in a graduate program without the desire for a career in psychology. Motivation by itself is not sufficient, but it is necessary. Your application should provide clear evidence of your interest in a career in psychology. In your cover letter, point out volunteer and other work, research, and any other relevant activities, including any obstacles you have overcome. These experiences would carry more weight if they are elaborated upon by the writers of your letters of reference.
Your cover letter should also show that you took the time to investigate the program to which you are applying in the cover letter. Mention faculty research you find particularly interesting, and other factors that made you interested in their program.