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Choosing a Graduate School

Looking for Graduate Programs

It is much more difficult and to select a graduate program than it was to choose an undergraduate one. And, since your graduate degree will set the course of your career, the decision is more significant.

Undergraduate programs are fairly standard and you can rate schools based on size, faculty, and academic level of students. The picture is different with graduate programs. The reputation of a school is difficult to measure and is not necessarily the same for the graduate and undergraduate levels. A university might have an excellent department in history and a much weaker psychology department. Also, a psychology department might have a top quality social psychology program but poor programs in other sub-fields.

You must consider the overall strength of a department, as well as it's strength in the sub-field you want to study. You should also look at a program's admission standards and the program's course-work and requirements.

You should also check out the research the faculty are doing, and see how well they match your interests. Contact the ones whose research interests you. Explain why you want to work with them and find out if they will accept new students into their labs.

Geographical considerations (including surf, snow, or city life) should be secondary to the quality of the program. A good program will keep you too busy to venture far from campus.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has several tools that can help you find and apply to a graduate school. Discuss your interests and plans with faculty members. Bring your short list, along with the reasons you are interested in each school to a faculty member for review. They can discuss the merits of different programs. Investigate any additional schools that are recommended.

Deciding Where to Apply

You should apply to more than one graduate program. Your first task is to find all the schools that appear to be a good fit to your needs and interests. Then narrow this initial group to the smaller number of schools to which you will finally apply. Most students apply to a total of five, ten, or more schools. Your list should include a very good "long shot" school, several good schools that have admission standards that more closely match your stats, and a few lower-rated but nevertheless acceptable schools. As a back-up, you should also look at Master's programs, particularly those with later deadlines.

It is a good idea to apply to a range of schools in terms of admission criteria and specific programs. The APA has information about student demographics, and individual program admission statistics. If you take the October GRE you could defer making a decision on the list of schools to apply to until after GRE scores arrive in November. The registration fee for many schools is painful, but should not deter you from making a good selection.