Applying to Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs: Tips and Resources

You Can Get In! Tips and Resources for Applying to Graduate Programs in Clinical Psychology

When I was applying to PhD programs in clinical psychology, I remember experiencing a mix of emotions – anxiety, excitement, stress. This was enhanced by certain comments that I heard again and again: “The process is beyond competitive,” and “I would never get in if I applied now.” The application process is difficult and competitive, but the more you know, the easier and more manageable it gets. You can get in, especially if you start early and take advantage of the available resources. Here’s some tips and resources you may find helpful as you navigate the clinical psychology graduate school application process:

Gather information

The clinical psychology graduate school application process is unlike that of many other graduate programs. Doing research into what the process entails is essential.

Talk to people who have done it already

This is not a process to undertake alone. Talk to mentors, professors, and supervisors before you decide to apply; they can help you to determine if clinical psychology graduate school is a good fit for you. I also recommend talking with current graduate students, as they have been through the process more recently.

  • If you don’t know any current graduate students, ask your mentors to help get you in touch with alumni from your lab or university who are current graduate students in clinical psychology programs. Most of us are happy to have a phone conversation about our experience with the application process and in graduate school more generally.
  • Project SHORT: This organization provides pro-bono mentoring to students from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in applying to graduate school. You can sign up to receive mentoring from Project SHORT up to two years prior to applying. They will match you with a mentor who shares your interests, and who can help you throughout the application process, from deciding whether graduate school is a good fit for you, to reading over your personal statement and doing mock interviews.

Focus on fit

Once you’ve decided to apply, think about your research experiences and goals, and start to identify faculty who may be a good fit for you. Program rankings are not all that important; instead, focus on faculty whose research matches your areas of interest. However, do note whether programs have solid internship match rates and funding. You can find faculty in a variety of ways:

  • Go through each APA accredited program’s website, identifying the faculty in each program you’d be interested in working with. This can take a while but is very thorough.
  • Supplement your list by:
    • Asking your mentors for recommendations – they will have insider information on who would be a good fit for you to work with.
    • Going through the references of recent papers you find interesting and that align with your interests – who are they citing? Are they faculty in an accredited program? If so, you could add them to your list.
  • Keep in mind that not every faculty member will take a student each year – but they won’t know this until around September (or later), when you’ve already made your list. I recommend making a master list of faculty whom you would like to work with, and then narrowing that list down once you hear whether they will be taking a student (aim for a final list of about 12-18 programs). You can find this information on their website or by sending a brief email to the faculty member inquiring about this.

The Details

In addition to identifying your list of programs, there are many different materials to pull together: your CV, cover letters, personal statements, and other essays. In general, give yourself plenty of time to work on these and have mentors, friends, and family read over your materials. Be prepared to write multiple drafts of your personal statement. Here are some resources to help you work on these:

About the Author

Ana Rabasco, M.A., is a fifth-year student in Fordham University’s Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program. She serves as the student representative for the Division 12 Publications Committee. Her research interests include better understanding risk factors and developing interventions for suicide and non-suicidal self-injury among high-risk populations.