Section 10 Graduate School Survival Guide and Tip Sheet

This SCP Student Blog piece by the SCP Section 10 Campus Reps is a useful resource to individuals who are preparing to apply to graduate schools in psychology.

Applying to Graduate School?

  • Determine what school, degree, focus you’re applying to based, not on what is interesting to you, but on what schools are most likely to connect you to the types of career options you want
  • Before finalizing a list of programs to apply to, look at faculty web pages and email mentors of interest to confirm that they are accepting students and expressing your interest in their labs
    • Email professors you are considering applying to at the end of the summer to see if they are taking new students that year (not every professor takes students every year) and ask them about their current research projects (faculty/lab websites are often not up to date)
  • Think about your back-up plan for if you don’t get into the programs you are applying to (e.g. post-bac research position, or terminal master’s program) so that you aren’t left without a plan if you don’t get offers
    • And if you don’t get in the first try, don’t lose motivation. A lot of people apply multiple times before they get in, it doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for this.
  • Get your hands on a copy of The Insider’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology ( and read Dr. Mitch Prinstein’s Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology
  • In the year or two leading up to applying, try and save up some money because the application process is expensive and can cost in the upper hundreds depending on how many times one needs to take the GRE and how many programs one applies to
  • Start GRE studying early and take the tests early in case you need to re-take them
    • Try to identify programs that you are particularly interested in as early as possible so that you know whether you will be required to take the GRE Psychology Test
        • The psych GREs are offered much less frequently than the regular GREs
        • APA is considering allowing high scores on the psych GRE to allow you to test out of some of the required graduate school “general education” classes
    • Set up one master essay as a template and change out select sections that should be sculpted for each particular school
      • Be prepared to submit a supplementary essay; for some programs it is a diversity essay and for other programs it is a chance to submit a sample scientific paper you have written, an honors thesis from college, etc.
    • Try to select letter of recommendation writers who can speak to the range of your experiences (clinical, research, academic, etc.) either across recommenders (one research writer, one clinical writer, etc.) or within recommenders (writers who know you in multiple capacities)
    • Make an Excel document to keep track of program application due dates, fees, required application materials, log-in usernames/passwords, etc.
    • To prepare for interviews, take some time to think about questions you might be asked and good questions to ask prospective mentors and the graduate students you meet and also interview with at interviews (the questions you ask them can be just as telling as the answers you give to their questions)
      • Also, be prepared to answer and ask a lot of the same questions over and over again. If you can’t think of a new question in the moment, you can ask someone the same question you asked someone else, then you can get multiple perspectives. It can be helpful to have a list of 3-4 “go to” questions that you can ask anyone (e.g. what do you look for in graduate students here? What is your goal [as a department or mentor depending on who the interview is with] for graduate students to leave here with/having done/having learned/etc.?)
    • Practice some mock interviews with friends in the fields, co-workers, or mentors from your previous college/place of work before going on the real deal interviews
    • Send thank you emails/letters to professors and labs who invite you to interview

General Graduate School Tips

  • Do not be afraid to ask your mentor to set up meetings when you have questions or want guidance or feedback
  • If you are feeling lost about initiating your own line of research in your first year of graduate school, ask a more advanced graduate student in your lab who you respect if he/she would be willing to do some peer mentorship with you
  • Grad students wear a lot of different hats and work under various advisors/supervisors; these people might not be aware of your other responsibilities, so be sure to communicate with them clearly and remain realistic about your ability to take things on at different points
  • As grad students, our schedules are packed; make sure to schedule in regular writing time to ensure that you remain productive and save time for research and writing
  • Be ready to be a road warrior. The commute between practicum site and school can be time consuming and psychologically exhausting. Some students move once or twice a year to be close to their practicum sites. If moving is not practical, then be prepared travel extensively. It is wise to figure out alternative routes in case of heavy traffic or road work. When apply for practicum sites, take the commute into consideration. Ask other students at your school if anyone who applies for the same site will be willing to carpool with you if you both match the site
  • Schedule time for self-care activities. Do not underestimate the importance of self-care
  • Keep track of your clinical, assessment, and supervision hours as you go on MyPsychTrack or Time2Track or use an Excel document
    • Tacking on to this, something that you might have heard within your program is confusion regarding the ins and outs of all the different types of things you can log. For example, is it important to list the names of assessments you administer, in Time2Track what do all the different categories mean, what things should you log and not log?
    • Look at the APPIC website to see what information you will need to report on when applying to internship (e.g. ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities)
        • Their website also has helpful guidelines on how to classify hours (assessment vs intervention vs support vs supervision vs consultation, etc.)
    • Keep running lists of things you’ll need for applying for internship and licensure
      • Keep a running list of all your supervisors’ names, contact information, license numbers and addresses
      • Keep a running list of the number of each psychometric test you’ve administered to both child and adult clients, not just your number of integrated assessments; this does not seem to be easy to calculate on MyPsychTrack or Time2Track
      • Save all your course syllabi in multiple locations, including both hard- and electronic- copies
      • Share resources with your peers when preparing for EPPP

International Graduate Students

  • Find peers who have gone through similar challenges in finding field placements/externships/internship to determine what sites are friendly and which are less likely to support particular training needs for students who do not have “American” accents; alternately find an advocate among program faculty who can support your training and professional development, ideally advocate on your behalf
  • Connect with your local community. With the busy life of being graduate students, demanding course work, and practicum caseload, many international students never get the chance to fully experience a transitional adjustment and have the opportunity to be reoriented. Find a local group of people, who are culturally relatable and understanding, can be extremely helpful to eliminate the psychological suffering of loneliness. Make connections with people who have been in the States longer than you and start to build friendships