Preparing for Graduate School | Psychology | SIU

Southern Illinois University



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Preparing for Graduate School

Desired Qualifications for Graduate School

Graduate programs typically look at the following characteristics

  • GPA and overall academic record
  • Scores on GRE (Graduate Record Examination)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Research experience in faculty labs
  • Volunteer experience (pre-professional practicum), especially for clinical and counseling programs

10 Tips for Getting into Graduate School

  1. Plan early!  It's wise to start 2+ years before graduation.  Application deadlines may be as much as 9 months before the beginning of a graduate program, and it takes time to develop a strong record (e.g., taking appropriate courses, gaining research or other experience).
  2. Talk to the Psychology Advisors and Psychology Professors about your career goals and different types of graduate programs.
  3. Attend workshops on applying to graduate school, sponsored by the Psychology student organizations.
  4. Recognize that a wide range of graduate programs exist.  Programs differ in their training goals (focus & orientation), level (MA, PhD, etc.), and competitiveness.  Your goal is to find the best program for you (i.e., for your interests, academic record, & abilities).
  5. Get good grades.  If you're having difficulty in a course, meet with the instructor or TA during office hours to see how you might improve your grade.  They may offer suggestions for study habits or test-taking skills.
  6. Study early for the GRE .If you're interested in starting graduate school the fall after you graduate, you need to apply to graduate schools late fall semester of your senior year.  This means you need to take the GRE before that.  You may want to start studying your junior year, but definitely by the summer before your senior year.  To study for the GRE, you can take a class offered at the Sylvan Learning Center, or buy a book to study.  To find study books and other helpful hints, check out the GRE web site at  Computer testing has allowed more control over when you take the exam, but the subject tests (Psychology) may still need to be taken at infrequently scheduled sessions.
  7. Work on research projects with Psychology faculty.  You can obtain course credit for this by signing up for PSYC 391 or PSYC 392.  Besides getting valuable research experience, this will also help you out when it comes time to get letters of recommendation.  Faculty can write much better letters for you if they know you--your strengths, interests, etc.
  8. Gain volunteer experience by signing up for Pre-professional Practicum (PSYC 393).  This type of experience looks great when you're applying to graduate programs, especially in areas such as clinical, counseling, and school psychology.
  9. Get involved!  Meet with faculty during office hours.  Get to know your classmates and form study sessions.  Join any of our three psychology organizations.
  10. To get good letters of recommendation, get to know your instructors.  Meet with them during office hours, even if it's just to introduce yourself.  You can talk about your career plans and mention that you'd like to introduce yourself because you may need a letter of recommendation and you want to make sure they know you.  Also, participate in class discussions, and ask questions.  Meet faculty by assisting in their research projects or working in their research lab.  Supervisors from pre-professional practica may also write letters of recommendation, and these may be especially helpful for Clinical or Counseling applications.  However, it's generally a good idea to get at least two letters from academic sources (i.e., Professors).