Student Handbook

I. Purpose

II. Description of the Department

  • Mission Statement
  • About the Department
  • Description of Departmental Resources
  • Faculty

III. Advisement

IV. What to do with a Psychology Degree

  • Major Areas of Psychology
  • Specialty Areas of Psychology
  • Other Careers You Can Pursue with a Psychology Degree

V. Opportunities in the Geneseo Psychology Department

  • Community Internships
  • Teaching Internships
  • Research Assistantships
  • Psychology Club
  • Psi Chi National Honor Society
  • Committee Assignments
  • Senior Awards
  • Psychology Day

VI. Etiquette

  • Life of a Faculty Member
  • Thoughtfulness

VII. Applying to Graduate School

  • Introduction
  • Necessary Credentials
  • Tips for Applying
  • Life as a Graduate Student

I. Purpose (Top)

This document is intended to help you get the most out of your education as a psychology major. The faculty perceive that students have not always been aware of the opportunities available in the department. In addition, students often do not know about how to prepare themselves for a career in psychology. We hope that this handbook will help you in both of these endeavors. We have included information about the psychology faculty here at Geneseo, various areas of psychology, careers in the field, graduate school, and the departmental internship program. However, it would be possible to describe here "everything you need to know about majoring in psychology." This document is intended only to get you started. Please talk to your academic advisor or other faculty members for more information about any of the topics discussed here.

II. Description of the Department (Top)

Mission Statement

The primary mission of the SUNY Geneseo Department of Psychology is to develop in students an interest in and understanding of scientific approaches to the description and explanation of thought, emotion and behavior. Specifically, the department aims are:

(a) to prepare our majors for lifelong learning, thinking, and action by providing a solid liberal arts education that embraces psychology's knowledge base, methodology, language skills, interpersonal skills, ethics, and values

(b) to prepare those students who will enter careers in human services, clinical work, corrections, business, educational and other applied areas to be knowledgeable, competent and caring professionals

(c) to prepare those students who continue beyond the B.A. to be outstanding and creative graduate students

(d) to make available to all Geneseo students those aspects of psychological knowledge that are useful for responsible membership in society (e.g. enhancing self-knowledge, illuminating individual and cross-cultural differences, promoting effective parenting, constructively managing conflict, and coping with and responding to problems of personal and societal significance)

Additional missions of the SUNY Geneseo Department of Psychology involve service and professional contributions. Specifically, the Department aims are:

(e) to serve other departments and programs, the College, and the larger community wherever psychology is relevant to education, management, dispute resolution and problem-solving ; and

(f) to support the teaching, application and advancement of the science of psychology through research, scholarship, and participation in the professional structures of the discipline.

About the Department

Psychology is Geneseo's largest liberal arts major. The department implements its mission by including broad preparation in the fundamental ideas of psychology along with the development of quantitative, analytic, and writing skills. Students can further develop interest and skills through collaborative research with the faculty, sponsored internships, and directed studies. The Department encourages student participation in the Psychology Club, Psi Chi Honor Society, colloquia, internships, career and graduate school workshops, and Departmental governance. Geneseo students with Psychology degrees have entered careers in human services, education, and business settings. They also have pursued graduate training in a range of fields, including clinical/counseling, school, developmental, experimental, and industrial/organizational psychology as well as social work.

Outside the major, the Department maintains branches to other disciplines. We offer service courses to education and business majors as well as contributions to many of the interdisciplinary programs, including Cognitive Science, Human Development, Organizational and Occupational Behavior, Urban Studies, and Women's Studies. The Department's faculty provide service to the larger community in a variety of ways, such as conducting workshops, offering other training programs, and serving on community boards and committees.

Description of Departmental Resources

The Psychology Department offices, classrooms, and laboratories are located in the Sturges Building. Modern laboratories include the following components:

  • Facilities for animal housing and experimentation
  • Fully equipped surgical suite and facilities for psychological research using nonhuman animals
  • Shielded room and related equipment for biofeedback research
  • Fully equipped animal and human learning and cognition laboratory
  • Newly designed cognitive labs for sensation and perception along with psycholinguistics
  • Laboratory rooms with one-way mirrors for studies requiring unobtrusive observation
  • Developmental laboratory containing video cameras, monitors and editors
  • Computer facilities for research and instruction


  • James Allen, social psychology, attitude change and compliance, environmental psychology
  • Joan Ballard, neuropsychology of learning, attention and memory
  • Terence Bazzett, neuroscience, neurodegeneration, recovery of function, movement disorders
  • Ganie DeHart, developmental psychology, cross-cultural psychology
  • Kenneth Kallio, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, psychology of language
  • Jennifer Katz, clinical psychology
  • Steven Kirsh, developmental psychology, media violence
  • Michael Lynch, developmental psychology, risk factors in childhood
  • Margaret Matlin, psychology of women, cognitive psychology
  • Jeffrey Mounts, visual selective attention
  • Matthew Pastizzo, cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics
  • Douglas Raynor, clinical psychology
  • Daniel Repinski, developmental psychology, social and personality development, adolescents' close relationships
  • Lanna Ruddy, biopsychology, animal behavior
  • Monica Schneider, social psychology, stigma, self-esteem, personality, individual differences in group identification and self-concept
  • Joan Zook, developmental psychology, adolescent peer relationships

III. Advisement (Top)

The ultimate responsibility for devising suitable class schedules each semester and meeting any degree requirements rest primarily with you, the student. Therefore, you should begin your college career by becoming familiar with college and departmental requirements and your own academic transcript (e.g. do you have any Advanced Placement credits, and, if so, how many?, any academic credits which can be transferred from another school?, etc.). Make an appointment with your advisor or go to the records office (Erwin 102) to get information about your transcript.

The psychology major at Geneseo offers a considerable degree of flexibility in selecting courses to fulfill major and minor requirements. This allows you to tailor your program of study in a manner which best suits your specific intellectual and career interests, while still meeting mandated core requirements. The major disadvantage of such inherent flexibility is that you may miss out on courses that would actually be useful and interesting. Therefore, periodic consultation with an advisor is recommended. In addition, you can also act on your own to acquaint yourself with the department. For instance, many faculty have webpages you can explore. Also, the bulletin board across from Sturges 5 displays copies of recent syllabi. It might be helpful to look through these in order to get an idea of the content of various classes.

Academic advisors are faculty or staff members who assist students in planning their overall academic programs, including their majors. You should periodically contact your academic advisor about your academic and career plans. Under certain circumstances, you may be required to consult your advisor before being permitted to plan your course schedule (e.g., as a first-year student, a transfer student, students on academic probation, etc. -- see the Undergraduate Bulletin for additional information). The department also has a selection of videos, books and pamphlets covering advising issues. These are kept in the main office and can be loaned to interested students.

When following the plan to "advise yourself," you may find a number of suggestions to be useful. First, try to make some progress each semester in fulfilling the Core requirements of the College. Second, take at least one psychology course each semester (beginning with Psyc 100 as a prerequisite to all other courses); consider your interest in the material, career plans, and the prerequisite system to determine the actual sequence. Third, try to finish the Statistics sequence (Psyc 250 and 251) by the end of the Sophomore or middle of the Junior year, if possible. Fourth, pay attention to the number of "labor intensive" courses taken during any one semester. You may want to avoid taking more than two Humanities, Natural Science lab courses, and/or Statistics courses simultaneously. With careful planning, you may be in a better position to get the most of each semester, both from a learning and from a grade- point perspective. If you must take two or more of these aforementioned courses in any one semester, then consider taking fewer than the stipulated 15 or 16 hours.

At some point in the Junior year you and your advisor will complete a "pre-graduation check" to determine your status in relation to fulfilling graduation requirements. This is your opportunity to plan future semesters to ensure that you graduate on time. Please avoid waiting "too long" to register for a required or needed course in case it becomes unavailable during your last few semesters. Ideally, you should have completed all the specific course requirements before your last semester.

By the end of your junior year and into your senior year (depending on how long you have been taking Psychology courses), you will need to take Psyc 352, Advanced Research Methods. This course is designed to complete your statistics and methods sequence using a specific domain of Psychology.

IV. What to do with a Psychology Degree (Top)

Major Areas of Psychology

The three main arenas where psychologists work are in the fields of teaching, research, and clinical or applied practice. Many psychologists are involved in more than one area of professional work.

The majority of the positions in the field of psychology require students to hold an advanced degree in psychology (i.e., M.A., M.S., Psy.D. or Ph.D.), and thus require that you attend graduate school. The typical M.A. degree is completed in 1-3 years, whereas a Ph.D. degree is usually completed in 4 - 7 years. A Psy.D. degree is an option for those who wish to receive advanced clinical training in psychology without the research requirement of the Ph.D. degree.

Clinical Practice

Clinical practitioners or therapists work with people on a one-to- one basis or in groups to deal with a person's concerns, maladaptive behaviors or psychological disorders. Therapists can work at hospitals, schools, community agencies, or in a private or group practice, and may work with a variety of client populations, including adults, children, families, substance abusers, victims of abuse, etc. A variety of professionals may become therapists, including clinical social workers and counselors (at the level of the master's degree), psychologists (Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree), and psychiatrists (M.D. degree).


Most Ph.D.'s who teach do so at a four-year college or university. At some smaller schools the professor's job may focus exclusively or primarily on teaching, while research universities may limit teaching to one or two classes a semester and focus primarily on a program of research. At this level, a professor may be expected to teach both graduate and undergraduate students and to teach in a formal classroom setting as well as in a more individualized mentor/advisor for students engaged in professional and research activities.


As mentioned above, many psychologists conduct research as part of their job as a professor. However, other agencies also employ psychologists to do research. Some of these agencies may be affiliated with a university, the government, or some private institution.

Specialty Areas in Psychology

The following section describes some of the major areas of psychology. However, don't think that a Bachelor's in psychology can only be useful if you want to be a college professor, a clinician or some other form of social service worker. As described below, a psychology degree will also help you move towards careers that are not directly related to psychology.

There are several major areas of psychology in which you may specializing. Below are brief descriptions of these areas. You can try several methods to determine which field or fields are for you. For instance, you can take a course in the subject, talk to professors in the area about the kinds of things they do, and/or try to get involved in research related to the area. Departmental internships are available for junior and senior psychology majors that will help you get "hands-on" experience in selected fields.


Involves the study of the biological processes that are involved in human behavior, such as genetics, hormones, and especially brain functioning. Many biopsychologists conduct research on nonhuman animal subjects in an attempt to understand the biological underpinnings of behavior.


Involves issues in the development and treatment of abnormal behaviors. Most graduate schools favor a "scientist-practitioner" model where research and clinical practice are combined. Clinical programs may also include diverse areas such as behavioral medicine, community psychology, and neuropsychology.


Involves the study of mental processes, particularly those related to thinking, language, and memory. Some cognitive psychologists are involved in a specialized area known as artificial intelligence which relies heavily on computer science as a model for human cognitive processes.


Similar to clinical psychology, except that counselors are usually more likely to serve "normal people with normal problems" rather than clients with more serious psychological disorders.


Involves investigating normal developmental processes and issues across the lifespan, from infancy through adult development and aging. Most psychologists' research focus on a relatively specific age period (e.g., infancy, adolescence, gerontology).


A broad area that includes research on basic and applied issues in sensation, perception, learning, memory, cognition and emotion.

Human Factors

Is concerned with the interface between humans and machines. Specifically, human factors psychologists try to understand how humans perceive and react to the engineered environment, and how this environment can be constructed so as to maximize human performance.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Examines human behavior in work and other organizational settings. I/O psychologists are involved in diverse issues such as personnel selection, motivation and training.

School Psychology

Delivers psychological services such as counseling and testing in school settings.

Social Psychology

Involves the study of social and group processes, such as attitude formation, stereotypes and prejudice, stigma, and conflict resolution.

Other Careers You Can Pursue with a Psychology Degree

The psychology degree is actually a very versatile, and can prepare you for many different careers. Many students who major in psychology go on to careers in such diverse areas as law, medicine, social work, human services, sociotherapy, psychological assistant/technician, human resources, management, advertising, and marketing. Psychology is also useful as a dual major for those interested in the fields of education, business/management, writing, and criminal justice, among others.

The American Psychological Association publishes a book entitled Careers in Psychology, which provides additional information in this area. There is a copy in the main office that you can use for reference that may suggest other options to you. You can always consult with your advisor or Career Services for more information on career options.

See the Psychology Club Links website for more information here.

V. Opportunities in the Geneseo Psychology Department (Top)

The psychology department offers many invaluable opportunities that can help you prepare yourself professionally. Although these experiences are not required for graduation, they can make a huge difference in the quality of your education and in your preparation for a future career. The faculty, therefore, urges all students to seek out as many of these experiences as possible.

Community Internships

The psychology department sponsors community internships for junior and senior psychology majors who have maintained a cumulative GPA of 2.75 and GPA in psychology of 3.0. Participation in these internships involves working directly in a community agency that offers practical clinical or industrial field experience. You will work a required number of hours and will also participate in a weekly seminar that discusses specific issues related to working in various human service and industrial organizations. Internships are available during regular semesters, and during summer and intercession session. The department also has a series of videos concerning internships that will be loaned to interested students. Descriptions of current internship opportunities are kept in Sturges 26. Professor Dr. Katz is currently the director of the community internship program.

Some internship opportunities that have been popular among past students have included:

  • Crestwood Children's Center/Hillside Children's Center - sociotherapist assistant in classrooms with emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children
  • Community mediation in the Geneseo community
  • Planned Parenthood - rape crisis counselor
  • School Psychology internship - in several local school districts
  • Health Education internship - on campus
  • Behavioral Medicine internship - occupational rehabilitation
  • Case Management - assisting mentally ill adults outside of therapy
  • Alcohol/Substance Abuse Counseling - intern in Rochester or Geneseoarea

Teaching Internships

The psychology department sponsors a teaching internship for junior and senior psychology majors who have maintained GPA’s of 2.75 overall, and 3.0 in psychology. This internship involves assisting a professor in teaching a course and allows the student to get a feel for what life as a college professor is like. In addition to working one-on-one with a professor, this internship includes a seminar where various aspects of teaching and being an academic are discussed. Dr. DeHart will be the director of the teaching internship program for the Fall 2008 - Spring 2009 academic year.

Research Assistantships

Many psychology professors conduct research and welcome student collaboration. Students may assist a professor on his or her work or may conduct a directed study or independent research where they have primary responsibility for their own research project. Psi Chi, the psychology honor society, maintains a file of current research interests of the faculty which also describes opportunities for student involvement.

Psychology Club

The Psychology Club serves as the vital link between psychology students and professionals. This organization is funded by membership dues and in part by the College Academic Affairs Committee. Meetings are biweekly and typically feature departmental information and speakers from the fields of Psychology and related disciplines. Other annual events include student-faculty mixers, workshops with other academic clubs, movies, creation of a club t-shirt, service projects, and a trip to the Eastern Psychological Association Conference. The Psychology Club is enthusiastic about its role on campus and welcomes new members anytime!

Committee Assignments

Students are full voting members on several standing committees in the department. These include the Committee of the Whole, which meets approximately every three weeks and is responsible for establishing most departmental policies, the Student Affairs Committee, which develops programming of interest to students (such as this handbook, Psychology Day, and Senior Awards), and the Faculty Affairs Committee, which is concerned with matters of faculty governance. In addition, students are also members of many "ad hoc" committees such as search committees formed to fill an open faculty positions in the department. Student committee assignments are made via the Psychology Club.

Senior Awards

The Senior Awards program features the Horylev-Tesch Outstanding Senior Award, which recognizes the senior psychology major with the most outstanding performance in all areas of undergraduate psychology. In addition, four separate outstanding achievement awards are given to senior psychology majors who excel in particular areas (scholarly achievement, leadership, research, and service). The awards are given every spring semester. Information about specific eligibility requirements, application deadlines, and application procedures are available in the department office at the end of fall semester and during the beginning of every spring semester.

Psychology Day

The department hosts a "Psychology Day" that is designed to better acquaint students with opportunities available to psychology majors and in the field of psychology generally. Events include workshops on academic advisement, research and internship opportunities and applying to graduate school. In addition, we conclude the day with a catered reception in which students and faculty can talk informally about the field of psychology. The event is usually held during the spring semester.

VI. Etiquette (Top)

The Life of a Faculty Member

We want to describe the professional lives of Geneseo faculty for several reasons. First, there's the issue of being an informed consumer. As a student you have a right to understand something about the obligations and responsibilities of your teachers. Second, many psychologists are employed in academic settings, and it is therefore important that undergraduates considering a career in psychology are aware of some of the realities (both joys and sorrows) of life in academia. In other words, understanding what we do is a part of your education, and may help clarify your career goals. And finally, student dissatisfaction with faculty often involves misunderstanding of faculty job requirements. So what follows is a thumbnail sketch of the job description for a typical faculty member in the psychology department here at Geneseo.

Faculty at Geneseo are evaluated by the following set of priorities: teaching, 50%; research, 35%; college and professional service, 15%. In other words, according to these priorities, only about 50% of our time should be spent in teaching. All psychology faculty take teaching very seriously and devote a tremendous amount of time and effort to teaching well. But students should realize that faculty members have many students and that teaching is not the only demand on their time.


The Geneseo faculty here at Geneseo are dedicated to helping you achieve the best education possible. Unpleasant interactions can make academic life less productive for everyone, both faculty members and students. And, we fully recognize that the vast majority of students are thoughtful and considerate, and that most of the rest are simply uniformed about basic academic etiquette. Accordingly, we ask you to consider the following:

  • Please allow your professors some "down time." Some students have actually followed professors into bathrooms asking questions about class assignments. Other students have quizzed us about assignments while we're at lunch or dinner.
  • Please try first to come to office hours, rather than at other times, to discuss class material.
  • Please don't intrude in a faculty member’s office when he or she is on the phone or in another conversation.
  • Please come to class on time. If you are late, please don't walk between the professor and the class.
  • Please try to prepare in advance for meetings with professor.
  • Please don't wait until the last minute to ask professor to reschedule a test. Be aware that students are responsible for scheduling classes in order to avoid conflicts with final examinations. Therefore, professors have the right to say that they will not schedule an alternative time for your final exam.
  • Please don't expect professors to schedule academics around your vacation schedule.

VII. Applying to Graduate School (Top)

The prospect of applying to graduate school can be a mysterious and frightening experience. Which of the specialty areas of psychology are best suited for me? How do I get applications? What sorts of credentials and experiences do I need to be competitive? Aren't acceptance rates at most graduate schools abysmally low? Almost all students interested in graduate school are overwhelmed by such questions at one time or another. This section will give initial answers to these questions. The department also has a series of videos concerning graduate school that will be loaned to interested students.

Necessary Credentials

First, it is important to note that individual graduate schools differ in their requirements and that it is essential that you be familiar with the requirements of each school to which you are applying. However, there are some general types of information that all schools will tend to want to see. The major credentials are described below.

Grade Point Average: Prospective graduate schools will be interested in your overall GPA and the GPA in your major. Ph.D. programs typically look for GPA's in the 3.5-4.0 range, whereas a master's programs may accept students with slightly lower GPA's (usually 3.0 and above).

Graduate Record Examinations: Most schools will require that you take the GRE- Verbal, Quantitative and Analytical tests and many will also require the GRE subject test in psychology. These exams are usually taken in spring of the junior year or fall of the senior year. Some specific suggestions about preparing for the GRE are given in the "timetable for applying for graduate school" section below.

Research experience: Ph.D. programs often favor students who have had research experience as undergraduates. This experience may be in the form of assisting a professor in his or her research or doing a directed study or independent study project where the student assumes primary responsibility for the design and implementation of a research study under the direction of a faculty supervisor. The publication of a study in a journal or the presentation of a study at a conference is especially impressive. 

Work/Volunteer experience: Many graduate programs also consider whether students have any paid or volunteer experience working in a field related to their area of graduate study. This is particularly the case for clinical/counseling/social work types of programs. This experience may be attainable through internships offered through the psychology department or through more informal means, such as contacting the Campus Volunteer Center (located in the College Union). 

Letters of Recommendation: All graduate programs require you to have at least two letters of recommendation from professionals working in your chosen field of study. Professors with whom you've done research or for whom you have been a Teaching Intern, and off campus internship supervisors are probably the best sources for recommendations. Most faculty appreciate it if you supply them a vita (academic resume) when you ask them for a letter of recommendation. Your vita should include items such as your career goals, GPA, professional and extra-curricular experience, classes you’ve taken, etc. Also, be sure to give the professor as much lead time as possible to write your letters. Depending on the time of the semester, etc., two weeks notice is probably the minimum amount of notice that a professor will need to write a letter for you. You should supply all your letter writers with stamped and addressed envelopes and a written notice of admissions deadlines.

Tips for Applying

Get Started Early

The most important thing to understand about applying to graduate school is that it is not a task that can be done (at least not successfully) in a hurry or at the last minute. The questions listed above are only a few considerations a potential graduate student needs to manage. And you can't find answers to even this limited sample of questions over night. It takes time to acquire the experience and credentials necessary to gain admittance to a reputable graduate program. It also takes time to decide what field of study to pursue, to decide where to apply, to get letters of recommendation, and to complete the application materials. Therefore, applying to grad school is a process that must be started at least a year ahead of the actual application deadline.

Selecting an Area of Psychology and Specific Graduate Schools

Many decisions must be made before you ever start filling out the first application. For example, you have to decide what general area of psychology, or related field, you are interested in studying. And, as you can tell from the earlier discussion of the major areas of psychology, there are many options from which to choose. It might simplify things if you think broadly at first. Are you most interested in working as a therapist or practitioner, or would you rather be a researcher or teacher, or, perhaps, would you prefer a job that combined some aspects of all three of these roles? Once you answer this initial question, you can begin to focus on graduate school options that are best suited to you. For instance, if you are interested in some combination of research and clinical practice, then clinical psychology may fit you best. If you are strictly interested in research and teaching, then some branch of experimental psychology (e.g. developmental, learning, perception, social, etc.) may be for you. And, if you primarily want to be a therapist/practitioner, then perhaps you should consider school psychology, counseling, or social work. Once you make these decisions about your career goals, you can start identifying particular graduate schools that seem to best fit your interests.

Explore a variety of graduate school and career options. Try to identify specific areas of psychology or related disciplines that are of the most interest to you. You might also try going to the library and randomly pulling journals off the shelf and thumbing through articles. You probably won't understand all the details, but what topics seem interesting to you? Even if you don't want to do research yourself, part of your graduate study and later professional responsibilities will involve keeping up new research findings. Think about which journals you'd prefer to spend your time reading. Consider graduate programs in fields other than psychology--social work, organizational behavior, and business, for example.

But you may still be wondering, "How do I decide which area of psychology is best for me?", and "How do I pick the schools to apply to?" The first question doesn't have any easy or certain answers, because it just depends on what you want to do with your life. But there are we can suggest some things that may help you decide. First, take advantage of the expertise of those around you. Stay alert in your classes for research ideas and areas, and/or clinical approaches that seem particularly interesting. Ask your professors what types of graduate training are necessary to work in these areas. Attend career and graduate school workshops. Talk to students who are already in graduate school, or who are almost finished with the process of applying. Also, try to talk to people who already hold positions that you might like to pursue. Second, look in the back of the APA Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education for a list of currently advertised jobs. Bring copies of advertisements that seem interesting to a professor and ask him or her what sorts of credentials are needed to qualify for that job. Finally, you may also want to look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook. This book describes the working conditions and salaries of various professions in addition to offering some forecast of future employment trends. The handbook describes the field of psychology in some detail. It may also be a good idea to take a standardized interest inventory such as the Myers-Briggs or the Strong-Campbell (talk to Dr. Ballard for more information on these tests). These inventories match your interests to professionals in various fields and can help you identify careers that suit your personality and goals.

You can identify specific schools to apply to in a similar way. When you hear about interesting researchers or practitioners, be sure to note the school where they work. Also, ask professors what other schools might have an emphasis on an area of interest to you. You can also identify specific schools by looking in the book, Graduate Study in Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association. This book lists graduate schools and contains brief descriptions of their programs. Then, send out postcards to those schools asking for information about admissions and financial aid, and for a description of their programs. Plan to do this no later than the early fall of your senior year.

Don't Go Until You're Ready

You do not have to go the grad school right out of college. Although many people do go on to graduate school right away, you can wait a couple of years (or more) before applying. This can be to your advantage in that it may give you a chance to clarify career and life goals, work and save some money, get some real-life work experience, and/or stabilize an unruly family situation. Of course, if you're sure about what you want to do, why wait? If you are sure about your career goals, and you are adequately prepared to begin achieving them, it is probably best to start graduate school without unnecessary delay.

Suggested Timetable

Below is a suggested timetable (adapted from a handout that Dr. DeHart gives her students) for preparing for and applying to graduate school in psychology.

Freshman - Junior Years:

1. Become informed! Explore a variety of graduate school and career options. Try to identify specific areas of psychology or related disciplines that are of the most interest to you. Consider graduate programs in fields other than psychology--social work, organizational behavior, and business, for example.

2. As you begin to zero in on a specific area for graduate study, check the requirements of the programs you're interested in and take the courses they require or recommend.

3. Consider doing an internship, volunteering for a social service organization and/or getting involved in research that's related to the areas of graduate study you're interested in. This has two functions: it helps you see whether you REALLY want to pursue the area, and many graduate programs look favorably on the experience it gives you. (DO NOT, however, do an internship or get involved in research ONLY because you think it might look good on a graduate school application!)

4. Get to know your advisor and several other faculty members. This will improve the quality of your undergraduate education, and when you ask faculty members to write letters of recommendation for graduate school, it helps if they know you as something more than a semi-animate lump at the back of the classroom.

Junior Year:

1. Start gathering information about specific graduate programs. You can begin to identify specific programs by paying attention in class for the names of researchers, research approaches, and therapeutic techniques that are of interest to you. Then find articles on these topics or by these researchers, and identify their institutional affiliations.

Also look in the following reference materials for general information about getting into graduate school:

  • American Psychological Association, (2004). Graduate study in psychology. Washington, DC: Author.
  • American Psychological Association, (1993). Getting in: A step by step plan for gaining admission to graduate school in psychology. Washington, DC: Author.
  • Norcross, J.C., Sayette, M.A., & Mayne, T.J. (2002-2003). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical psychology and counseling. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Keith-Spiegel, P. & Wiederman, M.W. (2000). The complete guide to graduate school admission: Psychology, counseling, and related professions: Second Edition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

These references may be available for loan from the Milne library, the psychology department office, or for purchase online at APA Online or other sites (e.g., Amazon).

2. Get information about the GRE (Graduate Record Exam--a standardized test somewhat like the SAT, which is required by practically all graduate schools). The GRE has two sections: a general exam and a subject exam in particular areas of specialization (such as psychology). It is often a good idea to take the two sections on different days to reduce the effects of fatigue on your scores. It also may be a good idea to take at least the general section during the spring of your junior year. Taking it this far ahead of the actual grad school application deadlines may be less stressful, and will also make your life easier during your senior year when you're going to be busy gathering letters of recommendation and completing graduate school applications.

Also, plan what you're going to do to prepare for the GRE. This point is so important that we want to emphasize it strongly: Be serious about taking the GRE, or don't take it at all. Many students have seriously hurt their chances for graduate school by not preparing adequately for the GRE. And it's not that difficult to prepare. There are some good, commercially available study guides which can be of tremendous help. Take the practice tests in these study guides as if you were taking the actual GRE. A good high school algebra book may help you prepare for the math portion of the general section. Many students review conscientiously for the GRE-Psychology exam during the summer before their senior year. A thorough reading of an introductory textbook, supplemented by other review, can improve your GRE-Psychology score substantially.

Senior Year:

1. Early in the fall semester (or earlier), write to graduate programs you're interested in and request an application, information about the program, and financial aid (usually available in the forms of assistantships and fellowships).

2. If you have not done so already, sign up to take the GRE as early as possible in your senior year.

3. Check the application deadlines for the graduate programs you're applying to. At least a month before the deadline, ask faculty members to write letters of recommendation, request transcripts, and start writing your personal statement. Every school will want to see a written statement (often about 1,000 words) of why you want to go to graduate school, and why you want to go to their specific program. This statement is very important, so be sure to get faculty feedback on your personal statement before you send it.

4. PLAN AHEAD!!! Figure out when you're going to have time to work on your grad school applications--Christmas break is often a convenient time--and be considerate of the people who are writing letters for you. Remember that a faculty member will be likely to write a more positive letter if your supply the forms long before the deadline.

Life as a Graduate Student

It is important to understand that life as a graduate student will probably bear little resemblance to life as a college student. For the most part, you won't be spending large amounts of time in class or studying for tests. Instead, you'll spend lots of time getting hands on experience as a researcher, therapist, or teacher depending on your interests. It's also important to understand that you'll be expected to be much more independent than you were in college. Graduate faculties will expect you to go out looking for ways to improve yourself professionally. The extent to which you show initiative and "go out looking" for professional experiences will have a much greater influence on your ultimate success as a graduate student than how you perform on classroom tests. The transition from college to grad school is similar to the transition from high school to college. In college you've experienced much more freedom and responsibility than you ever had in high school. In graduate school you will have even more freedom. Finally, information you may have heard about the intellectual challenge and difficulty of graduate school likely is true. Graduate school is a challenging experience. However, it can also be immensely rewarding. If you enjoy your chosen field of study, and, particularly, if you are the type of person who is self-motivated and enjoys ideas, graduate school can be fun and exciting. There are always interesting, smart and motivated people around to talk to, and there are plenty of ideas and experiences to challenge you. If you enjoy these types of experiences, graduate school may be for you!

Revised by the Student Affairs Committee in March of 2004.

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