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School of Psychology

Applying to Graduate School

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Applying to graduate school is a big decision and there are many factors to consider. Below please find some tips and other resources that you may find useful in completing your application to the University of Southern Mississippi and other graduate programs in psychology.

Which programs should I apply to?

  • Consider your goals. Those wishing to practice therapy may be most interested in master's programs in counseling or counseling psychology. If you are looking to build your credentials to be a more competitive doctoral applicant in the future, you may also consider applying to our counseling psychology MS program due to its opportunities to engage in research and practice. If you hope to teach, conduct research and/or complete psychological assessments, then you may wish to pursue a PhD. Doctoral programs are very competitive, so review the data available online to determine whether your application will be competitive. Consider applying to master's programs as well. These can be a good first step toward completing a doctoral degree. APA offers great information regarding choosing the right programs. Be sure to apply to several programs to ensure you have options to consider. 

Should I apply to Counseling Psychology or Clinical Psychology graduate programs?

  • There are more similarities than differences between Counseling Psychology and Clinical Psychology doctoral programs. They both train students in research and practice. Both lead to licensure; you are licensed as a "psychologist" whether you completed a clinical or counseling psychology degree. 
  • The differences are often in the emphasis that counseling psychology programs place on diversity, vocational psychology, supervision and developmental issues. 
  • Read more about the differences between Clinical and Counseling Psychology here
  • Applicants should focus more on the faculty research interests and training opportunities available at the sites they are considering rather than whether it is Counseling or Clinical psychology. Review the Counseling Psychology faculty research interests for more information on the exciting work happening at Southern Miss. 

How do I write an exceptional personal statement?

  • Personal statements are common requirements for application to graduate programs in psychology. The best advice: Write a unique personal statement for each program you are applying. Generic personal statements are rarely going to make your application stand out from the crowd. When admission committees are reading 100 or more applications, it is important to make the effort to ensure your materials are carefully considered. Do this by ensuring that you are responding to the questions asked; modify your personal statement each time to tailor it to address the instructions. 
  • Proofread your statement carefully. It is smart to ask a trusted faculty advisor to review your materials. Take their advice if they suggest changes. 
  • Focus on "fit". Work to convince the faculty that your research and career goals overlap with the types of training provided in that program. Do your homework to ensure you known enough about the program to be able to offer specific examples in your personal statement about the training provided by that program. 
  • Avoid any personal disclosures about mental health concerns, family problems, or other overly sensitive information. 
  • Remember that you are competing against a large number of other highly qualified applicants who also have good grades and volunteer experiences, so consider how you can set your application apart in a professional way. Consider specifying research interests, career goals, and other personal attributes that make you a strong fit for the graduate program.  
  • APA has great information on applying to graduate school and writing a personal statement

What goes into my Curriculum Vitae?

  • Many graduate applications want you to include a CV or resume. The purpose of this document is to provide a listing of your professional experiences. There are many models to follow. Consider our example here.

Who should write my letters of recommendation? 

  • Faculty with some familiarity with your academic potential are the best choices for letter writers. These individuals can comment on your academic accomplishments, involvement in the classroom, writing ability and potential for success in an academically-challenging graduate program. 
  • Faculty who have supervised your research projects are also excellent letter writers. The research you have engaged in prior to your application does not need to match the research interests you may have in graduate school. The letter writer can speak to your understanding of the research process, critical thinking skills and writing abilities rather than your knowledge of a particular aspect of psychology. 
  • Supervisors of your work are acceptable letter writers, but not preferred over academic faculty. Supervisors can speak to your work ethic, timeliness, ability to organize and manage multiple tasks, and your ability to get along with others. 
  • You should avoid letters from family or friends, or other letters that only speak to your personal attributes. 
  • It is preferable for applicants to offer letter writers information about the programs they are applying to so that they may be able to speak to specific qualities in their letters. Remind non-academic work supervisors about the importance of writing a detailed letter. Further, avoid asking faculty that you may have not had a specific connection with, such as a faculty member teaching  a large undergraduate class. Letters which offer specific examples are most positively received. 
  • APA offers several good considerations when deciding who to approach to write letters of recommendation. 

Should I contact the Director of Training? 

  • Directors of Training are happy to answer questions about the program and application process. When contacting them, however, remember that each communication essentially becomes part of the impression you are developing, so consider how to demonstrate professionalism, and be prepared. 
  • Ask questions that are not easily answered by reviewing the website. 
  • Use formal communication when emailing. Be polite. 
  • Avoid simply sending correspondence that summarizes your application. This is not an effective strategy to ensure your application is reviewed. 

Should I contact faculty in the program to which I am applying? 

  • Yes! You should identify one or two faculty with research or training interests that overlap with your own. Review their materials online and/or read a recent article they published. Consider reaching out to these individuals to learn more about ongoing projects, future goals, and to hear more about their expectations for graduate students. Again, be professional and remember that each contact you make is leaving an impression on that individual.

What if I am not invited to interview? 

  • This can be very disappointing. Graduate programs in psychology are often very competitive. This means that many talented applicants are not admitted. Often graduate programs are unable to offer specific feedback on your application. 
  • Consider reviewing the data available on the program's website to re-evaluate your competitiveness for that program. 
  • Ask trusted faculty advisors to review your application materials. Consider retaking the GRE, engaging in additional research opportunities, and/or volunteer opportunities in order to bolster your chances for success. 
  • Students sometimes decide to apply again the following year. 
  • Consider Master's programs as a good alternative. Many Master's program application deadlines occur after doctoral deadlines, making it possible to apply and be accepted in the same cycle where you may not have been successful with your doctoral applications. 

For more information visit: Applying to Graduate School, a website developed by the American Psychological Association to assist students in applying to graduate programs in psychology. 


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