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College of Humanities & Sciences

Psychology Department

Planning for Graduate School

Here we present an ideal schedule of activities for planning to go to graduate school. The specific details, particularly those in the senior year section pertain to doctoral study in Psychology.  Graduate work in related fields in the helping relations (Social Work, Counseling, Counselor Education, Rehabilitation Counseling, etc.) have different deadlines and requirements.  While it is advisable to follow the schedule as closely as possible, don't panic if you deviate from it. Instead, just work as rapidly as possible to obtain the needed information.

Sophomore year
Junior year
Summer (between junior and senior year)
Senior year
Financial aid
Letters of recommendation
Personal statement

Sophomore year

  • Having completed most of your college’s general education requirements, work on the basic psychology requirements including statistics, laboratories and science courses.
  • Become acquainted with several faculty members in your department.
  • Write your first curriculum vita.
  • Attend departmental colloquia.

Junior year

  • Locate faculty members with similar interests and initiate or volunteer to participate on a research project (you can register for one to three credits as PSYC 494).
  • Identify faculty you may wish to approach for future recommendation letters on your behalf.   
  • Do fieldwork and/or volunteer at local agencies in your area of interest (, junior and/or senior years).
  • Become a student affiliate with professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association and  Association for Psychological Science.
  • Attend a state or regional psychological association meeting.
  • Update your curriculum vita.
  • In the spring, work on a possible paper for publication or research presentation.

Summer (between junior and senior year)

  • Buy practice software/study guides for the Graduate Record Examination (free download at and/or the Miller Analogy Test and study.
  • Order and investigate graduate programs in psychology and associated fields.
  • Conduct a Web search on programs of interest; download materials and forms or call programs directly for catalogs, full information, application forms and financial aid information.
  • Do a third version of your curriculum vita.
  • Finish the paper or publication on your research.

Senior year


  • Schedule an appointment to take the GRE and/or MAT tests in October.
  • Study catalogs; narrow the number of schools of interest.
  • Consult with faculty members about prospective schools.
  • Ask faculty (or others) who know you well if they would be able to write you a strong letter of recommendation. If they agree, provide them your curriculum vita, unofficial transcript and draft of personal statement to write from. (See next section on letters of recommendation).
  • Prepare folders for each school noting application deadlines, standardized test requirements, and the number of transcripts and letters of recommendation.

October and November

  • Take the GRE and/or MAT tests; take a second time in December if necessary.
  • Write your personal statements. Have faculty and friends proofread and make suggestions; then prepare the final draft.


  • All impressive degree requirements, fieldwork or volunteer experiences and research should be completed by December.
  • Request GRE and/or MAT transcripts to be sent to appropriate schools.
  • Request college transcripts to be sent to appropriate schools.
  • Make copies of all materials and keep on file.
  • Send all applications ahead of their deadlines.

February to March

  • Set up interviews by phone and attend.
  • Record strengths and weaknesses of each school.
  • Write thank-you notes to each faculty member and graduate student with whom you interview.


  • Replies should start coming in.
  • As April 15 draws near, it is appropriate to follow up with schools that have not responded. After careful consideration, make decisions about which school you plan to attend. Inform all schools that have made you an offer of financial aid about your decision. 

Financial aid

Schools offer different types of financial aid. Before ruling out schools with high tuitions, consider applying for some financial aid. Every institution has its own application process and system for allotting aid. When you write to schools for catalogs, you also may request literature on financial aid. Be sure to adhere to each institution's forms and deadlines. Some typical sources of aid include:

  1. Grants and fellowships
    These are awards that require no service in return. Grants are usually given to those with financial need, whereas fellowships are prestigious awards, not based on need.
  2. Teaching and research assistantships
    These awards are given to recipients in exchange for services to the university.
  3. Loans
    There are several nationwide student loan programs from which you may want to try to borrow money. Use this method only if grants, fellowships and employment options are unavailable. 


Visit the GRE website for more information.

University Career Center
For information visit the office in the Student Commons, located at 907 Floyd Ave. 

Miller Analogies Test
Contact the Center for Psychological Services and Development at (804) 828-8069 for more information. 

Letters of recommendation

Most graduate programs require three letters from people who know you. While recommendations from faculty members are essential for academically oriented programs, professional programs may seriously consider nonacademic recommendations from professionals in the field. You will want to provide your recommenders a minimum of one month to complete their letters before they are due. For each recommender, you should organize a packet with your:

  • curriculum vita,
  • unofficial transcript,
  • GRE/other standardized test scores,
  • draft of personal statement, and
  • cover sheet noting application deadlines and whether the recommendations need to be sent directly (if so, include addressed, stamped envelopes) or returned to you.

Be sure to include any forms needed to be included, and don’t forget to complete your part. 


Admissions committees require official transcripts of your grades in order to evaluate your academic preparation for graduate study. Grade-point average is important but is not examined in isolation; the rigor of your courses, course load, and reputation of the institution also are important. Visit VCU’s Transcript Q&A Web site for more information

Personal statement

Writing the essay or personal statement is often the most difficult part of the application process. There is no set formula to follow in writing your essay, the possible approaches are endless. Your aim should be a clear, succinct statement showing that you have a definite sense of what you want to do and an enthusiasm for the field of study. Your essay should reflect your writing skills; more importantly, it should reveal the clarity, focus and depth of your thinking. 

Admissions committees may evaluate based on the following areas: motivation and commitment to the field, writing ability, areas of interest, research experience, educational background, long-term goals, reason(s) for applying to that institution, maturity and personal uniqueness. In every case, the essay should be neatly typed while paying careful attention to grammar and spelling.

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