As Psi Chi, now the International Honor Society in Psychology, expands globally, we might ask: "How can international students best enter U.S graduate programs in psychology?" According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), in 2009 there were a total of 671,616 international students at U.S. universities—8.5% of them were studying social sciences that include psychology (IIE, 2009). Though the unique backgrounds and fresh perspectives of international students enrich U.S. universities, such students also face special adjustment problems of language, cultural differences, and culture shock (Poyrazli, 2005). Graduate psychology programs already can be highly competitive, accepting as few as 4% of applicants (Kaufman, Landi, & Takooshian, 2010). As further illustrated in this column, international students should follow a systematic approach to avoid common errors, and a timeline to successfully apply to U.S. psychology graduate programs.
Finding U.S. Graduate Programs and Restrict One's Search
There are over 600 graduate programs in psychology in the U.S., including clinical, counseling, developmental, educational, experimental, health, industrial/organizational, school, social, and personality psychology (APA, 2010). So how do international students identify the graduate program that is right for them?
After selecting the field and area of interest, choice of a program should be based upon the quality of the research it produces. It is a good idea to investigate the top journals, and do a literature search for topics of interest and program affiliation (Helmes & Schnorf, 2009). The Internet is invaluable at this stage: gathering information from universities' websites, emailing other international students who are studying psychology in the U.S., and joining electronic mailing lists and online forums are important tools. Books such as Graduate Study in Psychology (APA, 2010) and Studying Psychology in the United States: Expert Guidance for International Students (Hasan, Fouad, & Williams-Nickelson, 2008) provide detailed information related to psychology graduate programs in the U.S.
Other strategies to gain valuable information about psychology graduate programs include interacting directly with faculty and professionals by joining professional associations and their international divisions, searching U.S. universities with an affiliation in one's home country, attending international psychology conferences or university fairs (see www.conferencealerts.com/psychology.htm, www.topgradschool.com or universities' office of admission websites).
To ensure several admissions offers, students should narrow their list to 4-6 well-rounded programs. It is recommended to apply to a maximum of 2Ð3 highly-competitive universities and pair these selections with 2Ð3 universities at which one would fall on the upper end of the average admissions exam scores, TOEFL, and GPAs of the previous year's admitted students (Landi & Takooshian, 2010; Sayette, Mayne, & Norcross, 2010).
The Application Process
For all students, the keys to successful completion of graduate school applications are time, organization, and determination. The application process takes longer for international students, so it is important that they start 18 to 20 months before planned date of enrollment.
In general international students are required to put together a competitive application package—this includes application forms, two to three references, a statement of purpose, and standardized test scores. Practical resources for this stage can be found at www.internationalstudent.com, www.educationusa.info, or www.kaplantest.com.
Most graduate programs in psychology require taking the GRE and some additionally request the GRE subject test in psychology. All applicants whose native language is not English are also required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Figuring where and how often the necessary tests are offered are great challenges for international students (Hasan et al., 2008).
The application package also includes certified transcripts in English from each university attended and the Affidavit of Support, a document demonstrating international students have adequate financial banking to meet the costs—tuition, fees and living expenses—of at least one full academic year. International students will need this form to apply for their student visa.
Deciding on a School
By mid-April, graduate programs in psychology will send acceptance letters. In making a final decision about attending a specific graduate program, international students should consider the reputation of the program, the possibilities of interaction with mentors, the training facilities, and the atmosphere of the program (Sayette et al., 2010). The availability of special services for international students, percentage of international students in the program, presence of international faculty, research on international topics, and opportunity to engage in cross-cultural research are also important variables to take into account. Greater support from training programs, availability of resources, and a culturally-sensitive learning environment (Hasan et al., 2008) improve international students' adjustment in the U.S.
See Landi and Takooshian (2010) and Lipson (2008) for other helpful tips and financial considerations. Providing international students this information might help them in completing successful applications to psychology graduate programs in the U.S. and subsequently facilitate their psychosocial and academic adjustments.
American Psychological Association. (2010). Graduate study in psychology 2010. Washington, DC: Author.
Hasan, N., Fouad, N., & Williams-Nickelson, C. (2008). Studying psychology in the United States: Expert guidance for international students . Washington, DC: APA.
Helms, J. L., & Schnorf, M. E. (2009, Fall). Where should I apply to graduate school? Eye on Psi Chi, 14(1), 20-21.
Institute of International Education. (2009). Open doors 2009: Report on international educational exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/en/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors.
Kaufman, J., Landi, G., & Takooshian, H. (2010, April 24). Checklist of graduate psychology programs in greater New York. Presentation at the Hunter Psychology Conference, New York City.
Landi, G., & Takooshian, H. (2010, Spring). Checklist for international students entering U.S. graduate psychology programs. International Psychology Bulletin, 14, 17-20.
Lipson, C. (2008). Succeeding as an international student in the United States and Canada. Chicago, IL; University of Chicago Press.
Poyrazli, S. (2005, Winter). International students at U.S. universities: Overcoming the challenges. Eye on Psi Chi, 9(2), 18-19.
Sayette, M. A, Mayne, T. J., & Norcross, J. C. (2010). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology, 2010/2011 ed. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Application Timeline for International Students
January-March (18-20 MBE*)
Research programs and required standardized tests.
April-June (15-17 MBE)
Collect information from different departments.
Research financial aid for international graduate students.
July-August (13-14 MBE)
Prepare for the GREs and TOEFL.
Select top 4-6 universities and contact their admissions offices to request international student application packages.
August-October (11-13 MBE)
Carefully fill out university applications.
Gather the required supporting documents: official transcripts and translation, reference letters, and statement of purpose.
Retake GRE exams if scores were unsatisfactory.
October-January (9-11 MBE)
Submit your university applications; pay attention to special deadlines for international students.
March-May (4-6 MBE)
Wait patiently: most universities will send acceptance letter a month or two after the application deadline.
May-June (3-4 MBE)
Apply to U.S. embassy or consulate for student visa and complete SEVIS I-901 form upon receipt of I-20 form.
Organize finances and make final arrangements for housing and medical insurance.
June-August (1-3 MBE)
Finalize travel arrangements and contact the international student office to confirm university Ôs orientation for new students.
Enroll and begin study in the U.S.!