The three-headed panel of Drs.
VanderStoep, Handelsman, and Landrum combine their expertise on graduate school
admission. These Psi Chi faulty advisors have successfully guided hundreds of
students through post-graduation transitions and share their advice with
students from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay.
When looking at grad schools, who would
you contact for more information?
Dr. Scott W. VanderStoep: For doctoral
programs, crafting a well-written, proofread, fairly formal and BRIEF letter to
the professor who would be your potential research advisor will put you on
his/her radar and likely get you valuable information. The email should
indicate that you have read the professor’s work, that you’re interested in
studying similar topics in graduate school, AND ask if the person will be
taking students into his/her lab next year. Perhaps the professor is leaving
the university, maybe he/she will be on sabbatical, or, for some other reason,
be unable to supervise you. Remember too that professors vary in their degree
of warmth that they communicate via email. Don’t over-interpret a curt or
annoyed-sounding email as meaning that the professor doesn’t want to hear from
you. For master’s programs, contacting the department chair or graduate
admissions chair is the best approach.
Dr. Mitchell M.
Handelsman: The first step these days is always the web. Programs put lots of
information on their webpages specifically to save their staff from having to
answer the same questions over and over. (Kind of like why we’re publishing
Having said that,
here are a couple guidelines: For general information about the program and
questions about applying, contact the department office (not the faculty).
Contact faculty directly about their research, opportunities in their lab, and
similar types of questions. Imagine a busy professor being asked a question
that could have been found on the web in 20 seconds. What will they think about
the applicant’s initiative, drive, and ability to work independently?
Another good source
of information is current graduate students. Sometimes their contact
information is on the webpage, or you may need to ask departments for some
names of students who are willing to talk with you. Faculty members are often
very willing to have students in their labs contact you. The information you
get from current students (and alumni, for that matter) can be useful at all
points in the application process.
Dr. R. Eric Landrum: First, be sure to
follow any directions that the graduate program website suggests, such as
contacting the graduate secretary or chair of the admissions committee if you
have more questions about the program or the application process. Second, it is
good to make contact with the faculty at the program(s) you are interested in
via email or chatting at a regional conference, for example. If you can have an
on-site faculty member advocate for you during meetings of the graduate
admissions committee, you have a strong ally who greatly improves your chances
of successful entry into graduate school. You want to be on the radar screen,
but not so much as to be a pest or a nuisance. Carefully consider the questions
that you ask—don’t ask a question that is answered easily by checking the
department website—ask a question that shows your savvy for the program and for
the challenges of a graduate education.
can you do with a master’s vs. a PhD degree?
Dr. Scott W. VanderStoep: For those
interested in the helping professions, the degree of clinical privilege that
master’s graduates have varies by state and what a state’s licensing board will
allow. Some states allow one-on-one therapy as long as a doctoral level
supervisor (PhD, PsyD, psychiatrist) is also on staff at the facility. In other
states, a master’s graduate would be allowed virtually no individual therapy
sessions with clients. In nonclinical areas, a master’s degree would prepare
you for work in industrial or applied settings. A master’slevel psychologist
may also be able to teach at a community college or perhaps part-time at a
4-year college. A PhD will provide you with maximum employment flexibility, but
not always a lot more money. For example, PhD-level persons working in nonelite
liberal arts colleges or regional public universities will probably be making
about as much as a master’s-level person working in industry.
Dr. Mitchell M. Handelsman: Lots! You likely
will not be able to work with the same variety of people or do the same variety
of tasks (e.g., assessment, consultation, program evaluation) as you would with
a PhD, but lots of direct service work is done by master’s level people. After
all, they’re cheaper to hire!
A master’s degree can be a good option if (a) you tried but failed to get into
a PhD program, or (b) you are not exactly sure what you want to do and want to
explore options or get some experience before committing to a PhD program. If
you’re committed to nonclinical, academic-type jobs, a master’s degree in
something like general psychology may help as a stepping stone.
You would do well to collect some data
other than advice from people like me, who went right from a bachelor’s program
into a PhD program. Talk to volunteer coordinators and others at mental health
centers. Go see your Career Center on campus.
Another thought: You might consider a
degree like a Master’s of Social Work (MSW). Social workers do a lot of the
same things that psychologists do, and an MSW degree (and some experience in
the field) can look very good on an application to PsyD, and some PhD,
You can find lots of career information
in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, on the web, on pp. 72–75 of Landrum and
Davis (2010), and in Kuther and Morgan (2010).
U. S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics (2010). Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition.
Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/oco.
What kind of
financial aid is available?
Dr. Scott W. VanderStoep: Most doctoral
programs provide tuition assistance and employment opportunities for their
graduate students. The tuition assistance is usually a full waiver, and the
employment opportunities would be either working as a graduate student teaching
assistant or a research assistant. Such financial assistance in master’s
programs is not as lucrative and not as common. If it exists, it will be more
competitive; you may have to apply and compete with your classmates for these
funds. The good news is that the master’s will be for only 2 or 3 years as
opposed to 5 or more years for doctoral programs. The question of funding is
absolutely a question you need to ask. If 100% of students are not funded, find
out how many get funded, how much tuition reduction is offered, how much the
assistantships pay, and how long they last..
Dr. Mitchell M. Handeslman: Much
financial aid is offered through individual programs: Research assistantships
(from professors about whom you’ve expressed interest, or from assigned
assistantships). Teaching assistantships. Traineeships and grants with or
without other strings attached.
Applications will often include
financial aid portions that hook you into the university’s pipeline. PhD
programs often have a lot more built-in financial aid than MA or PsyD programs.
Do not let financial issues influence
where you apply. If programs really want you, they will help. And, of course,
you will be diligent in searching out sources of funding— such as foundations,
community groups, and fraternal organizations—that you may not find until after
Dr. R. Eric Landrum: Of course this is going to vary by type of school, type of
aid, and a host of factors, including your own eligibility— your results may
vary. The financial aid office at your prospective school should be able to
help you seek out possible sources, and you’ll want to inquire with your
department or program about the availability of assistantships and fellowships.
An assistantship usually provides a stipend to the student in return for
service to the department, such as serving as a research assistant or a
teaching assistant. A fellowship provides a grant to the student to study in a
certain area, but the money does not have to be repaid nor does service need to
be provided to the institution. Just as with your undergraduate education,
financial aid may be need-based or merit-based.
you make a separate personal statement for each college you apply to?
Dr. Scott W. VanderStoep: Yes, in
almost all cases. For one thing, each school asks slightly different questions.
The more you can personalize your letter, the better it will sound to the
screening committee. The body of each statement will look similar, so you can
use the cut-and-paste function. Read each personal statement carefully! Nothing
is worse than telling the University of Montego Bay that you want to study
developmental psychology with Professor A, and University of Kingston that you
want to study educational psychology with Professor B, when, in fact, it’s the
other way around.
Dr. Mitchell M. Handeslman: Do not
start from scratch with each version of your statement, but do research each
program and think about your own professional identity, goals, etc. How much
your statements vary depends on the type of program to which you are applying.
Research-oriented programs, in which individual faculty members have lots to
say about who gets accepted, want specifics about your knowledge of particular
research areas. Many big clinical programs that take the "best available
athlete” are interested in your professional interests and experiences in more
general ways, so there will be more overlap. Many of your paragraphs—about your
college experiences or long-term goals—will work for most or all of your
applications. This leads to one note of warning: If you do cut and paste some
standard paragraphs, remember to proof your statements carefully before sending
them. Few students will be admitted to a program if they write a statement that
says, "I really want to go to name of school
because of your unique and excellent program.”
Dr. R. Eric Landrum: Absolutely yes! One personal statement does not fit every
situation, just as one size does not fit all. If you read the instructions
carefully for each school you are applying to, you’ll notice that there are
slight (and sometimes substantial) differences between what is being asked. Be
absolutely sure to follow instructions. More articles on the Psi Chi website (www.psichi.org) can provide helpful tips in
preparing your personal statement—and you should consult with your faculty
mentor for help and proofreading during your preparation. Let me put it this
way—if you cannot follow the directions to apply to graduate school, what do
you think your chances will be of being admitted to graduate school?
looking at school options, what is the importance of internship matching rates?
Dr. Scott W. VanderStoep: I have never
told an undergraduate to be concerned about this. It’s probably important, but
there will be other clues that you will receive as you do your homework on
possible graduate programs in clinical psychology. I tell students it is more
important to consider other factors. First, is the program APA accredited? That
is non-negotiable in my opinion. Second, I tell them to worry about a different
kind of match—does the research and clinical experience in the program match
the student’s interest? A low internship match rate is likely indicative of a
program that is struggling, at least temporarily. But there will be other
indicators of a struggling program—morale of the current students, research
productivity of the faculty, competitiveness of the applicant pool (and
accompanying GRE scores) that will trigger concern you have about a program’s
Dr. Mitchell M. Handeslman: When you
make your list of factors (including geography, research opportunities,
practicum placements, financial aid, etc.) to consider in your graduate school
application process, you might want to categorize them as high, moderate, or
low in their influence on your decision about where to apply and where to
accept. You can also categorize each factor as relatively proximal or distal.
Internship matching rate is a distal factor because you have a lot to do before
an internship. Let’s talk a bit about locus of control: A lot of the variance
in whether you get matched is accounted for by your own efforts in excelling in
your courses and seeking out the best educational opportunities and
supervision. Many internship sites base their decisions on the applications
they have before them—not the reputation of the program.
At the same time, internship match rate may be a reasonable proxy measure of
the overall quality of clinical training. If a match rate is not zero, it may
mean that good students who seek out the best sites and supervisors will find a
good internship. However, low match rates may indicate that the culture or
atmosphere of the program regarding clinical training isn’t what you might
Whether the factor of match rates reaches your high importance category depends
to some degree (no pun intended) on where you stand on the clinical vs.
academic route (I was very committed to doing clinical work in graduate school
and wound up a full-time academic.) and the relative importance of other
factors on your list. It’s possible that matching rate will be more important
in your decision about which offer (out of several!) you accept, rather than
where to apply in the first place.
Dr. R. Eric Landrum: I’ll be honest here and tell you that I don’t know a lot
about the APPIC process, other than that there is a process for those seeking
internships to be matched with APA-approved internship sites. It seems that
recently there has been more demand than supply. Just as you need to do everything
you can to be competitive to get into graduate school, you’ll also need to do
your homework on internship sites and the APPIC matching process to give
yourself any competitive advantage that might be available.
Officers at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay
The Psi Chi Chapter of University of
Wisconsin–Green Bay was founded in 2004 by its current adviser Dr. Regan A. R.
Gurung. Since then the chapter’s membership has increased to over 150 members
and routinely inducts between 30-55 students a year. Each year the chapter adds
to its repertoire by increasing membership and participating in more community
service projects than in the previous year. All of the activities and projects
help to give its Psi Chi members a well-rounded experience while attending the
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.