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What Are Your Chances? New Probabilities of Admission Into Graduate Psychology Programs
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by John C. Norcross, PhD, Barry X. Kuhle, PhD - University of Scranton (PA)
Categories: Graduate School
What are the most pressing questions of any aspiring psychologist? The first
burning question is usually, What are my chances of getting into graduate
school?, followed quickly by the anxietylaced, And how much will it cost?
Fortunately, the American Psychological Association and several of its members
have collected data to help you answer these important questions (APA, 2010;
Sayette, Mayne, & Norcross, 2010).
Admission Rates Are Up but Vary
Good news! Not only do today’s applicants enjoy better odds of acceptance into
graduate school in psychology compared to applicants from yesteryear, but there
are more programs to which to apply.
In 2008, more than half the applicants to a given master’s psychology program
were accepted by that program, and acceptance into a given U.S. doctoral program
was 22% (APA, 2010). That’s twice the acceptance rate during the 1970s
(Norcross, Kohout, & Wicherski, 2005).
Although the overall picture is positive, acceptance rates vary widely across
psychology’s subfields. As Table 1 indicates, admission into master’s programs
and non-clinical programs is generally easier than admission into doctoral and
Acceptance rates into psychology master’s programs cluster around 50%. That is,
approximately half of the applicants to any master’s program will earn admission
into that program. Acceptance rates into nonclinical doctoral programs range
from 12% to 48%. Whether applying to a master’s or doctoral program, you can
enhance your admission prospect by applying to multiple programs.
Among the non-clinical disciplines, only 12% of applicants were accepted in
social and personality psychology doctoral programs, while 48% of applications
to educational psychology programs were granted admission. Admission into
neuroscience, experimental psychology, and cognitive psychology doctoral
programs is also relatively challenging with average acceptance rates around 15
to 16% (see Table 1).
The Peculiar Case of Clinical Psychology
The toughest subfield in terms of admission is PhD programs in clinical
psychology. Among APA-accredited PhD programs, the average acceptance rate in
2008 was a minuscule 8%. Before aspiring clinicians despair and transfer into
another major, it’s important to note four things:
- the 8% average acceptance rate refers to acceptance into a single PhD program,
not the likelihood of getting into any PhD clinical program.
- as a general rule, acceptance rates for PsyD programs are much higher (easier)
than PhD clinical programs.
- as with the nonclinical fields, gaining admission into clinical master’s
programs is considerably easier (acceptance rate = 37%; Table 1) than getting
into clinical PhD programs.
- there are other, less daunting roads to become a psychotherapist than through
APA-accredited doctoral programs.
All clinical programs are not created equal. Think of APA-accredited doctoral
programs as varying along a practiceresearch continuum, as shown in Table 2. On
the practice side are PsyD programs, which are explicitly practice-oriented.
Some are housed in freestanding, proprietary (for profit) institutions, while
others are located in conventional univerisities. In the middle of the continuum
are university- based PhD programs that equally emphasize practice and research
and that train scientist-practitioners. On the research side are university PhD
programs that are specifically research oriented and designed to train clinical
Acceptance rates vary in direct proportion to programs’ placement along this
practice-research continuum. Free-standing and university-based PsyD programs
accept substantially more applicants (50% and 35%) than practice-oriented,
equal-emphasis, and research-oriented PhD programs (16%, 14%, and 7%).
Applicants have a 1 in 2 chance of gaining admission into a freestanding PsyD
program, but only a 1 in 14 chance into a research-oriented PhD program in
clinical psychology. That’s why Table 1 does not list a global acceptance rate
for doctoral programs in clinical psychology. Variability, not central tendency,
rules the roost.
Getting Funded: Toll Roads vs. Interstates
The ease of acceptance into explicitly practice-oriented programs comes with a
steep cost. PsyD students are far less likely than PhD students to receive
financial assistance (Table 2). Figures 1 and 2 depict the relation between
getting in and getting money in APA-accredited clinical psychology programs. For
example, only 1% of free-standing PsyD programs offer full financial assistance
(full tuition remission plus stipend) compared to 89% of researchoriented
programs that offer both a tuition waiver and a paid assistantship (Norcross,
Ellis, & Sayette, 2010). You don’t need SPSS to see that this is a significant
difference! PsyD programs are akin to toll roads; they may provide an easier,
quicker path to your destination than the free interstate, but it may cost you
more to get there.
Similar to clinical psychology programs, APA-accredited counseling psychology
programs differ along the practice-research continuum. However, counseling
psychology has historically endorsed scientist– practitioner training and, with
a few exceptions, actively resisted the practiceoriented PsyD. The result is a
truncated continuum with only a couple of PsyD programs in counseling
Within this smaller range you will find the same systematic acceptance and
funding differences of a counseling program’s position on the practice-research
continuum. Practice-oriented programs accepted more applicants (29%) than
equal-emphasis or research-oriented programs (19% and 17%). However, they
offered less full student funding (30%) than equal-emphasis (72%) or
research-oriented programs (83%; Norcross, Evans, & Ellis, 2010).
As with many psychological matters, the answers to an aspiring psychologist’s
two most pressing questions are, It depends and It depends. The likelihood of
getting into graduate school depends on numerous factors, such as your grade
point average, Graduate Record Examination scores, letters of recommendation,
and research experience. The chance of gaining admission and getting money also
depend on prevailing acceptance and funding rates, which themselves depend, in
part, on the type of graduate program. You can’t change those rates, but you can
use them to make informed decisions in your application process.
A place in graduate school exists for most diligent students if they know where
best to apply. Informed students judiciously match their personal credentials
and their desired schools’ standards when deciding where to submit applications.
Remember, apply widely but wisely. And the best of success to you!
American Psychological Association. (2010). Graduate applications,
acceptances, enrollments, and degrees awarded to master’sand doctoral-level
students in U.S. and Canadian Graduate Departments of Psychology: 2008-2009.
Retrieved January 28, 2011, from
Norcross, J. C., Ellis, J. L., & Sayette, M. A. (2010). Getting in and getting
money: A comparative analysis of admission standards, acceptance rates, and
financial assistance across the researchpractice continuum in clinical
psychology programs. Training and Education in Professional Psychology,
Norcross, J. C., Evans, K. L., & Ellis, J. L. (2010). The model does matter II:
Admissions and training in APA-accredited counseling psychology programs.
The Counseling Psychologist, 38, 257-268.
Norcross, J. C., Kohout, J. L., & Wicherski, M. (2005). Graduate study in
psychology: 1971 to 2004. American Psychologist, 60, 959-975.
Sayette, M. A., Mayne, T. J., & Norcross, J. C. (2010). Insider’s guide to
graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology. New York:
John C. Norcross, PhD, ABPP,
is a professor of psychology and Distinguished University Fellow at the
University of Scranton, an adjunct professor of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate
Medical University, a clinical psychologist in part-time practice, and editor of
the Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session. Among his books are the
Insider’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical & Counseling Psychology,
Systems of Psychotherapy: A Transtheoretical Analysis, and
Psychotherapy Relationships That Work. He enjoys playing racquetball with
students and letting Dr. Kuhle win.
Barry X. Kuhle, PhD, received his baccalaureate in psychology
from Binghamton University and his doctorate in evolutionary psychology from the
University of Texas, Austin. He is an assistant professor of psychology at the
University of Scranton, where he teaches evolutionary psychology, statistics in
the behavioral sciences, and research methods. His research focuses on the
evolved psychological mechanisms that underlie commitment and jealousy in
romantic relationships. He enjoys meeting, greeting, and beating his students
(and Dr. Norcross) on the racquetball court.
Summer 2011 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 15, No. 4, p. 20), published
by Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright,
2011, Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.