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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 1999
Applicant Characteristics
Valued by Graduate Programs
in Psychology

Drew Appleby, PhD, Julie Keenan, and Beth Mauer, Marian College (IN)

This study is based on the assumptions that graduate schools (a) are aware of the characteristics of students who excel in their programs and (b) use the information they gain from letters of recommendation to identify applicants who possess these characteristics. Recommendation forms from the application packages of 143 graduate programs in clinical, experimental, and industrial/organizational psychology were studied. The applicant characteristics that recommenders were requested to rank in grid formats or include in written descriptions were identified, categorized, and arranged in order of relative frequency. The resulting list--consisting of all characteristics requested on at least 10 recommendation forms--describes the characteristics that psychology graduate programs value in their applicants, ranked in descending order of frequency as indicated by the numbers in parentheses.

1.PMotivated and hardworking (154)
2.IHigh intellectual/scholarly ability (106)
3.SResearch skills (69)
4.PEmotionally stable and mature (66)
5.SWriting skills (64)
6.SSpeaking skills (63)
7.STeaching skills/potential (49)
8.PWorks well with others (45)
9.ICreative and original (41)
10.IStrong knowledge of area of study (29)
11.PStrong character or integrity (25)
12.SSpecial skills (e.g., computer or lab) (19)
13.ICapable of analytical thought (17)
14.IBroad general knowledge (13)
15.PIntellectually independent (12)
16.PPossesses leadership ability (10)
17.PMentally and physically healthy (10)

It is interesting to note that of the 802 total instances of characteristics included in this list, 332 refer to personal characteristics (preceded by P), 264 refer to acquired skills (preceded by S), and 206 refer to intellectual abilities or knowledge (preceded by I). It appears that graduate programs are most interested in learning about the personal characteristics of their potential applicant from recommenders, that they place secondary emphasis on learning about their applicants' acquired skills, and are less interested in learning about their applicants' intellectual abilities or knowledge from recommenders. This appears to be a reasonable conclusion because graduate programs have access to measures of applicants' intellectual abilities (e.g., verbal and mathematical GRE scores and transcripts), knowledge (e.g., psychology GRE scores), and skills (e.g., applicants' application forms and personal statements), but must rely almost exclusively on the personal experience that recommenders have had with applicants to measure their personal characteristics.

The important lesson to be learned from the results of this study is that students who wish to pursue a graduate degree in psychology should make a concerted effort to behave in ways that will allow them to (a) develop an accurate and broad knowledge base, (b) acquire relevant skills, and (c) be perceived by at least three of their professors as motivated and hardworking, emotionally stable and mature, capable of working well with others, and possessing intellectual independence, integrity, leadership ability, and good mental and physical health.

Drew C. Appleby, PhD, received his BA in psychology from Simpson College in 1969 and his PhD in experimental psychology from Iowa State University in 1972. He is currently the chairperson of the Marian College Psychology Department and holds the rank of Professor of Psychology. He has been at Marian since 1972 where he has taught General Psychology, Honors General Psychology, Advanced General Psychology, The Psychology Major, Developmental Psychology, Human Growth and Development, Human Learning and Cognition, Human Information Processing, History of Psychology, Senior Psychology Seminar, Issues in Human Development, Excelling in College, and Study Skills. He is the author of The Psychology Handbook, has numerous publications in professional journals, and has made over 200 presentations before a variety of both professional and nonprofessional audiences. He was elected to Fellow status of the Teaching Division of APA in 1992, received both APA's Outstanding Psychology Teacher Award in a Four-Year College or University and Marian College's Award for Teaching Excellence in 1993, and was chosen by APA to present its G. Stanley Hall Teaching Lecture in 1998. He was recognized for his advising skills by the National Academic Advising Association when he received the Outstanding Adviser Award of it Great Lakes Region in 1988 and for his mentoring skills by being the charter recipient of Marian's Mentor of the Year Award in 1996. He is a consulting editor for Teaching of Psychology, serves as the director of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology's Mentoring Service, and has been a consultant to other psychology departments.

Julie Keenan
and Beth Mauer were inducted into Psi Chi by the Marian College Chapter in March 1988. As undergraduates, Ms. Keenan and Ms. Mauer were co-recipients of the Joseph N. Hingtgen Distinguished Senior in Psychology Award. Ms. Keenan received her master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology from Purdue University and is currently completing her doctorate in the same program. Ms. Mauer received her MS in clinical psychology from Purdue University and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Purdue at the IUPUI campus.

Copyright 1999 (Volume 3, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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