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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2006
Graduate Admissions in Psychology: II. Acceptance Rates and Financial Considerations
John Norcross, PhD, University of Scranton (PA)
Jessica L. Kohout, PhD, and Marelent Wicherski
This article, the second in a series, summarizes the findings of the 2005 edition of Graduate Study in Psychology (601 departments, 1,970 graduate programs) on acceptance rates, enrollment rates, retention figures, tuition costs, and financial assistance. The results are presented separately for master's programs and doctoral programs. Our aim is to translate the numerical information into practical advice for prospective graduate students and their advisors.
In our first article of this series, we chronicled the popularity of graduate education in psychology and reviewed the methodology of our study (Norcross, Kohout, & Wicherski, 2005). We noted that approximately 27% of undergraduate psychology majors enroll in further education (Tsapogas, 2004) and that more than 40,000 full-time students are enrolled in graduate study in psychology. Our data were drawn from the 2005 edition of the Graduate Study in Psychology (American Psychological Association [APA], 2005), which reports information from the 2003-2004 academic year. Data were collected electronically for both entire departments and individual graduate programs on a structured questionnaire. The study included questionnaires from a total of 495 institutions, 601 separate departments, and 1,970 individual graduate programs in the United States and Canada.
This article, in turn, summarizes our results on acceptance rates, enrollment rates, retention figures, financial assistance, and tuition costs in graduate study in psychology. Our aim is to translate this mass of information into advice for students and faculty. We begin each section with a question that students typically ask about graduate admissions.
Acceptance Rates
What are my chances of being accepted into graduate school? An anxiety-provoking consideration for applicants and a controversial topic for faculty members is acceptance rates for graduate programs in psychology. We computed acceptance rates by dividing the number of students accepted to a program by the number of applications. Acceptance rates thus refer to the percentage of applicants accepted for admission into a single graduate program, not the percentage of the entire applicant pool to all programs accepted for admission in a given year. The APA-accredited PhD program in clinical psychology at University X, for example, may accept only 15 of 150 applicants (10%), but many of the applicants not accepted to University X will be admitted elsewhere. Although only 10% of the applicants to a single PhD program in clinical psychology might be accepted into that particular program, about half of the entire applicant pool will probably be accepted into some clinical PhD program.
Table 1 presents the acceptance rates by subfields for doctoral programs, and Table 2 presents the acceptance rates for master's programs. The mean acceptance rates to doctoral psychology programs range from a low of 19% (personality psychology, social psychology) to a high of 50% (educational psychology). The overall mean is 27.4%; that is, more than a quarter of applicants to any doctoral program are typically admitted into that program.
The overall acceptance rate to clinical psychology doctoral programs is 21%. This number includes admission to both PhD and PsyD programs and to both APA-accredited and non-APA-accredited programs.
The 21% acceptance rate masks substantial differences across the various types of clinical doctoral programs. APA-accredited PhD programs accept, on average, only 10% of applicants whereas non-APA accredited PhD programs accept 20% of applicants. APA-accredited PsyD programs accept, on average, 40% of applicants, whereas non-APA-accredited PsyD programs accept 60%. The pattern is clear: clinical PhD programs are more selective than clinical PsyD programs as a rule, and APA-accredited programs are more selective than non-APA accredited programs. The average acceptance rates range from 10% to 60%. Thus, in clinical psychology, one has to be careful about generalizing about acceptance rates and specific in identifying the type of program (PhD, PsyD, APA-accredited, non-APA-accredited, and so on).
The mean acceptance rates to master's psychology programs range from a low of 32% (neuroscience) to a high of 73% (quantitative). The average acceptance rates for master's programs are 25% to 35% higher than for doctoral programs in the same subfield. The overall mean acceptance rate is 57.4%; that is, more than half of applicants to any master's program are typically admitted into that program.
Enrollment Rates
How many people applying to a program actually wind up there? We defined enrollment rates as the number of students who enrolled in a program divided by the number of applications (not the number of acceptances). Tables 1 and 2 also present the enrollment rates and numbers of doctoral and master's programs by psychology subfield. The enrollment rates average 18.8 for doctoral programs and 41.9 for master's programs. In other words, about 20% of those applying to a doctoral program and 40% of those applying to a master's program will wind up attending that program.
The number of students newly enrolled in 2003-04 in responding psychology doctoral programs was 7,247 and in responding master's programs 9,925, for a total of 17,172 students. Clinical and counseling psychology programs account for approximately 47% of these students. Assuming that the 21% of nonresponding graduate psychology programs enroll slightly fewer new students than responding programs, that translates into approximately 20,750 new graduate students in psychology.
In 2003-04, the number of all full-time students enrolled in responding doctoral programs was 26,739 and the number of all full-time students enrolled in responding master's programs was 11,831 (total = 38,570). Assuming again that nonresponding programs were slightly smaller in size and enrollment than responding graduate programs, we estimate a total of 44,000 full-time graduate students in psychology.
Retention Figures
How many students remain and finish their graduate program? We calculated the annual attrition rate for full-time graduate students in psychology as the percentage of students withdrawn or dismissed divided by the total number of full-time students enrolled in a single year. The retention rate is 97.5% (attrition rate = 2.5%) for doctoral departments; 674 of 26,739 full-time students withdrew or were dismissed. The corresponding retention rate is 94.8% (attrition rate = 5.2%) for master's departments; 615 of 11,831 full-time students withdrew or were dismissed.
These numbers represent annual retention rates for all full-time graduate students, whereas previous editions of Graduate Study in Psychology assessed the retention rates for first-year students. In those earlier editions, over 90% of first-year doctoral students continued in their programs and 81-88% of first-year master's students continued in their programs (Norcross, Hanych, & Terranova, 1996; Stoup & Benjamin, 1982). Extrapolating across the years, retention rates are consistently high for full-time psychology graduate students.
Tuition Costs
How much is tuition in graduate programs? Table 3 displays the 2003-04 tuition costs by type of graduate department. Tuition costs for doctoral departments are generally 30% to 40% higher than those in master's departments. Annual tuition for state residents averages almost $10,000 in doctoral departments and almost $5,000 in master's departments. As expected, tuition for nonstate residents is substantially higher, averaging $14,691 and $9,114, respectively, in doctoral and master's departments.
Financial Assistance
If I receive an assistantship in graduate school, how much will it pay? On average, 57% of full-time doctoral students in psychology receive some financial assistance from their programs. The numbers are lower for full-time master's students; only about 25% receive any financial support from the program itself (Gehlman, Wicherski, & Kohout, 1995; Norcross, Castle, Sayette, & Mayne, 2004).
Median and mean stipends for assistantships are about $10,000 in doctoral departments and $5,000 - $5,500 in master's departments for an expected work week of 15-16 hours. Assistantship stipends for doctoral departments are 40 to 50% higher than for master's departments despite similar numbers of hours worked per week. Fellowships/scholarships offered comparable stipends for doctoral students but, on average, require seven fewer hours of work per week than assistantships. Dollar differences between assistantships provided to first-year students and those provided to advanced students are practically nonexistent (for this reason, we do not provide data on stipends for advanced students in the table).
In Conclusion
Applying to graduate school is frequently filled with anxieties and myths. By preparing early and informing yourself of the facts, you will be better positioned to make informed decisions on your financial and vocational future (Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 2006). Use these two articles and other resources to understand the facts of graduate admissions in psychology. Be informed by the evidence on, for example, application methods and fees, application deadlines, admission criteria, and typical GRE and GPA requirements. Understand the difference in acceptance rates between master's and doctoral, APA-accredited and non-APA-accredited, PhD and PsyD programs. Be forewarned about the paucity of full financial support (and the probability of debt) in most master's and PsyD programs. Be an informed, intelligent consumer who understands the odds and capitalizes on that knowledge!
American Psychological Association. (2005). Graduate study in psychology. Washington, DC: Author.
Gehlman, S., Wicherski, M., & Kohout, J. (1995). Characteristics of graduate departments of psychology: 1993-1994. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Research Office.
Mayne, T. J., Norcross, J. C., & Sayette, M. A. (2006). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology (2006/2007 edition). New York: Guilford.
Norcross, J. C., Kohout, J. L., & Wicherski, M. (2005, Winter). Graduate admissions in psychology: I. The application process. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(2), 28-29, 42-43.
Norcross, J. C., Castle, P. H., Sayette, M. A., & Mayne, T. J. (2004). The PsyD: Heterogeneity in practitioner training. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35(4), 412-419.
Norcross, J. C., Hanych, J. M., & Terranova, R. D. (1996). Graduate study in psychology: 1992-1993. American Psychologist, 51, 631-643.
Stoup, C. M., & Benjamin, L. T. (1982). Graduate study in psychology, 1970-1979. American Psychologist, 37, 1186-1202.
Tsapogas, J. (2004). Employment outcomes of recent science and engineering graduates vary by field of degree and sector of employment. (NSF 04316). Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.
Author Note. The data presented in this article are adapted with permission from our article, "Graduate Study in Psychology: 1971 to 2004," published in the December 2005 issue of the American Psychologist. Interested readers are referred to the homepage of the APA Research Office ( for complete statistical analyses of the 2003-04 Graduate Study data. The authors' observations do not necessarily represent those of the American Psychological Association.

John C. Norcross, PhD, ABPP, is Professor of Psychology and Distinguished University Fellow at the University of Scranton (PA), a clinical psychologist in part-time practice, and coauthor of 15 books, including the Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology.

Jessica L. Kohout, PhD
, is Director of the American Psychological Association's Research Office. As such, she is responsible for overseeing the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data on education, employment, and demographics in psychology.

Marlene Wicherski
is a research analyst located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has more than 25 years experience with APA databases.

Copyright 2006 (Volume 10, 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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