So you want to go to grad school?
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A Frantic Psychology Student 
17th-Oct-2013 09:53 pm
Hi all,

My first time writing! Actually, my first livejournal post, ever... I came across this blog and think it's awesome. I am currently a senior Psychology major and Spanish minor at a small liberal arts school, applying to APA-accredited Clinical Psychology PhD programs this fall. A lot of the pages I've been reading have discussed the upside of waiting a few years, but I'm applying anyways in the chance that things work out (fingers crossed). I really, really don't want to take time off if I don't have to. I guess I'm basically your average overachiever that is frantically worrying that what I've done thus far as an undergrad is not nearly enough for admission to a highly competitive grad program (although I've practically killed myself to get ahead after declaring Psychology late). But anyways... I truthfully don't know if I have a shot, so that's why I'm here. Can anyone shed some light on this based on your own experiences, and from looking at my stats and experience thus far below? Would taking time off be beneficial for me before applying next year? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

So here's my stats as of right now. I have a cum. GPA of 3.73, a Psychology GPA of 3.88, am in Psi Chi (International Honor Society in Psych), and am currently doing an Independent Study (IS) with one of my professors. I'm also the editor for my school's Psych department newsletter. I've done four volunteer placements/internships this year alone- varying between research internships and clinical volunteerism in inpatient units and hospitals. I did two at the same time this summer. Beyond my IS I've also done two other research studies with other students, and am planning to publish my IS this spring (hopefully). That would be my first publication.

My GRE scores are, eh,... 53% verbal and 57% quantitative I believe with a 4.5 in writing. Not great, and I'm not happy about them, but frankly I don't have the money or the time to take them again. In terms of applying, I have several schools in mind and am planning to email the faculty members I'm interested in to start building rapport ASAP. I'm also in the process of my personal statements- I'm trying to incorporate in the theme of 'taking initiative' as my token, basically since I've pushed myself like crazy and tried hard to make myself a suitable candidate despite declaring pretty much halfway through undergraduate (advice on this idea for a statement is appreciated as well).

I guess it sounds like I have a lot going on when I finally start putting it into words, but I'm still wary to think that my application will even be competitive, since I really don't know what kinds of applicants I'm up against. The programs I'm looking at generally take 10 people, and receive roughly 300 applications >:(. Any advice based on past Clinical Psych PhD experiences? Critiques? Help? Would all be greatly appreciated :) Thanks!
Comments 
18th-Oct-2013 02:41 am (UTC)
hi there!

I am a Clinical Psych PhD student in a fully-funded, APA-accredited program in the midwest. In general, your "stats" look pretty competitive! Unfortunately it's been a while since I took the GRE (I'm in the 5th year of my program), so I'm not sure about the old "as long as you're over 1200 combined" measures against the percentile scores you've listed.

You seem to have both clinical and research experience, which is a plus. However, for Clinical PhD programs research is going to be much more important. The other important facet that you didn't mention in your post is the matter of fit - do you have a particular research area of interest? If so, have you identified potential mentors of interest who are conducting similar/related research? You will be competing against many other qualified applicants, so fit might be the piece that truly sets you apart. I would recommend having a letter of rec from someone who can really testify to your research experience/competency/potential.

Also, if you haven't looked into it, I can not recommend this book highly enough: http://www.amazon.com/Insiders-Graduate-Programs-Counseling-Psychology/dp/1609189329/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382063970&sr=8-1&keywords=insider%27s+guide+clinical+psych

Finally, keep in mind that many people have to apply to these schools more than once.

Let me know if you have other questions about the Clinical PhD! It's a tough and very competitive process, but I've had a great experience with it.

-a
18th-Oct-2013 03:19 am (UTC)
Hello, thanks for the fast reply! That is actually extremely relieving to hear that I might have a chance. I just did out the math and my GRE scores on the new scale come out to a 1180 on the old scale...... eek. is that too low? As in, "I'm not going to get in unless I retake my GRE's" too low?

I do have a main area of interest- multicultural psychology. I'm very interested in the various experiences of privilege and marginalization across various ethnic groups. My independent study is essentially looking at this in my current institution, namely comparing a subset of these things across what I'm calling the majority and minority ethnic groups at my predominantly White college. So I think my research is fairly streamlined in that regard- I've also done clinical work with multicultural populations. My first choice in school right now has a stellar multicultural program, and the faculty member/chair of the program I am looking at there has essentially the same interests that I do; we are even both interested in Spanish language psychopathology (I'm fluent in Spanish, and hope to work with Spanish populations someday). I'm also interning on a body image disorder research study, and I really enjoy it and find it fascinating. In terms of recommendation letters, my faculty supervisor for my independent study is one of my people writing me a letter. I have taken all of my research and statistics classes with her as well and gotten an A in them all. So, I'm thinking that that will be a strong letter regarding my research potential.

And I have all of the APA books- I even just ordered the updated 2014 Graduate Study in Psychology book to see if any new programs have been added (I've already caught a couple online that aren't in the 2013 book... thought it was fishy). I also partially ordered it because I have had a lot of trouble finding multicultural programs in general, so beyond my first choice most of my other schools and faculty members at them show interests in either body image disorders or anxiety (I've done research on GAD). Do you know of any multicultural programs that are at APA-accredited schools? That would be an amazing help to me. Thanks again for responding!
18th-Oct-2013 07:57 am (UTC)
That's really pretty low on the GRE front. My understanding is that clinical psychology programs are incredibly competitive, and you may find it's just not good enough. I'd seriously suggest retaking. Given your area of interest, have you considered an MSW program rather than the clinical psych program? They are often better for people that want to work in multicultural areas, and there's a lot more of them.
18th-Oct-2013 01:16 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately I don't know of any specific programs that have a "multicultural program." I am a psychopathology researcher, and I can say that many of the other professors in my department research some sort of cultural aspect of disorders or interpersonal relationships.

And re: the message below - yes, Clinical Psych PhD programs are insanely competitive. GRE is important, but in my experience (YMMV), it's more of a "gate-keeper" than a heavy weight piece of the application. Stated differently, if you are competitive in other aspects of your application (i.e. research, clinical experience, and mostly importantly FIT) then I don't think a GRE score NEAR a cut-off (again, I come from the old "1200" days) it will likely not preclude you from being considered. Anecdote time: a student in my cohort had a GRE of 1110 and gained admission to my department. HOWEVER she also had a publication from undergrad and was a great match for her advisor.

Also, APA-accredited programs are required to post data re: their admissions (# of apps, average GRE/GPA of accepted applicants, etc). It would likely be helpful to look at this info for specific sites of interests.

Finally, the other poster is correct that if your primary interest is in counseling/therapy exclusively, then yes, considering a Master's levels degree that is licensable in your state is a great alternative. Clinical PhD programs (mine included) do offer excellent clinical training beyond what is generally offered in a master's program, BUT it is first and foremost a research degree (hence the training program model names like clinical scientist, scientist practitioner, etc). If you are not interested in research or passionate about it, it would be a very long and unpleasant 5-6 years.

best of luck!
18th-Oct-2013 08:33 pm (UTC)
I've been loooking a lot lately at admissions data for schools, and have noticed that for some the median GRE scores are in the 155-157 range.... not far off from what I got (that is the stat for my top school with the multicultural psych program as noted above). I'm trying to keep in mind that those are median scores, a.k.a. that some people scored lower than that and got in. But I'm not sure.. I've had a bit of a change of heart and feel like I should maybe try to take them again in a couple of weeks at the last possible minute in the rare chance I can do better (I can scrape up the money, and I'm keeping in mind that last time I took them it was over the summer after not being in school for a few months, wasn't really in 'school mode' mentally and I really didn't study as much as I should have simply because what you said: I was trying to make other parts of my application competitive). I'm not sure if studying now arduously in my spare time and taking it early November will make a big difference, or if scores can even be sent that fast by Dec 1. I'm definitely confident I could do better, higher than 160's better maybe, it's just a matter of whether I can do better with a couple of weeks of hardcore studying.

In terms of MSW programs, I haven't given too much thought to it only because I've had my heart very set on PhD programs. I greatly enjoy research, and plan to eventually have a clinician-type of job while simultaneously doing research. I'm also not opposed to teaching at the college level. I feel like a PhD is ideal for these scenarios, where an MSW really isn't. That could be a naive statement because I truthfully don't know much about the programs- I just know they are not very research-oriented and that definitely is something that I want.

Do you guys have any advice on the personal statement theme I noted above of 'taking initiative' to gain a lot of experience (4 internships, one year) and do a lot of research (3 studies, one year)? I'm not sure if its a little cliché, but I feel like I can back it up. Also not sure if it's something that would make me stand out, either. Thanks for your help! It's great to get advice from people who have experience with these things.
23rd-Oct-2013 08:04 pm (UTC)
If you only have a brief amount of time to prepare for your second round, focus on techniques, not content. Sometimes you can get freebie prep classes on campus that will teach you this stuff. Also, take the practice tests, and make sure to target where you need.
4th-Nov-2013 04:48 am (UTC)
Well, the thing is, everyone takes initiative to do research internships and get experience...that's kind of the point. I wouldn't focus so much on making a theme as I would just telling your story - what kind of experiences you've had that have prepared you for graduate study, why you would want to go to X program and what they can offer your career, and then a bit about future career goals.
18th-Oct-2013 11:03 pm (UTC)
I would definitely retake your GREs because you do have a lot of impressive experience, but personally I applied to (not the best of the best) applied psychology phd programs w what would now be a 1380 GRE score and a similar gpa and still dint get in. I did only apply to two, Brandeis and UNO, but still. I think that I was lacking exactky what you have- clinical and research experience, so its likely that your taking the time and money to get a better score would make you quite competitive. I did, however, get a fully funded ride for my masters in clinical mental health counseling, so maybe try a couple of those as your safety programs?
4th-Nov-2013 04:49 am (UTC)
I doubt that your GRE scores were the reason you weren't admitted, though, as 1380 is way over the general 1200 cut off.
4th-Nov-2013 05:28 am (UTC)
Yeah, it definitely was not my score that was the problem, i lacked research/clinical experience. My point was that even w 2 things going for me (GPA and GRE) missing one thing really hurt my chances, so since shes got the GPA and experience, retaking the GRE could mean the difference between getting in vs not and it seems worth it to do so. Hope that makes better sense.
18th-Oct-2013 11:05 pm (UTC)
I mean I got a 315 but it translates to an old score of 1380. Worded that wrong.
27th-Oct-2013 10:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you everyone for your help! All greatly appreciated. I'm set to take my GRE's again in about two weeks.... sigh. But you have to do what you have to do I suppose. I appreciate all of your inputs.

I guess now I have a little bit of an unrelated question about SoP's and personal statements. Namely, what's the difference? This could be an extremely stupid question, but bear with me. One of my recommendation letter writers has asked me to send her my statement of purpose, but all of my programs ask for personal statements, and one asks for an additional 'statement of goals'. I tried doing a google search on this and didn't really find anything that answered my question- I've basically thus far been following prompts that the programs give and taking it from there. What is my letter writer looking for.. my personal statement? Or something completely different? I don't want to send her something completely unrelated to what she wants.

Thanks again for all of your advice, everyone. :)
4th-Nov-2013 04:50 am (UTC)
The terms are often used interchangeably. Sometimes (but not always), a statement of purpose is more about your professional goals for graduate school and a personal statement is more about your background and personal motivations. But generally speaking, I think the two terms are used interchangeably to refer to "the statement that you write to go along with your grad school applications."

Basically, your letter writer just wants a draft or version of what you are writing to your programs.
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