Preparing for Graduate School

The Basics

Your grades: It goes without saying that you must present a strong academic record in order to be considered seriously for graduate school. Practically every graduate program will expect you to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and many will expect you to have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Necessary Courses: In general, graduate programs expect applicants to have completed substantive coursework in psychology. This includes courses in statistics, research methods, and the experimental areas of the field. You should strongly consider retaking such courses if you do poorly.

Desirable Courses: A history and systems course is considered desirable by many graduate programs (and a requirement for graduation from our undergraduate program). A second statistics course, computer literacy and/or programming courses, and biology/physiology/neuroscience coursework is also considered desirable.

Research Experience: Graduate work in psychology requires conducting research for theses and dissertations. Degrees are not awarded simply for completing coursework. Therefore, one of the best ways to make yourself attractive to graduate programs is to get involved in research as an undergraduate. You should work closely on a research project or projects with one or more members of the faculty. Ideally, this participation should continue for more than one semester. This experience provides evidence to the graduate programs that you know what research is like. It will also provide evidence for you - do you enjoy research enough to spend several years (or the rest of your career) doing it? For more details about getting involved in research at The UofM, click on Opportunities.

Letters of Recommendation: Keep in mind that you will need to obtain at least three informed letters of recommendation. This means that at least three members of the faculty must get to know you better than simply as a face in the classroom. One of the best ways of getting to know faculty is to get involved in their research.

Graduate Record Examination: Virtually all graduate programs require you to submit the scores you received on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Some people will tell you that it is impossible to study for this test. Don't believe them. Buy a current copy of a GRE study guide (such as Barron's, Arco's, etc.) and review it carefully, especially any math sections that you're rusty on. Take the practice tests under real-time conditions. This will familiarize you with the format of the test and help you to pace your time so that you can finish all the questions.

You should take the aptitude portion of the GRE (verbal, quantitative, analytical) as early as the fall term of your junior year. This will allow time for remedial study and retaking the test if you perform poorly the first time. Old scores stay on your records for five years, and schools differ in how they evaluate multiple sets of scores (some average the scores; many look only at the most recent). In general, the verbal and quantitative scores are given more weight than the analytical score.

Take the advanced (psychology) test during the fall of your senior year so that you have the benefit from additional psychology coursework. It is not recommended that you take the aptitude and advanced tests on the same day. You may use your scores on the Psychology Field Test, a graduation requirement for psychology majors at The UofM, as part of your graduate school application.

Don't let low test scores keep you from applying, but you should have something to offset them (such as research experience or a very high GPA). Don't hide low scores from your letter writers; they may be able to help you de-emphasize or explain them in their letters.

Relative Importance of the Various Factors: The three primary components of your application will be your grades, your GRE scores, and letters of recommendation. Different programs and faculty will assign different weights to these factors. Good performance in one may make up for weaker performance in another area.

Here is a guide to assist in preparing for Graduate School.