Graduate School FAQs

I am a psychology major. What courses should I take if I want to go to graduate school?

Most graduate programs want students who have performed well in courses, especially those in statistics and research methods. Those two courses are required for admission by almost every program in the United States and Canada. In addition, some programs require students to have several upper-division courses such as: Cognitive Psychology, Human Learning and Memory, Physiological (or Behavioral Neuropsychology), Developmental, Social, Abnormal, and Assessment. Very competitive counseling and clinical programs want students to have advanced mathematics (Calculus) and science courses. Research programs like to see completion of advanced statistics (Data Analysis) and research courses.

As soon as you know that you want to go to graduate school in psychology, begin reading over materials from graduate schools. Graduate school programs will identify particular courses they want before you start graduate school. Plan to read thoughtfully and critically about graduate programs and, seek faculty advice about your choices. Get experience within your undergraduate work that will help you plan and prepare for graduate school.

Graduate schools also want students who have had research! Research opportunities are available for students who enroll in Psychology 194. Usually grad schools will want to see one year of research for admission. Contact individual faculty or check the postings on the bulletin board near the Psychology Office (273 Social Sciences 2) for Psych 194 opportunities.

Lastly, utilize workshops and events hosted in the department and at the Career Center for assistance with this endeavor.

How do I go about getting information on graduate schools in psychology?

Talk with faculty and graduate students as well as staff in the campus Career Center. Attend quarterly workshops that our department sponsors. The web sites listed below are also a good starting point to gather information:

American Psychological Association

Council on Social Work Education

Psychology Graduate Applicant's Portal

Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Social Psychology Graduate School

UCSC Career Center

What is the graduate record exam? When and where do I take it?

The General Test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test, offered in a multiple-choice format. Most advanced degrees require some sort of standardized test. The GRE has two different tests. The General exam covers verbal, mathematical, and analytical ability, and is required for most schools. The General exam is a computer-based test, offered several times per week at specific test centers throughout the U.S. The Subject exam in Psychology requires you to have good understanding of experimental and social psychology. The subject exams are offered in November, December, and April. The GRE is one of the most important parts of your application. The GRE is available world-wide. Students usually take it during fall quarter of their senior year. The GRE application may be downloaded from the GRE web site.

How do I get letters of recommendation for graduate school admission?

Most schools attach a lot of importance to letters of recommendation. Generally, you will need 3 confidential letters, and they should be from faculty who know you well. This is especially important for competitive programs. You will want to approach faculty very early, well before you apply, and ask them if they would be willing to write strong letters of recommendation for you. These faculty should know you from courses and research. Faculty letters generally state how well you performed in class, performance in research, and will assess your ability to succeed in graduate school.

I am interested in clinical or counseling psychology. What is the difference between them? What is the difference between a Ph.D. and a Psychology doctorate, Psy.D?

Clinical applies psychological concepts to help people with serious mental health illness. Counseling applies psychological concepts to help people with relationship and transitional issues. Ph.D. programs require 4-6 years of full-time study, and include a lot of research and training in the science of psychology. The Psy.D. requires 4-5 years of full-time study, and rigorous education as a researcher along with training as a clinician. There is a helpful guide on the Career Resources page with more information on Graduate School paths for Clinical Psychology.

What can I do while at UCSC to help me decide which career path is a fit for me, and help make myself a great candidate for graduate school?

If you have identified graduate programs you are interested in, you may want to reach out to that Department and/or Admissions to ask what they are looking for in a strong candidate for that program. Here is common advice we provide students:

  • Seek mentors! Connect with faculty and graduate students and ask their advice. You can access their contact information, webpages, and office hours on our website here.
  • Take advantage of co-curricular and volunteer opportunities. We regularly post these opportunities as they are shared with our Department on the UCSC Psychology Facebook page, so check there often!
  • Attend events and workshops sponsored by the Psychology Department. You can find information on any upcoming opportunities and resources from past workshops on the Events and Workshops webpage.
  • Check out the resources for Educational Opportunities on our website, including information on Research Labs, Field Study, Psi Chi, Study Abroad, UCDC, and Scholarship/Award opportunities.

See Also