Grad School Part 2: Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want

In a previous post I talked about how I was beginning to consider my future after I graduate from LMU. I talked about how I would love to apply my love for psychology and science by going to graduate school for cognitive psychology. While over winter break, I decided that pursuing my PhD was going to be the ultimate goal even if it was going to be very challenging to do so. In order to give myself the best chance to get into a program of my choice, I knew I would need to start considering schools now. I needed to have a vague idea as to what kind of school I’d want to attend, where in the country I’d like to live in, and other general aspects I would need to take into consideration. I made a list of non-negotiable and negotiable aspects of potential grad schools. If they do not meet the non-negotiable terms, then I no longer considered them. If I really loved a school and there was something relatively small that I could live without, then I would still consider the school. My list has grown, shrunk, and multiplied many times between now and a month ago!

This is how I feel when I find a school I would love to attend!

This is how I feel when I find a school I would love to attend!

Here are some of the aspects I considered in my search for a grad school:

What I Want

First and foremost, they obviously need to have a well-respected and accredited psychology program. While I’ve yet to come across a school that does not meet this criterion, I felt it necessary to add! Second, they must have a psychology program that focuses on an area of psychology I want to emphasize my research and studies in: cognitive or experimental. Cognitive is my first immediate choice, but I’ve been looking into experimental psychology graduate programs and they seem just as interesting! I would be very happy with either concentration.

As you can see, I’m not incredibly picky on my non-negotiable terms when it comes to finding a school. I know it is incredibly hard to get accepted into one, so I don’t want to limit myself too much before I even get started applying. I wouldn’t mind a graduate school in middle or east Tennessee since I am relatively familiar with those areas. However, I would absolutely love to go to school out in California- I’m from there and have always wanted to go back! I know that location isn’t a huge deal breaker for me, so I would probably be happy just about anywhere.

Now that I have discussed what I want from a graduate school, it’s time to discuss what grad schools want from me.

What They Want

Graduate schools in general have a set of requirements they wish for their students to have before they consider applying. This could mean classes they want you to have taken as an undergraduate student, test scores that pertain to your graduate school of choice, and various other requirements. Generally, for a cognitive psychology PhD program, they like to see that you have taken a good amount of upper level psychology classes including statistics, abnormal psychology, research methods, and some others. While each program is different from one another even within the same field of study, each program will have different required and suggested classes. Be sure to look those up while you are still early in your undergraduate or master’s coursework to ensure you have enough time to schedule those classes in. You don’t want to find a dream school you love and end up not qualifying for the program because you forgot to take a class.

It's time to get down to business!

It’s time to get down to business!

A second important aspect of applying to graduate school are any tests you must take: for medical school, the MCAT is a necessity. For law school, you will need to take the LSAT. If you are from a foreign country or you have not studied at a predominately English-speaking university for the past few years, taking the TOEFL may be required. For me personally, I will only need to worry about taking the GRE, the Graduate Record Examination. The GRE tests your general knowledge and is usually noted as being similar to the ACT. There are three sections on the GRE:

  • Verbal reasoning- measures your ability to work with written material and reading ability
  • Quantitative reasoning- measures your basic math and problem solving ability
  • Analytical writing- measures your writing ability

I plan to have a separate post in this series specifically talking about the GRE and how I plan to study for it. I would like to take it over this upcoming summer so I am going to start preparing now. You can never prepare too much! l! If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, feel free to email me or leave a comment on my blog. If you want to see more posts like this one, subscribe to my blog to receive a new post every other Thursday!

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