Tips on Applying
Get Research Experience
Competitive doctoral programs in psychology heavily weigh previous research experience in their admissions decisions. So if you are considering grad school, join a lab as a research assistant. See if you are eligible to participate in your department’s honors thesis or independent research program. The best kind of research experience involves formulating a research question and conducting a project to answer it. If you have already graduated, look for a staff position as a research assistant or volunteer in a lab. If you are in a research laboratory, look for opportunities to participate in a poster presentation or research paper.
When you have identified programs that interest you, browse through the faculty profiles and identify faculty whose work overlaps with your own interests. Read a few of their recent articles to get a better idea of their work.
Email faculty whose work interests you. Keep it short, say a bit about yourself, and ask if they will be accepting students this year. One thing to avoid: Don’t ask faculty members to describe their research or current projects. This might suggest you are not doing your own homework. Finally, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get an email response. Professors routinely get hundreds of emails a week.
Above all, your personal statement should convey what you’ve gained from your education and research experiences. Do not simply describe your research activities. Explain why you conducted this research and how it has been valuable. What lessons did you learn and how do these shape your current interests? Then show how your interests align with the work of specific faculty members. Make your research interests clear, but don’t be so narrowly focused that you come off as inflexible. The best way to make your statement better is to show it to your advisors to get feedback– you want the criticism to come from your mentors, not admissions committees.
Letters of Recommendation
Ask faculty or mentors who know you well if they would be able to write you a good letter of recommendation. Provide them with all materials that will help make your letter strong, including your transcript(s), your personal statement, curriculum vitae (academic resume), writing samples, etc. Don’t wait until the last minute. Your letter writers are busy people and chances are they have many other letters to write this fall.
Take the GRE
Although the GRE may not be a terrific measure of a person’s potential to succeed in a graduate program, the reality is that many programs seriously consider these scores in admissions decisions. So please practice intensively for the GRE’s, take a prep course if you can afford it. If you are not happy with your scores, take them again. At UCLA, admissions committees will see all your scores, but only the most recent one is taken into consideration.
If you have questions about Diversity Science at UCLA, contact graduate admissions officer Steve Herbert. Put Diversity Science in the subject line and Steve will forward your email to a faculty member who can answer your question.
If you are looking for more information at grad school in psychology, here are a few publications from the American Psychological Association (APA) that may help: