A guide to applying for a PhD in Clinical Psychology
Below is a guide to the application process for Clinical Psychology PhD programs. I would like to mention that I am not a professional or an advisor that has been trained to deliver this information - this is simply what I wish I had known when I started applying. I am simply a student that will be entering a PhD program for Clinical Psychology this Fall after graduating from my undergrad this past May. I have had several younger undergraduate students ask for advice on applying as seniors, and thought some of the things I learned along my journey would be helpful. I hope they are, and best of luck to anyone reading this that is currently going through the process. It's a long one, but one I believe to be worth it :)
*I did also apply to masters programs, but did not focus on them during my application therefore will not be covering any information on exclusively masters programs here. Sorry!
I separately created a brief timeline of when (I think) certain things should be occurring to ensure success during your application cycle, that timeline is available here:
*** +Graduate School Application Timeline ***
1. Finding your list
The most overwhelming part of the application season for me was simply figuring out where the hell to start. There are some resources that will help make this part of your process easier, the most significant being the I cannot sufficiently emphasize how helpful this book is, it contains the following helpful components:
- list of all clinical/counseling masters & PhD programs in the US & Canada (APA accredited & not)
- separation of programs by research concentrations, and stats for each program including:
- publications in research area in the last year
- number of faculty within a particular research area
- where the program lies on the research/practice emphasis scale (you may have heard of the , which equally emphasizes scientist and practitioner experience)
- current grants that the school has for particular research area
- average GPA/GRE scores when reported
- worksheets for you to match your interests, rankings, and academic fit with psychology programs
While this book is fairly comprehensive, I did find that there were some newer programs (that I ended up interviewing with!) that were not included in the listings of the Insider's Guide. While it's still the best place to start (in my opinion), here are some steps to ensure you cover every possible program beyond the Insider's Guide programs.
- Blogs & Professional Guides
A simple Google search will go a long way. There are several student-authored, professional-authored, and association-authored manuals/guides to the Clinical Psychology application process. A few popular ones that I used are listed below, but take some time to explore your own interests and see what's out there. If your interests are streamlined, for example, you can look for guides tailoring to your interests. When I was considering going into forensic work, I looked for any guides out there for potential clinical forensic psychology applicants. Several doctoral students understand the pressure that comes with applying to a program and have created resources for those struggling through the process. Here are some that were useful to me:
- Professional Websites/CVs
Another great place to look is faculty and professional webpages. Most psychology professionals will have websites where they display their work and education. If you know a professional that more or less has the career you would like in a decade or two, check out where they went to school, which experiences they had and even feel free to contact them to ask how they got to where they are! In my experience, professionals have been more than willing to help out a potential applicant find their way through the process. During my application process, I knew several distinguished academics that I saw as role models and referenced their CV's for the programs they once attended.
The Drawing Board
At this point in your search, you have exhausted all sources of psychology PhD programs you can possibly find. You may have scattered post-it notes, word documents, Insider's Guide worksheets, etc. of schools you're interested in and now's the time to clean that all up. At this point in my school search, I made a literal drawing board on a white board in my bedroom. Some of you may not need of this. In fact, most of you may not need this... but I needed this. If you can do this on regular paper or a computer application, kudos to you. On this board, I made columns signifying a) Clinical PhD programs, b) Counseling PhD programs, and c) Masters programs. I applied to all three of these types of programs, but some of these may not be applicable to you.
Next, I made an index card for every single school I was interested in. Yes, this was tedious but looking back, it made the rest of the process significantly easier. Again, this can be altered to whatever platform you may be using or you can ditch this method entirely, up to you. Some factors that are important to look at, however, are ones that I wrote out on each program's index card. These included:
- School Name
- School location
- Average GPA
- Average GRE Score (Reg & Subject, if relevant)
- Research Interests available at program
- Ranking on Scientist-Practitioner Scale (1-7)
- Application Deadline (Generally, Dec 1st but some do vary)
Following this, I went on to look up each (this will take you several hours, do not do it in one day) individual program's website. The easiest way to do this is to google "clinical psychology phd program __________ university." There is generally a website devoted to each Clinical Psychology program outlining all the details you may need. From these websites, there is several important information to consider that I ensured every program I put on my list had (you may not care about some of these things, or have additional important factors, given your priorities):
- If the program is funded
- "Student outcomes" sheet
- every single school has one of these sheets describing student matriculation, placement in programs, stipends, tuition fees, etc. I suggest saving these pdfs for the programs you're considering as you'll want to reference this information later.
- If the program is APA accredited
- If the program has a high APA internship rate (generally found on worksheet)
*This may be the place in your process where you want to start organizing documents/PDFs of all the various schools you'll look at. There are several ways to do this. I personally made on folder for Graduate Schools and inside that folder, I made seperate folders for each institution I was looking at to keep my information organized.