The Psychology Graduate Applicant's
Curt Burgess, Patrick Conley, & Catherine Decker
University of California, Riverside
Applying to graduate school in psychology can be an intimidating process.
Many obstacles must be overcome, such as applying to a program appropriate
to the specific applicant, getting good GRE scores, submitting a clear
and well-written statement of purpose, and obtaining letters of recommendation,
to name just a few. Much information is available to assist applicants
in these tasks, but finding this information can be problematic even for
experienced internet users. The goal of this project is to create a clearing
house of information on applying to graduate school in psychology, and
to make this knowledge easily accessible on a single website. This website,
called the Psychology Graduate Applicant's Portal, contains targeted links
to other webpages with valuable information, book recommendations on the
application process, polls to improve the site, site-unique advice on
graduate programs, a message board to exchange information and experiences,
and other information relevant to the applications process.
Students applying to a doctoral program face a broad range of tasks in
order to successfully attain admission. The application process itself
involves deciding on a specialty area and then what school to apply to,
arranging for letters of recommendation, authoring a compelling personal
statement, as well as an enormous amount of other application paperwork.
Fortunately, there is a considerable amount of information that is available
that can provide guidance for the student. The American Psychological
Association publishes The Guide to Graduate Programs and a manual on applying
to graduate schools titled "Getting In." There are other books that provide
details on writing a personal statement and evaluations of graduate schools.
Another source of information are the myriad web sites, mostly sponsored
by psychology departments.
Although there is considerable information that can be available to a
student, the student faces three problems in accessing this information.
First, the student needs to know what steps should be taken. Should a
vita be included? Writing samples? Should potential advisors be contacted
directly? Once a student is clear about the steps, the next obstacle is
determining what information sources are available. Should books be consulted?
Do professional associations offer brochures on this process? Finally,
once the sources can be narrowed down, how can they be obtained?
The Psychology Graduate Applicant's Portal (PGAP) provides one solution
to this set of problems. The core of the information resources are links
to either substantive books or links to other web sites with specific
information. The following 12 areas were identified and are represented
on the PGAP.
1. General resources in applying to graduate school
2. Directory of Psychology Department web sites
3. Letters of recommendation
4. Writing the personal statement
5. Writing the vita
6. GREs and academic transcripts
7. Financial aid
8. Making contact with the program you've applied to
9. The interview
10. Once you are accepted
11. What if you do not get in?
12. Psychological associations
Content Editors. A key feature to the design of the PGAP is that
the web pages are not simply a list of the links that can be found on
a topic. The books and links resources have been evaluated by content
editors working on the PGAP so that the most informative and concise sources
are represented on the site. In addition to having students and faculty
involved in the project, we directly solicit ideas from site visitors
for recommendations (Submit a Link page). A future goal is to have users
rate the usefulness of the resources (much like Amazon.com has users rate
book reviews) so that these results can promote the evaluation of what
links we maintain on the Portal.
Message Board. Students applying for graduate admissions face a
heavy task with the process and also a high degree of uncertainty. Another
goal of the Portal is to establish a message board for students to share
information and to provide support for each other. In the past, there
have been two Usenet newsgroups that accomplished this (soc.college.grad,
soc.college.gradinfo). However, in recent years easy access to newsgroup
software has resulted in these newsgroups containing mostly irrelevant
or low quality information. The message board will be in a psychology
focused location and will be moderated thus providing a unique resource
for the student.
Empirical Data Collection. Another goal of the Portal is to acquire
data about student behaviors and concerns relative to the application
process. At a minimum, this data will be useful to the student users by
informing them of central tendencies of various issues involved in the
application process. We hope that this information will be more generally
useful in guiding the development of our conceptualization of how students
view the application process and the behaviors they utilize in accomplishing
their goals. This will be set up in the "Vote in the Poll" page (a demo
poll is present now).
A Developmental Perspective. The initial motivation behind the
PGAP was to provide an informationally dense and focused resource for
students applying to graduate programs in psychology drawing on existing
resources. It quickly became clear that it was difficult to do this in
isolation. A successful graduate applicant has been a successful undergraduate.
Thus, we have the beginnings of the "Doing Well as an Undergraduate" resource
page as well as its counterpart "Succeeding in Graduate School". The forth
information domain is "Life after Graduate School." Collecting and evaluating
content for these other three area will be a priority after we are satisfied
with the Graduate Application material.