Insider Tips

How to Pick and Pursue Grad School Psychology Programs

Post by: Dr. Kristen Willmott

Psychology is one of the most popular majors on the planet and in the chaos of 2020, we suspect even more students will be headed into healthcare-oriented fields. The mind body connection is real; we are all, in some way, conditioned to help and want to learn more about the human psyche. Psychology can be a great way to study society while also learning more about yourself. We often hear from students who are looking into Clinical Psychology graduate degrees, or even just Psychology in general.

When I completed my doctoral studies a long way back, a saint of a professor agreed to sit on my dissertation committee and he headed up a PhD program in Marriage and Family Studies. I remember thinking that I didn’t even know that was a field not to mention a PhD!  Now there are tons of options for graduate degrees in the field of psychology. You have options in:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Clinical neuropsychology
  • School psychology
  • Child psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Marriage and family psychology
  • Behavioral psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Health psychology
  • School psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Psychiatry, and more…

You could obtain a Master of Arts, a Master of Science, a Master’s in Social Work (MSW), a PhD or a PsyD. We tend to hear from students seeking a PhD (more research focused) or a PsyD (a bit more practice focused with some clinical work woven in), and we have some tips and tricks for those looking into graduate school psychology programs.


  • The American Psychology Association (APA) has pushed out a fair amount of articles on the benefits and the rise of teletherapy in the midst of Covid-19. Considering applying for a graduate degree in psychology? A great way to make sure you like the field is to start in therapy. You can do it from home or even from an app on your phone with about 5 minutes advanced notice. Take advantage of the modern advances in your targeted field.
  • Speaking of APA, that’s the main professional association for Psychology –check out some of their videos in your field where top scholars and PhDs present on key topics. Note two videos here on “Reopening Schools in a Pandemic,” and “The Challenge of Telework During Covid-19.”
  • You could attend APA’s annual 2020 conference which was flipped to an on-demand setup online. (That becomes a CV entry.)
  • How about getting a transcript to submit with your applications where you could show your A grades in psychology coursework? Oregon State University’s fall term runs Sept. 23 to mid Dec, and because they’re on the quarter system they have a winter term too. Possible courses you could consider might be: General Psychology, Brain and Behavior, or Personality Psychology.
  • Not quite ready to add 3-4 credits to your fall or winter 2020? Consider these EdX noncredit online course options (We like the UC Berkeley options in particular.)
  • Stanford runs one of the top Psychology graduate programs in the country and they host their own workshops and conferences.
    • Their conference on Triangulating Intelligence: “Melding Neuroscience, Psychology and AI” is Oct. 7th, 9am-3:30pm PT –note the top scholars presenting, and it’s completely virtual (another great CV entry!)


Let’s say you do ALL of the above and you’re ready to move on your PhD program applications in Psychology. Here’s what you’ll prep to submit (for most programs) this fall to submit (around late November) for December deadlines:

  • Transcripts
  • Statement of purpose where you’ll state the 2-3 faculty you’ve already reached out to and conferred with and whom you want to work under.
  • Online application, which could include added supplemental text box prompts
  • Optional diversity essay (for some programs)
  • CV
  • 3 letters of recommendation
  • Test scores, depending on the program: GRE, TOEFL


We’d love to help you navigate your path to top graduate programs in Psychology! I’m here to help with everything from essay guidance to mock interview prep to reaching out to faculty to secure their support at the admissions read table (very needed!) and, of course, refining your final application strategy. As APA confirms, there are over 24 pages of stellar graduate level psychology programs you can pick from in their latest summary  –we can help you whittle that down to programs that match your scholarly, research and professional practice goals.