Tips for Applying to Graduate Programs

By Brenda Straka

As I am just starting my graduate student career, the confusing, and often times overwhelming, journey of the application process is still fresh in my memory. While this is not a comprehensive list of ways to get into your dream program, these are a few tips for undergraduates or people considering pursing graduate work to help get you along the way.

1.     Solidify your research interests: If you are anything like me, this was a lot easier said than done. There is so much interesting work being done in social-personality psychology, and it can be daunting to try to narrow down what you want to focus on. My advice would be to narrow down your interests by crossing off topics that you know do not interest you very much. Read papers relating to the research you are considering pursuing. A tip someone once told me: If you find yourself getting bored or falling asleep while reading a paper on certain topic, that’s a good sign that you’re not that interested in that topic.

2. Do your research: If you’re planning to pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology, you already know that you’re going to be doing a lot of research. But before you can start on that research, you need to know who in the field is doing the work that you want to be doing! Unlike your undergraduate career, you want to focus on the principle investigator and their lab instead of the university or institution. If you’ve been reading the literature in the area you want to focus on, start by researching the authors of those papers and the other work that they do, as well as other collaborators they have worked with.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: It is a big decision to pursue a graduate degree in psychology, and you’re probably going to feel confused and/or overwhelmed at some point of the application process. Ask for advice from your mentors and advisors, talk to current graduate students (they know what it is like!), look at online forums, and use all the resources you have available to help you through this process. Reach out to the principle investigators that you are interested in working with and let them know that you are interested or want to know more about their work.

We welcome your feedback and ideas, if you have tips you would like to add feel free to email me at Brenda.straka@duke.edu