Are you considering graduate school?

Many areas of Psychology do not allow you to practice your skills professionally without further education beyond your undergraduate degree. For these areas, graduate school is required. Think first about the kind of career you want, then research the type of degree that will help you achieve your goals. These may be doctoral level degrees or master’s level degrees or certificate programs. They may be in psychology departments, or other areas such as education departments.

Find a degree that works for you

  • Take Careers in Psychology (PSY 311) early in your undergraduate career
  • Think broadly about your career goals and how to get there. What kind of career do you want? What do you want to be doing on a day-to-day basis? You may want to pursue a PhD, but you may be just as happy with a MA degree
  • Find out what different careers actually entail. For example, there is a huge difference between a School Psychologist, Educational Psychologist, and a School Counselor. Educate yourself before you get too far into the process
  • Talk to people who have the career you would want and find out what degrees they have
  • Be realistic. If you have a GPA of 2.80, you are not likely to get into a PhD program in Clinical Psychology. Look for other options to work towards your career goals

Find a school

  • The department office (231 Phelps Hall) has several books on finding graduate programs that students can check out
  • Be wary when searching for schools. Avoid websites that are advertisements for specific schools. Instead, look for sites run by professional organizations

Educate yourself 

  • Ask schools about their placement of graduates, what kinds of jobs a graduate gets, etc.  
  • If you are looking at a career that requires certification or licensure, make sure the school can provide the proper qualifications
  • Check out requirements in the states you hope to live and  make sure that any qualification you obtain will transfer

Preparing to Apply

Graduate schools will most likely have a minimum GPA that is required to enter their program.  This can vary greatly depending on the program you wish to enter.  MA programs often have lower GPA requirements than Doctoral programs.  Also look at the average GPA of successful applicants in the programs.  Schools may have a low minimal (3.0) but high average (3.75).  This suggests that the students they actually accept have much higher GPAs than the minimum. 

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is the graduate school equivalent to the ACT or the SAT. The GRE is split into two tests: the General and the Subject Specific (Psychology) test. Check the schools you wish to apply to and see what they require.

The General test is split up in to three sections: Analytical Writing, Verbal, and Quantitative.  It is important to familiarize yourself with all three areas before attempting to take this test. Please see the GRE page for further help with this.  DO NOT take this test without practicing. Most schools set cutoff scores that you must get if you wish to attend their school.  

You need to register for the test before you take it. Various dates are available and the test can be taken in La Crosse and Rochester.

You will likely want to take the test in early Fall of your senior year. You may also consider giving yourself extra time in case you want to retake it. CAUTION: there are pros and cons to retaking the test. Educate yourself and only retake the test if you are fairly certain you can substantially raise your scores.


You will need letters of recommendation from faculty members, preferably in the Psychology department.  Think about which faculty members know your abilities the best.  Talk to them in person and ask if they would be willing to write a letter for you.  Also, ask them what information they would like (e.g., transcripts, resume) and how they want to proceed.  Make sure you are clear about which programs you plan to apply to, when the deadlines are, and whether it is a paper or online recommendation.

Having research experience can be vital for a successful application in many areas and will always give you a leg up. Check out the Research Page for information on getting involved in work or internship experiences.  The importance of work or internships experience can vary greatly depending on the type of program you are applying for. Relevant experience will help you explore whether you are interested in a particular field and benefit you in the grad school application process.

Approximate Timeline for Graduate School

Junior Year

  • Review books on career choices for Psychologists (the department library has several titles available)
  • Explore and educate yourself about types of degrees and careers
  • Start a list of possible schools
  • Explore research and internship opportunities

Summer Before Senior Year

  • Use this time to further research your schools of choice
  • Take practice GREs and study for the GRE
  • Apply to take the GRE in the fall

Early Senior Year

  • Refine your final list of schools
  • Ask faculty members for letters of recommendation
  • Work on your Statement of Purpose
  • Send off all materials before their deadlines