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College freshman wanting a general idea of what the heck I need to do!


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I'm currently a freshman at Vanderbilt University. My GPA is about a 3.65 (but on an upward trend; my father, aunt, and best friend from home all passed away this year and I had some health issues that kept my grades below where they might have been ideally). My major is child development, and I want to go on to a PhD in clinical psych. Ultimately, I'd like to be a practicing psychologist and work with eating disorder patients. I'm involved in several extracurriculars (sorority, Hillel, and an a cappella group), and next year, I am going to try and start a support group on campus through ANAD and I will be working in an infant research lab.

I would like to be done with my PhD in five years (no more than six with internship). I want to have kids and get my life on the road! tongue.gif I have a couple of questions.

1. Which (if any) clinical psych programs have a strong eating disorders focus? I'm looking at UNC, Duke, UF, U of Miami, UVA, FSU, Vanderbilt, WUSTL, Emory, LSU, Penn State, and IU. Obviously, there will some changes in my grad school choices, but these are my top choices right now.

2. If I maintain between a 3.65 and 3.75 GPA, are any of these schools automatic "not a shot in hell" schools? Would I have to compensate for my GPA somehow, or is it at an okay level? Vanderbilt is known for grade deflation among top private schools.

3. What other things should I get involved in to enhance my application?

4. My second major (or possible minor) is Russian. I will be living in the international dorm for the next few years, and should be pretty much fluent by the time college is out. Will this help or hurt me?

5. I am from a geographic minority state in the Northwest (think Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Dakotas). Will this help at all?

Thanks so much! I really appreciate the help. smile.gif

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Frankly, it's too early for you to be worrying this much about getting into grad school. It doesn't matter what your GPA is right now because it will only make up 1/4 of your overall GPA, and it's the year of classes admissions people will care about the least. It's not even a low GPA anyways, so don't waste your time and peace of mind worrying about it. Also, don't bother looking too hard for specific programs now. It's obviously good to be interested in your major and to look out for future opportunities, but by the time you actually get around to applying for grad school your interests are likely to have changed significantly (not to mention the possibility that faculty will have moved around at your prospective universities). Working on a language is great and cannot possibly "hurt" your chances of future acceptance. But things like geographical background and extra-curriculars are completely irrelevant and only help with getting into college, not grad school. My advice is just to keep on doing well and take whatever opportunities come your way, like internships or related jobs/volunteer positions. Work on building up your CV, but don't limit yourself to only going to grad school or only studying one specific sub-field. Just keep being a good student, enjoy your student life a little, and worry about your future career in a couple years. There's a fine line between giving yourself a head start and burning out.

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I like Squawker's advice. Let me add: make sure to take (at least) a couple of classes that allow you to indulge interests beyond your professional goals. It will help enhance your application by making you more well-rounded and it will help enhance your life by making you more well-rounded.

Best of luck.

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I'm currently a freshman at Vanderbilt University. My GPA is about a 3.65 (but on an upward trend; my father, aunt, and best friend from home all passed away this year and I had some health issues that kept my grades below where they might have been ideally). My major is child development, and I want to go on to a PhD in clinical psych. Ultimately, I'd like to be a practicing psychologist and work with eating disorder patients. I'm involved in several extracurriculars (sorority, Hillel, and an a cappella group), and next year, I am going to try and start a support group on campus through ANAD and I will be working in an infant research lab.

I would like to be done with my PhD in five years (no more than six with internship). I want to have kids and get my life on the road! tongue.gif I have a couple of questions.

1. Which (if any) clinical psych programs have a strong eating disorders focus? I'm looking at UNC, Duke, UF, U of Miami, UVA, FSU, Vanderbilt, WUSTL, Emory, LSU, Penn State, and IU. Obviously, there will some changes in my grad school choices, but these are my top choices right now.

2. If I maintain between a 3.65 and 3.75 GPA, are any of these schools automatic "not a shot in hell" schools? Would I have to compensate for my GPA somehow, or is it at an okay level? Vanderbilt is known for grade deflation among top private schools.

3. What other things should I get involved in to enhance my application?

4. My second major (or possible minor) is Russian. I will be living in the international dorm for the next few years, and should be pretty much fluent by the time college is out. Will this help or hurt me?

5. I am from a geographic minority state in the Northwest (think Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Dakotas). Will this help at all?

Thanks so much! I really appreciate the help. smile.gif

You know what I would do if I had the chance to do it over again. I'd would get one of those (several in fact) "build your college vocabulary" books and the memorize about 3-5 a day, with regular intervals of review of the ones that you studied. If I did that, by the time I finished, I would have been ready for the GRE. I'd also take all of the maths until advanced algebra while I was an undergraduate. And, don't forget to read read read (read something you're interested in, and stuff you like, and steadily get harder and harder material). Also, I didn't do this in undergraduate, I'd pick two or three professors whose classes you really liked, and I'd focus on really building a great relationship with them. You get two things out of this: 1, you get a really good friend who can really help you go places, and 2) you get really really good recommendations, like ones they would never give to anyone else.

Good luck.

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I agree with the above - and, in addition, consider other career fields and choices and don't rule anything out. I think it's wonderful to begin preparing for the PhD this early in the game, but it's also a good idea to consider other paths to what you want to do and other things you may be interested in. For example, if you want to counsel people with eating disorders, there are many routes besides getting a PhD in clinical psychology; for example, you could become a licensed clinical social worker or perhaps a school psychologist. Don't narrow yourself to one field so early, and don't be so single-minded in your pursuit. I went straight from undergrad to a PhD program and while I can't say I regret it at all, sometimes I wish I had spent more time exploring and even spent 2-3 years working first to get a better grasp on life. I think I may have found some opportunities other than doctoral work that would've gotten me where I want to go.

In addition to that, don't focus on time to completion. Everyone wants to get done in 5 years or less, but life happens. I think you should hope and plan for the best but accept the possibility that if you actually do go onto to doctoral work, it may take you more time than you expect. Nevertheless, it IS good to look for universities that have decent time to completion rates (I think 5-6 years is reasonable to expect).

One thing you CAN do this early, however, is start exploring summer options. Doing research experiences in the summers of your undergrad career will boost your application, and it's good to start thinking about them earlier rather than later. It's too late to apply for this summer, but that's okay; consider beginning to research summer opportunities in the early to mid-fall of next year because some deadlines for summer programs happen as early as November, although the majority of them are probably sometime between January and March. The National Science Foundation sponsors a lot, so you can start on their website, or you can search "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" or "REU" or "summer undergraduate research", things like that.

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I agree with most of the above advice except the bit that it's too early to start thinking about grad school. While it's definitely to early to narrow your vision and only consider *one* possible future (explore your options! really! no matter how sure you are!), it's not too early to be thinking about the general future. Most grad programs will of course want a good gpa, but 3.65 isn't prohibitive, especially from a good school....so just keep up the good work in your classes, and improve if you can without killing yourself. The important things for you to focus on are things others have mentioned....summer programs/internships/REUs, research, and building relationships with professors. These are all *very* important.

Also, someone mentioned that extracurriculars won't help you get into grad school. This isn't true. While admissions committees may not care much about extracurriculars, fellowship committees do. And not only do you want fellowships to help you pay for school and for general resume-building, they can also help you get in (schools like funded students better than unfunded ones, if they're allowed to).

Sounds like you're already on a good path. Keep it up :)

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  • 2 months later...

Wow, you sound just like me in my freshman year! So I'm going to give you the same advice I would give younger me: STOP WORRYING. At this stage, you don't need to think about programs that will fit your specific interests, especially as those interests are bound to change. (I entered college assuming I wanted a PhD in early American history, and now I'm doing a PhD in 17th- and 18th-century British lit.) The only things you should be worrying about are maintaining a high GPA, making connections with professors, and participating in a few relevant extracurriculars (though grad schools care about these far less than colleges do).

I can't see how knowing a foreign language will do anything but help your application. Your home state, on the other hand, is irrelevant. Grad schools have too many important criteria to consider (GRE, GPA, writing sample...) to care about where their applicants happened to be born.<br style="text-shadow: none;">

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The advice I would like to echo is to get to know your professors.

More than any other part of your application, your letters of recommendation can either make or break your application. They need to be good, but they also need to be from professors who have had the time to really get to know you.

Keep up the research, as well. More and more graduate schools are moving towards an even heavier "prior research experience" bias, at least in the sciences.

I would say worrying about studying for the GRE now (or really ever) isn't the best use of your time. A few weeks of review before the test should really be all you need to get a decent score.

Keep your GPA as high as possible, but don't work it at the expense of personal relationships with your professors and research experience.

Vandy's a good school, recommendations from there should get you quite far.

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It's not always too early to start thinking about grad school after your first year. In fact, it can give you an advantage especially if you know what to do. This was my case. I knew as a freshman that I wanted to go to grad school and so everything I have done in my last 3 years has been geared toward that goal. What I did:

1) Know that you will need 3 letters of recommendation. These can be crucial in the admissions process. The better you know a professor and vice versa, the better your letter of recommendation will be. Develop relationships with your professors. Is there a very prominent faculty member in your field at your school? Go to office hours regularly (not every office hour but 1 or 2x/month and don't stay too long). Let these professors know your long-term goals. Ask them for advice on how to prepare and on which graduate programs might be a good fit for you. Basically, you want to cultivate good relationships with at least 3 professors so you know you will have 3 very good LoRs.

2) Get as much research/lab experience as possible as an undergrad. I let my "mentors" know that I was available to do research/grunt work for them. This led to two paid positions for the past two summers doing research for my mentor's next book. It also shows them that you are interested in the field beyond just classwork, which will also benefit you in your LoRs.

3) Read widely in your field to pinpoint those professors at prospective programs whose writing/research interests you most. By being up-to-date on your field's literature, you again show your commitment beyond the classroom and also can have intelligent discussions about current trends in the field with your professors. This again will benefit you in your LoRs.

4) As you get to be a junior or senior, take an independent study or even a graduate level course. Even better, write an honors thesis or the equivalent. Not only does it show you are self-motivated and can work on your own, but these are great opportunities to help you develop a closer relationship with the professor. It also gives you the writing sample you'll need to submit with your graduate school applications.

These are just a few ideas, but it's never too early to start planning for graduate school. Too many people wake up in the summer before their senior year and think, "I'll go to graduate school." But they either have low GPAs, can't get a decent LoR because they haven't developed any relationships with professors, or they have done nothing beyond classwork for 3 years and so they have a very bare CV. Anyway, these are just a few of the things I did throughout my sophomore and junior years and now as I prepare to apply this fall, I pretty much have everything in place and the only thing left to scramble over is the GRE.

Edited by natsteel
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