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How do I make myself the ideal candidate for Developmental and Clinical Psychology PhD programs based off of my current experience?


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I will be applying to Developmental and Clinical Psychology PhD programs in the upcomming fall 2023 semester. I'm currently a junior working towards a BS degree in Psychology. I have so much passion for this field, particularly in research and practice. I'm planning on applying to the applied Developmental Psychopathology PhD programs, Developmental PhD programs (in the marriage and family therapy masters track), and Clinical Psychology PhD programs. I originally got into this field because my own community is highly underrepresented despite our ongoing mental health crises. I'm a transfer student from Community College and due to a loss in my family, I had to take time off school and missed a few exams for one of my courses. This caused me to earn a D in the class and brought my gpa down to a 3.14. I'm currently retaking the class and once that's completed, my gpa should be within the 3.7-3.8 range. I'm not planning on completing the GRE, as the programs I'm applying to mentioned they aren't requiring, nor considering these scores in the application process. I have been actively involved as a research assistant in two different labs and am currently in the process of completing my first poster (a project proposal based on a study I plan to conduct with my partner) on parents perceptions of digital dating abuse. I will be assisting my mentor with the publication that results from our findings (where I will be listed as one of the authors). I also started a student-led club at my institution named the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Coalition, which is by far my most treasured accomplishment in my academic journey. The club aims to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within the faculty, student population, research, and curriculum within the psychology department. In regard to community involvement and clinical experience, before my transfer to university I spent nearly a year working with children diagnosed with Autism as an ABA therapist, I currently volunteer as a crisis text-line counselor, and have recently started volunteering with an LGBTQ organization focused on providing mentorship to LGBTQ teens in underprivileged areas. I have three faculty members in mind for my letters of recommendation (two of which are from the PI's within my research labs). During the summer, I will also be completing another poster (a data-analysis poster) that will explore the association between early-life stress and chronic pain in children. Is there anything else I can do now to assist in making myself an ideal applicant for these programs?

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Those are three very different programs, so I would suggest really narrowing down what your long term goals and research interests are. If your heart is set on getting a license and being able to work with clients/patients, than the Developmental program won't be what you need. However, if you are strictly interested in research and academia, than the Developmental program may work.  So really consider what it is you want to do, in the long term.

For a Developmental program, you may already be a good match experience-wise, as long as your LORs and personal statements are strong and convincing.  Clinical programs on the other hand are notoriously competitive, and in many programs first-years are coming in with multiple pubs and presentations after spending post-bacc time in a lab or clinic. 

To make yourself a top-quality candidate, you are going to need to write personal statements for each app that can clearly state why you are an excellent research fit to the prospective PI/lab, what your long term goals are, and how your experiences have prepared you. This is going to look different for each one, so I would suggest practice-writing those statements now. It may help you clarify for yourself what your research interests and goals are, and then you will better know where to apply.

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