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Apply this cycle or wait another year?

Rose Tyler

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Long story short: I’m trying to decide if it would be worth the time and money to apply this application cycle or if I should just wait until next year. Any advice would be appreciated.


I applied last fall, shut out across the board for doctoral programs, interviews with two terminal masters but no dice. I had three semesters research experience that was only tangentially related to my actual interests, a solid GPA, and low GRE scores. I was also concerned about my LORs. The only letter I wasn’t worried about was the one from my lab head, adviser, and favorite professor (I took multiple classes from him, including statistics). My other two letters were from professors that I’d had a couple classes with each but not a ton of contact.


I’ve graduated since the last application cycle, adding another semester of research experience (which included running a study for a graduate student at a job away from campus), tutoring students in psychology courses, and rounding out my curriculum.


My intention was to spend this summer volunteering, both in research labs and outside organizations. My hope was to clarify my interests, gain research experience, and maybe find a letter-writer or two. Through a series of unfortunate (and seemingly never-ending) difficulties, I wasn’t able to do any of that. I’m also in a place financially where I can’t justify dropping that much money on applications if I don’t have a snowball’s chance on the sun. Especially because I still have to retake the GRE. On the other hand, I’d prefer to start grad school sooner rather than later, if I can.



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What are your GRE scores? It may be more cost effective to improve those if they are especially low. 


EDIT: nevermind, sorry for not reading down to the bottom of your post to see that you plan on retaking the GRE.


I still maintain though that this is an important consideration before you start throwing money down on application fees.


Your GRE x GPA combination matter much more than they should in this hyper-competitive environment. Good grades can't cushion the GRE as well as they could in the past. 


Is there a professor who sits on admissions at your school who would be willing to talk to you about this? I don't personally know much about how clinical works, though social/personality also has very low admit rates. It may be better to opt for a terminal master's. I considered it too before I was lucky enough to get my acceptance.


While it seems like a huge risk financially to put down thousands for the master's, that may be what is necessary. It doesn't make anyone a failure to go that route either. Many of my POIs, even the young ones, had to get the terminal master's degree.


Would PsyD be an option for you?

Edited by TXInstrument11
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My GRE scores were V158/Q150. I'm really hoping to bring 160 for both the second time around.


Sadly, my school was cognitive and neuroscience oriented. There aren't any clinical faculty that I know and trust enough to go to for advice.


I'm considering applying for terminal master's again, but because of the cost I don't think I'd want to do that exclusively (although I would look for at least partial funding). Plus I've seen a few doctoral programs that begin with a master's say that you might have to repeat that coursework/thesis if they don't accept those credits.


Financially, I don't think a PsyD would be possible and the research component of a PhD appeals to me.


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When I have talked to people on the faculty side, one of the major problems students have is that their interests are too broad. To them it seems like students that haven't thought out what they want to do are naive and not prepared for life as a graduate student. On the extreme end of this, I know researchers (especially in psychology research) who will not take on students who do not already have a working knowledge of the methods of inquiry (eg running fMRI studies) to the data analysis and have a handful of publications. When I've talked to these professors, their reasoning is that they are trying to get tenure or something like that and cannot afford to take on the risk of a graduate student that doesn't know what they're getting into. 


Since psychology especially has become ridiculously competitive, these trends are becoming more common. It is not impossible to get into a program that will let you find your place after admission, but they are unusual.


So... what to do with this... Talk to someone who you would be interested in working with, ask them what they think makes a competitive graduate student, or what they look for. Ask a few previous professors, etc.


I think even if all of your statistics are perfect you have wonderful letters etc. if your SOP does not reflect that you know what you are getting into and that you can identify and pick up the skill set you will need, your whole application will flop hard. Some areas are more forgiving, but talk to someone who knows the field, OR look at some of the profiles of recent admits. I have emailed a few of them and spoken to them, they've shared their CV's. So I know where I stand and how risky it is for me to apply now.


You may want to do the same. This forum has a results search button at the top of the page. Click on it, and search for people in your field and at the programs that you have interest in... For me, that got me in contact with a person who had just been admitted to the #1 lab I want to be in. We chatted and I got to see what sort of qualifications this PI values.  


I hope that is helpful. Were I in your shoes (and I have been) I would take the time to commit to growing skills. You may have to make a sacrifice or get a master's in a less competitive program, take out some loans... unfortunately, I blew 3 years before I finally figured out what was keeping me from getting into programs.

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Hi Rose, you're doing things right. GREs can be improved through study/re-take. The GPA and especially the GRE are sort of expected to be good, that just gets you in the door.


I'm not in your field, but last cycle when I applied I noticed Psych does seem very competitive. I consider the core of the application the LORs, Writing Sample, and SOP, at least in the humanities/languages. 

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+3 for improving GRE scores. Time/$$ spent here will yield the highest ROI in terms of your likelihood of acceptance. Programs use the GRE score as the #1 way to draw a cutoff for outright rejections and invitations for interviews, and then use the GRE scores among interviewees to distinguish b/w top, middle, bottom groups on interview day. To make finer distinctions they will look at experiences and everything. From what I've heard about incoming applicants into our own program, LORs are generally only brought up if they are from someone famous with tons of connections. Otherwise, I think they are just all about the same. 


I would also spend the year finding some type of employment that relates to your field of study, if even remotely. That way, you're still bettering your application, without having to continue bleeding out cash for more degrees, education, research (where you almost always work for free). 

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