Grad School Series: Applying to Graduate School in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
Starting Sophomore Year: Should I get a Ph.D. or Master’s? | How to Get Research Experience
Starting Junior Year: Preparing for the GRE | Getting Recommendations
Starting Senior Year: Where to Apply | Traditional vs. Online Degrees | Personal Statements
Interviews/Visits: Preparing for Interviews | Going to Interviews
In Graduate School: What to Expect First Year
So you want to go to graduate school in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology? Lots of decisions, not much direction. I bet I can help!
While my undergraduate students are lucky to be at a school with I/O psychologists, many students interested in I/O psychology aren’t at schools with people they can talk to. I/O psychology is still fairly uncommon in the grand scheme of psychologists; there are around 7,000 members of SIOP, the dominant professional organization of I/O, compared to the 150,000 in the American Psychological Association. As a result, many schools simply don’t have faculty with expertise in this area, leading many promising graduate students to apply elsewhere. That’s great from the perspective of I/O psychologists – lots of jobs – but not so great for grad-students-to-be or the field as a whole.
As a faculty member at ODU with a small army of undergraduate research assistants, I often find myself answering the same questions over and over again about graduate school. So why not share this advice with everyone?
The variety of schools makes choosing where precisely to apply a daunting (and often expensive) task. You want to balance several factors:
- Don’t overload your letter writers with too many letters.
- Apply only to programs you would actually attend if accepted.
- Apply only to programs for which you are qualified.
In practice, this means you should apply to no more than a dozen schools, typically a balance of 6 to 10 primary targets and 2 to 4 backups.
You should start the selection process by getting a list of graduate schools with either Master’s or Ph.D. programs (depending on which degree you are going for) and then try to narrow it down based on any other major limitations. You can find an excellent search tool to do this on the SIOP website. If you are absolutely tied to a particular region of the country, you can limit your search to one region, but this is a little risky, because program quality is not even across the country.
Create a spreadsheet (use OpenOffice.org, if you don’t already have another spreadsheet program). Put the name of each school in the first column, its location in the second, and program type in the third.
|Old Dominion University||Norfolk, Virginia||Ph.D.|
|Radford University||Radford, Virginia||M.A./M.S.|
When deciding where to apply, you should start by considering the quality of school that you can get into. If you have exceptionally high GRE scores, that means you can get into a highly selective program. If your GRE scores aren’t so strong, then you should not even apply to those schools. Many graduate programs post the average GRE scores of applicants to their programs, so this is something you can find on their websites or using the search tool linked above. Add these values to your chart.
|Program Name||Location||Type||GRE Avg|
|Old Dominion University||Norfolk, Virginia||Ph.D.||585/715|
|Radford University||Radford, Virginia||M.A./M.S.||458/562|
You should also not aim too low; if your GRE scores are 700/700, you should probably not be considering programs with averages at 400/400. As you eliminate programs, remove them from your chart.
As you go through the SIOP listings, add other columns that would influence your decision: region of the country, program size, number of faculty, etc. If these things are important to you, they should be in your chart.
Once you are down to a list of 30 or so programs that you are qualified for, open their websites and check out the faculty. Who has interests most similar to yours? As an undergraduate, you may or may not have specific research interests, but even if you don’t, some topics will sound more interesting than others. Job satisfaction, organizational justice, online social media? Again, add this information to your chart.
|Program Name||Location||Type||GRE Avg||Faculty Studying Social Media?|
|Old Dominion University||Norfolk, Virginia||Ph.D.||585/715||YES|
|Radford University||Radford, Virginia||M.A./M.S.||458/562||No|
With your completed chart, consider your list of programs and trim them down to your final list. Really think about which features are most important to you, and which programs you are most qualified for.
One of the most surprising and scary aspects of applying to graduate school for most undergraduates is that just because you meet the minimum qualifications does not mean you will be accepted. This is true for undergraduate applications as well, but it is even worse for graduate school because competition is much fiercer. Many competitive programs have between 40 and 300 applicants and 5 or fewer spots to fill. This means that faculty sometimes make decisions based upon criteria that you can’t predict – perhaps Candidate Q had a cover letter that really resonated with one of the faculty and Candidate P’s undergraduate adviser is a close personal friend of another faculty member. Now your chances have gone from 5/300 to 3/300. This is why you should apply broadly.
Remember that earlier I mentioned having “backup” schools – these are schools where your GRE scores are right around (or slightly higher than) their current average. This is to increase your chances that even if you are quite unlucky, you’ll still be able to go somewhere. Don’t choose just one backup school – the same strange selectivity can occur at those locations as well. When I applied to graduate school nearly a decade ago, I got into 80% of my primary choices and none of my backups. It happens.
Finally, if you are at a school with I/O faculty, don’t underestimate the value of simply scheduling a meeting and chatting with them about where they think you should apply. When a student comes to me individually, I can consider a lot more about their particular situation and give them more targeted advice.