27 responses

  1. Spencer
    August 29, 2011


    As a student currently in the process of applying to graduate schools for I-O, I would like to express my appreciation for you efforts on this site. Having done as much online research on the process of applying that I have, I can say that your insights and suggestions have been some of the best I have found. Specifically, your site has helped me more than others because it is specifically aimed at prospective I-O students.

    I have one thing to ask, if you don’t mind… I have been active as an URA for nearly two years now (I-O focused research). I proctor sessions, recruit participants, and enter data on a consistent basis. However, I have not officially conducted any research of my own. Do you think that selection committees, Ph.D. programs in particular, tend to distinguish between the two? Would this be something of a blemish on my application?

    Thanks again for all of your help!


  2. Richard N. Landers
    August 29, 2011

    I’m glad it’s helping! I’ve still got a few more features to go, but we’re definitely getting toward the end.

    As for your question, I definitely wouldn’t say that’s a “blemish,” but your application would certainly be that much stronger if you did have that experience.

    The issue is that working as a URA and doing an independent research project demonstrate different competencies and are differentially difficult.

    By being an URA, you’ve demonstrated initiative (by seeking out such opportunities) and if your letters are strong, work ethic (by being on time, meeting your responsibilities, etc.).

    By doing your own research project, you demonstrate independent thought and just that much more initiative. Faculty know that an undergraduate running his own research project is uncommon because it is very difficult. Publishing something as an undergraduate is even more so. It is a real sign of commitment and long-term planning. So that makes those actions all the more impressive.

    Having said that, I’d say that the top quarter to third of undergraduates applying to I/O have some URA experience (fewer have glowing letters of recommendation about their performance during such experiences), while the top 5ish% have independent research experience. Only a handful will have published anything. So you are already toward the top.

  3. Dan
    March 31, 2012


    Your website has been a great help in parsing out the many details and considerations involved in applying to graduate school.

    One item you may have already addressed, but which I cannot find is: the difference between a MA and a MS in IO Psych?

    I would imagine that the MS programs are more quantitative oriented than the MA programs. But how do the different degrees effect career paths? Which is more likely to end up in consulting position? Which programs are more respected in the practitioner world?



  4. Richard N. Landers
    April 1, 2012

    @Dan – It doesn’t matter much. What determines if a program is an MS or MA is usually what college they are located in within their university – Sciences (for MS), Arts & Letters (for MA), or Liberal Arts (could be either). The specific requirements differ by program such that you could get more quant training in an MA program than in an MS program; there’s no way to know from the degree initials alone. So that by itself will not affect your career path; the reputation of the program itself is far more important. As for which programs are more respected in the practitioner world, it is the same list as for the academic world. Program rigor is program rigor. There are certainly established relationships between particular programs and particular large consulting firms, but this varies by program.

  5. Rachel
    September 27, 2012

    Would you say that a PhD in Organizational Studies is similar to a Phd in I/O? I would like to get into management consulting but want to make sure they could both lead me down the same path. Thanks a lot

    • Richard N. Landers
      September 27, 2012

      If it doesn’t say “I/O”, it’s not I/O. A PhD in Organizational Studies could mean virtually anything. If it’s in a business school, it’s probably closer to a degree in human resources and/or organizational behavior. If it’s not, it is probably some sort of interdisciplinary program (perhaps combining elements of psychology, but perhaps not). The only way to really know is to look at the curriculum and see what kinds of classes you would be taking (and also to check the credentials of the faculty – if you don’t see at least two or three folks that calls themselves I/O, it’s definitely not an I/O program).

  6. Trisha
    September 28, 2012

    I am in my first semester of senior year and application deadlines are due this semester. Can I put on my applications that I will be research assisting in the next semester? It sounds silly but I have to turn them in and I would like them to know that I have obtained a position as a research assistant as it is my only research experience.

    • Richard N. Landers
      September 28, 2012

      You can and should; however, it will only help a little bit. I’d recommend approaching the faculty member you’ll be working with and asking if you can start early. Any experience before applications are due (and any experience that the faculty member can reference in her/his recommendation letter) will make your application much stronger.

  7. Rachel
    December 31, 2012

    Is the school you attend as important as people tend to think? I am just wondering if the debt in the end will be worth it for a school like NYU versus a smaller school that costs multiple times less.

    • Richard N. Landers
      January 2, 2013

      Yes, program quality is important in I/O. It varies dramatically when considering the full range of programs available; but even more importantly, better programs will tend to have more or longer-term relationships with places for you to get jobs after school. Online programs generally have few or zero such connections, which is why I don’t recommend them. Rankings sort-of-kind-of reflect this quality, but not perfectly.

      Rankings don’t really matter at all between the relatively similar programs – for example, any school in the top 30 or so give you basically the same opportunities. The #1 and #2 school, or the #10 and #11 schools – basically the same, as far as your education is concerned. In fact, I’d say there are relatively few differences between the #4 and #20. Such schools will certainly have minor, noticeable differences (for example, one may emphasize statistical training more strongly), but these vary by program and don’t match up with rankings (and thus require more in-depth research).

      I’ll also mention that all decent PhD programs will provide assistantships and tuition waivers, so the cost of PhD programs are all essentially the same, i.e. zero (aside from slightly varying salaries for the assistantships). Cost should only be a factor when comparing Master’s programs.

  8. Rachel
    August 13, 2013

    I am supposed to be starting NYU’S I/O psych masters program in September and have already moved there but I have heard negative things about the school– mainly it is for those that are well off and couldn’t get into ivy leagues. I don’t come from money and didn’t apply to any Ivy Leagues…I was ecstatic to get into NYU but now, 2 weeks before the semester starts, I am having doubts–is getting my masters at NYU worth the debt? I would love to actually hear from someone in the field–please!!!!

    • Richard N. Landers
      August 15, 2013

      The Ivies are not very good for applied psychology – their reputations are not very good for preparing those wanting to go into practice, and I would not recommend them. I think what you are hearing is the (pretty common) elitism about ivy undergrad programs versus non-ivy undergrad programs. It is also probably a side effect of being in New York, where people generally care a lot more about that kind of thing. Let me assure you that graduate school is an altogether different thing from undergrad – that sort of posturing isn’t really relevant to your education. If you look at the US News and World Report rankings for I/O Psychology, you’ll see what I mean – no Ivy even in the top 10. I am not familiar with NYU’s program specifically, but it is probably fine – if you’ve talked to current students and they seem to be getting the sorts of job that you eventually want, that’s all you really need to worry about.

  9. Betty
    December 18, 2013

    Hi Richard.

    First off, thank you for posting all this information, it’s been very useful so far.
    I’m concerned because I’m a senior and I’ve recently applied to 3 I/O psychology graduate programs (2 Phd, one MS) and I’m wondering about my chances and whether it’d be better to take an extra year and try to raise my GPA and GRE scores.

    My undergraduate GPA is not strong, 3.3, and my GRE scores are 151 Q, 159 V, and 4.5 writing. My psych GPA is a little better at 3.65. On the plus side, I do have 2 years of research experience in an I/O lab and I’ve been working on my own independent research project under an I/O faculty member for about a year, I’m nearly done and am in the final stages of writing up the report and looking for places to submit it to that accept undergraduate research early next year. I was also tickled to receive a research grant last year for said project. I have a bit of conference experience (3, two local, one national). Finally, I have a little bit of consulting experience through a program in my university that does employee assessments of organizations, but I only joined a few months ago.

    Does my research experience make up for my lackluster GPA and GRE scores or should I try for an extra year to raise them? I don’t have good excuses for the numbers except that I was working full-time throughout my undergrad career and it kind of sounds like a lame excuse to me. The fact of the matter is that I should have tried harder in some of the classes I disliked, and I’m paying for it now.

    Any advice you can provide would be appreciated. Thank You!

    • Richard N. Landers
      December 18, 2013

      A GPA below 3.5 does mean you may be automatically ignored in some selection processes, and your GREs are mixed (45th percentile for quant will be a problem for some programs). But it sounds like you’ve done the right sort of work to try to make up for those weaknesses. If you can publish your project, that will make your application pretty strong. Some universities have policies that allow you to drop low grades (sometimes these are called “grade forgiveness”) which you might consider looking into before your transcripts are sent out.

      I don’t think you need to make an explicit decision to “take an extra year.” This is more of a practical question; if you don’t get into a grad school this time, you’ll take an extra year. If you do get in, you won’t. :)

      Regardless, you need to expand your application spread dramatically. In the current graduate market, it doesn’t make any sense to only apply to 3 programs. You should be applying to at least 10, up to 20, and nationwide. When I applied to grad school many years ago, there were several programs where the faculty members I had been targeting decided at the last minute – after applications were in – not to take any students. Thus it was impossible for me to get into those programs due to no fault of my own. You have no way to predict what individual programs will do, so only applying to 3 is very risky.

      I don’t know your career plans, but given your GPA and GRE scores, I would also consider expanding your search to include competitive Master’s programs (e.g. Minnesota State Mankato, Tulsa, George Mason). It’s better to apply broadly now, see where you get in (and don’t), and then make a decision on where to go after you have that information.

  10. Betty
    December 18, 2013

    Thank you for the advice. I took a look at Minnesota State and George Mason’s websites. The deadlines to apply for the master’s programs aren’t until February, so I think I will start prepping to apply for those schools as well. My school does not have grade forgiveness unfortunately.

    My quantitative score needs a lot of work. Unfortunately, math has always been a bit of a weak spot for me (I barely passed college algebra, and swore it would be the last math class I ever took), but I was able to get an A in my undergrad statistics class and an A+ in my undergrad methods class. I’ve also learned a lot about statistics from the project I’ve done, especially regression and a little factor analysis, and I’m really familiar now with SPSS. If I focused on the stats I’ve learned in my personal statement, do you think it would help alleviate fears that I am incapable of keeping up in graduate level math? I guess there is the possibility that I am, but I honestly feel like the stats experiences I’ve had so far have been really positive and the stats part of my project was the part I enjoyed the most, hands down. I would have tried for a minor in stats if my university offered it.

    One other thing, I promise this is the last question! I have two minors (philosophy and speech communication) that I got early in my undergrad career before I knew that there were branches of psych other than clinical. Does this strengthen my applications at all?

    • Richard N. Landers
      December 18, 2013

      You should definitely address the relatively low GPA in your statement head-on, and I would definitely emphasize the specific skills you’ve gained relevant to conducting research. Discussing specific statistical competencies you’ve developed is a great idea. There is a general belief that “undergrad stats” is different than “graduate stats” – which is certainly true, as undergrad stats doesn’t usually get too deeply into things like assumption checking, theoretical derivations, etc – so if your understanding is more advanced than typical of an undergrad, that is definitely something important to talk about.

      Neither of those minors will probably do anything for you, I’m afraid. Maybe if you can weave them into the narrative of how you got to psychology (e.g. if philosophy got you interested in philosophy of science?) in your personal statement. But that’s a stretch and probably better to use that space to talk about your research experience.

  11. Juan
    February 4, 2014

    Dr. Landers

    I would like to know what your opinion is regarding the notion that the GRE is a weak indicator on graduate school success. Specifically in IO Psych, have you noticed an indicator in which the GRE is a poor indicator? I found the following article interesting.

    Sternberg, R. J.; Williams, W. M. (1997). “Does the Graduate Record Examinations predict meaningful success in the graduate training of psychology? A case study”. American Psychologist 52: 630–641.

    I am noticing a trend now where graduate schools are waiving the GRE requirements , including top ivy league schools.


    Do you think that grade inflation exists in graduate schools? and how much does grade inflation impact GRE score requirements in terms of selection?

    Thanks for your time?

    • Richard N. Landers
      February 4, 2014

      Hi Juan – the GRE predicts graduate performance just fine. Instead of a case study in American Psychologist, I’d recommend this meta-analysis of research published in Science:

      Kuncel, NR. & Hezlett, S. (2007). Standardized tests predict graduate student success. Science.

      Some schools are dropping the requirement. There are a lot of reasons for that – part of it, especially at the Ivy League level, is that the applicants they get are already exceptionally highly qualified, so the GRE doesn’t tell you as much – this is something called range restriction. There is also the matter of racial differences in GRE scores, so dropping the GRE gets rid of those differences (although it does not solve the underlying problem).

      Grade inflation has existed in graduate school for a very long time, because a C is considered a failing grade. So everyone gets an A or B, for the most part. But grades also don’t really matter in graduate school – after you have a PhD, virtually no one is going to look at your transcript again.

  12. Cory
    March 2, 2014

    Mr. Richard,

    I am currently a junior at a very small liberal arts college in the middle of no where. I have a decent gpa of 3.55 and plan on taking the gre during the summer. I’m also a student athlete (captain of football team) and I have also presented on such topics dealing with gender limitations and mental health at a conference held yearly at our school. The only problem I’m having is obtaining research experience. Being at a very small institution, research is very limited. Other than the work I have presented at the conferences, I have no research experience. Also, none of our faculty have a degree in IO Psychology so I have little guidance. My question to you is will coming from a situation like this one hinder my chances at getting into an IO Psych grad program? What do I need to do in order to increase my chances? I honestly would have attended a different undergraduate program if I would have known that I wanted to go into the IO field and if I wouldn’t of received the athletic and academic scholarship.

    • Richard N. Landers
      March 2, 2014

      Coming from a SLAC alone won’t hurt you – in fact, it usually helps, since SLACs tend to be (but are not always) more academically rigorous than big state schools – but the lack of research experience will be a problem. Any psych research experience is what you need (not necessarily I/O). So I would identify any faculty that you could potentially work on research projects with, and ask to work with them.

      Having said all that, if the presentation(s) at your local conference are based on empirical research, you can talk about that experience in your letters, and you worked with faculty (even if not in a formal lab setting) who can write you letters based upon your performance on those projects, this problem is mitigated somewhat. So if that’s what you did, the key to a successful application would be to emphasize that experience.

  13. Kahla
    March 27, 2014

    Afternoon, Dr. Landers –

    First, thanks for creating such a well-organized guide to pursuing I/O psych! I am someone who likes to do a bit of research before making big life decisions (weird, right?), but I had been having some difficulty finding much information from people with experience in I/O before stumbling upon your blog.

    Understandably, your guide is geared towards undergrads. Certainly, a lot of this information still applies to people who have already graduated! It is my guess, though, that suggestions for some things that you’ve covered, such as gathering letters of recommendation, may shift a bit for recent grads. My question for you is: What advice would you give to someone who’s already graduated about pursuing graduate school in I/O psych?

    Here’s some background info: I graduated with my bachelor’s in psychology, and have experience in a research lab (no published research, just a published book review), a solid GPA, and loosely related internship experience (including a current HR internship). Family health issues made continuing directly into grad school not ideal. Some post-grad experience in the mental health field made me reevaluate my grad school interests, and now I am primarily interested in I/O master’s programs. I am unsure of how to present this during the application process. Thoughts?

    Thank you!!

    • Richard N. Landers
      March 27, 2014

      My advice does not actually shift much. You still need recommendation letters from faculty that you’ve worked with on research, if possible. If you are applying to a Master’s program, you can also get away with replacing one of these with a current supervisor or mentor, but I would suggest doing that only if that person is in HR or I/O, and preferably I/O – and I would not replace more than one.

      Applying after being in industry is actually a lot easier if you’ve been out for a longer while (e.g. 10 years of HR experience). Just a little experience can make you appear indecisive (e.g. how does the selection committee know you won’t just change your mind again in a year?). The challenge will be, in your personal statement, explaining why this is the career for you and how you know that definitively now. If your mental health experience helped you make that decision, you should talk about it (but briefly). My post on writing personal statements will go a long way there. I would not mention the “family health issues.”

  14. Engel
    April 2, 2014

    Hello Richard,

    Great website and fantastic commentary.

    I was wondering if you could give me some general advice?

    About me:
    BA (Economics) – Traditional brick and mortar public university, GPA 2.7
    MSc (Information Systems) – Online, University of Phoenix, GPA 3.7 (I did this 10 years later)
    MA (I/O Psych) – Online, The Chicago School of Prof. Psychology, GPA 4.0 (I did this 5 years after the last degree)

    I’m a little old now perhaps (45), but I’ve always had this dream that psychology was for me. It’s just taken me a long time to figure that out plus I place a great deal of value on financial security so I never really wanted to leave any full time job to study full time (hence the online degrees).

    I’m interested in going after my PhD but I am worried about my lack of relationships with any former professor so I would not be able to produce any valuable letter of reference. I really didn’t get to know them that well (though I easily could have). I was just focused on the topics and the learning at hand – not in my relationships with the professors. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake.

    So, without those letters, I would probably have to aim for a professional school and probably online again but they are more expensive. I would not have the luxury of leaving work in any event as I am the sole breadwinner for my family. In a few years I may have saved enough money to change that but the clock is ticking for me.

    Also, my undergrad GPA was horrible and I do have every excuse in the book (Father died, I had to run the family business, got sued (twice), army obligations, etc…). Later on, when I was older I did much better but I am worried that it may not be taken that favorably since the education was online.

    I have this dream that I would make a pretty good coach and/or consultant in the areas of organizational restructuring or leadership. My thesis for my MA was on Outsourcing in Information Technology. I may even make a good professor.

    So, with that background, for me to go after my dream (PhD or PsyD), should I even bother with any “traditional” school or just accept reality and go for another online school? Personally, I really believe that all the schooling is the same and you get what you put into it but I do not believe the world sees it that way.

    Will my age, educational background, GPA, lack of reference letters, etc… be too much for any school to accept other than for profit professional schools?

    • Richard N. Landers
      April 2, 2014

      Age won’t be a problem; many people “discover” I/O after a substantial career in HR. So that doesn’t really matter.

      Your GPA could be a problem, but your relatively late-to-I/O career path means that GPA is a long time ago. That will matter more to some programs than to others, but it should not preclude traditional non-profit educational institutions. You are right that a brick-and-mortar Master’s would be much more convincing that you were really capable of doctorate-level work, but I don’t think it’s catastrophic.

      The reference letters are more of a problem, unless your GRE scores are quite high. You did not mention if you managed to publish your Master’s thesis, but that would be the most important thing to try if you are aiming at a PhD program. For PsyD, that is less critical.

      You mentioned being a coach and doing consulting… that does not sound like a PhD to me. In fact, you should have been trained, at least in part, to do both of those things with a Master’s degree. So I am not sure what your specific motivation is to seek a more advanced degree.

      If you do pursue a PhD or PsyD, I’d recommend a brick-and-mortar professional school. You can usually do nights and weekends for such programs. The differences between in-person and online are myriad, and I’ve written about them elsewhere. But the basic idea is that although online programs can be as high quality as (or higher than) brick-and-mortar programs, they usually aren’t. If you want more detail on why, I’ll direct you to those two articles I just linked.

      As a result of that, your job opportunities are generally going to be much more limited with an online program unless you have a specific job already lined up for yourself that will require this PhD or PsyD. That is why figuring out your career goals first is so important; that will direct further decisions. If all you want to do is go into consulting, you can do that with your Master’s – I’d recommend reaching out to your professors and alumni network (you hopefully are already connected to these) and see what opportunities are already available with your Master’s.

  15. Matt
    May 25, 2014

    Dr. Landers,

    I am so glad I discovered this website and all the wonderful information provided. Thank you so much.

    I will begin my senior year this fall and will be applying to M.A/M.S programs with no intention of pursuing a Phd (of course things may change). I’m a business administration major with a concentration in HR with no time to add psychology as a minor. However, I took a general psychology course some time ago at another institution and I completed a social psychology course this past semester. In addition, I completed a statistics course this past year along with selection and compensation, organizational behavior, and HR management. This coming semester I will take I/O psychology, training and development, and a senior honors research project/thesis, which will be I/O or HR related.

    I have noticed that research methods is a common required/recommended course for most masters programs. I will not be able to take research methods since the lecture conflicts with the I/O course (both only offered in the fall). Will this hurt my chances of getting into a strong program, especially being a business major? I have a 4.0 GPA in the Honors College and I am fortunate enough to have a well respected I/O Psychologist as my senior honors project/thesis advisor who will hopefully write me letters of recommendations.

    Also, it seems a bit more difficult to distinguish the strong masters programs from the weaker ones compared to Phd programs. I have learned that faculty research is of a greater importance in deciding on Phd programs and not so much in deciding on masters programs. What should I look for?

    Thank you!

    • Richard N. Landers
      May 27, 2014

      I/O psychology, whether at the Master’s or PhD level, involves a lot of statistics, and better programs (i.e., the ones that will get you a job) tend to emphasize stats more than weaker programs. Having some background in stats and research methods is the best way to get into one of those better programs.

      For Master’s programs, your priorities are really GREs and GPA – if you have a 4.0 and are in the top 10% GRE scores, you can probably go just about wherever you want.

      The best indicator of the strength of a Master’s program is going to be the satisfaction and employability of its graduates. You’ll want to contact some current grad students and ask for a brief rundown of how much they like the program and how they see their job prospects – that will give you the best information. If the program doesn’t list their Master’s students on their website, I would take that as a bad sign.

  16. Chitta Benz
    June 9, 2014

    Well I am in my first class in the Philosophy in Leadership & Development in Social Media & Technology at University of the Rockies. I avoid all of the GRE bs and interviews. I wanted to get started and not waste money on testing. I hope to complete my program in 2018. In the meantime, I am seeking a teaching position part-time that will pay the bills. Let’s be honest. While I love going to school, I want to teach as an adjunct professor in organizational management. Someone told me the difference between a Masters Degree vs Phd is you no longer need to knock on doors to a job. They should be knocking on your doors!!

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