Tips on Applying to Graduate School

Resources for applying to graduate school:

The purpose of this page is to curate resources and general application tips to apply to psychology PhD programs. We have first included general resources, and below have provided more specific resources that pertain to various components of the application process. 

These guides include general information about all components of applying to psychology PhD programs and graduate school. 

This wiki site includes a list of programs that are reviewing applications in the upcoming cycle. This list is not comprehensive.

This site includes general resources on choosing accredited doctoral programs, application tips, and a database for post-bacc RA positions.

These links below have information about how to find accredited programs (specifically for clinical psychology):

      • Program Selection:
      • The APA has a search tool 
      • Psychological Clinical Sciences Accreditation System provides this helpful resource that lists accredited clinical psychology programs in the US and Canada to help you build a list. Some factors you might consider in narrowing down your list include:  
        • Research interest fit with potential mentor 
        • Location
        • Funding availability
        • Outcomes for Previous Students
          • Internship match rate (this table is dated, but has useful information)
          • Attrition rate
        • Cost of Application/Eligibility for fee waiver 

Below we have outlined various portions of the graduate school application and the application process.

Getting Relevant Research Experience 

Obtaining research experience prior to applying for graduate school is one of the best ways to strengthen your application. As an undergraduate get research experience in a psychology lab that does work that you find interesting! Pursue connections/relationships with graduate students who may be able to serve as mentors and assist you in conducting an independent research project. At UNC you may be able to complete independent research through PSYC/NSCI 395 or a seniors honors thesis. Completing a senior honors thesis will offer you a great opportunity to gain hands-on experience with conducting research. You will have the opportunity to develop and test your own study ideas, and work closely with a faculty advisor who can help facilitate future letters of recommendation. 

During the summer, apply for SURF or NSF summer undergraduate programs. These programs are generally funded and are a great way to obtain research experience at another institution.

Applying for a post-baccalaureate research assistant (post-bacc RA) or project coordinator role is a great way to continue to gain more research experience before graduate school. Consider a post-baccalaureate RA position if you are generally interested in the field of psychological research, but need time and more experiences to narrow down specific research interests. As a post-bacc RA you could gain experiences recruiting participants, running participants through protocols, managing data, creating coding schemes, performing preliminary analyses, coordinating IRB applications, and mentoring undergraduate students. 

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

There has been a recent shift towards making the GRE optional or removing it entirely from the graduate school application process. Here is a link to a list of Clinical & Counseling Psychology PhD programs (USA and Canada Psych PhD/PsyD GRE Requirements) and their decision on whether they will waive the GRE for upcoming application cycles. If your GRE score would help increase your chances of gaining acceptance to graduate school, then consider submitting it if the programs you’re interested in applying to are still accepting it as a part of the application.

It would be most helpful to look at specific program requirements early to determine if the General GRE or Psychology GRE is required for applications. This information can usually be found on the graduate schools’ admissions page or a FAQ page associated with the graduate school department.    

Application Statements (Personal Statements and Diversity Statements)

Look at a PI’s website and see if they have a guide or list of expectations for prospective students. What are they looking for in a graduate student, what type of research interests do they think they are a good mentor for, and how do you fit those expectations? What are you excited to research and how have your past professional and academic experiences shaped those research interests?

Be specific about who you would like to work with at a given institution and WHY. Is there a specific aspect of the program that you are excited about (a specialized track, some part of their training, etc.) and what makes you a good fit for that?


CVs typically include information like work experience, achievements and awards, scholarships or grants you’ve earned, coursework, research projects and publications of your work. When reaching out to potential mentors (see below), it may be helpful to attach your CV. 

Emails to reach out to mentors

Sometimes prospective students wonder if they should contact faculty or the PI of a lab prior to submitting an application. Will anyone read your email? What if you don’t get a response? It can be especially stressful to think of how to write this type of introductory email that could end up being a good or bad first impression. A helpful resource for making this decision is the following blog from UC Davis ( It walks you through the reasons that you would want to email faculty and how to go about doing so if you decide to. It is important to note that while many PIs may respond to emails about the programs at their university, it is equally likely that they will be too busy to reply (for example – as you can see here – Dr. Sheridan doesn’t respond to these emails!). This does not mean that they did not see your email or would not consider you as a potential candidate. It is definitely not necessary to email faculty or PI prior to applying but may prove beneficial in some cases.

Letters of recommendation 

The number of letters required varies by program, but generally you will be asked to submit at least 3. You are allowed to submit more in some cases. You should try to choose individuals who can speak to your past experience and potential as a researcher (e.g. undergraduate thesis advisor, post-bacc advisor from a research position, collaborator on a research project you were involved in). Be prepared to provide a CV or list of relevant experiences that you would like your letter writer to touch on as they write your letter. It is important to provide your letter writers with ample time to write and upload their letter to the application website. Be sure to clearly communicate application deadlines. 

Applying for your own funding

While it is not a requirement, many PIs look favorably upon applicants who take initiative to apply for their own funding before applying to graduate school programs. For context, doctoral programs and PIs commonly take on the expense of students’ tuition and stipend through various funding sources. There are funding sources available for prospective students that pay them a stipend and contribute money to the students department/program, relieving some financial burden from the student’s institution. Opportunities like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) are a great way to practice critical research skills, such as project planning and grant writing. The NSF generally allows prospective students to apply once before being accepted to a qualified graduate studies program and once during either your first or second year of graduate school (not both). You are required to write a research proposal and a personal statement and you must have 3 letters of recommendation submitted on your behalf. For more detailed information about eligibility requirements and desired qualifications see . Luckily, there are many excellent resources from previous NSF recipients that provide insight into the reviewing process and how to craft a research proposal and personal statement that meet the criteria reviewers are looking for. Please see:

Application fee waivers 

Applying to graduate school is stressful and it can also be expensive! Many students are unaware that it is sometimes possible to obtain an application fee waiver. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill has a web page devoted to the various categories of waivers available ( We definitely recommended that you do some research to see if your prospective grad school has any opportunities for fee waivers prior to applying. There are often programs associated with the specific school that can entitle you to a waiver. Sometimes there is also the possibility of a waiver discount for individuals who do not qualify for a full waiver based on certain criteria (U.S. armed services, previous applicant, etc.), so check for those as well!

Resources & opportunities for URMs in the field of psychology 

If you are interested in being applying to become a Clinical Graduate Student, please listen to this podcast to hear from Keith Payne, Ph.D., the Director of Graduate Studies here at UNC!