Getting Into a PhD Program in Psychology – How Many Schools Should I Apply To?

Many students are absolutely frenzied about their prospects of getting into graduate school. Given the current economic climate, I can only imagine that the frenzy has heightened to hysteria when college-grads-to-be are considering their prospects after graduation. If they’ve been doing their research, they know that they face a double-whammy – crazy competition if they choose to enter the workforce and the same level of competition to get into graduate school. What is a student to do?

Many students act as if there is some magical number of graduate programs to apply to that will guarantee an acceptance letter. While it may sound logical to apply to as many grad schools as possible, there really is no magic number. During my last go-round on the grad school admission circuit, I applied to 6 schools. I got into 3 schools. Compare this to a classmate of mine who applied to only 1 university. If she didn’t get admitted, she was going to audition to be a professional cheerleader. True story. She’s writing a dissertation right now, so you know how that story ends.

I cannot emphasize this enough: One of the only criteria to determine how many graduate programs to apply to is is fit, fit, fit, fit, fit! You can spend hundreds of dollars and apply to 30 different graduate programs, but there is no guarantee that you will be admitted to a single one. However, you can present an all-around excellent grad school application package – along with expressed desire to specialize in a particular area of research complementary to a potential faculty mentor – and you’re already somewhere near the top of the applicant pool.

Assess which area of psychology you wish to specialize in, whether Clinical, Social, or Cognitive. Outline your specific research interests. Apply only to programs where you have an identified faculty mentor. Short and sweet, these should be the only rules to determine how many universities to apply to for graduate school. Unless of course, you want to do your part in stimulating the economy through paying unnecessary application fees.