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Applying to Grad School: Tips to Get Started

image of two women looking at admissions info on laptop; image of graduate cap
by Hasagani Tissera

Applying to graduate school can seem like a daunting process. Below are tips and resources to help you get started on the right track.

Identify programs and institutions that provide the best fit

First and foremost, take a moment to reflect on the most important aspects of graduate studies for you. Is it research? Location? What are your long-term goals? How will a program help you acquire the necessary skills (e.g., supervisor, networking opportunities, internships, funding opportunities, etc.)? Once you have a clear idea of what you want, you can begin narrowing down which programs to pursue. Each program will have its own unique perks and drawbacks, so do the necessary research upfront to help narrow down the institutions that meet your needs.

Find out the requirements

Once you have identified the institutions, start compiling requirements and deadlines for each. Requirements tend to vary—for example, some might require GRE test scores, and the number of reference letters needed can vary across institutions. Making a checklist of the required materials for each program is a good strategy to help keep things organized. Be sure to note deadlines, too. If you are unsure of any details, or if the school’s website is unclear, don’t hesitate to reach out to their graduate admissions office. They will be happy to answer your questions.

Find the right fit

One crucial component of the application process is finding the right supervisor so reaching out to interested supervisors early in the fall semester prior to the application deadline is important. You might  not have the opportunity to meet with them right away, but you can at least let them know you are interested in working with them and for them to keep a look out for your application. When you interview with a potential supervisor, be sure to read their more recent publications and compile a list of questions in advance so you are sure not to forget anything.

The fit between supervisor and supervisee shapes the graduate experience, so when deciding on a supervisor, consider the following:

  • research area/interests
  • type of research conducted by the supervisor
  • availability of the supervisor
  • career stage
  • number of students in the lab
  • supervision style.

Start writing early

The personal statement is one of the core components of your application and should not be left to the last minute. Get started early! This will give you ample time to revise it for clarity and coherence and to get feedback from others. The personal statement is the opportunity for you to sincerely convey who you are as a person and to highlight your unique interests and strengths. Being specific is key as this will set your application apart from others. Instead of stating your strengths and motivations, demonstrate them through examples. That said, it is also important to create a balance between specificity and open-mindedness. You don’t want to deter potential supervisors who might think  you are only interested in one specific research question.

Gather required documents

A few weeks before the application due date double-check that you have all of the required documents. Some institutions may require past transcripts, which can take time to be delivered. Carefully read the specific instructions of the application. It is easy to misunderstand or overlook specific requirements or components of the application. Make sure your letters of references are on track and have all the required information from you. Send your referees a reminder email closer to the due date with all the details to ensure things are on track. If possible, plan to submit the application a few days prior to the institutional deadline to avoid any technical glitches.

Resources to help

Applying to graduate school can be a lengthy and complex process, but staying organized and starting early can help you stay on track. smoothen this process. There are a number of resources available online to help guide you, including this list compiled by the SPSP student committee:

  • A comprehensive guide to applying to graduate school in social and personality psychology
  • A decision tree and some tips to help navigate the decision of applying to graduate studies
  • A visual map of some of the main requirements associated with applying to graduate studies
  • An excel template to help track your application progress


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