No matter what area of psychology you choose for further study, your application to graduate school is likely to include at least the following:
A statement of purpose in which you explain who you are, what you want to do, and why you want to do it. Think carefully about your interests and goals before you write your statement and about how attending a particular school will help you to meet your objectives. You need to explain why you and the school are a good “fit”; your philosophy, goals, and research interests should be compatible with those of faculty members in the department to which you are applying. Remember, it is those faculty members who will decide whether or not to accept you. Talk about your statement of purpose with faculty members here at Northwestern and with graduate students in our department. Be sure to have one or more faculty members read over your statement and give you feedback before you submit it.
An academic transcript showing courses taken and grades received. Admissions committees will want to see that you have challenged yourself by taking upper-level courses and that you have done well in your coursework. For some areas of psychology, a strong background in math and science is important. However, for many admissions committee members, very high grades are less important than such factors as research experience and strong letters of recommendation. While a GPA of 2.8 may exclude you from consideration, it may not matter at all whether your GPA is 3.6 or 3.7. Don't pass up research opportunities, meaningful volunteer activities, or the chance to get involved in musical or theatrical experiences that provide welcome breaks from academics in order to obtain a slightly higher GPA.
Test scores. Most schools require the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) general test, some require the subject test in psychology, and a few require scores on the Miller Analogies Test. One good source of practice materials, as well as other information about both general and subject tests, is the GRE website. In deciding when to take these tests, keep in mind that application materials for many graduate programs are due during the fall preceding the year in which you plan to enter.
If you will be taking the subject test in psychology, you may find it very helpful to carefully review the information in an introductory psychology textbook in the weeks before you take the test.
Letters of recommendation. Students hoping to enter graduate or professional schools after graduation from Northwestern will typically need to submit letters of recommendation from three or more faculty members.
Important dates. Applications to graduate programs in psychology are typically due sometime during the fall or winter before you plan to attend. Specific due dates vary from program to program; some are in December and some are a month or two later. Be sure to check the due date for each program to which you are applying and to make sure that all your materials are in on time. Make sure that professors writing recommendations for you know when they have to be received, and request transcripts from the Registrar’s Office in plenty of time also.
Most graduate programs will notify you of your acceptance or rejection before April 15. Schools that accept you will typically give you until April 15 to let them know whether you plan to attend or whether you have decided to reject their offer.