Roadmap to Graduate School: Planning your Route.

In the last blog, we focused on your reasons for going to graduate school – or, you can say you selected your destination in putting together your roadmap to graduate school.  If need be, go back and reread that blog and review our road sign.  If you’re not sure which route you want to travel, then the next steps will be difficult –

knowing what you want to do after graduate school is an important part of getting into graduate school.

Your next step will be selecting specific programs that you will apply to (keeping to our analogy, this is researching your route options). To do this, start evaluating programs individually, asking specific questions of each. You are going to divide your questions into three categories:

  • What it takes to get into a program,
  • What it takes to get through the program, and
  • What happens once you get out of the program?

Getting In

You are probably most comfortable with the first set of questions below, as they were very similar to the questions you probably asked when you applied to go to undergrad. Look through the application requirements of each program and pay attention to the following things:


Pay close attention to the essays and personal statements: Programs use these to determine if you are a good match for the program, and what training they offer.  For example, if you are asked to write about your research experience, and what research questions you would want to pursue as a graduate student, then chances are you’re applying to a research-heavy program.  Is that the type of program you’re interested in?

Getting Through

It may sound overly simple, but remember that in order to graduate with a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology, you need to be able to complete all the coursework, dissertation or thesis work, and any required internships.  Many departments list the basic outline of each program’s required courses, dissertation work, and required internships on their website, so take time to review those in detail.  After reviewing those requirements, see if you can find answers to the following:


There may be other questions you have as you read through the program description – remember, each programs is different.  If you cannot find answers to your questions, then send a friendly email asking for clarification.

Getting Out 

We stared this series with WHY you wanted to go to graduate school, and it will be a common theme.  As you look at individual programs, look for information about graduation rates, and what the graduates do afterwards.

For those interested in APA accredited health service psychology programs (doctoral level programs in clinical, counseling, or school), this information is required to be easily found on the program’s website.  I recommend that everyone take a look at the types of questions and data that these programs list, as it serves as a basis of questions that all students should ask about a particular program, be it developmental, behavioral neuroscience, personality, or industrial/organizational.  Examples of questions to ask include:


A Final Thought

What we have outlined here is how to whittle down the types of programs and training that are best for you.

The goal is to have a strategic, planned approach to applying to graduate school, and that means finding a manageable number of programs that meet your needs, you have a solid chance of getting into, and you understand what it takes to get through the program.

In a word, we are talking about fit – a concept we will talk more about in the next blog, when we discuss actually completing your application (writing personal statements, essays, and getting letters of recommendation).

Helpful Additional Resources:

Doctoral Degrees In Psychology: How Are They Different, Or Not So Different?: Clarifying key distinctions between the PhD and PsyD degrees.

APA’s Applying to Graduate School: This is your one-stop-shop for learning more about graduate study in psychology, researching your options, developing a plan for getting in, and actually applying!

American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) roadmap infographic on getting into graduate school.

APA’s Graduate Study in Psychology, a guide of with information on over 500 programs and 1600 degree programs.  You can find answers to many of the questions we suggest you ask in this blog, including the types of degrees and programs, application materials and deadlines, tuition, financial aid and more! Buy the book, or purchase access to the online database.

About the Author

Garth A. Fowler, PhD
Garth directs the APA’s efforts in producing resources and information to help psychology graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, and those that teach them, improve their training and career success. Before coming to APA Garth was a faculty member and Assistant Chair in the Department of Neurobiology, where he managed the departmental office staff, advised students, taught courses for undergraduate, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows, and was the director of the MS Program in Neurobiology. His first job after finishing his postdoc was the Outreach Program Manager for Science Careers, the online career resources for Science magazine & AAAS. When not reading about educational policy and best practices, he enjoys traveling, running through the city, and cycling with his friends. Garth has a B.A. in Psychology from the College of Wooster, a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Washington – Seattle, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute in San Diego, CA.