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What to Look For in Psychology Graduate Programs

The process of getting a graduate degree in psychology can feel confusing at times. There’s a wide array of incredible programs and universities that could help you take the next step on your journey to becoming a psychologist, but choosing the right one for you can be a little overwhelming!

When sifting through psychology graduate programs, it’s important to weigh a number of factors and ask yourself a few questions before you begin your applications. In this short guide, we’ll explain how to find a program as a graduate student that can advance your career goals.

What Area of Psychology Do You Plan on Specializing In?

It's already confusing enough for graduate students to find a program or graduate training that will be beneficial in the professional psychology career path. Having a guideline for graduate and current students, however, can be very helpful in setting goals and finding a program. 

The typical first step towards becoming a practicing psychologist is earning your bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Your undergraduate education helps you build a foundation of knowledge (and may even be in a different field). No matter your background, though, graduate study can give you the opportunity to identify your areas of interest. You might choose to specialize in any of the following:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Industrial psychology
  • Marriage and family therapy
  • Educational psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Child or adolescent psychology

 Some Different universities may boast different strengths in these fields—and some may not offer your area of interest at all. Because of the different types of psychology graduate programs, it’s important to do your research on the school’s faculty and course offerings to make sure that you’re able to study in your specific area of interest.

What Does the Application Process Look Like?

Gathering application materials and keeping track of various institutions’ different admission requirements can be one of the most daunting parts of the graduate school selection process.

You should consider some of the following questions before starting the application process:

Application Fees

On average, application fees can range between $50 to $100 per school. These fees can add up fast if you’re interested in multiple programs!

Some schools offer free applications or waivers for students who qualify.

Admission Criteria

Applying to grad school can be a time-consuming process. You should make sure that the schools that you’re applying to are a good academic match for you.

Some schools only admit small cohorts each year, making admission ultra-competitive. Make sure to have a backup plan in case your top choice doesn’t work out.

Required Materials

While applying to graduate school isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience, most schools require many of the same materials to apply. These typically include:

  • GRE scores (either the General GRE or the Psychology GRE) – Though some schools are beginning to phase out this standardized test or make it optional, many still look for a strong score from incoming students.1
  • Undergraduate transcript – While you may not need to have earned your bachelor’s in psychology, a four-year degree is a requirement for admission to most graduate schools.
  • Resume – Any research or internships that you’ve done during your time as an undergraduate can help boost your chances of earning an acceptance. So can relevant work experience.
  • Letters of Recommendation – You’ll need strong letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors who can speak to your skills, intelligence, and, ideally, your interest and background in the field of psychology.

Location and Cost

Graduate school can be costly. If your school doesn’t offer stipends or financial assistance, it may become difficult to balance tuition costs alongside the rest of your living expenses.

It’s important to consider the cost of living associated with each of your target schools. It might not be easy to get by on a grad student budget in pricey places like New York City, for example.

Before applying, make sure to explore some financial assistance options like:

  • Scholarships
  • Tuition waivers
  • Stipends or work-study programs
  • Grants
  • Financial aid from your university
  • Federal or private student loans

To cut down on living expenses, you can also consider psychology graduate programs that offer flexible learning options. By taking classes at night or on the weekends, or by choosing an all-online or a hybrid degree program, you may be able to keep working either full- or part-time while completing your degree. 

Alliant International University’s MA in Organizational Psychology, for example, is purposely designed to fit around a busy professional’s schedule. In this executive-style class format, you attend classes one weekend a month, freeing the rest of your time up to focus on your career.

Student Success Rate

Consider whether your target programs will set you up for success after graduation. You’re putting a significant amount of time, money, and effort into earning your master’s or Ph.D or PsyD., and you want to make sure that you’ll see a return on this major investment.

Make sure to look at some of these stats from the programs that you’re interested in before you make your final decision:

  • Acceptance rate
  • Graduation rate

You should also consider the unique opportunities or potential connections that each school offers. Do they have a world-class research program? A particular faculty member that you’ve always wanted to work alongside? An incredible internship or co-op work program? Researching a school psychology department is a great way of learning more about what the school has to offer and what the psychology program might be like. 

Your degree should set you up for success in your chosen field of psychology—before enrolling, make sure that your program stacks up!

Flexible Psychology Graduate Programs at Alliant

So, whether it's choosing a clinical psychology program, a clinical psychopharmacology program, or a cognitive science program, it's important to know the factors that can affect your career path. Choosing the right psychology graduate program involves weighing a number of factors: cost, academic opportunities, and overall fit. Alliant International University’s slate of psychology master’s and doctoral programs offer world-class academics paired with affordability and flexibility to fit your professional lifestyle.

In-person and online offerings at Alliant will help you build the skills you need as a graduate student and an aspiring psychologist. Request more information and start on your journey today.


  1.  “GRE® Psychology Test Subscores.” GRE. ETS. Accessed: December 30, 2021.

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