Department of Psychology Title The Ohio State University
Undergraduate

How does being an undergraduate student compare to being a graduate student?


Graduate students have a lot more free reign and unsupervised time, but a lot more expectations as well. Thus, you need to know how to manage your time, and how to keep yourself disciplined.


Luke Hinsenkamp (Social Psychology)


They hardly compare at all. The culture of course work is very different. Yes, you still need to pass, but the emphasis becomes how much you're able to learn and the grades matter very little. Courses are only a relatively small part of what you'll do in graduate school. You work extremely independently and often find that projects drag on and move very slowly. It may feel like you're not making progress. Juggling is another major part of any graduate school career (teaching, classes, research, clinical, job application, personal life, health, etc.). I held down jobs in college and also worked in a few research labs, but I never imagined it was possible to juggle so many obligations at once. Expectations that all pieces of this puzzle will be "perfect" quickly fall away as you learn the importance of getting stuff done.


Shannon Hollars (Clinical Psychology)


When you're an undergraduate, it's all about learning and repeating information. In undergraduate, you learn about the theories and research that other people have already done. In graduate school, you are now the person who creates knowledge. There will still be some learning and regurgitating, but be prepared for a huge shift in what you are expected to do. Now, you are the one designing brand new research and creating new information. Just know that it's a big difference, and you'll go through a transition period where you feel like you have no idea what you're doing. That's normal! Just keep working at it.


Anonymous (Social Psych)


To be a successful undergraduate it is important to be able to learn material and perform well in courses. Graduate school, on the other hand, is much more. A main part of being successful in grad school is learning how to do things. A student could do great in graduate school classes and still have difficultly being a successful graduate student. It takes learning how to do research and doing it efficiently and productively.


Ian Roberts (Social Psychology)


There are different expectations and different balancing of responsibilities. The courses are fewer, but can be more time consuming; further, research is essential, even more important than coursework and grades. At the end of the day your research output is the critical goal, not a GPA. Further, you're not always the one taking the classes - in graduate school, you're also teaching.


Kathleen Patton (Social Psychology)


You have to be completely dedicated to the work. You will be required to have a much deeper understanding of the material and will have many more responsibilities.


Brittney Schirda (Clinical Psychology)


There are far more responsibilities in graduate school than in undergrad. Coursework in beginning years of PhD programs is comparable to the course load as an undergraduate. However, one must also focus on his/her research, often has to work ~20 hours a week for stipend support, and see clients (if in clinical track program).


Erin Altenburger (Clinical Psychology)


VERY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE. Graduate school is "more flexible" in a sense, since you're focus is more self-motivated. Results guide progression through the program and not "hours" or "assignments". That means there are no true classes you need to pass or tests you need to take to move forward. In undergraduate, you are handed your assignments and tests, you complete them, and you're evaluated. After about 4 years, you're likely done.  Graduate school is different. You evaluate YOURSELF. You task YOURSELF. And at some point someone will ask to see those results you've been working on. If you work hard, you'll be out in X number of years, but unlike undergraduate, that's not a guarantee.


Emanuele Rizzi (Cognitive Psychology)


 

How do I decide if graduate school is right for me?

Ask yourself what you want to do when you grow up and determine if graduate school is a prerequisite for doing that. Graduate school is a significant time commitment.  Some occupations require graduate degrees and others do not. Investing resources (time, energy, money) into graduate school may or may not increase your earning potential depending on what you do afterwards.


Nicholas Wright (Social Psychology)


Consider your goals--for what you want to do, do you need a PhD/masters or would a PhD/masters help? If the answer is no, consider saving the pursuit of an advanced degree until after you've been in the work force for a few years. In other words, don't go to graduate school just because you want to delay "real life" or because you don't know what else to do.


Anonymous (Social Psych)


The best way to get a sense is to get involved in a lab and maybe do a thesis. Besides being helpful for getting into a grad school, first-hand experience allows you to see what the actual process of research is like. Get involved in as much as you can as an undergrad.


Ian Roberts (Social Psychology)


Figure out why you're considering grad school - "right" reasons include a desire to gain further knowledge and experience in the field.  "Wrong" reasons include it being what you see as necessary to get a job, what everyone else seems to be doing, or a way to spend more time in school in order to figure out your career. Don't view graduate school as a means to an end; it is important that you want to be a graduate student (and all that entails), not that you want to be someone who has a certain degree.


Kathleen Patton (Social Psychology)


It is important to consider your intended career options. If you want to teach or do clinical work, you must go to graduate school.


Jacqueline Heath (Clinical Psychology)


I think that the best way to decide is to talk to students that are in graduate school and to participate in a research lab.


Brittney Schirda (Clinical Psychology)


You need to be passionate about academics. Grad school isn't simply an extension on your undergraduate career, it is your career. Like any other "job" you're developing skills that you will utilize in your field work. In graduate school these skills are usually reading, writing, and learning and the field work is research or teaching. You have to be self-motivated, work hard, and have a passion for wanting to specialize in the specific field of interest you are in. It can be daunting and rewarding at the same time.


Emanuele Rizzi (Cognitive Psychology)


 

What can I do to prepare for graduate school?


Think carefully. Are you considering graduate school because it's hard, prestigious, and just seems like the next step? Chances are you're not alone. This doesn't mean you're not a good fit for graduate school, but I would recommend that you spend more time thinking about what pieces of graduate school and a career in this field are interesting to you. Should you find yourself in graduate school, you will benefit greatly from having these goals and values clarified when you're feeling frustrated and discouraged. Finally, do research. Then do more research. Did I mention research?


Shannon Hollars (Clinical Psychology)


Become a research assistant. Work with several different labs to get a broader perspective and make more connections. Read publications from professors you are interested in working with.


Nicholas Wright (Social Psychology)


Get involved in research as an undergrad.

Ian Roberts (Social Psychology)


Get involved with research as an undergraduate, take courses that are relevant to the field (e.g., Statistics), talk to current graduate students, study for and take the GRE...checklists are available online, but the best strategy is to start as early as you know you want to go to graduate school. No later than the beginning of junior year of undergrad, I would say.


Kathleen Patton (Social Psychology)


Seek out internships in the realm you are most interested. The more experience the better. Even if you don't like these experiences, they are informative. Taking time to work after graduating can also help one determine if graduate school is the right path.


Erin Altenburger (Clinical Psychology)


 

What does research have to do with getting into graduate school?


Everything.

Luke Hinsenkamp (Social Psychology)


It demonstrates to programs that you're capable of thinking critically and have a foundation of skills to start out with that can help with their research. Even more importantly, in my opinion, research experiences tell YOU if you like doing research. Because, let's face it, once you get into a program, you're the one that has to live with spending a huge chunk of the next decade doing research projects. You might as well like it, or at least not completely hate it.


Shannon Hollars (Clinical Psychology)


OSU is classified as a research university that has a very high level of research activity.  This research is primarily performed by graduate students under the advisement of professors.  Having experience with research methods and data analysis is a major advantage because it demonstrates that you have the ability to perform research.


Nicholas Wright (Social Psychology)


To do research as a graduate student, you must first understand the basics of how it's carried out. Getting experience as a research assistant in undergrad lets you see how it works on a firsthand basis--it may seem unimportant to you now, but once you become the researcher, you'll be grateful that you understand how it works. The more research experience you have as an undergraduate, the better prepared you are for graduate school. It also makes you a better candidate to the admissions committees reviewing your application.


Anonymous (Social Psych)


Research is critical for getting into graduate school. It helps you figure out if you're making the right decision and gives you a general idea of some of what you'll be doing as a grad student. It also helps programs know that you're motivated and have some beginner's knowledge about some of what research involves.


Ian Roberts (Social Psychology)


A lot. It is an important factor considered in candidates, and as research is the core of "school" at the graduate level, one has to really be passionate about it. Undergraduate research experience shows both experience in research, as well as an aptitude for juggling research with coursework.


Kathleen Patton (Social Psychology)


You will be much more competitive if you have participated in psychology research as an undergrad.

Jacqueline Heath (Clinical Psychology)


I think that it has a lot to do with getting into graduate school. If you are going in to a program with a research focus, it probably may make or break your chances on getting in to a program.


Brittney Schirda (Clinical Psychology)


It is a big consideration for clinical PhD programs. Not so much for PsyD's and probably not much at all for MSW's.

Erin Altenburger (Clinical Psychology)


 

How do I find graduate programs that are right for me?


Find the journal articles that interest you and look up their authors. Email them if they are professors who have their own labs (or even if they don't). Express that you're interested in going to graduate school, that you love these few papers by them, and you really want to do work like that; then ask whether they are expecting to take a look at prospective students. Don't make this initial email too long; they're busy people, but they DO want to hear from excited potential students!!!


Luke Hinsenkamp (Social Psychology)


I looked on the rankings from the U.S. News and World Report as a rough starting place. From there, I researched programs individually. I considered things like location and where I'd be willing to move. Most importantly, investigate the faculty in each program and what research they're doing. If no one is doing research that interests you, chances are it won't be a good program for you, and you won't be a good applicant for them.


Shannon Hollars (Clinical Psychology)


The internet has the answers. When looking for a graduate program the focus should be on the specific program, not the university. The strength of graduate programs is not necessarily directly correlated to the strength of the university. Identify programs that perform research in your area of interest and look for two or more professors in that program whose research interests you. There is no guarantee that a professor is accepting students on any given year or that they will still be at the school when you go there so it is good to have backups. In my opinion it is a good idea to contact the professors you are interested in working with directly before applying to the school to find out if they are accepting students and to ask questions about the program and their research. Some professors will get irritated if you do this; you do not want to work with those professors. If the professor is receptive that is a good sign.


Nicholas Wright (Social Psychology)


As with all of my answers, my only experience is with research-oriented graduate programs. Here, you want to look for research topics and ideas that interest you. Then start to explore and see if you can find out who are the people doing work on these sorts of topics. These are the people you probably want to apply to.


Ian Roberts (Social Psychology)


The most important consideration is finding an advisor that has research interests that align with your own. Even the best applicants won't get into a graduate program if they don't have a good research match.


Jacqueline Heath (Clinical Psychology)


For clinical PhD programs, take time to familiarize yourself with all the individuals conducting research in the area you are most interested. If they are university faculty at an institution, take time to look at that institution - its tracks, practicum experiences, statistics courses and financial package.


Erin Altenburger (Clinical Psychology)


 

How does funding work in graduate programs?


It completely varies. In an ideal world, you're funded entirely by fellowship in which you're funded to do research. This is what I think of as "free money," which is a totally skewed, silly and a very “grad school” way to think of it. I say this because, you're expected to do research regardless of your funding source, so a fellowship "feels" like free money in the sense that you're getting compensated financially for what you'd be doing anyway. Like I said, this is ideal, and frequently you are not on fellowship for all of your time in graduate school. Alternative sources of funding include teaching, course assisting, scholarship (yippeee!), and the lucky grant (obtained by your own efforts, your advisors, or some other benevolent faculty member). Not all graduate programs guarantee funding for the entirety of the time that you're in grad school. In fact, most do not, but they like to suggest strongly that you'll probably be funded. This is great, until you find yourself in a position where you're "possibly not having an income." Not so fun. The other piece you might not realize is that funding often only includes nine months (i.e. no summer funding). Frustratingly, most grad schools prohibit or "highly discourage" students from holding outside jobs.


Shannon Hollars (Clinical Psychology)


This is something you should ask the professors you plan on working with.  Some have their own funding and can guarantee it for multiple years; this is a very desirable thing.


Nicholas Wright (Social Psychology)


Many PhD programs will only admit you if they can guarantee you full funding for the duration of your studies. Full funding generally means that your tuition will be completely waived, save for some minor fees (like for the RPAC here), and you will be paid a living stipend on top of that (usually between $10,000 and $30,000 per academic year). This is excellent--you don't want to have to take out loans or work part- or full-time to get your degree if you can avoid it at all. Many masters and PsyD programs will not offer funding at all, or will only offer funding on a competitive basis. Know that if you apply to this kind of program, you're taking a risk that you won't get funding. Check the website of any program you're interested in to find funding information for that particular program.


Anonymous (Social Psych)


It varies- but most Ph.D programs will offer you funding but you have to pay your own way through most PsyD programs. I am not sure about all graduate schools, but the one I am a part of offers monthly stipends. Sometimes you can get a fellowship where you automatically get the stipend. Other times you must work as a CA or a teacher for a class in order to get funding.

Jacqueline Heath (Clinical Psychology)


Many clinical PhD programs have full tuition remission. You do not pay for your tuition but it is paid by the graduate school. Beyond this, funding packages vary. Often stipends to support the cost of living require work as a teaching assistant, research assistant, etc.


Erin Altenburger (Clinical Psychology)


I believe every program is different. Some programs you may have to take out loans and work really hard so you can finish with as little debt as possible. Some programs (such as mine) may offer graduate stipends by having you teach courses or do some kind of university work. If you are fortunate (and studious) enough, you may qualify or be awarded grants and fellowships (basically "free" money) to cover your expenses while you work towards your degree. Verify for your particular program.

Emanuele Rizzi (Cognitive Psychology)



 

How do I obtain letters of recommendation?


Develop relationships with professors early. They can't give you a good letter if they don't know you. Give them PLENTY (I'm talking 2 months) notice. Nothing bodes more poorly than an annoyed professor being asked to say nice things about you. Professors you have contact with through your research experiences are also an ideal source.


Shannon Hollars (Clinical Psychology)


Establish good working relationships with professors and graduate students with whom you work.  Work hard for them and they should happily write you a letter.


Nicholas Wright (Social Psychology)


Identify writers who know you best as a student/researcher, preferably those in the field you are trying to go to graduate school for but a strong letter from someone who knows you well as a student outside of your field is better than a weak letter from a writer who doesn't know you well, but is in the relevant area. Ask early, as writers tend to be inundated with requests at "letter writing time," and be ready to provide them with information on you (a CV/resume is useful, but also things about them you might not know or would like them to address in your letter - letters should not only talk about on-paper accomplishments, but about the applicant as a person). Finally, don't forget to thank them when they're done! Thank you notes are NOT out of fashion.


Kathleen Patton (Social Psychology)


I would talk to your professors and advisors in your research lab. You want to make sure to give them plenty of time to write the letters.


Brittney Schirda (Clinical Psychology)


Ask employers/faculty with whom you have worked who you know could provide a good letter of recommendation on your behalf. Pick those with whom you have had a good deal of experience.


Erin Altenburger (Clinical Psychology)


Talk to the professors and teachers you like, with legitimate questions. Ask for their opinions about how they got to where they are now. Try to take more than one course from them. But most importantly, if they have a research lab, try to get involved in it. This will earn you both letters and experience. Also you can to see if you'll actually enjoy being a graduate student.


Emanuele Rizzi (Cognitive Psychology)


 

What do I need to think about when writing a personal statement?


Write about what you really want to do, not what you think they want to hear. If your interests are not a good fit for the program, simply look elsewhere.  You will be happier and more productive if you find a program that matches your interests.


Nicholas Wright (Social Psychology)


You want to think about being as clear as possible. Please read the prompt that the school gives you. You want to be sure to list the names of the professors you want to work with...this is necessary!


Brittney Schirda (Clinical Psychology)


What makes you most fit for the school you are applying to and the faculty you are applying to work with.

Erin Altenburger (Clinical Psychology)


Think about your goals. Really make sure to let your passion about pursuing a graduate degree show. If you're not that passionate YET (you'll need to be eventually to survive), try to highlight your strengths and motivations for chasing this degree. Be honest, but don't make it seem like you are taking it lightly or are unsure, because there are plenty of competing students out there who REALLY want this opportunity. Your statement should reflect your unique set of skills that will make you successful. It is a chance to highlight those skills that are NOT already summarized in your resume/CV. Let your personality and commitment to the school or program show. Make them excited about having YOU in the program, as much as you are about being in it.


Emanuele Rizzi (Cognitive Psychology)

 


What should I know about the G.R.E. (Graduate Record Exam)?


Many programs have minimum requirements for GRE scores to received departmental funding, so getting the best score you can helps. It's only one piece of your application, so unless it's extremely low, it won't make or break you.


Shannon Hollars (Clinical Psychology)


It is entirely unproductive of success in graduate school. Research experience, good letters of recommendation, and a personal statement that fits a professor's interests are much more important.


Nicholas Wright (Social Psychology)


It is not like the ACT or SAT. Take some serious time to study and prepare.

Ian Roberts (Social Psychology)


STUDY! In my experience, the GRE is as much a test of your competence and intellectual ability as it is your preparedness for that specific exam. The questions can be tricky, and learning test-taking strategies will help you succeed. (Personally, I really benefited a lot from the Kaplan book)


Kathleen Patton (Social Psychology)


Like any exam, study and practice. Brush up on your math and reading while you're still an undergraduate. It'll make studying for the exam a lot less stressful if you already possess the skills it’s testing. Yes, you can study FOR the exam itself (and you should; there are PLENTY of material out there, and loads of it are free), but try to develop the math, vocabulary, and reading skills you'll need beforehand. Then, just brush up on the particular test aspects the exam wants you to know. Give yourself time, so you are not cramming. This isn't any 101 course you took as an undergrad. Learn to pace yourself too.


Emanuele Rizzi (Cognitive Psychology)