Preparing for Grad School

Preparing for graduate school starts the day you walk onto Briar Cliff's campus. Selecting the right classes, meeting the right people and engaging in the appropriate activities all play a part in preparing for the next level. Getting into graduate school is not a guarantee, it is a competitive process. With that being said, it is not impossible! There are some things you can do to optimize the possibility of you getting into a graduate school:


The first and foremost criteria for graduate schools is cumulative grade point average (GPA). Obviously, the higher the GPA, the better your chances are of getting into a school. Typically, very competitive programs look for a GPA of 3.5 or higher, while less competitive programs look for a GPA of 3.0 or higher.


Nearly all graduate schools require you to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). YES! It is the SAT all over again, but on a larger scale! The GRE General consists of three sections: verbal, math (quantitative), and analytic writing (measures abstract thinking). Some schools may require a subject specific GRE -- GRE Psychology (consisting of questions pertaining to all fields within psychology). Today, the GRE General is on computer, while the GRE Psychology is on paper.

Typically, programs use the GRE as a way to set a cutoff point for applicants. If you do not get above their required criterion, they probably will not even look at your application. The book, Graduate Study in Psychology, lists the average GRE scores (as well as GPA) for students who are accepted into a program. It is recommended not to take the GREs cold. Rather, there are classes and books offered on GRE prep as well as other related ways to help studying.

Letters of Recommendation

Typically, GPA and GRE scores are used as initial criterion for those seeking to get into graduate school. Today, many programs are beginning to weigh letters very highly. Strong letters of recommendation can compensate for weak GREs and GPA. When applying to graduate school, your letters should be your greatest asset! At Briar Cliff, you have the opportunity to work one on one with all of the faculty. This allows the faculty to get to know you outside of the classroom which is very important for a strong letter. As a psychology student, you should get involved with Psych Club, working with a professor and other department activities. The better the faculty knows you, the more likely they can write you a convincing letter. When you ask a professor to write you a letter, be sure to give that professor some written information about yourself, i.e., the courses you have taken from them, your grades, activities you have been involved in, etc. This will aid your professor in remembering all of the things that you have done throughout your undergraduate career.

Working with Professors

In our department, you have a unique opportunity to work closely with professors on research projects, something that is not always the case at other institutions. As a student wishing to pursue a graduate degree, you should take advantage of this! Volunteer to help with a project, ask about their work, and take the research conducted in class seriously. Additionally, the Department of Psychology offers a Independent Research course. This is a class in which you will work on a project of your own interest. When professors get to know you in this way, they can write incredibly strong letters of recommendation (provided you don't screw up)! Successfully completing these projects demonstrates to graduate schools your potential as a motivated and dependable student.

Prepare a Curriculum Vitae

It is a good idea to include a carefully assembled vitae with your application. A vitae is something you should begin now. A vita in its simplest form is an academic resume. It should contain information about your educational history, awards received, academic presentations made, and work experience. It is a way to let graduate schools know about the work you were doing during your undergraduate tenure.

Required Courses

Many programs will require that you have taken certain undergraduate courses in psychology. Courses such as statistics and experimental psychology are often required. If you will be completing the major in our department, you will have no problem with this. But specialized programs may require specialized courses. Check with the book, Graduate Study in Psychology, which lists all requirements for each program.

As with the case in most universities, students traditionally seek a minor. By and large, most psychology programs look favorably on minors that come from the sciences (math, biology, chemistry, etc.) rather than the arts (English, art, theater, etc.). Therefore, carefully consider the options when choosing a minor.

Ashley Van Cleave

“I had never even considered research as a career option until I started working on a research project and realized how much I enjoyed the challenge that research presents,” she said. “Since I had this experience at Briar Cliff, it was an easier transition into my current job.”

Ashley Van Cleave

Biochemistry Major, Psychology Minor ('17)