Graduate School Planning

High-achieving, conscientious students who are motivated and dedicated to a much higher level of scholarly reading, writing and research, may be good candidates for graduate school. Students must be able to demonstrate a commitment to academic success through achievement in undergraduate education. Graduate school is not something students just fall into because they haven't chosen what to do next in life; it also does not guarantee a job or a high salary. 

Graduate study consists of advanced training in a specific area of study. Students should consider very carefully why they want to go to graduate school and what their expectations are. Those who are interested in graduate school in psychology will need to know which area of psychology they want to pursue. The American Psychology Association offers a, Frequently Asked Questions about Graduate School section, which can serve as a great starting point.

  • Admission Criteria

    Competition for admission in all graduate programs is intense. Only the most qualified students are admitted. Nationally, 14% percent of psychology graduates are accepted into a PhD program in Psychology ( For a good Psychology program, meeting the minimum standards for admission is not usually sufficient; students must do more. For example, the minimum GPA for entering most psychology PhD programs is a 3.2, but students who are actually admitted have a much higher GPA (generally a 3.5 or higher). Some programs place more emphasis on the GPA earned during the junior and senior years. Consult the APA's Graduate Study in Psychology (Previous additions also available in 100 Psychology) to see the specific criteria for psychology programs. A student's undergraduate GPA and coursework, Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, letters of recommendation, research and clinical experiences, and personal statement must show potential to be successful in graduate school. Students wishing to pursue graduate study in psychology should work closely with a faculty member in the area that they want to pursue. Advisors can also be helpful when selecting courses and helping with the graduate school process. 

  • Graduate Record Exam

    GRE scores are very important. The revised General Test includes three sections—verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. The verbal and quantitative reasoning sections are scored in 1 point increments from 130 to 170. The analytical writing section is scored in half point increments from 0 to 6. The Psychology Subject GRE focuses on the core knowledge gained through a broad Psychology curriculum. All graduate programs have different admission criteria, so students will need to check with each program to determine if they need to take the GRE. The MSU Testing Center administers the GRE and other standardized exams. The MSU Library staffs a subject guide and offers study books available for checkout. For more information on the General and Subject GRE, check out the official website

  • Research Experience

    Research experience is critical for most graduate programs, especially for psychology PhD. programs. It is also the best way to obtain stellar letters of recommendation! If the research results in students becoming an author or co-author of a journal article, or in the presentation of a paper, that will benefit them even more. Getting involved in research early as an undergraduate student and staying involved is critical.  Most clinical and counseling programs will expect you to have some clinical fieldwork or internship experience. 

  • Graduate School in Areas Other Than Psychology
    There are many graduate school opportunities available to psychology students outside of the Psychology discipline. Students interested in working closely with people may wish to examine graduate programs in human services, such as social work, counseling psychology, or family studies. Other fields of interest for psychology students may include (but are not limited to) education, law, public health, human resources, public affairs administration, and medicine. Please consult with your academic advisor for more information. 

    Below are a few examples of different types of graduate programs you may wish to explore at Michigan State University: 
    • Clinical Social Work:Master's degree. This two-year degree program prepares students to work in the field of social work as therapists, mental health professionals, school social workers, and coordinators of various programs, to name a few. 
    • Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education: Master's degree and Ph.D. programs. MSU's College of Education offers a variety of graduate programs through Counseling Educational Psychology. Applied Behavioral Analysis, School Psychology, Rehabilitation Counseling, and Educational Psychology are a few of the programs offered in the College of Education.
    • Marriage and Family Therapy:Master's degree and Ph.D. program.  Students pursuing a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies select a concentration in Child Development, Couple and Family Therapy, or Lifespan Human Development and Family Diversity.
    • School Psychology: Ed Specialist and Ph.D. program.
    • Educational Administration:Master's and PhD programs. Are you interested in working at a college or university with students and faculty? Does becoming an academic advisor, resident hall director, or working with special programs interest you? Areas of focus in education administration include Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education and Student Affairs Administration.
    • Human Resources and Labor Relations:Master's degree. The School of Human Resources or Labor Relations internationally recognized master's degree program prepares students to be leaders in their field.