Indiana University

Career-Focused Preparation for Graduate School

Graduate schools prefer applicants who have career-focused preparation over those who do not.

What you'll need to do to prepare for graduate school will depend on your career field, subfield, and degree goals. For example, the answers to the questions below depend on the specific career and graduate degree you want to work toward:

  • What courses should you take as an undergraduate?
  • How much do GPA and entrance exam scores matter for graduate school admissions?
  • How much research experience should you get?
  • What kinds of career-relevant internship experiences would be best for your intended career?

The strongest graduate school applications will come from students who began to explore their career, subfield, and degree goals relatively early in their undergraduate years.

If you begin exploring these goals early on then you are more likely to be able to enroll in courses and complete research and internship experiences that are a great match for your career interests. The students pictured above completed a field experience in which they assisted therapists with a social skills training program for children.

Click to read examples of two students who accomplished a lot because they started exploring their career goals early.

  • Eric became interested in social psychology in Introductory Psychology, so he talked to his professor during office hours and attended departmental talks on social psychology topics. He enrolled in upper-level social psychology courses and enjoyed them. Eric investigated relevant research labs, applied for a research assistant position and was accepted. He attended the Midwestern Psychological Association conference with graduate and undergraduate students from the lab and during his senior year he completed an Honors Thesis and had his name included on a publication submitted to the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology.

  • Bree had been interested in psychology as far back as high school. She had always been someone whose friends sought her out when they were struggling with personal problems. She wasn't too sure how well she would do interacting with people with mental illnesses, however, so in her first year in college she volunteered to spend an hour a week as a buddy to a young adult with schizophrenia. She was pleased that she found it a really rewarding experience.

    She loved Introductory Psychology and enrolled in all of the upper-level courses she could find that related to clinical psychology (including a couple of excellent Topics in Psychology courses) and she worked for two semesters in a clinical science research lab.

    She enjoyed working with kids when she volunteered at an elementary school and as a summer camp counselor. She jumped at the chance to participate in a field experience course in which she got to assist a therapist as she led a social skills training class for kids with attention-deficit and oppositional defiant disorder.

    As a result of these experiences she was pretty confident that she wanted to become a practicing psychologist.

    As a junior, she began investigating all of the licenses and degrees that could get her into the field. She interviewed clinical science researchers and practicing clinical psychologists about their careers. She also interviewed a counseling psychologist, a marraige & family therapist, a licensed mental health counselor and a licensed clinical social worker.

    As a result of her career explorations, she was able to confidently conclude that she wanted to attend either a doctoral program in counseling psychology or a master's degree program that would prepare her to become a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

    Her great performance in her volunteer work, field experience, research assistantship, and coursework combined to make her a good candidate for any of these programs in which she was interested.


Resources for information about career-focused preparation for graduate school:

  • Once you've begun to narrow down your career field and subfield goals, you can search for specific, helpful advice about how to prepare for the types of graduate programs in which you are interested.
    • The Advising Resource Library includes guidebooks such as "Getting In: A Step-by-Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology" and the "Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology".
    • Psi Chi has articles about preparing for psychology graduate programs, including articles that are specific to clinical psychology and developmental psychology.

  • Interview professionals who are working in the particular specialty in which you are interested. If you are considering a career in psychology you'll need to investigate subfields and think about whether a career in research or practice will be best for you before you'll be able to locate professionals who can give you the best advice about how to prepare for graduate school.

  • 100+ Professional Societies of Interest to Psychology & Neuroscience Majors. Professional associations and their publications are often the best sources of information about the current state of any field, possible career paths and qualifications. They are also a terrific way to find professionals who are working in the specialty of interest to you.

  • Graduate Schools. Once you've determined the degree(s) that will prepare you for your career of interest, you can read about admission requirements of potential graduate programs and talk to their admissions personnel, faculty, and current graduate students.

Continue to 4. Select Schools