Tips for Applying to Clinical PhD Programs

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Tips for Applying to PhD Programs in Clinical Psychology

If you are thinking about applying to a Clinical PhD program, there are a lot of things you must consider. One issue concerns the number of applications. Right off the bat it is important to know that getting accepted to a PhD in clinical psychology is very difficult. We looked at data for acceptance and matriculation rates of PhD programs that are members of the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology. You can see these rates for many PhD programs on their website under the link “Student Admissions, Outcomes, and Other Data”. Our investigations found data for 100 programs, with the acceptance rate was most often 4%, and the matriculation rate (those who actually enrolled) was most often 2%.

The low values we cited reflect (a) the high standards of all clinical psychology PhD programs, (b) the high number of applicants that apply to each program, and (c) the low number of open slots at each program for an incoming class. In addition, you must remember that applicants to PhD programs are at the “highest level.” What this last point means for you is if you are applying to a PhD program in clinical psychology, your credentials need to be extremely strong. TThis includes a  combination of very high GRE scores (on all three components of the exam), a very high GPA in rigorous courses, research experience, excellent letters of recommendation, and a great fit with a potential mentor.

With all of the above information, is there a way to know how many programs to apply to? Although there is no clear-cut answer to this question, there is some guidance from the Internet on determining how many programs an applicant should apply to. First, a number of sites discuss applications in terms of “fit” between a student’s credentials and the characteristics of a particular program--location, training emphasis, and potential mentor(s). Second, some sites discuss applying to different levels of programs. There are “Reach” programs (your credentials are lower than the program typically acceptsdata), “Match” programs (your credentials match who is typically accepted), and “Safety” programs (your credentials exceed those who are typically accepted). You might consider applying to two or three at each level. Third, there are sites that offer actual numbers--they range between 10-20 programs.

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In closing, it is our opinion that if you are a highly competitive applicant you should probably increase your number of applications. However, you  always need to be aware that your chances of being accepted anywhere is still a function of your credentials, the competition (always an unknown), and what programs are considering. Moreover, applications cost money and they require time and effort to complete. In the end, you should only apply to those programs that you feel you would be willing to attend. 

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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