We are very pleased that you are interested in our program. As with most clinical psychology doctoral programs we receive a large number of applications (~250 per year) and admit a small number of students (~4-7). We know applying to graduate school can also be a burden, both in cost and time. Thus, we would like to communicate the qualifications we look for in making our admissions decisions so you can determine whether you are likely to be a good fit for our program prior to submitting your application.
We do not consider GRE scores
In February 2020 we voted to no longer require the general GRE for admissions. We made this decision based on evidence that the GRE did not provide significant utility in predicting who did well in graduate school and beyond, evidence that there are differential scores across demographic groups that reflect bias in the test, and that the cost of taking the GRE is an unreasonable expectation in light of the lack of utility and bias. Thus, do not send us your GRE scores. We will not use them in our selection process. We also do not require or use the Psychology subject GRE in our admissions decisions.
What are we looking for in an applicant?
In the review of applications, we pay particular attention to the match between student and faculty research mentor interests and program philosophy. Therefore, please check the webpage of the faculty mentor you are interested in working with. Your research experience, clinical experience, personal statement and letters of recommendation are critical components in admissions decisions. We consider your GPA, but we do not have formal cutoff scores for the GPA. We value individuals from diverse backgrounds and experience working with diverse populations.
Research and Clinical Experience
Training in clinical psychology training is demanding as it requires a significant commitment to both research and practice. Thus, we find that students are best prepared if they have laboratory-based research experience and some experience clinically, otherwise it is difficult for you to know if this demanding path is truly right for you.
For research, it is very unlikely that we would admit an applicant with no research experience, or who had research experience only in the context of an undergraduate research course. Typically, our applicants have experience working in a psychology or related laboratory for at least one year (and often more). About half of our students are admitted the year following completion of their bachelor’s degree, and the other half after postbaccalaureate experience or a masters degree. Successful applicants to our program very often have gained enough experience and responsibility to have earned authorship on conference presentations, and in some cases peer reviewed manuscripts. This type of experience, or similar experience in conducting a senior thesis, show that you have gained experience with a broad range of research activities, including writing, which is a major component of being a scientist. That said, we review applicants holistically and some applicants have strengths or weaknesses in different areas and we do not have cutoffs for numbers of publications or presentations.
Clinical experience can be harder to come by prior to graduate school and successful applicants do not always have direct experience working with patient populations. Thus, we are not necessarily looking for extensive clinical experience. The extent to which this is prioritized varies by lab, depending on the nature of the clinical research. However, “people skills” are quite important, which could be demonstrated by volunteer or paid experience in a helping role (e.g., homeless shelter, crisis hotline, hospital volunteer), leadership on campus or in other settings, clinical experience in the context of research, or a variety of other experiences.
Fit with a Faculty Member
Our program follows a mentorship model. Students are accepted into the lab of a specific faculty member, and faculty members are looking for students who have the knowledge, interests, and skills to succeed in their labs. As an applicant, one of your primary goals should be to find potential faculty advisors who can train you in the specific area you wish to conduct research in.
Because of this mentorship model, in our program individual faculty play a large role in determining which students are accepted into the PhD program. Always check the faculty member’s website (including their lab website) for information regarding their program of research. Sometimes faculty members will also have information on their websites regarding whether they are accepting students and policies regarding contact prior to reviewing applications. In the event that websites do not have the information you are looking for, you may wish to consider emailing faculty directly.
One of the most important things your personal statement should convey is your research and clinical experiences and your fit with a faculty member(s) here at UWM. In essence, your personal statement should answer the question “Why is UWM’s clinical psychology program and that particular mentor(s) the ideal place for you to do your doctoral research and clinical training?” This statement is a primary way in which the admissions committee and potential faculty advisors evaluate how well your interests, abilities, and experiences fit within their lab and our program. In about 1.5-2 pages our statement should succinctly present your experiences and interests for future training and career goals, and make clear how those interests and experiences make you a good fit for our program and in a specific faculty laboratory. Be concrete about your relevant experience (e.g., honors thesis or research assistantship activities). What did you do on the project(s)? How did your work impact your understanding of the research question and your research interests moving forward? How does this, in turn, fit with the work of a specific mentor at UWM?
In addition to the usual personal statement, we also ask for a brief 250-350 word statement on how you see your role as a scientist-practitioner within the context of social justice and diversity considerations, as well as any experience conducting research and/or practice with diverse populations.
Letters of Recommendation
You will need three letters of recommendation submitted on your behalf. The most competitive applications include at least two letters from Ph.D level letter writers. At least one of these letters should be from someone who can speak to your research skills and experiences. Often applicants who are most competitive for admission into our program have multiple letters from people who can speak to your research skills and experiences. If you do not have multiple letter writers who address your research expertise ask individuals who can comment on other relevant skills, such as writing and quantitative skills and who know you well. If you had prior clinical experience, one of your letters could be from someone who can speak to your clinical skills and experiences.
Resources for Applying to Graduate School
Our department has assembled resources for our undergraduate majors to assist with career planning, including preparation for graduate school. Those resources can be found here – feel free to use them.