Graduate Study in Psychology:

Important Acceptance Factors

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Keith Spiegel* surveyed 158 faculty involved in the graduate student admissions process. These respondents were told that it was assumed that grades, test scores, and letters of recommendation were all important, and were asked to rate other factors on the following scale:

+3= Very impressive/significantly enhances applicant's candidacy
  0 = Neutral/doesn't affect candidacy one way or the other
-3 = Very negative/detracts significantly from applicant's candidacy

Here Are the Top 20 Factors:

  1. Applicant is listed as a senior author of a research article published in a refereed scholarly journal. (M= 2.89)

  2. Applicant is sole author on a paper at APA, APS or a major regional association convention. (2.49)

  3. Applicant has a letter from a mentor with whom applicant has done considerable work. (2.45)

  4. Applicant has a letter from applicant's professor who is a well-known and respected psychologist. (2.45)

  5. Applicant's personal statement reveals a sustained and focused interest in an area appropriate to your program. (2.39)

  6. Applicant has earned a junior authorship on a research article published in a refereed scholarly journal. (2.30)

  7. Applicant is in the top 5 % of the graduating class (overall GPA standing). (2.28)

  8. Applicant writes very well. (2.28)

  9. Applicant includes a research paper (independent study project) in submitted application package that is relevant to your program focus. (2.19)

  10. Application materials indicate that applicant paid considerable attention to assessing a "match' (i.e., that applicant's interests and your program seem right for each other). (2.09)

  11. Applicant is the sole author of a paper presented at an undergraduate research conference. (2.05)

  12. Applicant was a research assistant as an undergraduate. (2.04)

  13. Applicant is a "self-starter" (according to recommenders). (1.96)

  14. Applicant was a junior author of paper at APA, APS or a large regional association convention. (1.96)

  15. Applicant won a departmental award in a research paper competition. (1.92)

  16. Applicant is highly motivated to achieve (according to recommenders). (1.86)

  17. Applicant participated in invited honors program in senior year. (1.85)

  18. Applicant earned an A in required upper division statistics class. (1.82)

  19. Applicant is responsible and dependable (according to recommenders). (1.72)

  20. Applicant holds a membership in Phi Beta Kappa or Sigma XI (or other prestigious scholarship group). (1.68)


I have no idea who Keith Spiegel is, where this survey was conducted, or how valid the data are. Because the data are congruent with my knowledge of what is important in the application review process, however, I assume they are valid. If you want to know where I got this mysterious information from, click here. Otherwise, go to: