Ph.D backup college dilemma

so I am an international student, I am currently pursuing my masters in social work (SGPA 9.5 on a 10 point scale) which will be over in July 2022 and I also have a bachelors degree in psychology (CGPA 7.69 out of 10). after my masters I want a Ph.D. in psychology from the US. I am planning to apply to 10 to 12 universities including target schools reach schools and safety schools
I have been having a lot of trouble with finding a safety school since almost all the universities I found to have a 5 to 10% acceptance rate for the program I am interested in. I also have a financial problem hence I would not be able to afford the tuition fees if the college doesn’t waive it or provide a stipend, though most research students do receive it so hopefully it wouldn’t be an issue.
BUT I really need help in finding a few good safety schools which guarantee my admission.
More information on academic background-
Have presented 3 research papers yet in psychology and similar areas and working on 5 to 6 more.
currently first in class in my 2nd semester out of 4-semester master’s degree.
I have worked in a mental asylum for 4 months as a summer intern. currently associated with two NGOs have been working with the first one from November 2020 to July 2022
The second NGO is a US-based organization and will work with them till December of 2021
please help me find safety schools to apply to.
P.S- I have no preferences in the location it should just be in the states and should provide me with a scholarship. if you have any opinions/suggestions about target or reach schools I am open to all of them.

I doubt there are any fully-funded PhD programs that are safeties (for obvious reasons). Are any of the faculty where you are graduates of American PhD programs? How plugged in to the North American academic world are they?
If they are, they should at least be able to advise you on whether you are a strong candidate for various schools/professors.

thanks for your reply
maybe funded for the first 2 to 3 years
I live in a 3rd world country hence most of my professors have either studied in my country or England and Europe which seems like a bummer now

Small point but the word “asylum” is no longer used in the US and has negative connotations.

You could look at many programs that offer funding, usually based on some assistant teaching. If the school is a state university they sometimes give you a year to establish residency.

oh, I am sorry for using that word. The name is actually in my native language and I translated it so asylum was what it was translated as. I did not mean to portray it that way.
I will look more into finding state universities.

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No worries. I was just trying to give you a tip about the wordage. I knew you were not a native speaker :slight_smile: You can say “psychiatric facility.”

Good luck!


Major issue is finding some professors who are doing research of areas of your choosing. I know someone who went to Rutgers to work with a certain professor. It’s not necessarily the overall status of the school, it is finding a good person to work with.


I completely agree with your opinion, that is why I was already shortlisting the colleges I should apply to so that in the next few months (June to September) I can finalise the faculty whose research interest is similar to mine and have enough time to look into their profiles and develop my statement of purpose.

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To emphasize what @bookworm says, at the Ph.D. level you often go to work with a certain professor more than you go to a specific school. You may want to consider contacting potential faculty about working for/studying with them, prior to applying to the Ph.D. program at their schools.

What type of psychology are you interested in studying?


But sometimes a mentor leaves or retires. So the prevailing aesthetic (for the arts), focus, philosophy or whatever of the department is also important.


You really need to first familiarize yourself with the process of applicants for a PhD program.

First, the people who look over your application are a committee of faculty and grad students, who decide whether the program is willing to invest a lot of time and a lot of money in you. Admissions are 100% about whether they think that you will succeed. If they do not think that the program will be a place in which you will succeed, they will not accept you. As I wrote, they will be spending a lot of money and time on you, and are not willing to “take a chance”.

One of the things which helps them decide is whether they feel that you actually know what a PhD entails. From your post, this does not seem to be the case.

Second, few reputable PhD programs will accept a students without ensuring that they are fully supported for at least 5 years. By “fully supported”, I mean full tuition as well as a teaching or research assistantship (a 50% appointment). There is simply no way that anybody who is not independently wealthy can support themselves through a PhD.

Third, there is no such thing as a safety school for a PhD. There is no reputable PhD program which will accept any applicant who had above a certain GPA and GRE scores. As I wrote - a PhD student costs a lot of money, so every program is going to be choosey. So please disabuse yourself of this notion.

The only PhD programs which accept almost every applicant are those which expect you to pay everything out of your pocket, and will provide you with no support, and none are really reputable. Some are no more than diploma mills.

Again - no such thing as a safety school for a PhD.

A PhD is a research degree - you are expected to work on your own research project for 3-5 years. That is your PhD. It is expected to be original and independent. Nobody will give you topics to research, and no program will allow you to bounce around for a few years, trying to decide what you want to do.

Are these peer reviewed, and will they be published in reputable peer-reviewed journals? In my field, conferences accept almost all presentations which are submitted, and are therefore not considered at the level of a peer-reviewed journal article. Where were they presented?

What topics in psychology interest you? Are you interested in clinical or not? You should be selecting potential programs based on whether there are people there whose research interests you, or based on the strengths and the direction of the program.

You should really go back and do some research about the process of getting a PhD in psychology in the USA. Contact some PhD programs, figure out what you are interested in researching.

Start practicing your research skills by doing some research on what you need to know and what you need to do in order to do a PhD in an American university.

Good Luck!


I like clinical sciences, I have done various research papers on schizophrenia and other psychosis. the other thing that interests me a lot is sleep-related disorders.

I would be honest, your reply here made me think for a very long time if Ph. D was the right way to go for me and if it is maybe i should wait a few more years to apply. I understand now that there will be no backup colleges for Ph. D. but I am still determined to give it a try, taking the suggestions of others on this post I have started contacting various faculty whose research areas match with mine and I am being completely honest in the emails and expressing how i am extremely interested but may lack the necessary research experience like all the other candidates have. I wanted to join for the session of 2022 so i still have some time to work of my resume and thats what i want to do. Hopefully it will workout in my favour
thanks for your response

Curious to know if OP comes from a country that was historically a British colony. The British-legacy education system often ends up in PhDs that are quite a different animal from a US PhD. In my experience, those without faculty graduated from or insight into the US process might not realize this.


Yep. The American PhD system (the serious funded ones, not the cash cow ones) are intended to prepare students for a life of academia (academic research) straight out of the PhD program in to a tenure-track position (ideally). This is true even for PhD programs far down the pecking order (though the PhDs they do successfully place in academia tend to be at overseas institutions; others enter industry or find some other work or go the post-doc route to try again). And the departments spend a lot of money and time on their PhDs. Caveat: It seems that some doctoral psych programs intend more to produce practitioners, but others more knowledgeable can speak about that.

Outside of a handful of unis/programs that have become more “American”, a UK PhD just means you passed a thesis defense in a niche subject that you decided to research.

So I suppose one question for the OP is what goals do you have in life? What do you plan to do with a PhD?


Maybe you should work for awhile with your MSW and then figure out if you want the PhD. Do you want research or do you want to practice with patients? The MSW is pretty flexible and opens up a lot of options for work.

Hello there!

There’s really no such thing as a safety school in PhD admissions, especially in psychology. It’s very different from undergraduate admissions in the U.S. Many students - many competitive students - have to apply two or three years in a row before getting admitted somewhere they want to attend. It’s simply because most programs only accept a small number of students, typically somewhere between 4 and 10, and there are far more applicants than spots. You’re not going to find a psychology program that guarantees your admission.

Instead, focus on finding 10 to 12 universities that are a good match for your research interests and your application portfolio. You should have universities that represent a range of competitiveness, but that range is going to be a lot more constrained than it would be for an undergrad search.

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I have always wanted to be a practicing clinical psychologist, even though academic research and teaching have always fascinated me (I come from a family where both my parents have a Ph.D.) I have not really considered it as much.

Yes i have realised this that due to studying in a education system inspired by the British system. we somehow end up with mostly theoretical knowledge rather than practical, it is one of the reasons I wanted to diversify my education but now while reading all the suggestions and comments here I am a teensy bit scared

@compmom I have considered it many times, The NGO I am currently working with is offering me to join them after I complete my masters and it is a really great place to work.
BUT the thing is it isn’t related to psychology in any sense it is just an NGO and I really miss psychology.
This might be diverting from the topic but the reason I took up MSW was that, it is really really hard to get into a good college in my country especially in psychology, acceptance rates are sometimes as low as 0.2% and I have always been in the top 10% but that is never enough. Even though Social work is a great subject and I enjoy it but psychology is my passion. Sometimes when I have to study for my semester exams of MSW I have small breakdowns because I miss studying psychology and doing something in that area.