What are my chances and best options for PhD Clincial Psychology programs?

I am a senior at Smith College, graduating May of 2023, with a double major in Statistical and Data Science and Psychology. Here are my stats:

GPA: 3.99, 4.0 in data science, stats, and psych

GRE: 163V, 157Q (I know the Quantitative isn’t great, I’m seeking advice on whether to include it for GRE optional programs)

Research Interests: primarily creating novel treatment protocols for incarcerated juveniles and sex trafficking victims. I am also interested in heart rate variability and dissociation in trauma survivors.

LoRs: I anticipate all three of my recommenders to write strong, comprehensive letters on my behalf. The first will be the chair of the psych department at Smith, who specializes in trauma and clinical psychology. I have worked in his lab for two years, taken several of his classes, and will go to the APA this summer with him. The second is my statistics advisor, who will speak to my quantitive abilities. The third is a lecturer who recently got his PhD, but who I have built a relationship with. He can speak to my programming skills and a meta analysis I did with him.

Clinical Experience: I am most recently a registered behavior technician with the BCBA, and have worked with autistic youth. I also have a background in working as a juvenile corrections officer, a counselor at an adult halfway house, volunteer work with sex trafficking survivors, and other jobs that require extensive work with people.

Research Experience: I am co-author on an APA poster that I will present later this year at the conference. My work study job is recruiting peer reviewers and reading over manuscripts for a high-impact psychology journal. I am currently completing an honors thesis aimed at determining risk factors for sex trafficking. I’ve also been a research assistant for the psych department head for two years, and a summer research fellow for two entire summers.

Other info: I am a non-traditional student because I went into the workforce after high school. After witnessing a suicide attempt at the juvenile prison I worked at, I was inspired to pursue clinical psychology to develop novel interventions and treatments. I will write about this experience in my admissions essay.

I will apply to the following clinical psychology programs:
UNC Chapel Hill
UC Berkeley

I am interested in hearing others’ thoughts on my chances at these schools, whether or not I should submit my GRE scores to test optional places, and maybe where I will place against most applicants.

Thank you - any advice is helpful and appreciated!

I don’t know anything about the clinical psychology programs so I can’t chance you. I’ll only comment on a few aspects of your applications:

  1. GRE. GRE scores aren’t necessary if you can demonstrate your verbal and quantitative skills through your coursework and recommendations. Some of the most selective graduate programs in the country are now test blind because they assume their applicants can and should be able to demonstrate their competence via those other means. Therefore, submit your GRE scores if you believe they enhance your overall applications.

  2. LoRs. You can ask your recommenders to highlight different areas of your strengths, but they should all do so in the context of your potential as a researcher. Recommenders who are well known researchers in the field themselves are better for this purpose.

  3. Statement of Purpose. It’s very different from a college admission essay. You should explain clearly why you choose to work in the particular subarea (more specific than just general clinical psychology) that the PIs in those programs you identify in your applications are working on. Therefore, you should try to gain familiarity with their researches if you don’t currently.

First of all - congratulations on doing great in college. Keeping a 3.99 average at Smith is not easy, and you have a pretty good CV overall.

Grad school is not like undergrad - they do not want to hear your story, and they are not looking to see how you fit in their incoming class socially. They want to know whether you will be able to do the research that is required for a PhD.

As @1NJParent writes you need to write a statement of purpose which should highlight your interest in the subfield, and more importantly, your understanding of both the subfield, and of the research that is going on in the labs of your potential advisors, as well as how your interests fit into each of these labs.

Basically, your statement of purpose should include your research interests, how they fit in each lab, and should demonstrate that you have basic understanding of what is required for you to do your PhD.

You are competitive for any grad program, so it really is down to how many other applicants of your caliber or better are applying to the program at the time.

However, acceptance rates to all of these programs is below 4%, so it is critical that you choose programs based on the research that the faculty are doing. Applications which do not demonstrate a clear connection between your interests and the research that the program faculty are doing will end up in the “No” pile. Applications which do not demonstrate that you have interest in research and a basic understanding of how research works will end up in the “No” pile.

@1NJParent did not mention CV, so I will. Make sure that your CV showcases your clinical and research experience. Programs are much more interested in graduate students who have experience in research and those with clinical aspects also prefer students who don’t have to be trained in clinical methodology from scratch. You want to make sure that you demonstrate that you have that experience.

You should also reach out to potential advisors. If a faculty member is interested in you, and is also looking for grad students, that will go a long way to admission to the program.

Finally, you should ask your advisor and your department chair about the percent of Smith graduates with your profile who were accepted to these programs. My kid is a rising senior in another NE LAC, and is looking at PhD programs, and her adviser was able to provide her with that information.

While there is never anything comparable to a “safety school” for a PhD, there are some programs to which you are much more likely to be accepted. It may be worth your while to see if any of them is a good choice for you, by way of research interests.

Good luck!!

PS. Here is a list of programs with acceptance rates. It is pretty old (from 2013), but there has likely not been a huge change in these percentages, at least realistically (so a change in acceptance rate from 1.5% to 3% is not, realistically, a big change, even though it has doubled)

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