Part 2: How do you find the right graduate program?

I wish I could tell you that finding the right graduate program is straightforward and streamlined….but it’s definitely not. I remember sitting in a beautiful coffee shop in the Mission in San Francisco for hours just poring over faculty members at different Counseling Psychology programs. I found it most helpful to look at the list of all APA-accredited Counseling Psychology and weed out any schools that were in places I knew I would not like (e.g. University of Minnesota would just be too cold for me). It’s important to remember that you will be living where your school is for the next 4-5 years so it has to be bearable!

Next I made a spreadsheet of each school and went through and looked through the faculty profile pages to see if any of the faculty members aligned with my interests. If I found someone who was a good fit, I would look to see if there was any note of whether they were taking on a student for the next year. Unfortunately, many faculty pages are not regularly updated so I would say about one third of faculty indicated their availability. For all the faculty where it was unclear, I sent an email. Let’s just say I ended up sending a ton of emails! This part was the most frustrating in my opinion. I generally heard back from most faculty members, but there were a few who never responded. I usually sent something like this:

“Dear Dr. XYZ,

I graduated from XXX University in the Spring of 2017 and currently work in the wellbeing technology space. During my time as an undergraduate, I focused my studies and research on trauma, memory, resilience, and wellbeing under the direction of Dr. Wonderful. Beyond the lab, I was involved with numerous public health initiatives focused on student mental health in partnership with Dr. Happy.

I am very interested in your focus on early intervention, positive psychology, and long-term implications of adverse childhood experience. I am particularly interested in creating accessible, sustainable positive interventions. This is one area I could see myself exploring further in research as a graduate student.

I will be applying to Ph.D. programs this fall and would very much like the opportunity to join your lab group. Will you be accepting applications for new graduate students for entry in the coming year?

Thank you so much for your time. I’ve attached my CV here for your reference. I hope we have the chance to speak in the future. Have a nice afternoon.



This narrowed things down quite a bit! I would hear back and then sometimes engage in a few more emails to learn more about the faculty member and the program. Overall, I was very impressed by how kind and generous faculty were with me. I recommend starting this process early (around late July/early August) so you have enough time to hear back from most professors.

After you’ve heard back and feel like it’s a good fit, start getting organized for the application process. This was also quite daunting to me! Luckily, I have a few friends who have been through this in years past and they shared some great tips. I ended up making a spreadsheet like this:

Screen Shot 2020-07-23 at 6.15.50 PM

It might be hard to see, but I have headers for application deadlines, faculty, notes, what was sent and when, GRE requirements, transcripts, essays, recommendation letters, and application fees. I highly recommend using hyperlinks as much as you can so you’re not constantly googling the same programs and faculty members. Creating this spreadsheet is a great way to begin getting a grasp of what you have to do and when you have to have it done by.  It can also feel very overwhelming at times. Definitely start early so you can go slowly if you can!

I’ll outline how to get started on your application materials in the next post.

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