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Student Resources

Looking for service and/or advocacy opportunities?

The document linked below lists organizations, events, and programs that provide opportunities for meaningful engagement.

Applying to graduate school or looking for a career?

Below are resources to help you.

Letters of Recommendation

Graduate schools and many places of employment will require letters of recommendation as a part of their application packet. In the past you may have obtained letters from people who know you or your family well. These were primarily character references and are very different from the ones you will need for graduate school or employment applications.

Generally you will be asked for three letters of recommendation from people who know you in an academic and/or work setting. You might want to get one letter from a supervisor at a job, if you know that your performance at your job met or exceeded your supervisor’s expectations. An important point to remember is that you are seeking strong letters of recommendation. It is important to keep in mind that you might need different letters of recommendation for different purposes. For example, a letter of recommendation for an application to graduate school will differ from a letter written for a job application or for a scholarship.

From your faculty you should speak to those with whom you have taken several courses in which you have distinguished yourself. If you are concerned that your teacher will not remember you from class (or might remember you for the wrong reasons!), perhaps you should not ask that particular teacher for a letter.

On the other hand, if you have conducted research with or under the supervision of a faculty member, then that faculty member will most likely remember you and be willing to write you a strong letter. You might also want to consider faculty who have worked with you in organizations or on committees. Have you been a member of Student Government or active in the Psychology Coalition or Psi Chi? Did you work with Student Volunteer Services with faculty members? These are good sources of letters. These will go beyond being a character reference and speak to your reliability, your conscientiousness, and your leadership skills.

When should you start working on obtaining strong letters of recommendation?

Now. Even if you are a freshman, it is not too early to start. By the time you are a senior, should have already distinguished yourself in your classes, become involved in research with one or more of the faculty, been deeply involved in at least one volunteer activity, and become involved in at least one organization. The theme is get involved. That is what faculty will notice more than anything – an involved B student will be noticed more than a passive uninvolved A student.

When you ask someone if he/she “feels comfortable writing a strong letter” (yes, phrase it just like that), also ask him/her what you can provide that might help him/her write the letter. Many faculty members like a list of courses, outside activities, employment, and other information about you that they might not know. If you have worked to put yourself through college, put that on your information sheet.

Many positions have forms to be filled out along with or in addition to letters of recommendation. On the form there will be a place for you to indicate whether you waive your right to see the letters of recommendation.Though you might be intensely curious, most references feel freer to be honest and open when they know that the letter will be kept confidential. The individuals on the committees (for jobs, schools, etc.) know this and are likely to more strongly consider letters that are written with the rights of the applicant waived.

Speaking of forms, please be sure to fill out as much of the form as you can for your letter writers before giving the forms to them. It might seem that there are only a few lines to fill out, but remember that your references are probably also writing letters for several other students. Each student might be applying to multiple positions. If four students ask for five letters each, the reference will have 20 forms to fill out (not including the letter ). You want to make this process as painless as possible for your letter writer.

Other small things that you can do to help your references include: providing a preaddressed stamped envelope for each letter (you might want to ask your reference about this, some prefer to use letterhead envelopes), arranging the forms/envelopes in order of the due-dates. Also, approach potential letter writers in advance. No one likes to be asked to do a favor … right now! Give your references as much notice as possible (at least three weeks). It might seem that it doesn’t take long to write a letter, but to write a strong letter takes thought and time – and, of course, it has to be fit into an already busy schedule.

Even a great letter cannot make up for a weak application, but a negative letter can destroy even a great application. This is why you really want to ask whether your potential reference is comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation.

Writing a Personal Statement

Most graduate programs require applicants to submit a personal statement. Students often procrastinate and agonize over the writing of this statement because the nature of the task is ambiguous. Few graduate programs provide any guidelines for the types of information they are looking for, which leaves you wondering, “Just how personal am I supposed to be?” Based on our experiences of being former students in Ph.D. programs and of being on admissions committees to graduate programs in psychology, we provide you with the following suggestions to commonly asked questions:

How long should it be?

Check the graduate school’s website. Some schools will recommend or require a word-count, especially if the application is online. If you cannot find such information, a good rule-of-thumb is three to four double-spaced pages. This might seem long, but you need to sell yourself! Your application might be competing with 100 others for only 10 spots in a program. Shorter statements tend to provide too little information, glossing over important facts that leave the reader with questions about whether you are a good fit with the program. Longer statements tend to get repetitive and the reader might lose interest.

Always choose quality of words over quantity of words.

Does writing style matter?

Yes! Your writing must be professional, clear, grammatically correct, and free of typographical errors. A sloppy personal statement will give the impression that you are a sloppy, careless person who will turn in sloppy, careless graduate work. If you are required to electronically submit your personal statement, first write it using a word processing program and copy and paste the text into the website. Carefully proofread your statement several times. Ask someone in the Department’s Peer Mentoring Center or the Campus Writing Center to proofread your statement. Finally, ask a faculty member to review your statement. Note that a psychology faculty member will most likely agree to review the content of your statement, not the grammar.

How personal should I be?

Despite its name, the statement should not be very “personal.” This is not the place to describe your mental health history, your failed relationships, or your philosophy on life. Instead, consider the personal statement as a professional statement. Write about the professional and academic experiences leading you to apply to graduate school and that have prepared you for the challenges of graduate work.

What should I write about?

In general, your statement should cover five key components: 1) Your previous research experience, 2) your current research interests, 3) other relevant experiences (such as involvement in Psi Chi or Psychology Coalition, volunteer and work experience in the mental health field, a psychology class that had an impact, etc.), 4) your career goals, and 5) why you’re a great match for the program to which you are applying.

External Links to Graduate School and Career Information Sites

Last updated: 1/20/2022