Getting Into Graduate School: A Comprehensive Guide for Psychology and the Behavioral Sciences


Gregory J. Privitera

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  • Back Matter
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  • Copyright

    About the Author

    Gregory J. Privitera is an associate professor of psychology at St. Bonaventure University and a member of the Board of Trustees at an International Baccalaureate (IB) World school in Olean, New York. Dr. Privitera received his PhD in behavioral neuroscience in the field of psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He went on to complete postdoctoral research at Arizona State University before beginning his tenure at St. Bonaventure University in 2009. He is an author of multiple books on statistics, research methods, and the psychology of eating, in addition to authoring over two-dozen peer-reviewed articles aimed at advancing our understanding of health and promoting the intake of healthier diets. He oversees a variety of undergraduate research projects at St. Bonaventure University, where over 20 undergraduate students, many of whom are now earning a PhD or other graduate degrees at various institutions, have coauthored research in his laboratories. For his work with students and fruitful record of teaching and advisement, Dr. Privitera was recognized in 2014 with the highest teaching honor at St. Bonaventure University, The Award for Professional Excellence in Teaching. He was also honored as the Advisor of the Year at St. Bonaventure University for his work as the advisor of the Class of 2013. The above photo shows Dr. Privitera accepting this award from one of the students who nominated him, Danielle Antonelli. In addition to his teaching, research, and advisement, Dr. Privitera is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and is married with two children: a daughter, Grace, and a son, Aiden.


    To my son, Aiden Andrew, and daughter, Grace Ann—may you always value the gift of an education throughout life. Never stop learning.

    Thank you to the following select group of students who have graciously agreed to share their experiences and application materials in this book so that I can demonstrate how this plan has worked for them, and how it can work for you (note the diversity of the types of degree programs to which these students were accepted, since 2011):

    • Jaela Agnello, accepted for doctor of chiropractic (DC)
    • Danielle Antonelli, accepted for MA, mental health counseling
    • Jessie Briggs, accepted for PhD, social psychology
    • Alexis Cosco, accepted for PhD, industrial-organizational psychology
    • Heather Creary, accepted for MS, educational psychology and methodology
    • Michael Gargano, accepted for PhD, clinical psychology
    • Hannah Lapp, accepted for PhD, behavioral neuroscience
    • Nicole Marinaccio, accepted for PsyD, counseling and school psychology
    • Taylor Phillips, accepted for PsyD, school psychology
    • Kristin Sotak, accepted for PhD, organizational behavior
    • Maxwell Wallace, accepted for PsyD, clinical psychology
    • Faris Zuraikat, accepted for PhD, nutritional sciences

    And to the entire psychology Class of 2013 at St. Bonaventure University—know that I am grateful for the experiences we shared, which have indubitably contributed to the development of this plan. Thank you.

    To the Student The Story of Your Time in College, and How This Plan Can Help Make It Extraordinary

    College really is an extraordinary time for any student. You sit in a classroom among other students, who for all you know will be the millionaires or billionaires of the future. Indeed, about 4 in every 5 billionaires and about 4 in every 5 millionaires hold a college degree, which means that at one point in time, these wealthy people were just classmates. They studied the same as you, took notes, attended classes, ate at the dining halls, lived in the dorms, and had all the other bells and whistles that come with being a college student. College is exciting because students are surrounded by people who are largely just starting, restarting, or continuing their paths toward success. Importantly, one of these students in college is you.

    Whether you are a college student in psychology or another field that falls within the behavioral sciences, or if you plan to attend college, this book should appeal to your interests in that it is written for a full range of college students. You do not need to have set all your future plans in order to be ready to read this book. In fact, this book will actually help you identify your plans and goals; it will help you to realize every way in which you can find and create opportunities to achieve your goals; it will provide a road map to show you how to be competitive for and gain acceptance to graduate schools—even doctorate-level programs. All students deserve an opportunity to reach their goals, regardless of what college they attend or what aspirations they have; this book will reveal how this can be achieved. It will show any student what makes the “best” students so competitive for graduate schools, and then it will show you how you can attain all of those opportunities so that you can be among, and even stand out among, the “best.”

    What brought me to write this book is that I wanted to make accessible the “how” in a graduate school preparation book. It is one thing to explain what you need to achieve to be competitive for graduate schools; it is quite another to explain how you can achieve those opportunities needed to be competitive. Most books tell you “what” you need to do, but rarely do they sufficiently explain how to do it. My frustration as a student was that I had to figure everything out myself. Many advisors were helpful in telling me what I needed to do: have a high GPA, apply for internships, do well on my GREs, find teaching and research opportunities, apply to colleges, write my curriculum vitae, and much more. But how? These things do not just happen; it would be helpful to have some really good advice on how to get all of that done—and just for good measure, why not also throw in some good examples from students who have succeeded at getting into graduate schools?

    In truth, I was your typical undergraduate student, who happened to earn a PhD in behavioral neuroscience (a field of psychology). I was frustrated then, and am still frustrated now, by the lack of answers to such a simple question: How do students find and create the opportunities they need to be competitive for graduate schools? To answer this question, I spent four years advising a single undergraduate class from freshman to senior year, with the goal in mind of finding as many possible answers to “how” students can achieve their goals for graduate school. I wanted to be satisfied that the ideas in this book would be not just opinions, but instead real solutions to finding and creating opportunities that could specifically lead to admission into graduate schools. The results were impressive.

    My advisement class graduated in May 2013, and many other students also sought my advisement during this time. In total, I advised 34 students during this four-year span from 2009 to 2013. Of those students, 28 (about 82%) received acceptance letters to graduate schools, and 10 (about 30%) went on to doctorate-level programs to include top research programs in the country. Keep in mind that the national averages for acceptance rates to graduate schools are typically below 50%, and acceptance rates to doctoral programs are much lower, at only about 10%—well below the acceptance rates of the students I advised. These students deserve all the credit for their success. Still, many will tell you that the plan I shared with them as their advisor, which is the same plan I share with you in this book, was a catalyst in helping them to achieve the opportunities they needed to be competitive for graduate schools. So much so that many of the most successful among them have agreed to allow me to share their graduate school application materials and experiences in this book so that I can reveal further how to find and create opportunities as they did to obtain acceptance into graduate schools.

    In April 2013, I was honored as the Advisor of the Year at my university—my author photo for this book is of my acceptance of that award. It was my students who nominated me for the award, making it the most meaningful award I have ever accepted. It was quite an honor, and it was the work that went into that moment that has produced the book that is written here. In truth, it is largely my experiences with that advisement class that have allowed me to write such an insightful book, with so many great examples to show you how to achieve your goals. Few people will achieve great success in isolation, and the writing of this book is no exception. My experiences as an advisor of the Class of 2013 at St. Bonaventure University (and as an advisor of others over the years) have contributed to my perspective and ideas in a way that is indubitably recognized and appreciated.

    In truth, you can take one step to find a person who will tell you what you can’t do in life; you can walk miles before you find one person who will tell you what you can do. It’s a sad reality, but it tends to be true. We all need someone to show faith in us; I need this as much as anyone else. It feels good to see that other people believe in our hopes and dreams to achieve great things, and it can be difficult when people we respect, or people we think are in a good position to judge us, express disbelief. The best advice for countering such criticism is to empower yourself with the know-how to achieve your goals, and with the confidence to realize your goals. This book can help you accomplish just that by showing you not only what to do to achieve your goals, but also how to do those things necessary to achieve your goals. And this graduate school plan takes it one step further to show you what to do and how to do it in a way that can help you to stand out among your peers.

    One theme certainly arose during my four-year path toward writing this book: Being successful is not about becoming qualified; it’s about standing out among all those who are qualified. This theme brings to light two important perspectives. First, the world is filled with qualified applicants—many job fields and most graduate schools have no problem finding qualified applicants; their problem is in choosing among those who are qualified. For this reason, my plan is not to show you how to be a qualified applicant; it is to show you how to stand out as an applicant. Second, whatever you believe for yourself now, know that you are capable of so much more. “Becoming extraordinary” is a mission that is served at the university where I advise and teach. In my advisement, I explain to my students that becoming extraordinary is not about achieving those things they thought possible; it is about achieving those things they never thought possible. My hope is that by reading this book, you will realize a world of opportunity you never thought possible, and you will challenge yourself to believe in even greater things for yourself. It is a valuable lesson of life: Always strive to be greater; always believe that no matter how strong you are today, you can be even stronger tomorrow.

    I thank you for choosing to read this book and to use this plan to help guide you through your enduring experience in college. I hope the ideas in this book build you up, strengthen your resolve, and bring you ever closer to your ultimate goals; after all, it is your goals and aspirations that have inspired the writing of this plan.

    Sincerest regards,

    Gregory J. Privitera, PhDSt. Bonaventure, New YorkMarch 2014
  • Sample Parts of the Graduate School Application

    Throughout Section III of this book, you were guided through the graduate school application process. In Chapter 6, you were given detailed examples of how to write a letter of intent, and in Chapter 7, you were shown how to complete your résumé and curriculum vitae (CV). In this brief appendix, I include a full example of each type of document. To give some context to each example, allow me to explain each sample in the appendix. I hope you will find these samples a helpful guide as you work to complete your own letters and other documents in preparation for applying to internships and graduate schools.

    Sample Letter of Intent and Curriculum Vitae

    The first is a sample letter of intent and CV sent by a student who applied to a PhD program at a major university in the Northeast. The letter is the actual letter of intent he sent to the university. The CV is the actual CV he sent to that same university. Using these application materials, he was accepted to the PhD program at the university, which began in the 2014–2015 academic year. Some information has been removed or replaced in these documents to maintain anonymity.

    Sample Résumé

    Also included in this appendix is an example of a résumé sent by a student interested in pursing graduate school in industrial/organizational psychology. She applied for a paid internship as a human resources professional at a large hospital in Chicago. The résumé is the actual résumé she sent to the hospital. Using this résumé, she was selected for an interview and was hired for the internship position, which began in the summer of 2012. Some information has again been removed or replaced to maintain anonymity.


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