15 Tips to Get into Top Master's in Psychology Programs

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

Are you interested in learning about the mind and human behavior? Do you have a bachelor's degree and want to earn a master's degree?

If you could do both, would you? Whether you have a bachelor's degree in psychology or another field, you can earn a master's degree in psychology. Have you considered earning a graduate degree in psychology but wonder how to get into a top master’s in psychology program? If this sounds like you, you have found the right article! As you read further, you will learn about masters in psychology programs and find 15 tips to get into top master’s in psychology programs.


Admission is competitive, which can make it hard to get into a top master’s in psychology program. However, if you follow the tips in this article for ways to make yourself a more attractive candidate, you can improve your chances of receiving an admission offer.


If you want to improve your chance of getting into a top master’s in psychology program, the best thing to do is find out what admissions boards look for in candidates. Once you understand what makes an applicant stand out, you can take measures to ensure you meet their expectations. The following are five main things top master's in psychology programs look for when considering candidates.

1. A proven record of academic excellence:

GPA requirements vary between schools, with most schools requiring a minimum 3.0 cumulative college grade point average. However, it is crucial to understand that admission to top master’s in psychology programs can be quite competitive. The higher your undergraduate GPA, the more attractive a candidate you become. Although schools set a minimum grade point average requirement, you should strive to exceed that. A GPA closer to 3.5 on a 4.0 scale can truly make your application stand out.

2. Volunteer Experience:

Admission faculty look for volunteer or unpaid community service when reviewing applications. A commitment to volunteering in community service shows you care for your local community, which makes you a more viable candidate. Some great places to consider volunteering include homeless shelters and boys and girls clubs.

3. Research Interest and Experience:

According to Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D., and Director of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduate psychology programs look for candidates with a research interest and background. Prinstein suggests the ability to think like a scientist, familiarity with research literature, and independent research experience are excellent traits for applicants to possess.

4. Good GRE Scores:

Although some master’s in psychology programs have relaxed the requirement for GRE scores, many still require them. The programs that do not require GRE scores typically accept and review them if applicants submit them. The GRE is designed to measure a prospective student's readiness and the likelihood of success in graduate school. The GRE is administered by the Educational Testing Service, also known as ETS. If you have not taken the exam and wish to do so, the ETS offers free digital practice books to help you prepare.

5. Completion of Prerequisites:

Top masters in psychology programs look for candidates who have a solid foundation upon which to build their graduate studies. You do not need a bachelor’s degree in psychology to get into top master's in psychology programs, which means some candidates may not have the necessary prerequisites completed. If you want to increase your chances of admission, consider taking as many prerequisites as possible before applying.


(The following 15 tips will help you in your pursuit of getting into one of the top Master's in Psychology programs in the nation.)

Tip #1: Gain Experience

While having a strong academic background goes a long way if you want to get into a top master’s in psychology program, it may not be enough to guarantee acceptance. Most graduate psychology schools require candidates to have at least one year of relevant work experience. If you do not have work experience or feel you need more experience, consider finding a psychology internship or shadowing a psychology professional.

Tip #2: Earn a GPA that Works for You

According to the Department of Psychology at UCSD, the majority of master's in psychology programs require potential applicants to have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA on the 4.0 scale.

However, because admission is competitive, you should strive to have an undergraduate grade point average that exceeds the minimum required. The most viable candidates for master's in psychology programs have a cumulative undergraduate GPA of at least 3.5.

Tip #3: Prepare for and Take the GRE

Although some master's in psychology programs may not require the GRE for admission, it will not hurt your chances if you take the test, score well, and submit your result for review. Keep in mind competition for spots in the best programs can be fierce. So, you need to put forth the effort to go the extra mile to become a favorable candidate.

Tip #4: Speak to a Graduate Advisor

If admission into a top master’s in psychology program is truly important to you, the best place to get advice is from a graduate academic advisor in the psychology department. Connecting with an advisor is helpful in at least a few ways. First, advisors know what you need to get ahead of the game in the application process. Ask questions until you understand, and do not take their advice lightly. Additionally, advisors pay attention when prospective students come to visit and often pass on their thoughts about candidates to program directors. So, if you take the time to visit with an advisor, you get the edge over applicants who may lack the motivation to make an appointment or take the time to visit the school.

Tip #5: Get Excellent Letters of Recommendation

There is more to a good letter of recommendation than having someone say you are a good person and really want to get into the program. Well-written letters of recommendation offer valuable insight into whether you are prepared for, and likely to succeed in, a master's in psychology program.

Your recommendations should come from people with strong credentials and personal knowledge of your skills, abilities, and qualifications. Former college professors and current or former employers are excellent sources. Remember, you want to choose authors carefully, as the letters need to reflect exactly what makes you a good fit for the program and the psychology field as a whole.

Tip #6: Craft a Compelling Personal Statement

One of the common admission requirements for graduate psychology programs is for applicants to prepare a Personal Statement or Statement of Intent. Your statement should be well thought out and demonstrate your dedication to your degree path and career. Your statement is your opportunity to tell why you chose this career, how you feel the school and program can help you achieve your goals, and why you believe you should be admitted.

When creating your personal statement, discuss your long-term professional goals and why you feel they are important. Include information about your academic background and achievements. Stay focused and keep your content relevant to the program.

Tip #7: Ace Your Graduate School Interview

Another part of the admission process for master's in psychology program is the admissions interview. Your performance in the interview has a profound impact on the decision of whether to admit you to the program. Prepare to answer questions about why you chose a career in psychology and your future goals. Research the program and program faculty and come up with reasons you feel their school is the right choice for you to earn your degree.

Treat the admissions interview like a job interview. Dress and act professionally. Avoid undesirable topics, irrelevant information, and disingenuous flattery, as these give off an air of insecurity.

Tip #8: Pick a Career Path or Specialty

There are many career paths you can pursue with a master’s degree in psychology. Many psychology schools offer various specialty tracks you can study. Think about your professional goals and the type of work you want to do after graduating. You could choose to specialize in sports psychology, clinical psychology, clinical psychology, or developmental psychology, to name a few.

Choosing a career path or specialty is important because you can search for programs that offer those specialty paths. If you have a particular interest in a specialty and meet or exceed admission requirements, you could increase your chance of getting into top master’s in psychology programs. If you have chosen a career or specialty to pursue, consider getting volunteer experience relevant to that to help boost your application’s strength.

Tip #9: Volunteer

In addition to your academic history and experience, master’s in psychology programs look for candidates with experience outside the classroom. Volunteer experience is a big plus when faculty review your application.

If you need volunteer hours and are unsure where to begin, many human service organizations have opportunities available regularly. This path is especially ideal for those aspiring to secure a career in counseling or clinical psychology.

Tip #10: Research Schools and Programs to Find a Good Fit

The application process involves a lot of promoting yourself to admissions teams and program directors. Prospective students often get so involved in selling their worth through good letters of recommendation, admissions essays, and GPAs that they overlook the importance of seeing what the school has to offer them.

If you want to improve your chance of getting into a top master’s in psychology program, research different programs. Look for programs with goals and projected student outcomes aligned with your academic and professional goals. When you find a program with similar goals, it is easier to create relatable admissions essays and statements that catch the attention of admissions teams and program faculty, making you a favorable candidate.

Tip #11: Prepare a Professional Resume

Almost all graduate programs require applicants to prepare and submit a professional resume along with other documentation. Your resume should be tailored to the program for which you apply. So, if you apply to several master's in psychology schools, you may need to make a few minor adjustments before submitting it to each school. Your resume should include your academic history and highlight all relevant work and volunteer experience. Share information about any internships, leadership experiences, research projects, or published work you have achieved. Keep it clean, neat, and to the point. If possible, do not exceed one page.

Tip #12: Apply to More than One Program and Follow-Up

Because getting into top master's in psychology programs is competitive, you can improve your chances of getting admitted by applying to several programs. Carefully review the admission criteria and required supporting documentation for each program so you can be sure your application is complete. If you do not have a preference for one or the other, you may consider applying to both campus-based and distance-learning programs.

Finally, follow up on every application you submit. Most master's in psychology schools have student portals where you can check the status of your application. Although a quick admission offer may not be likely, you should see some kind of activity in your student account within two weeks of applying. If you do not see an update in your application status after two weeks, consider making a courtesy call to confirm receipt of your documents and to verify if you need to send anything else.

Tip #13: Consider Becoming a Research Assistant

Graduate students participate in research projects and must demonstrate the ability to perform competently through all stages of research. Working as a research assistant is an excellent way to experience how research is conducted and looks great on your resume and graduate application.

Tip #14: Identify Potential Mentors

Masters in psychology programs include clinical components, which require preceptor supervision. If you know psychology professionals or desire to work with a specific population or setting, consider making connections to find potential mentors. Admission faculty consider the fact that you take the initiative to locate qualified mentors without being prompted. Also, it does not hurt to have someone on your side through the admissions process who looks forward to mentoring you.

Tip #15: Apply Early

If you are serious about getting into a top master’s in psychology program, one of the easiest things you can do is apply early. Anyone can procrastinate, waiting until close to the application deadline to submit important documents. Serious candidates research programs, gather important documents, and submit complete applications before the priority deadline. Remember, admission to these programs is competitive. You do not want your application lost in a pile of late submissions. To stand out and improve your chance of admission, get your application in early.

Bonus! 5 Must Avoid Common Mistakes That Might Ruin Your Chances of Getting Into Top Master’s in Psychology Programs

Knowing what to do to help increase your chance of getting into top master’s in psychology programs is important. However, if you do not know what to avoid, you could make mistakes that ruin your chances of getting an admission offer. The following are five common mistakes you should avoid when applying to top master's in psychology programs.

Mistake #1: Having an Arrogant or Competitive Attitude During Your Interview

Although the application process for top master’s in psychology programs is competitive, that does not mean your attitude has to be competitive. Admission faculty look for candidates who demonstrate a respectful, collegial attitude. Your body language, tone of voice, and overall demeanor can make or break you during an admissions interview. Be courteous and calm, and avoid trying to make yourself look like the better candidate by comparing yourself to others. Instead, draw upon your personal qualities and strengths and let the admission team get to know you.

Mistake #2: Not Preparing a Good Admissions Essay

Your admission essay tells the admission faculty a lot about you and should be prepared carefully. If you rush through writing your essay or statement, fail to follow directions, or submit it with grammatical errors, it may not bode well for your chances of admission into a top master’s in psychology program. Make sure you understand and follow the directions for preparing your essay, such as the format, length, font style, and size. Ask a friend or family member to proofread your essay. Also, consider using an app like Grammarly to check for errors before submitting your final draft.

Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong People to Writer Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation carry a lot of weight in the admissions process. So, choosing the right people to prepare them is important. Avoid asking friends or family members to prepare your letters. Instead, ask individuals who can speak to your academic and professional abilities.

Mistake #4: Thinking You Can Get by with Mediocre Undergraduate Grades

If you want to improve your chance of getting into top master’s in psychology programs, get serious about your grades. Just because the minimum GPA for admission to a program is 3.0, that does not mean you should settle. I cannot reiterate enough how competitive admission to top master’s in psychology programs can be and the importance of doing your best to become a strong candidate. If possible, consider taking some relevant psychology classes or electives to help improve your grade point average. Remember, you want your application to stand out!

Mistake #5: Turning in a Late or Incomplete Application

One of the most common mistakes that could ruin your chance of admission into a top master’s psychology program is turning your application in late or incomplete. Admission faculty look for candidates who take everything about the program seriously, especially their effort to get admitted. Make a note of application deadlines and be sure to submit your application in plenty of time to beat the deadline. Also, check your application and any supporting documents for errors or incompleteness and correct any issues before submitting them.


Now that we’ve reviewed the top 15 tips to get into top master’s in psychology programs, we sincerely hope that you feel more prepared to begin the application process. From ensuring you have the required coursework under your belt to gathering experience and creating the perfect essay, we know preparation is key. And with this article in tow, you have the answers you need regarding how to get into a top master’s in psychology program.


1. When Is The Application Deadline For Top Master’s In Psychology Programs?

Application deadlines for top master’s in psychology programs vary by school. Most schools set a deadline at least three months before the program’s start date.

2. What Are The Admission Requirements For Top Master’s In Psychology Programs?

Typical admission requirements to get into top master’s in psychology programs include possessing a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, having a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0, competitive GRE scores, and completing required prerequisites and coursework. Applicants usually need to submit a statement of intent, professional resume, and professional letters of recommendation, and have at least one year of relevant work or volunteer experience.

3. What Is The Average GPA Of Students Who Get Accepted Into Top Master’s In Psychology Programs?

The average GPA of students who get into top master’s in psychology programs is 3.5 on a 4.0 scale.

4. Can I Get Into A Top Master’s In Psychology Program With A Low GPA?

Because admission is competitive, it is not likely that you will get into a top master’s in psychology program with a low GPA.

5. How Important Is Experience When Trying To Get Into a Top Master’s in Psychology Program?

Experience can make a big impact on your application when compared to others trying to get into top master’s in psychology programs. Whether you have work or volunteer experience, or both, be sure to include that in your resume and on your application.

6. Can I Get Into A Top Master’s in Psychology Program Without Extracurriculars?

While it is possible to get into a top master’s in psychology program without extracurriculars, being involved in them can help make your application more attractive.

7. Is There An Interview For Admission Into Top Master’s In Psychology Programs?

Yes, one of the final steps in the admissions process is participation in an admissions interview.

8. What Is The Admission Rate For Top Master’s In Psychology Programs?

The admission rate for top master’s in psychology programs varies by specialty. According to the American Psychology Association, admission rates range between 34% and 70%.

9. Is There a Waiting List For Top Master’s In Psychology Programs?

It is not uncommon for top master’s in psychology programs to have waitlists.

10. Will Applying Early Increase My Chances of Admission Into Top Master's in Psychology Programs?

Applying early can increase your chances of admission to top master's in psychology programs.

Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).