15 Tips to Get into Top Ph.D. in Psychology Programs

Written By: Chris Meyer, RN-BSN

Are you interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology? With the growing demand for mental health professionals, there is an increased need for doctoral-prepared psychology professionals. If you are considering pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology, you may feel the application process is daunting. You may wonder, “Can someone tell me how to get into a top Ph.D. in psychology program?" This is understandable because admissions can be competitive.

In this article, I will share 15 tips on how to get into a top Ph.D. psychology program to help you improve your chances of admission. As you continue reading, you will learn about tips to follow, things to avoid, and find answers to frequently asked questions to get you on your way to becoming a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology.


Getting accepted into top Ph.D. Psychology programs can be quite challenging due to the highly competitive admissions processes and standards of excellence required from applicants. You will need to have an excellent academic record, substantial research and clinical experience, and letters of recommendation from faculty members that highlight your qualifications for the program. Additionally, you must demonstrate a commitment to a career in psychology and articulate how your experiences will contribute to this field of study. Overall, getting into one of these top programs requires persistence, hard work, and dedication - but with the proper preparation, it is definitely possible!


Are you ready to take the next steps toward achieving your dream of becoming a Ph.D trained mental health professional? You can do it by getting accepted into one of the top Ph.D. Psychology programs in the country. Here are 5 main things that the best Psychology doctoral programs are looking for.

1. A reputable GPA:

Most Ph.D. in psychology programs will consider applicants with a 3.0 GPA. However, because the applicant pool for top Ph.D. in psychology programs is competitive, you better your chances of admission if your GPA is closer to 3.5 or higher.

2. Good scores on the GRE:

To be a competitive applicant for the top psychology Ph.D. programs in the country, you usually need at least 160 or higher in verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning, as well as a 5.0 or higher in analytical writing for your GRE scores. You should also understand that different schools may have varying standards in terms of their minimum requirements for admission. Therefore, it is important to consult with each school's admissions office for more information about their specific criteria and expectations.

3. An essay:

The application essay is one of the most critical components of the entire application package, as it helps to highlight your ability to think critically and articulate yourself. You should ensure that your essay is well-crafted, organized and provides evidence of a strong foundation in academic writing. You should be sure to highlight any research experiences you have had, as well as any volunteer work or internships that may have given you a unique insight into psychology.

You also want to demonstrate an understanding of the field and how you can make a positive contribution if accepted into the program. Above all else, be honest with yourself when writing the essay – admissions committees can tell when an applicant is not being genuine!

4. Good presentation in the admissions interview:

An in-person interview is an important step in the application process for a top Ph.D. Psychology program. During the interview, admissions committees will get a better sense of who you are as an individual and how well-suited you will be to the program. You should come prepared with thoughtful questions about the program and be prepared to discuss your research experiences and academic goals in detail.

5. Recommendation letters:

Letters of recommendation are an invaluable part of the application package for top Ph.D. Psychology programs and can have a significant impact on a student's chances of success.


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

TIP #1: Grades matter!

If you want to get into a top Ph.D. in Psychology program, you need to have excellent grades. Many programs set an admission requirement of at least 3.0 for undergraduate coursework. However, if you want to be a competitive applicant, you should work to get your grade point average to at least a 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. Your undergraduate GPA should be as high as possible, and you should also have strong grades for any graduate-level coursework you complete. In addition, it is important to take challenging courses, specifically science and critical reasoning courses, and get good grades in those as well.

TIP #2: Prepare for and take the GRE.

GRE scores are also important when applying to the top Ph.D. programs in Psychology. The higher your scores, the better your chances of getting into a top program. In addition, many programs also require that you take the GRE Subject Test in Psychology, so it is important to do well on that exam as well.

TIP #3: Research experience is key.

Most Ph.D. programs in Psychology strongly emphasize research, so it is important to have experience conducting research before applying to a program. If you do not have any research experience, try to get involved in a research project during your undergraduate or master's studies. Having evidence of research experience on your application shows that you have the ability to think critically, analyze data, and formulate hypotheses. You should strive to get as much research experience as possible before applying to a top program. This will not only give you valuable experience, but it will also show admissions committees that you are serious about pursuing a career in research psychology.

TIP #4: Internships and fellowships are very helpful!

In addition to research experience, internships and fellowships can also be helpful when applying to the top Ph.D. programs in Psychology. These experiences can provide you with valuable skills and knowledge that will be helpful when you are conducting your own research as a Ph.D. student. Despite providing experience, internships can also help you network, potentially getting you a letter of recommendation from your mentor.

TIP #5: Strong letters of recommendation are vital!

When applying to the top Ph.D. programs in Psychology, you will need to submit letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors who can attest to your academic and research skills. You should select professors and supervisors who know you well and can write an honest, positive letter about your capabilities.

TIP #6: Demonstrate a clear interest in the field.

When applying to the top Ph.D. programs in Psychology, it is important that you demonstrate a clear interest in the field. You should be able to articulate why you are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology and how this particular program fits into your academic and professional goals. Make sure that you understand the specific areas of research that the faculty at each program specializes in so that you can effectively express your own interests.

TIP #7: Put together a strong application package.

Your application package should include all the required materials listed by the program, such as transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, essays, and CVs. You should also include additional materials, such as research papers and publications, that will showcase your academic achievements and demonstrate the depth of your interest in the field.

TIP #8: Network with faculty.

In addition to submitting a strong application package, it is important to try to network with faculty at the top Ph.D. programs in Psychology programs you are applying to. Reach out via email or attend events hosted by faculty members so that they can get to know you better before making their decision on whether to accept you into the program. You can also use this opportunity to learn more about the different research projects and clinical opportunities that are available at each institution.

TIP #9: Know your interests and be prepared to share them with the admission faculty.

When applying to top Ph.D. in Psychology programs, it is important to apply to schools that offer specialties and programs that interest you. There are many subclasses of psychology like Sports Psychology, Forensic Psychology, and Neuropsychology. Are you more interested in conducting research or providing therapy and testing? You should look around and find out what each program offers and apply to the ones that best suit you. Be prepared to share why you chose or are interested in a particular specialty with the admission faculty. This is important because admission faculty are seeking candidates whose interests and goals align with their program goals and expected outcomes.

TIP #10: Excel in key undergraduate courses.

To get into a good Ph.D. in Psychology program, a bachelor's degree in Psychology generally is not required. However, your undergraduate background should demonstrate an extensive understanding of research methods and statistics and pertinent lab experience to get your foot in the door.

TIP #11: Demonstrate cultural consciousness!

To get into a good Ph.D. psychology program, it is critical to demonstrate cultural consciousness – an appreciation for the richness and diversity of backgrounds around us! Show your sensitivity towards people from different cultures and share how you would work inclusively with them while also demonstrating knowledge about diverse global experiences. It is integral that your application reflects respect for all walks of life, so make sure to highlight this vital skill set when applying!

TIP #12: Highlight leadership experience.

Leadership experience is an important factor in getting accepted into the top Ph.D. in Psychology programs. It demonstrates to admissions teams that you take ownership of your studies, can direct yourself and others successfully, and have a deep understanding of self-reflexivity. You should be able to explain how any leadership roles you have had – in work, extra-curriculars, or volunteering – have developed your skills in psychology and how you plan to apply them to your research and clinical practice.

TIP #13: Demonstrate genuine compassion for others.

Prove your commitment to helping your community through action! Volunteering at local clinics, social work organizations, and other outreach efforts is an effective way for you to demonstrate that not only do you want to make a positive impact on the world around you - but also have experience working with different populations, which will help prepare you for a successful career in psychology.

TIP #14: Apply to at least 4 to 6 programs.

Applying to at least four to six programs is one of the most important steps in increasing your chances of getting accepted into a top Ph.D. program in psychology. It is important to realize that not every school is going to be the right fit for you and your needs, so applying to multiple programs allows you to have more options. If you end up getting accepted to more than one school, this gives you the opportunity to compare offers and decide which university best aligns with your goals.

TIP #15: Ace the interview.

Getting accepted into a top Ph.D. program in Psychology can feel like reaching the mountaintop to some students! To seal the deal, you will need to ace your interview. A great way of showing off how prepared and passionate you are is by coming out with questions for the interviewer; this gives insight on both sides while making conversation flow more naturally as well - think about what kind of research projects they have going on or any opportunities that may pique your interest within their department! Of course, be sure to talk up why you would like this particular program over others: mention all relevant qualifications such as academic goals and professional/research experience gained beforehand. Highlighting this information in your interview will show admission faculty you are ready for success if they give you the opportunity!


MISTAKE #1: Not following instructions correctly

You must read and understand all instructions given by the universities during the application process. If you do not follow application instructions carefully, it may lead to getting a rejection letter from the Ph.D. in psychology program. Take your time completing forms and gathering supporting documentation. Double-check your list before sealing envelopes to mail or before sending emails.

MISTAKE #2: Being unprofessional during your interview

To give yourself the best chance at admission to a top Ph.D. in psychology program, you must make sure to present yourself professionally throughout the entire application process in writing, over the phone, and especially during any face-to-face interaction with admissions staff and faculty.

MISTAKE #3: Not having solid references

Ensure you have at least three references from past professors, employers, or mentors. Try and get strong references from past professors who have a personal or professional connection to the staff at the Ph.D. in Psychology program you desire to attend. Refrain from having references from family and friends, as that might not be taken seriously.

MISTAKE #4: Not proofreading your application

You do not want to be kept from getting into a top Ph.D. in Psychology program due to submitting an application with avoidable errors. You should always double-check all the documents for accuracy and grammar before submitting them.

MISTAKE #5: Not having a thorough understanding of the program

You can be sure admission faculty will ask you questions about their program. Schools want to know candidates are genuinely interested in their program, not just seeking the first available spot at any school with room for admissions. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the course requirements and objectives of the Ph.D. in Psychology program for each program where you plan to apply. Familiarize yourself with research opportunities and scholarship and grant opportunities the school offers, faculty bios, and student testimonials. This way, you are informed about the school and what it offers and can answer interview questions knowledgeably.


If you have read this article, chances are you asked, “Can anyone tell me how to get into a top Ph.D. in psychology program?” While each school and program is different, following the 15 tips to get into top Ph.D. in psychology programs featured in this article is a terrific way to strengthen your application and improve your chances of admission. If you truly desire to earn your Ph.D. in psychology, do not wait! Start applying and accomplish your dreams!


1. When Is The Application Deadline For Top Ph.D. In Psychology Programs?

The application deadline for top Ph.D. in psychology programs varies from university to university. You can find this information on the website of each university or on the official application form. You should submit your application well before the deadline to ensure that you meet all requirements and have ample time for any required revisions.

2. What Are The Admission Requirements For Top Ph.D. In Psychology Programs?

The admission requirements for top Ph.D. in psychology programs typically involve having a bachelor's degree or higher in psychology or a related field, letters of recommendation, official transcripts, GRE scores, and a personal statement. You may be required to meet other criteria as well, depending on the university you are applying to.

3. What Is The Average GPA Of Students Who Get Into Top Ph.D. In Psychology Programs?

The average GPA of students who get into top Ph.D. in psychology programs varies, depending on the university and program. Generally speaking, students who are accepted into these programs have a minimum GPA of at least 3.0. However, to be competitive and get into top programs, you will need a GPA of around 3.5 or better.

4. Can I Get Into A Top Ph.D. In Psychology Program With A Low GPA?

It is possible to get into a top Ph.D. in Psychology program with a low GPA, however, it is not probable. To make this happen you will need to have a strong academic record, letters of recommendation, and a well-written personal statement to make up for the lower GPA.

5. How Important Is Experience When Trying To Get Into A Top Ph.D. In Psychology Program?

Experience is very important when trying to get into a top Ph.D. in Psychology program. Your experience demonstrates your commitment to the field and can highlight different skills gained or exposure related to the specific psychology program you are applying to. You can gain experience through research, volunteering in a laboratory or clinic, or getting a job related to psychology. You should include detailed descriptions of your experience in your application.

6. Can I Get Into A Top Ph.D. In Psychology Program Without Extracurriculars?

Yes, it is possible to get into a top Ph.D. in Psychology program without extracurricular activities. While extracurriculars can certainly highlight different skills, showing commitment and having strong academic credentials are also important factors for admission. If you do not have extracurriculars related to psychology, you should focus on demonstrating your strengths and interests through research and professional experience related to psychology.

7. Is There An Interview For Admission Into Top Ph.D. In Psychology Programs?

Virtually all of the top Ph.D. in Psychology programs require an admission interview. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many programs are now offering virtual interviews or Skype/Zoom sessions with admission committees as well as in-person interviews with program faculty and admission staff.

8. What Is The Admission Rate For Top Ph.D. In Psychology Programs?

The admission rates vary for the top Psychology Ph.D. programs in the country. These programs are highly competitive, with acceptance rates sometimes ranging from 6-10%. You should be prepared to submit a strong and comprehensive application package, including letters of recommendation, exceptional test scores, and academic records if you want to maximize your chances of admission.

9. Is There A Waiting List For Top Ph.D. In Psychology Programs?

Yes, many of the top Ph.D. in Psychology programs have a waiting list for admission.

10. Will Applying Early Increase My Chances Of Admission Into Top Ph.D. In Psychology Programs?

Submitting early may increase your chances of securing an interview slot before they are filled up. Generally, though, it is most important that you submit your Ph.D. in Psychology application on time. It is wise to prepare your application early as it will give you more time to review it and make updates if needed so that when it is submitted it represents both you and your qualifications in the best possible way. Ultimately, be sure to submit a strong application package with all required materials and adhere to any deadlines set by the psychology programs you are applying to.

Chris Meyer, RN-BSN
Christopher Meyer is a Registered Nurse with ICU and critical care experience. He is a current Family Nurse Practitioner graduate student with a specific interest in rural and public health. Before beginning his nursing career, Chris worked as a Hydrologic Technician for the U.S. Geological Survey in Louisiana and Puerto Rico.