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How Admissions Decisions are Made

The process by which graduate-school admission decisions are made is qualitatively different from that used for undergraduate admissions. Graduate school applications are initially screened to ensure that they are complete and that the applicant meets minimum standards (as per undergraduate applications), but after that they are passed on to academic departments and thence to individual faculty members identified as potential supervisors. It is crucial to appreciate that the primary decision maker will be an individual faculty member (with decisions sometimes vetted by a small committee of faculty members). In a given year, a faculty member may or may not consider any applications (depending on how many graduate students he or she is currently supervising). If the faculty member is "in the market" for one or more new students, s/he will be looking for real stand-outs--i.e., applicants who clearly have what it takes to succeed as graduate students. By accepting a student, a faculty member undertakes a substantial commitment in terms of time and resources; if the student does well, all benefit, but if the student does not do well the faculty member's career suffers (due to a major investment of time and resources that does not culminate in scholarly publications). Consequently, applicants must do everything in their power to communicate their strengths to potential graduate supervisors.

Developing and communicating your strengths in ways that are appropriate for graduate school requires an understanding of the skills and abilities that are important for success in graduate school. In a research science, graduate school is not like undergraduate school. Rather, graduate training emphasizes an apprenticeship system, in which student and supervisor work together on research projects. Graduate students do take courses as well, but courses are subservient to the aim of developing the skills and expertise required to conduct and publish original research. At the end of your graduate training, few potential employers will care very much what courses you took or what marks you earned in them--what they will care about is how successful you were in terms of publishing original scientific research in scholarly journals. Therefore the skills and abilities that matter to potential graduate supervisors are those that are involved in doing scientific research (e.g., critical thinking skills, mathematical and analytic skills, computer skills, knowledge of and passion for psychological theory and research, writing and communication skills, discipline, creativity, etc.).

Written By Steve Lindsay, Ph.D. (University of Victoria, Department of Psychology)

Source: Admissions Helpful Hints