Applicant Advice

Advice to Applicants

1. Start early

PhD-level study is very different from undergraduate study in that you focus on a more narrow set of interests and work more closely with a faculty advisor. Successful graduate school applicants need to identify (1) specific interests, (2) a program that will support those interests, and (3) a potential advisor(s) within the program. This process can take several months.

2. Naming an area of study

The faculty of the Psychology Department of The University of Arizona focus on basic research in three areas of psychology: (1) clinical psychology, (2) cognition and neural systems, (3) social psychology. When prospective graduate student applications arrive at the Department, they are sorted by area, and each area makes a decision about the students it will interview. Therefore, it is very important that you indicate which of the three areas you want your application to be reviewed by. Occasionally, an applicant feels that s/he would like to pursue graduate study that crosses two areas. If you are such an applicant, you should name one area of study on the application, but indicate in your personal statement (see more advice below) how your specific research goals would benefit from intensive work in the second area. Within all three programs an additional emphasis area is offered in psychology, policy and law. 

3. Naming possible advisors

Graduate study in psychology typically involves a close mentoring relation between a graduate student and an advisor. One of the criteria that our Department uses when evaluating a graduate applicant is the degree to which s/he ‘fits’ with potential advisors. Applicants who identify a specific advisor and who have already been in contact with that faculty member are often given priority. Therefore, we advise you to become familiar with the research of faculty members in the Department whose interests appear to match your own (Faculty Research Interests). If you continue to find a faculty member’s work interesting after your initial reading, email that person, provide some information about yourself and your interests, and ask if the faculty member is taking new students in the upcoming year. 

4. Your Statement of Purpose

Parameters of your statement of purpose:
Your statement of purpose is an opportunity to sell yourself in terms of your research interests, previous research experience, and research goals. Unless you have extensive research experience, most statements of purpose should be about two pages long (single-spaced). Your writing should be clear, concise, grammatically correct, and professional in tone. You may wish to convey some personal experiences that have led to your current interests or that make you a particularly promising candidate. 

Guidelines for Your Statement of Purpose

Your statement of purpose is a crucial part of your application, providing you with an opportunity to showcase your qualifications and potential contributions to our diverse academic community. We are committed to building a vibrant and inclusive graduate class. Please consider the following points while crafting your personal statement:

  1. Research Interests: Describe your research interests, especially those that align with potential dissertation topics. Be concise and articulate the significance of your chosen research area.
  2. Program "Match": Explain why our program is a great fit for your academic and research aspirations. Highlight specific aspects of our program, available resources, methods, techniques, or community engagement opportunities that might be of interest to you.
  3. Faculty Alignment: Discuss how your interests intersect with those of our faculty members. Identify potential advisors or mentors whose work aligns with your goals.
  4. Strengths and Weaknesses: Provide an honest assessment of your strengths and areas where you believe you can grow as a scholar.
  5. Unique Scholar/Person: Share what makes you a unique and promising candidate. This can encompass your cultural, socioeconomic, or experiential background, and the challenges and obstacles you have overcome, or sources of strength, richness, or resilience. Please highlight how these aspects could enhance the educational experience for all.
  6. PhD in Psychology and Career Goals: Explain why you are motivated to pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology and how it aligns with your life experience to date and with your future career objectives. 

Updated: 10/17/23