Good Application Traits PDF Print E-mail

 

Applicant Characteristics Valued by Graduate Programs in Psychology

 

This study is based on the assumptions that graduate schools (a) are aware of the characteristics of students who excel in their programs and (b) use the information they gain from letters of recommendation to identify applicants who possess these characteristics. Recommendation forms from the application packages of 143 graduate programs in clinical, experimental, and industrial/organizational psychology were studied. The applicant characteristics that recommenders were requested to rank in grid formats or include in written descriptions were identified, categorized, and arranged in order of relative frequency. The resulting list--consisting of all characteristics requested on at least 10 recommendation forms--describes the characteristics that psychology graduate programs value in their applicants, ranked in descending order of frequency as indicated by the numbers in parentheses.

1.

 

P

 

Motivated and hardworking (154)

2.

 

I

 

High intellectual/scholarly ability (106)

3.

 

S

 

Research skills (69)

4.

 

P

 

Emotionally stable and mature (66)

5.

 

S

 

Writing skills (64)

6.

 

S

 

Speaking skills (63)

7.

 

S

 

Teaching skills/potential (49)

8.

 

P

 

Works well with others (45)

9.

 

I

 

Creative and original (41)

10.

 

I

 

Strong knowledge of area of study (29)

11.

 

P

 

Strong character or integrity (25)

12.

 

S

 

Special skills (e.g., computer or lab) (19)

13.

 

I

 

Capable of analytical thought (17)

14.

 

I

 

Broad general knowledge (13)

15.

 

P

 

Intellectually independent (12)

16.

 

P

 

Possesses leadership ability (10)

17.

 

P

 

Mentally and physically healthy (10)


It is interesting to note that of the 802 total instances of characteristics included in this list, 332 refer to personal characteristics (preceded by P), 264 refer to acquired skills (preceded by S), and 206 refer to intellectual abilities or knowledge (preceded by I). It appears that graduate programs are most interested in learning about the personal characteristics of their potential applicant from recommenders, that they place secondary emphasis on learning about their applicants' acquired skills, and are less interested in learning about their applicants' intellectual abilities or knowledge from recommenders. This appears to be a reasonable conclusion because graduate programs have access to measures of applicants' intellectual abilities (e.g., verbal and mathematical GRE scores and transcripts), knowledge (e.g., psychology GRE scores), and skills (e.g., applicants' application forms and personal statements), but must rely almost exclusively on the personal experience that recommenders have had with applicants to measure their personal characteristics.
The important lesson to be learned from the results of this study is that students who wish to pursue a graduate degree in psychology should make a concerted effort to behave in ways that will allow them to (a) develop an accurate and broad knowledge base, (b) acquire relevant skills, and (c) be perceived by at least three of their professors as motivated and hardworking, emotifinally stable and mature, capable of working well with others, and possessing intellectual independence, integrity, leadership ability, and good mental and physical health.

Written by Drew Appleby, Ph.D, Julie Keenan and Beth Mauer

Dr. Appley is a Professor of Psychology, Marian College

Julie Keenan and Beth Mauer received their Bachelor’s degrees at Marian College

Source: Spring 1999 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 39), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN).