🚧 Website Maintenance in Progress: Thank you for visiting! We are currently in the process of enhancing our website to serve you better. Please check back soon for our new and improved website.

As students and trainees may have noticed, this year looks very different, in many ways, but specifically the application process for graduate school, internship and postdoctoral positions has changed drastically. While these are worrisome times, it is possible that the changes currently being made to lower the barriers for applicants in the time of COVID-19 may lead to important long-term changes that will ultimately benefit the world of clinical psychology. In a 2013 review of the field of psychology conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), the substantial lack of diversity in graduate school programs was staggering. Of 25,000+ graduate students in APA-accredited programs, two-thirds were white and the majority were women (APA, 2013). Since this review, the APA and graduate programs have sought methods to increase recruitment of diverse students. However, there are a multitude of barriers that deny entry to many potential students seeking an advanced degree in psychology. The financial burden of applying to graduate school, traveling to interviews, moving for graduate school, the low stipends, the cost of applying and traveling for internships, moving for internships, and then the cost of applying/traveling for interviews and moving for postdoctoral fellowships are often huge barriers to entry in the field of psychology. Although the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered life across the globe, the shift away from in-person interviewing has lifted some of the financial burden off the shoulders of potential psychology applicants, which may help to diversify the field in the long run. However, with the changes to the application process due to COVID-19, there are many considerations applicants at every stage must be aware of.

With the evolving threat of a pandemic sweeping the nation, prospective students are acclimating to new admissions requirements when applying to graduate schools this year. In response to the safety, fairness and concerns of applicants, many graduate programs for this application cycle have made big changes to their application processes. While these changes are meant to meet the current needs of the incoming applicants, some of these adjustments may additionally lead to more permanent changes that programs may adopt to bring about more diversity of applicants. One of those changes includes their decision to drop the requirement to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), an admissions requirement that has been in place for decades. For students from low-income backgrounds or from other parts of the world, the GRE has raised numerous concerns including costs, ability to take the test and lack of predictability for academic success in graduate school. While eliminating the GRE is not a cure-all to increasing the accessibility to applying to grad school, it can mean one less barrier for students at a disadvantage and a stepping stone to attract a more diverse applicant pool.

In lieu of the GRE requirement, applicants may be aware that more emphasis is placed on other application materials including the personal statement, writing samples and letters of recommendation. These qualitative assessments can allow the admission committees to get to know the person behind the application. While other quantitative metrics, such as the GPA, can provide a general idea for the applicant’s aptitude, uniquely crafted, strong personal statements can be advantageous for students to demonstrate their accomplishments as well as program and research fit. Since there is no one-size-fits-all, personal statements also lend more freedom for applicants to include self-reflective anecdotes that allow them an opportunity to stand out in the crowd.

Lastly, it appears that the interview process involved in applying for graduate school will be held virtually. While there can be many limitations to this method of interviewing—such as not getting to interact in the real world, technological concerns, seeing the city you may be spending the next five years in and just getting a “feel” for your potential new home—it opens the doors to more applicants due to the affordability this method of interviewing allows. When considering the cost of flying, gas, public transportation, lodging and eating while travelling, the interview process can be VERY expensive. So expensive that it may limit the number of places a person applies to or even the number of interview invitations they can accept. Moving to virtual interviews is a great reaction to the desire to reduce the spread of the virus, and if it proves to be a feasible way for both applicants and faculty to choose, it may be something adopted in the future.

Due to the pandemic, there may have been some changes, depending on where you applied, to the application and interview process for internships. For instance, many internship sites have lowered the minimum number of intervention and assessment hours required to apply. Others have also extended their application deadline to help ease some of the stress for applicants during this unprecedented time. These changes are specific to each internship site and it would be advised to consult the site’s brochure and website for more information. The Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) has strongly recommended that all internship sites host virtual interviews for their applicants this year. This is a significant deviation from years past when sites have encouraged, if not preferred, on-site interviews. Some internships may be open to applicants traveling to their site for an in-person visit after the interview process. However, the applicant’s decision to travel will not factor into the site’s ratings of interviewees to avoid giving any unfair advantages to those who are able and willing to travel.

The application and interviewing process for postdoctoral fellowships has remained relatively unchanged by COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, many postdoctoral fellowships opted for virtual interviews with some sites offering in-person interviews. However, the majority of postdoctoral fellowship positions are exclusively conducting interviews virtually due to COVID-19. This change has several positive implications, such as reduced barriers to applying across the country due to no travel expenses and limiting the time away from internships to complete interviews. In light of the positives associated with interviewing for postdoctoral fellowship during COVID-19, there are also some drawbacks. Applicants will not get the opportunity to see the site and facilities in person, nor will they be able to see the location where they could be living. There may also be limited opportunities for applicants to speak with current postdoctoral fellows depending on the structure of the interviews. As with other application cycles, postdoctoral fellow applicants should make every effort to be fully aware of differences in interviewing due to COVID-19 and explore opportunities to make connections at potential fellowship sites.

Applying to graduate and post-doctoral fellowship programs during the COVID-19 pandemic? You are not alone. Based on evidence-based anxiety-reducing strategies, we have provided a list of general tips that can help guide the process of applying and interviewing remotely. This list, although not conclusive, is meant to shed some light on identifying ways to improve the application process and experience for students:

  1. Consider the university’s and/or city’s response to COVID-19. Although there is no single right or wrong course of action, it is important for you to determine whether your chosen university has prioritized your core values and safety.
  2. Wear something professional. Since interviews are virtual this year, you should dress the same as you would in a face-to-face campus interview. Doing so would allow the faculty and students you meet to appear professional and excited about the prospect of working with them.
  3. Remove surrounding distractions. Due to the virtual nature of these interviews, it is important to find a quiet space (with an optimal network connection) to allow you to present your best self with limited distractions.
  4. Connect early.  Do not go into the remote interview figuring out the software or interview schedule for the first time. Take some time in advance to connect your microphone, install any video conferencing apps, test your network connection and conduct any other needed preparation to mitigate any technological glitches on your interview day.
  5. Practice. Practice with a friend to increase your confidence and decrease anxiety (e.g., “ums”) on your interview day.
  6. Utilize virtual tours and online resources. While visiting universities in person may be preferable, many universities are offering virtual tours aimed at giving prospective students an authentic ‘feel’ for the campus, experience and resources available. Virtual connections with the faculty members and fellow graduate students (e.g., Open House webinars) may also offer personal insights into the program as well.
  7. Consider financial packages. The pandemic has affected many universities’ budgets. These changes may ripple into the number of financial packages that are being offered to applicants this year. It is important to stay informed on tuition information as schools are navigating the unknown.

As mentioned earlier, the tips above are not an exhaustive list. Applying to different opportunities during a time of uncertainty is a difficult prospect, but with research and open communication, the process is possible as everyone is adjusting to a “new normal.” There are no right or wrong decisions, just as there is no linear path to our educational endeavors. Remember to take care of yourselves and each other. Above all else, it is important to be mindful that application season is a marathon, not a sprint.

About the Authors

Tiffany Chiu, BA, (she/her/hers) earned her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and social behavior from the University of California, Irvine. Currently, she serves as a management analyst in the Research and Development Directorate within the Defense Health Agency. Her research interests include PTSD, mild traumatic brain injury, suicide and psychosis in vulnerable populations. She is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in clinical psychology and continuing her research career in academic and clinical settings to contribute to the scientific body of knowledge on psychological interventions.
Jenny Y. Lee, MA, (she/her/hers) is a fifth-year clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Tulsa. Her research interests include evaluating and improving the accessibility of cognitive behavioral-based treatments for adult trauma survivors. She is also interested in exploring diversity considerations to help understand how and for whom such treatments work.
Caitlin Paquet, MA, (she/her/hers) is a third-year clinical psychology doctoral student at the University of Tulsa. Her research interests include furthering our understanding of the bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health, and improving the efficacy of empirically supported treatments for sleep disorders, especially for those who have comorbid psychological disorders.
Chelsea M. Cogan, MA (she/her/hers) is a sixth-year clinical psychology
doctoral candidate at the University of Tulsa in Tulsa and is currently completing her predoctoral internship at the Rocky Mountain Regional VAMC. Her research interests include trauma, PTSD, sleep disturbance and suicide in at-risk populations. Additionally, she is interested in modifications of existing evidence-based psychotherapies to improve treatment outcomes.