This is a Q&A for prospective students interested in applying to the School Psychology PhD Progam at USU to work with me/my lab.
Q1. Are you accepting new grad students for admission in Fall 2023?
A1. Yes! I plan to accept 1 or 2 new PhD students for admission in Fall 2023. I encourage all prospective students who are interested in my work/lab to apply.
Q2. Do you accept grad students for specialist or terminal masters degrees?
A2. No, at least not anymore. USU offered a specialist-level (EdS) School Psychology degree for many years, but we no longer accept students into that program. Our Psychology Department does not offer a terminal master’s degree. So, I only accept grad students for the School Psychology PhD specialization.
If you really want to get an EdS degree in school psychology and stay in Utah, then I recommend checking out the other two in-state programs at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. For other specialist (EdS) training options in other states, see NASP’s comprehensive directory of school psychology programs across the nation.
Q3. Do you provide funding for PhD students? If so, what’s the deal?
A3. Yes, we currently guarantee “full funding” for each on-campus year of the PhD program. Funding consists of a monthly living stipend, complete tuition waivers, and a small stipend toward student health insurance. Students are still responsible for paying other student fees and health insurance costs required by the university.
To receive and keep funding, PhD students are required to (a) hold a 20-hr week assistantship, (b) be continuously enrolled as an active student, and (c) remain in good academic standing. Assistantships usually last the duration of an academic year and can vary in nature from clinical to research to teaching positions, depending on availability and goodness-of-fit.
Q4. How do I know if a PhD in school psychology is right for me? Might I be better suited for another kind of psychology or mental health degree?
A4. Only you can answer this question for yourself. I worked through this dilemma when I was preparing to apply to grad school. I found it helpful to talk with grad students and professionals in the few fields I was considering. I also read as much as I could find online and in books about different degrees and fields. Eventually, once I was as informed as I thought I could be, I just decided to go with my gut. I suggest doing similarly: (a) consider your options, (b) do your homework, then (c) go with your gut.
Here are several resources you might consider to help inform your decision:
- APA overview of specialties in psychology
- APA article about bad (and good) reasons to go to grad school in psychology
- APA FAQ about graduate studies in psychology
- APA article about applying for grad programs in school psychology
- NASP FAQ about careers in school psychology
- Slide deck by Dr. Jessica Schleider that overviews the different options for grad schooling in psychology and related mental health fields (see slides 5–19)
- Section 1 of Dr. Mitch Prinstein’s “Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology” (yes, this was originally intended for clinical applicants, but Section 1 does a nice job of parsing the difference between mental health professions, which is equally relevant for school applicants)
Q5. What should I do in my application to signal that I want to work with you/your lab?
A5. First, review the "Steps to Apply" webiste from USU's School of Graduate Stuides. Then, once you start the application, make sure to do these four things:
- When choosing the “academic program,” make sure to select the “Psychology PhD” option.
- When picking a “specialization,” select the “School Psychology” option.
- When asked to name any “faculty member” you are interested in working with, write my name in the text box.
- In your personal statement, explicitly say that you are interested in working with me/my lab—and talk about your reasons for why you’d like to do so.
Q6. Do you have any advice for writing an effective personal statement?
A6. There’s no one right way to write a personal statement. But I’ve noticed sometimes applicants get carried away with trying to “stand out.” A little bit of creativity in your writing can be fun and engaging for the reader. But I’m less interested in how creative your writing is and more interested in how clearly your writing communicates. I’m especially interested in reading clear answers to these kinds of big questions:
- What personal history or experiences have motivated you to get a PhD?
- Given there are lots of other psychology PhDs options, why are you interested in school psychology specifically?
- Why are you applying to work with me and my lab?
- What are your career goals and ambitions? In other words, what do you hope to do with your PhD post-graduation?
- If you were to come to our PhD program, what contributions might you make toward diversifying and/or improving the work we do in our lab or profession?
Q7. Could you be my primary faculty mentor if I apply to another psychology PhD specialization at USU (i.e., not School Psychology)?
A7. No, I could not. In our department, your major professor needs to be a core faculty member within the specialization you matriculate into. So, I only serve as a primary faculty mentor for students in the School Psychology PhD specialization. Our specialization doesn’t do the co-advising thing either, like some programs do. You are admitted to work with a single primary faculty mentor.
Q8. What are the application criteria and requirements for applying to the School Psychology PhD specialization at USU?
A8. The application criteria and requirements for applying to the School Psychology PhD at USU are listed on our program's website. The info on this page should tell you all you need to know.
Q9. Do you require the GRE for applying to your program/lab?
A9. No, not anymore. The School Psychology PhD specialization has made the GRE optional since 2020. So, we don’t require it; but if you’ve already taken the GRE and would like to submit your scores, you’re welcome to do so. We consider GRE scores as supplemental application material.
Q10. Beyond the formal criteria and requirements, what other characteristics are you looking for in grad students who are good fits for your lab?
A10. After you meet the minimum requirements, then it all boils down to goodness-of-fit. I’m particularly keen on accepting students who want to pursue a career path involving research or teaching/training or leadership. This doesn’t mean you have to want a traditional professor position, but it usually means you want something different than a full-time practitioner/clinician role. Beyond that, here’s a list of other characteristics that usually make good fits for my lab:
- Strong interest in youth mental health.
- Strong interest in schools as mental health service systems.
- Previous research and/or practice experience related to youth and/or school mental health services.
- Research interests compatible with my lab’s current research focus.
- Strong value for a collaborative and collegial work environment.
Q11. Will you review and provide feedback on my CV and/or personal statement prior to applying to your program?
A11. I’m happy to look over your CV if you send it along, but I won’t offer feedback for improving it. Same goes with personal statements. I can tell you if it seems like your interests align with what my lab is up to, but that’s about as specific as I get.
While we're on this topic, however, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to ask others to carefully review your CV and personal statement prior to applying. Professors in psychology and current grad students who are in the kinds of programs you're interested in are especially good folks to ask.
Q12. When is the deadline for your grad applications? And if I’ve already missed the deadline (oops!), will you still consider my application?
A12. The application deadline is December 1 of every year. In principle, I’m open to considering apps that roll in past the deadline, especially if you have extenuating circumstances that justify lateness. But there’s no guarantee your application will be given full consideration unless it arrives on time. If you’re applying late and have extenuating circumstances that you believe justify a late application, please reach out to me directly about your situation.
Q13. What is the timeline for hearing application decisions? And if I get an interview, when would that likely happen?
A13. Our specialization faculty usually review applications around December 10 of each year, and we typically make interview invitations prior to December 20. Interviews are held in late January or early February of the next calendar year.
Q14. Can you tell me more about the School Psychology PhD specialization at USU?
A14. If you haven’t done so already, I recommend reading the brief specialization overview on our Department’s website. Then read through our Graduate Student Handbook, which gives a thorough overview of all the important things you might want to know about our PhD requirements, accreditation status, culture, policies, etc. You can download a PDF copy on our Department’s “Graduate Student Handbooks” page. Look for the current year's version and pick the one called “School Psychology PhD.”
Q15. Can you tell me more about your lab and what kinds of projects you're working on?
A15. Definitely. The best place to start is by reading through my lab's overview page. This will give you a good idea of what we care about and what we've been up to lately. I also recommend reading my "About" page and my "Students" page, which provide more insight and specifics about our research interests.
Q16. It is okay to reach out and express my interest in applying to work with you/your lab?
A16. For sure. I’ll be happy to hear from you. But it’s also totally fine not to reach out. Contacting me directly won’t make or break your application, as I give every (on time) application the same level of review. Historically, I've accepted several students who reached out in advance as well as several who did not. If you do reach out, I’ll likely send you a short reply confirming that I received your note and saying that I look forward to reviewing your application. That's about it.
Q17. Can I reach out to your current grad students?
A17. Yes, you can. You may email them by clicking on their names listed on my "Students" page. However, before you do, please do your homework by reading this page and reviewing our School Psychology PhD specialization handbook.
My grad students are super-busy, so I've asked them to keep their communications with prospective students brief. Please don't ask them questions I’ve already answered here. Instead, ask them questions that only they can answer, such as what their experience has been like working with me/our lab or living through our PhD program more generally. They can give good intel on these fronts.
Q18. What's your best advice for how to approach grad school applications?
A18. I recommend four things:
- Do your homework to ensure your goodness-of-fit with the programs, labs, and mentors you'd like to work with.
- Take the time needed to develop a clear personal statement and a comprehensive CV.
- Be intentional about who you ask to write your letters of recommendation; make sure these people are willing to write letters that are strong and specific.
- Reach out to people you trust and solicit their feedback about points 1, 2, and 3. And do this well in advance of application deadlines, so you can revise plans and materials as needed.
Here are some good resources to support the points mentioned above:
- Guide for underrepresented students applying to grad programs in psychology
- APS article about how to write a strong CV
- APS article about applying to grad school in psychology
- Real-life examples of personal statements from previous clinical psychology applicants (again, these are totally generalizable to school applicants!)
- APA article about the art of the recommendation letter process
- UC San Diego, Psychology Department’s overview of how to apply to grad school
- Section 2 of Dr. Mitch Prinstein’s “Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology” (yes, this is intended for clinical applicants, but pretty much everything said in Section 2 is just as applicable to school programs)
- Slide deck by Dr. Jessica Schleider that overviews grad school preparation and application processes (see slides 20–31; again, I know this is geared toward clinical applicants but ditto what I said above about applicability to school applicants)
- Curated list by Mallory Dobias (current clinical PhD student at Stony Brook University) of open access tips/materials for applicants (again, just as applicable for school folks!)
- APA comprehensive directory of psychology grad programs (FYI, this resource costs $$)
- ABCT’s website with several resources for “getting into grad school”
That concludes the Q&A.
If you still have questions after reading all this, please feel free to email me. And if you just want to say “Hi” or let me know you've applied, I'll be happy to hear from you as well.
Thank you for being interested in my work/lab. I wish you all the best with your grad school applications! ▲