School Psychology, Ph.D.

Frequently Asked Questions - Applications

Who might apply to the UNC School Psychology Program?

Applicants come from various fields and stages of life.  Successful school psychologists tend to be intellectually capable and socially responsible, and enjoy working with both children and youth. Individuals without a strong psychology background may need to obtain additional knowledge in the field prior to applying. Individuals without experiences in working with children and/or youth will need to obtain direct experiences prior to applying. All applicants are required to have either a B.S. or B.A. degree in Psychology or a Masters degree in a related field prior to their entry into the program in the fall.

What are you looking for in applicants to your program?

We look for applicants with a solid graduate record, which generally means a GPA above 3.5, and evidence of success in psychology and education classes. We expect strong GRE scores and prior experiences that have allowed one to gain knowledge and self-awareness pertinent to the field of school psychology. We look for a statement of purpose that shows a clear understanding of the field of school psychology and of the applicant’s match with the field, as well as clarity regarding why UNC’s program is a good fit for the applicant. We examine all the available evidence to help us answer these fundamental questions:

  • Can this applicant succeed in a rigorous graduate program?
  • Has this applicant made a careful, well-educated choice regarding this career, this University, and this Program?
  • Is this applicant likely to become an outstanding school psychologist, contributing to the profession in significant ways?

How should I prepare for graduate training in school psychology?

Preparation has three basic components:  preparatory course work, relevant experiential activities, and exploration of the career.  All three are essential to your preparation for graduate training in School Psychology.

Preparatory course work: You should aim for solid performance in your graduate course work, including the specified courses and psychology classes, such as statistics, research methods, and tests and measurement. Supporting course work in related areas, such as education, sociology, special education, communication disorders, and social work is desirable but not essential.

Relevant experiences: For all applicants, relevant employment or volunteer experiences involving children or youth is required. Research experience is favorably viewed and may be obtained by working with faculty in your undergraduate or graduate program, or through employment.

Understanding the field of school psychology: We strongly recommend that prospective applicants explore not only the field of school psychology but also other related career options, including clinical child psychology, developmental psychology, school counseling, educational psychology, special education, and school social work, to help refine a decision to pursue a career in school psychology.

Additional suggestions to facilitate your understanding:

  • Explore the content on the website of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), paying particular attention to the links about Becoming a School Psychologist. Also follow other links to gauge your interest in the content.
  • Explore the content on the website of the American Psychological Association.
  • Interview at least one school psychologist (and other professionals whose fields you are considering) to gain insight into day-to-day roles and both positive and negative aspects of the job. If possible, “shadow” one or more of these individuals as well.
  • Review research published in the major school psychology journals (e.g., Journal of School Psychology) as well as related journals to determine if you have overlapping interests with these topics.
  • Read books that help you explore careers in psychology. One example is Applying to Graduate School in Psychology: Advice from Successful Students and Prominent Psychologists Edited by Amanda C. Kracen and Ian J. Wallace.

Does your program provide individual advisement to interested applicants regarding courses or experiences that would enhance the likelihood of admission?

We recognize the need for many individuals to gain advice regarding their preparation for graduate studies. Though we cannot provide individual advisement, by phone, email, or in person, for individuals who are interested in enhancing their credentials for graduate school, we can provide the following information that should help you prepare a strong application, whether for UNC-Chapel Hill or another campus. 

At UNC-Chapel Hill, we suggest courses in developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, learning or cognition, and personality theories. You can also increase your preparation for graduate work by taking courses in experimental design and statistics, and by obtaining a broad exposure to fields such as education, sociology or social work. Such work is not required for admission to UNC-Chapel Hill, but these courses will help you when you are in graduate school, and might enhance your application.

Obtain experiences in working with children and youth. Such experiences might include serving in Ameri-Corp or Teach for America, camp counselor work, serving as a tutor in the schools, working with children with disabilities, volunteering with the Special Olympics, and working with children with ADHD, autism, or learning disabilities, teaching, and counseling. Individuals with backgrounds in teaching or counseling who are switching careers also bring strong backgrounds to the field of school psychology.

Individuals can enhance their application by gaining research experiences, including working on research projects, writing research reports, and presenting at professional meetings.  Learning a second language, especially Spanish, is also particularly advantageous, given the increasing diversity of languages in the schools in the US. 

The UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate School recommends that applicants have a minimum GRE verbal and quantitative scores at the 50th percentile. The undergraduate grade point average is recommended to be at least 3.0. Please review the information on our admissions statistics to gain additional information about applicant credentials. These numbers are merely recommendations and do not exclude or ensure applicant acceptance into the program. Evidence that shows students will succeed in a rigorous graduate program may in some cases outweigh low GPA or GRE scores.

May I meet with the faculty to obtain additional information about the Program?

Because we receive a large number of requests for information, we cannot meet with individuals to discuss the Program. However, we have prepared these FAQs to provide you with detailed information on our program.

Additional detailed information on admissions is located on our website. Please address questions on the status of your application to the School of Education Office of Student Affairs, ed@unc.edu or (919) 966-1346.

What information do you consider in making decisions?

Admission to the program is based on several factors, including rigorous undergraduate preparation, strong letters of recommendation, competitive GRE scores, relevant experience with children and youth, and a clearly written personal statement of professional objectives. Doctoral applicants' research experience and interests are also highly important factors.

We use the application materials to help us make a determination of whether you will be a successful student, a committed and competent professional, and whether our program can meet your personal and professional goals. We give importance to the three letters of recommendation. The Statement of Purpose helps the faculty determine your projected career path and whether your interests are compatible with our program. We encourage you to be as specific as you can as to your career goals and what you intend to do when you graduate. We also review your resume that details your academic and employment histories. One sample of professional writing (e.g., papers, publications) is not required but is encouraged.

Whom should I ask to write letters of reference for me?

The most effective letters come from professors and professional supervisors who know you very well and also know what it takes to succeed in graduate school. Less useful are references from professors who don’t know you well or from family friends or non-academic employers who are not familiar with graduate school demands. We realize that some applicants have been away from college for an extended period of time, and that letters from former instructors may not be feasible and we take that fact into account as well.

When is the deadline for applications?

The deadline for receipt of applications and all supporting material is listed on the School Psychology Home Page. No late applications and no late supporting materials (transcripts, letters of recommendation, Statement of Purpose) can be accepted after the deadline.

Be sure to begin the application process sufficiently early to assure that all materials arrive on time. Please be sure that persons who write your letters of recommendation are aware of the deadlines. UNC policies strictly preclude reviewing any late application or applicants adding materials to an incomplete application after the deadline. We highly recommend you submit all materials no later than early December to ensure you meet the deadline. Make sure that those writing your letters of recommendation understand that if the letter arrives late, your application can't be reviewed.

Are the application deadlines different for international students?

No. The application deadlines are the same for everyone.

What happens if I have low test scores or GPA?

In cases where you believe an indicator (e.g., test score) does not accurately reflect potential for graduate study, we encourage you to provide additional evidence to show that the indicator is not valid. Alternate evidence could include high performance in prior course work, scores from other tests, or professional publications. We do not use scores or GPAs as strict cutoffs, and will review evidence suggesting such indicators are inaccurate.

Is it possible to apply to the program with a graduate degree other than psychology?

Yes, if you currently hold a master’s degree in a related field. Many of our current students hold degrees in Special Education, Elementary Education, Rehabilitation Psychology, Educational Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Developmental Psychology or Experimental Psychology. Applicants with undergraduate majors in areas such as teaching often bring highly related experiences, and may have completed prerequisites in areas such as development and learning. However, students who hold a B.A. or B.S. in Psychology, may also apply.

Individuals without a psychology background will want to examine in detail the psychology websites, especially the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Association for School Psychologists (NASP). The more information you have about psychology in general and school psychology in particular, the more informed decision you can make about applying to graduate school and the stronger your application will be.

Is it possible for me to enter the doctoral program right after finishing my undergraduate degree?

Yes, if you hold a B.S. or B.A. degree in Psychology. All other students must have completed a master’s degree prior to entering the program.  However, some students apply to our program while completing their master’s program.

Do you admit transfer students?

We do admit transfer students, but not as a separate category. If you wish to enter the School Psychology Program with credits from another program, you would apply to the degree program you are interested in, meeting the deadline for admission.

If I have a previous graduate degree or course work, can I apply the credit hours to my degree?

Doctoral Degree Guidelines: Upon recommendation of the academic program and approval by the Graduate School, a doctoral student may transfer into his or her degree program relevant graduate courses from approved institutions or from other graduate programs within this institution.  The doctoral student may be examined on all transferred courses at the time of the doctoral oral examination. There is no limit to the number of hours that can be transferred into a doctoral program to meet course requirements—with the academic program’s approval.  Transferred credits will not be included in the program residence credit calculation. A review is completed after a student has been admitted and course work and experiences have been reviewed by the academic advisor, course instructors, and the program coordinator.  

Are there special admission requirements for individuals who have or will complete a master’s degree/specialist degree at the time of application to the doctoral program?

Yes, applicants who have completed, or who are completing, a master’s degree/specialist degree at the time of application to the doctoral program, are asked to submit the following materials. To ensure your application can be considered, make sure these items are received by the deadline.

A reference from your internship on-site supervisor must be included in your application. This reference may be one of your three letters, but the internship supervisor should specifically address your performance while an intern. In addition, one of your three letters must be from the program chair of your master’s program/educational specialist program. If you are asked to come for an interview, you should bring work samples with you, such as an example of a psychological report and a research paper.

Applicants having completed two years of graduate studies in school psychology prior to applying are required to submit PRAXIS II scores for School Psychology.

Does being able to speak a language other than English enhance my application?

It is highly advantageous to be able to speak another language, especially Spanish, for the field of school psychology. Preference during admissions is not given for proficiency in foreign languages, but such proficiency will provide you with a valuable set of skills and may enhance your career options. These skills may also open up areas of research for you.

What happens after I submit my application?

Immediately after the application deadline, all applications are given careful consideration to determine which applicants will be admitted. It is important to note that offers of admission may be made prior to the application deadline. In some cases, a student may be put on a wait list, with a decision on admittance deferred until we receive replies from other admitted students.

May I enter the program at different times during the year?

Students are only admitted for matriculation in the fall of each academic year because the course of study is sequenced and cumulative. Entering in the spring semester would put one out of sequence. However, students who are admitted for the fall may begin course work in the preceding summer in areas such as statistics or required foundation courses. Students currently enrolled in another program are also admitted only during the fall semester.

I have a graduate degree in Psychology. May I take the courses from your program that the state department of public instruction requires for licensure and not enter your degree program?

No. The program does not offer a non-degree, certification/licensure-only training track.

May I pursue my degree on a part-time basis?

No. Our doctoral program is designed for full-time students. Courses and field placements are generally offered during the work week (Monday-Friday). We do not admit part-time students.