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When aspiring graduate students weigh psychology programs, they don't put school prestige or faculty members at the top of their criteria. They instead lean on something far more abstract: a sense of "fit," according to a study in Training and Education in Professional Psychology (Vol. 4, No. 2).

Study author John McIlvried, PhD, found that applicants usually recognize that sense of fit when they meet faculty and students in the program. It could mean they feel comfortable around the program's professors or imagine they'd mesh with their future classmates.

"Many students will say, 'You were in our top 10, but you weren't Number One until after the interviews,'" says McIlvried, dean of the psychology department and associate provost at the University of Indianapolis. "That's when they make the decision, [and] that's when 'fit' comes into play."

After sense of fit, practice-focused students rated APA accreditation as the most important factor, while research-focused students emphasized the opportunity to work with particular professors. Both groups placed a high premium on the location of their school, as well as the amount of clinical supervision they could expect in their programs.

Considering the importance students place on their sense of fit, McIlvried recommends that they visit every school on their list, even if it's just to sit in on a class or chat with a professor.

—D. Jamieson