Facts and Figures
Investigating and choosing: the decision-making process among first-year psychology graduate students
What's the most important factor for a student considering which graduate program to enroll in? For most students, it's their "sense of fit" with the program, according to the 1998-99 APA Graduate Student Survey, conducted by the APA Research Office in the fall of 1998.
The survey was conducted to determine how first-year psychology graduate students used available information about psychology graduate programs and what variables had the greatest effect on their decision-making process. General factors influencing students' decisions to enroll in graduate programs ranged from geographic location and availability of financial assistance to prestige of the university and curriculum.
But overall, 86 percent of students rated their sense of fit with the program as the single most important factor in choosing a graduate program. Oddly, more students enrolled in private institutions rated financial assistance (teaching and research assistantships, scholarships and other financial incentives) as not at all important (68 percent), whereas students in public institutions had more mixed opinions, with 40 percent rating financial assistance as not at all important.
Other factors that were rated as highly important by a large proportion of first-year graduate students in public institutions included prestige and reputation of the faculty (59 percent), prestige and reputation of the university (56 percent) and curriculum (57 percent). Meanwhile, 75 percent of students enrolled in private institutions said that curriculum was very important, as was their "gut feeling" about the program (59 percent) and the prestige and reputation of the faculty (58 percent).
Doctoral and master's students chose the same top four factors as most important in affecting their decision to enroll, but ranked them differently. For doctoral students a sense of fit with the program came first (89 percent), followed by curriculum (66 percent), prestige and reputation of the university (63 percent) and geographic location (62 percent). For master's students, geographic location was most important (78 percent), followed by sense of fit with the program (72 percent), curriculum (65 percent) and prestige and reputation of the university (50 percent).
Overall, professional practice and research-related factors that were found to be of importance included APA accreditation (72 percent), amount and quality of supervision (58 percent), research interests of the faculty (55 percent), and hands-on experience in research projects (52 percent).
When gathering information about graduate programs, the survey found that just over one-fourth of first-year graduate students used APA's directory of graduate departments of psychology to find information about their current graduate programs. Additional resources included recommendations from psychology faculty from their previous institution (18 percent) and recommendations from other individuals (13 percent). Students in public institutions were 10 percent more likely than those in private institutions to have sought advice from faculty. Students enrolled in doctoral programs relied on APA's directory of graduate departments of psychology, psychology faculty and other individuals, as noted above. Interestingly, students in master's programs reported using the Internet and World Wide Web (11 percent), which was not the case for students in doctoral programs.
More information about graduate degrees, employment and salaries can be found on the Center for Workforce Studies website.
General factors influencing program decision for first-year graduate students: 1998-99
--TONJA M. KYLE
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