When the weather starts to get chilly and the leaves start to fall, students begin the application process for graduate school. Starting with writing and revising their resumes, students gather all the information that will strengthen and support their applications. Although a high GPA is widely perceived as a determining factor for graduate school entrance, there are other significant factors that can help students’ applications stand out as well. These include involvement on campus and with professional organizations, leadership positions, research experiences, mentoring experiences, and internships.
Being involved in different sub-organizations in the psychology department at the State University of New York at Fredonia (SUNY Fredonia) allowed my colleagues and I to feel a sense of belonging. SUNY Fredonia students’ involvement with Psi Chi and psychology club has allowed them to build meaningful connections. By attending regular club meetings, students feel connected to one another and learn more about psychology outside of the classroom. In addition, planning various events challenges students to be more creative, diverse, and skillful and strengthens their ability to collaborate and network with other students. You may choose to be executive members of student organizations, which can be appealing to graduate school admissions and future employers, as it demonstrates leadership experience and commitment to psychological science. It also allows you to build an academic community by taking on more responsibilities and working with like-minded student leaders and professors.
As a student committee member, you also learn how to interact with professors in professional settings outside of the classroom and develop leadership skills by being active members of the committee as well as the community. For instance, the Recruitment Committee for the psychology department at SUNY Fredonia allows students to assist in the recruitment of new students by composing letters to prospective students. As representatives for the Office of Student Creative Activity and Research (OSCAR), students review travel fund requests and help organize the annual Student Research and Creativity Exposition in the spring semester. This helps you learn how to develop supervisory skills and manage university funds.
In addition to campus organizations, being involved in professional organizations, such as the Association for Psychological Science (APS) and the APS Student Caucus (APSSC), helps you expand your connections nationally and internationally. There are also applications and websites that help students match up with mentors who are either graduate school students or professionals working in the field. Building relationships like this allows students to meet and interact with diverse groups of people and feel included and accepted in the field. Attending conventions hosted by these organizations can also help you learn more about the field you are going into while building professional connections and uncovering new career and educational options.
Internships support your personal growth by offering an opportunity to get hands – on experience while receiving feedback from professionals in the field. Students build meaningful relationships with the people at internship sites, including supervisors, fellow interns, and the clients. Those who are looking to be a counselor or a therapist can further benefit from the relationship they develop with the clients. This prepares them for graduate programs that are geared towards teaching students to be helpers. Furthermore, students often receive recommendation letters from the supervisors for graduate school applications.
Working on research projects with professors gives students the opportunity to gain research experience, which can help prepare them for graduate school. Student researchers learn how to ask meaningful questions and develop hypotheses. They also learn how to write documents to get their study approved by an institutional review board and how to conduct safe and ethical research. Most psychology graduate programs require research as a part of their curricula, and getting involved as an undergraduate helps prepare students for forming professional relationships with coauthors and professors, knowing how to conduct a research project, and presenting research or getting the research published. Being involved in the research process also shows that students are strong graduate-school prospects, as there are often heavy research readings in graduate level courses. Becoming familiar with the research process, specifically with the scholarly review process, trains students to be fluent in research language as well.
As a peer mentor, you learn how to communicate with others, build personal relationships, and gain skills, such as listening skills, to assist other students. At SUNY Fredonia, all incoming psychology students are assigned a peer mentor who can help them adjust to their new academic environment. A mentor’s job is to check up on the new students, send out informational emails or texts about different campus activities, and help answer questions about academics, adjustment to campus, and overall psychological and physical wellness as a college student. Through weekly contacts and meetings with mentees, mentors develop personal relationships with their mentees while developing active listening skills and establishing instructional skills. Reflecting in weekly journals and receiving feedback from supervising professors can also highlight potential avenues for personal growth. Additionally, by being a mentor, students learn how to be engaged in a professional relationship with their mentees, which allows students to be prepared to have a mentor when they go to a graduate school or start their careers.
In sum, getting involved on campus as an undergraduate student not only prepares you to be a well-rounded grad school or job applicant, but allows you to become an active part of the campus community. Whatever the next step in your career path, consider working as a mentor, joining a professional and/or campus organization, compleating an internship, or conducting a research project to widen your horizons.