Here are some ideas that may help the average applicant:
1. Plan ahead. Find out what all the different elements of your application will include. Many require GRE scores. Frequently GRE test preparation is most effective over a two month period of regular study with feedback. Be sure that you score will be available PRIOR to the deadline for submission. Many schools require research or publication. This must begin prior to (typically) the 3rd year of college. Find out early what research opportunities are available to you and when you need to begin participating. Many graduate programs are exclusive, meaning that they focus on a narrow area of research. Find out which schools offer programs in your area of interest. Many applications require a letter of intent. Decide what it needs to say, who will review it for you and when that needs to be completed by. Many schools will have specific instructions about what this letter needs to include, be prepared to write more than one. Letters of recommendation are also typically required( 2-3). These need to be written by current PhD holders. Get to know some professors well. It may be beneficial to coordinate your research with the same PhD's.
2. Develop Skills. What are your strengths academically? You will need to be not only proficient but well skilled in writing (apa style, publication ready). You will need a functional and comfortable understanding of statistics, research methods, and data interpretation. Do you know all the "validities"? If you cannot name them and ID them easily in research, now is a good time to review these concepts. You will need to be proficient in windows software, data entry, typing, internet and database research. You will benefit by developing teaching skills, clincial skills, professionalism, and fluency in other languages. All of those skills will not only improve your academic appeal, but will help you with career decisions in the future.
3. Select Specialty. It is viritually impossible to go to a graduate program in psychology without having a field of interest. You need to know, prior to application: What career area are you competent in, qualified for, able to budget for, and invest your time in. graduate programs in psychology are demanding of your time and often require a sacrifice of other interests. Select an area that you are prepared to love and thrive in.
4. Research. I mentioned earlier that research is becoming a basic requirement for admission into graduate programs. Be responsible- join a research team, present at a confrence, get your name on an offical publication.
5. Degree. Determine which type of advanced degree you need in order to pursue the appropriate career. Some schools offer and independant maters, but typically you will need to understand the benefits and limitations of EdD, PhD and PsyD. You will work, in all cases, very closely with the faculty. It is wise to visit the school prior to application. Decide if you can spend a large ammount of time and energy getting along with the faculty. Determine the cost of each program at each school you are interested in. Consider tuition, cost of living and associated fees. Determine the ammount of time it takes the average student to complete the program. Can you make a similar commitment?