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Drew C. Appleby Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis - page 4 / 7





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ernment agencies, but who are inappropriate candidates to recommend the applicant for graduate study in psychology. For example, one KOD occurred when

an applicant included a letter of recommendation from a state senator who was a friend of the family and only knew the ap- plicant as a child and adolescent. The letter said little about the applicant and described the senator’s powerful role in overseeing the funding of higher education in the state.

Discussion and Recommendations

Although the KODs identified in this study reflect unwise choices on the part of applicants, we believe many of these KODs resulted more from a lack of appropriate advising and mentoring than from a lack of applicants’ intelligence. Unless undergraduate psychology programs provide appropriate ad- vising and mentoring opportunities, their majors are likely to commit many of these KODs because of a lack of exposure to information that would otherwise enable them to understand the graduate school culture, the requirements of the graduate school application process, and the exact nature of some of its components. For example, an unmentored psychology major may interpret a personal statement at face value by perceiv- ing it as an opportunity to share personal (i.e., private) infor- mation with the members of a graduate admissions committee. Unless applicants know that a personal state- ment should address issues such as research interests and per- ceived fit with a program, they may misinterpret its purpose and write personal statements that inadvertently doom their applications. Similarly, an unmentored student may interpret a letter of recommendation as a request for information from a person who knows her or him well and can vouch for her or his admirable traits and strong values (e.g., a family member or a member of the clergy).

We believe undergraduate psychology programs can pre- pare their students to construct successful graduate school applications that do not contain KODs in the following three ways: (a) mentoring, (b) academic advising, and (c) teaching classes designed to prepare students for their lives after un- dergraduate school. Keith-Spiegel and Wiederman (2000) defined a mentor as “an established professional in the stu- dent’s general study area who facilitates the student’s under- graduate accomplishments and the path to graduate school” (p. 67). Although some departments may have official mentoring programs, most mentor–protégé relationships are likely to develop when students participate in research con- ducted by faculty. Departments can help their students un- derstand the importance of research participation in the graduate school selection process by sponsoring informal so- cial gatherings for undergraduates to talk with graduate stu- dents (Appleby, 2000b). Likewise, departments can promote mentoring by engaging in community-building strategies that encourage closer relationships among students and faculty (Appleby, 2000a). Effective mentoring of undergraduate stu- dents can help them attain the research and classroom expe- riences that facilitate strong letters of recommendation, compelling personal statements, and proficient writing skills. These experiences can help students avoid KODs in their graduate applications.


Academic advising is a second strategy that departments can use to help their undergraduates avoid KODs. Ware et al. (1993) described the role of advisers in preparing their advisees for their postbaccalaureate educational aspirations:

Advisers may encourage students to seek a match between personal characteristics (e.g., values, interests, skills, etc.) and characteristics of the graduate program. Additional advising tasks include establishing a realistic time line, preparing appli- cations (including a goals statement), taking the Graduate Record Examination (or other standardized test), and select- ing faculty to write letters of recommendation. (p. 58)

This process, known as developmental advising (Crookston, 1972), reflects the conscious effort of advisors to help advisees understand how their undergraduate program can help them develop into the people they wish to become (Appleby, 2002). Unfortunately, this type of time- consuming, one-on-one advising may not be available to all psychology majors because many departments lack the hu- man resources to provide it.

The third strategy to help students avoid KODs is to pro- vide them with a class that familiarizes them with the nature of graduate education and the graduate application process. Oles and Cooper (1988) described a class titled Professional Seminar that allowed “one faculty member, together with volunteer help, to provide 150 students with 13–14 hours of academic advising each semester for a total of 1400 contact hours” (p. 63). Although the primary focus of this class was to familiarize students with their program’s faculty, curriculum, and research opportunities, it also included information about graduate school and required its enrollees to write a pa- per that included “their plans for graduate school” (p. 62). Classes of this nature have increased in the 17 years since Oles and Cooper described their pioneering seminar. Now 34.2% of psychology departments that answered a survey about this type of class reported offering one (Landrum, Shoemaker, & Davis, 2003).

The purpose of these classes is to provide students with academic and career advising information that may other- wise be unavailable, overlooked, or ignored. When taught well and taken seriously, these classes provide students with the guidance and encouragement they need to identify their career goals and understand how they can use their under- graduate curricular and extracurricular opportunities to ac- complish these goals (Appleby, 2003b). When Landrum et al. (2003) asked departments that offered such a class how important it was for enrollees to gain knowledge about 33 issues typically taught in these classes, the ratings (on a 0 to 3 scale, with 3 being extremely important) were 2.50 for “know the information needed to apply to graduate pro- grams,” 2.30 for “know how to apply to graduate school,” and 2.11 for “know the value of letters of recommendation” (p. 49). Students who possess this type of knowledge are much less likely to commit KODs than their peers who are unaware of this information.

Not all psychology departments possess the resources to offer their students a full range of mentoring, advising, and academic opportunities designed to prevent them from com- mitting KODs in the graduate school application process. However, we believe that most departments can provide at

Teaching of Psychology

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