You may be surprised to learn that many people miss out on a great deal of available financial aid by deciding on a particular course of academic study early on without researching available options. For instance, many Professional and Master’s degree programs offer significantly more financial aid for those seeking a PhD + Master’s simultaneously than for those seeking only a Master’s degree.
In the field of Psychology, for example, departments are typically interested in having you contribute to their research – which usually means staying in for the long haul and getting your PhD. While this can mean an extra year or two of study, it can also make the difference between receiving little or no financial aid and having all of your tuition paid for plus being granted a stipend to live on. Many PhD students are thus able to graduate debt-free!
In addition to financial considerations, it is important to choose a program that has faculty you want to work with. This is, of course, a significantly different prospect than being an undergraduate student – where a person may choose a program simply because of its reputation and not expect to have a great deal of personal contact with faculty members. Knowing specific faculty members is also important to the application process: when applying to a school, you should mention by name faculty you want to work with and explain what of their work is of interest to you. This demonstrates not only that you are familiar with and committed to the program, but also that you are excited to help them with their research and not going to simply expect to sit in class and learn from them.
Finally, you need to find out ahead of time if there are any additional subject GREs you need to take in addition to the general exam. Many departments require that you take these, or strongly recommend it. If you learn too late that one program you are applying for does require specific additional exams, you may miss out on your opportunity to apply altogether or at least on valuable study time!