Information for Applicants

The Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania will be accepting applications for the PhD program for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle (both clinical and non-clinical). Because of adjustments necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will likely have a smaller incoming class than usual, and we note that it is even more important than usual that prospective applicants contact the faculty members they are interested in working with, to learn whether those faculty will be taking a student next year.
The following faculty members are considering applications for Fall 2021:
Dr. Angela Duckworth
Dr. Emily Falk
Dr. Rinad Beidas
Dr. Jay Gottfried
Dr. Johannes Burge
Dr. Maria Geffen
Dr. Michael Arcaro
Dr. Allyson Mackey
Dr. Russell Epstein
Dr. Joseph Kable
Dr. Elizabeth Brannon
Some additional faculty members will consider applicants who come with fellowship funding from a foundation, government, or agency. Such funding must cover tuition, stipend, and fees. We will not consider applications from individuals who intend to self-fund from personal resources or loans. Moreover, we cannot make offers to students unless funding is secured. It is essential that such applicants communicate in advance with the Director of Graduate Studies and the potential advisor to discuss their funding situation.
Deadline for applications for Fall 2021 (Academic Year 2021-2022):  December 1, 2020 11:59 pm P.S.T.

Applicants for Fall 2021, please APPLY HERE! (Please note, the application system will open October 1, 2020 for Fall 2021 admission)

A full listing of our graduate group members may be found here. All members of our graduate group are eligible to advise students in our program.

The Psychology Graduate Group offers a full-time Ph.D. program with curricular and research opportunities in a broad range of areas, including: sensation and perception, cognition, language, learning, motivation, motor control, psychopathology, judgments and decisions, and social processes.  Biological, cultural, developmental, experimental, mathematical, and neuroscience approaches to these areas are used in teaching and research.  The Graduate Group has an APA accredited clinical psychology PhD program, the purpose of which is to train research investigators, rather than training practicing clinicians.  Psychology graduate students also participate in several NIH and NSF sponsored training programs, including those in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, computational neuroscience, language and communication science, complex scene perception, and visual science.

Most graduates of our PhD program have secured positions as tenure-track faculty or research scientists.  As with most research-oriented programs, the majority of our graduates (77% during the 2006-2012 period) spend a few years doing postdoctoral research after defending their dissertation.  After completing their postdoctoral training, 60% of our graduates have secured tenured or tenure track positions, 24% are employed by industry or government, and the remaining 16% of graduates are in non-tenure track academic positions. 

For students who are not pursuing clinical training, the majority (20/36) complete their degree in 4 years (9/36) or 5 years (11/36).  For students who are pursuing clinical training, the majority defend their dissertation within 5 years (17/24) and then complete a one-year clinical internship as the final step in completing their degree.  The one-year predoctoral clinical internship is a requirement of programs accredited by the American Psychological Association.

In light of the COVID pandemic, we will not require that students submit GRE (General Test of the Graduate Record Exam) scores. Applicants who already have scores are encouraged to submit all parts (Verbal, Quantitative, Writing), but applicants who do not submit scores will not be disadvantaged in the admissions process. We have a relatively small program, which can accommodate about 10 new students each year. Applicants whose native language is not English must prove English proficiency through the following approved tests, unless they graduated from an English-speaking university: TOEFL iBT Test (standard/in-person), TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition, TOEFL ITP Plus for China solution, or Duolingo English Test.

Many factors are taken into consideration in deciding which applicants to recruit.  Some of these include the candidate's test scores, the statement of interest, evidence of research experience and accomplishment, three letters of recommendation, and grades.  We need to know what you hope to do after you receive a Ph.D. what research problems you would like to work on during your first year, and who might serve as your research advisor.  Please look at the list of members of the graduate group, and their web pages, before you answer the last question.  All members of our graduate group are eligible to admit students. If you have a research paper, please feel free to include it as part of your application. All questions should be directed to Paul Newlon at

Application deadline for Fall 2021 admission: December 1, 2020.  We must have your complete application by this date.

The department asks that you send all material in electronic format.  There is no need to send official transcripts any more as long as you upload unoffical transcript on the application system. Supplementary material should be uploaded to the online application system, but may also be sent to

A list of frequently asked questions can be found here

For further questions, please contact Paul Newlon at



Interdisciplinary Opportunities
Financial Support
Details of the Graduate Program
Application Procedure
Frequently Asked Questions
Life in Philadelphia
Graduate Student Profile
Nondiscrimination Statement

Online Application




The Graduate Group includes 65 faculty and 60 graduate students.  It represents a broad range of work in psychology, including an APA-approved program in Clinical Psychology.  It is one of the most distinguished groups of its kind in the world.  One regular faculty member and three emeritus professors are members of the National Academy of Sciences, and two regular faculty members are Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  The Department also includes a past president of the American Psychological Association.  Many other faculty, graduate students, and former students have received national awards for excellence in research and teaching.  Academic decisions are all governed by a commitment to excellence.

The Psychology Department and Graduate Group function as a unit.  Students are admitted into the graduate program as a whole, not into specific subfields.  Students and faculty are free to define their fields of interest.  These fields often combine two or more of the traditional subfields of psychology, or a subfield of psychology and some other discipline.

We have strong connections with other disciplines at the University.  Our members play pivotal roles in two of the most important interdisciplinary areas on campus, the cognitive sciences and the neurosciences, both of which have been fostered by the Department as a matter of policy.

Faculty join together from different subdisciplines for teaching and research purposes so that students become conversant with issues in a number of different areas.  Most graduate students and faculty attend Departmental colloquia several times each semester.  A high level of interaction between students and faculty helps generate both a shared set of interests in the theoretical, historical, and philosophical foundations of psychology and active collaboration in research projects.  The high level of intellectual interaction is made possible, in part, by the small size of the Department.

The twin emphases of scholarship and research accomplishment pervade the graduate program.  The first-year program is divided between courses that introduce various areas of psychology and a focused research experience.  A deep involvement in research continues throughout the graduate program, and is supplemented by participation in seminars, teaching, and general intellectual give-and-take.

Although there are no formal sub-areas, faculty in the department conduct research in a number of overlapping Areas of Interest.

Interdisciplinary Opportunities

The University of Pennsylvania is unusual in that a wide variety of graduate programs and professional schools are all located on the same campus.  This includes outstanding graduate programs in such related fields as neuroscience and linguistics, and distinguished schools of law, medicine, veterinary medicine, nursing, engineering, and business (the Wharton School).  There are three major hospitals on campus.

Informal interdisciplinary groups of students and faculty abound throughout the University, such as the rich network of collaborations between psychology and psychiatry.  However, some of these groups have attained a formal status that deserves special mention here:

Ethnopolitical conflict.  Ethnopolitical conflict is one of the major problems facing the world in the 21st century.  A group of faculty are engaged in research on the origins of violent conflict includes studies of group stereotyping, group identification, group guilt, group forgiveness, and group aversion - as these contribute to or inhibit mechanisms of mobilization for state and non-state terrorism, ethnic expulsion, coercive assimilation, and genocide.  Research is carried out in Israel/Palestine, Sri Lanka, and other sites of ethnic conflict, as well as in the United States.  Participating in research related to psychology are psychology department graduate group members Clark McCauley, Ian Lustick, Geoff Goodwin, and Paul Rozin.

Neuroscience.  Graduate students who are interested in advancing their knowledge of the nervous system are encouraged to take advantage of a wealth of seminars, courses and other programs offered by the Institute of Neurological Sciences (INS).  The Institute is an interdisciplinary organization of about 120 scientists from 14 departments in the four schools - Arts and Sciences (11 from Psychology), Engineering, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine - who are active in neuroscience research.  The subdisciplines encompassed by INS include outstanding groups in Behavioral Neuroscience, Vision, and Computational Neuroscience.  Available courses include Behavioral Neuroscience, Systems Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, Neuroendocrinology, and Psychopharmacology.

Behavioral Neuroscience.  This group, which includes a major component from Psychology, encompasses a range of research from field ethological studies to the neurohumoral basis of feeding and sexual behavior and the role of single neurons in mediating complex behavior (see the section on Faculty Interests for further details).

Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.  The CCN brings together faculty and students from across the campus to study the neural bases of cognition.  CCN researchers use fMRI, ERP, and other methods to image cognitive processes in normal human brains; they also use neuropsychological methods with brain damaged patients.  Graduate group faculty and students have been active participants in the CCN.

Perception.  Training in perception at Penn emphasizes the development of research programs that draw on a general understanding of perception.  The program is theoretically rigorous and offers training in psychophysics, the measurement of neural correlates of sensory and perceptual processing, and computational modeling.  Cognitive neuroscience, machine learning, and computer vision are also well represented.  Students with backgrounds in mathematics, physics, and engineering are encouraged to apply.

Cognitive Science.  Cognitive science investigates the nature of the representations, biological and man-made, that embody our knowledge of the world and of ourselves, and the symbol systems that allow us to communicate and manipulate these representations.  The Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania is an interdisciplinary organization comprising many scholars from the Departments of Computer & Information Sciences, Linguistics, Philosophy and Psychology, and is especially known for its depth in the areas of formal analysis of natural and artificial languages and language acquisition.  The National Science Foundation has recognized the excellence of the Institute by awarding it the first Science & Technology Center grant ever made for cognitive science, a seven year multi-million dollar award.  The Institute sponsors a seminar series, coordinates cognitive science courses at the University, and funds many activities that promote cognitive science.

Decision Processes.  A large group of faculty, students, and postdoctoral researchers in several schools are concerned with the empirical analysis of decision making in such fields as health care (by both providers and patients), consumer behavior, economic behavior as studied through laboratory games, risk regulation, and protective behavior.  Faculty and students from Psychology, Medicine, the Wharton School and elsewhere, work closely together through individual collaborations, a weekly brown-bag seminar, and lab meetings.  See html.

Financial Support

Our financial support policy makes it possible for graduate students to focus on their own research interests and pursue as independent a course of research as seems suitable.  All students are guaranteed support for five years, the expected length of time necessary to finish the Ph.D.  The support covers full tuition and a stipend of at least $32,032 per year (including summer research and teaching).  Every year a serious effort is made to increase the stipend.

Regardless of the source of support (see details later), all students must meet the same requirements.  All students are expected to play an active role in the undergraduate teaching functions of the Department.

To find out more, please see External Support.

Details of the Graduate Program

The Graduate Group requires 20 course units (one semester course equivalent) for the Ph.D. Degree.  Up to 11 of the 20 course units may be research.  At least 12 units must be completed at the University of Pennsylvania; eight, at most, can be transferred from other institutions.  Decisions about transfer credits are made by the Graduate Group Chair.

The Department does not have a Master's program and does not give any special recognition to a Master's Degree from other institutions.  It will not admit a student who wants only a Master's Degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  However, since such a degree may be useful to a student who is seeking summer work elsewhere or who finds it necessary to withdraw from the Department's Ph.D. program, students may apply for a Master's Degree after they have completed the first-year program at a Master's level.

Most students audit additional courses once they have met their course requirements.  The main constraint on the time taken to complete the Ph.D. in recent years is not the course requirements but rather the highly competitive academic job market.  Students feel that they need to have completed substantial research in order to compete for desirable positions.  Accordingly, requirements have recently been changed so that students can more easily carry out a research program without interruption from their first semester through their thesis.

The First-Year Program.  The required courses for all first-year graduate students are:

  • Proseminars
  • Statistics
  • Individual Research project or Laboratory rotations

The Proseminars consist of various half and full-semester courses covering a wide range of topics in psychology.  The student must take three units (semesters) of proseminars, normally including two in the first year. 

The Statistics requirement can be met either by completion of Stat 611 or by a more advanced course.

Each first-year student registers for either three c.u.'s of individual research or three c.u.'s of laboratory rotations.  Both options are designed to introduce students to independent research, either by focusing on a single project in one lab or by having three shorter research projects, each in a different lab.

Clinical students are expected to take the Clinical Seminar during their first year as well as during the subsequent years.

After the First Year.  A committee of at least three faculty members, including the student's advisor, is chosen to guide each student's education after the first year.

Typically, second-year students take one c.u. of prosems unless they have completed their prosem requirement in their first year.  Students are required to include among their three c.u.'s of  proseminars, one from each of the following three broad areas of Psychology: Cognition (including Psycholinguistics, Perception, Animal Learning, Thinking and Deciding, among others), the Brain (including Behavioral Neuroscience and Cognitive Neuroscience, among others) and the Individual and Groups (including Cultural, Personality, Psychopathology, and Social, among others).

A student must complete a second course in quantitative methods by the end of the second year.

Otherwise, a student's primary activity is scholarship and research in his or her chosen area of specialization, supplemented by a selection of advanced seminars and courses in other departments or schools, colloquium attendance, and undergraduate teaching.  Students in the clinical program also take a clinical practicum and a year of assessment.  Many students in biological psychology take neuroscience courses in the Institute of Neurological Sciences.

No later than the second half of their third year, students take a Doctoral Qualifying Examination.  Students continue with research and teaching in the third and fourth year.  Special arrangements are possible for students who must go elsewhere to do their research, e.g., those who must observe animals in the field.

Research through the fourth year leads to a dissertation.  The program is designed to be completed in five years, and financial support is promised for this period.  Students who do not complete the program in five years can often find employment within the Department (e.g., teaching or grant support of research).

Examinations and Evaluations

First Year.  Performance in the proseminars, in the first-year research project, and in the statistics course must be satisfactory for a student to remain in the program.  This is evaluated by the faculty at the end of the first year.

Qualifying Examination.  Graduate students must pass an oral and written examination based on their area of special competence.  The student's advisory committee in consultation with the student determines the form and content of the examination.  This examination is taken no later than the end of the third year.

Dissertation.  A dissertation is required, and must be approved by a committee consisting of the dissertation advisor and at least two other Graduate Group members.

Application Procedure

An application to the Program can be found on the web.

All questions should be directed to: Paul Newlon at

All applicants are required to take the General Test of the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) exam.  The Subject Test is not required.  The Psychology Department GRE code is 2016; the institutional code is 2926.  These results should be forwarded to the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences, 3401 Walnut St., Suite 322A, Philadelphia, PA 19104. (Except for the TOEFL for non-native English speakers, no other tests are required.)

Students who wish to be considered for admission in September 2021 should make certain that all portions of the application (letters of recommendation, unofficial transcripts, test scores, etc.) are submitted by December 1, 2020. We do not accept applications for mid-year, part-time, M.A., or non-degree status.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many applicants are recommended for admission each year?

Each year we typically offer admission to 15-20 students.  Of those, about 8-12 students enroll. Because of adjustments necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will likely have a smaller incoming class than usual.

2. What are the GRE and GPA scores of students enrolled for the academic year 2020-21?


Mean Scores

Range of Scores



152 - 170



157 - 170



3.0 - 5.5



3.6 - 3.9

3. What is your GRE Department code and TOEFL code?

GRE scores (if you are submitting them) and TOEFL scores will need to be sent electronically from ETS. The institution code for both GRE and TOEFL is 2926.

4. What is the deadline for filing application materials?

For Fall 2021 admission, the application deadline is December 1, 2020.

5. How may I apply to your program?

Applications are available on-line.  We ask that you urge your recommenders to send their letters on-line. (There are instructions provided for this process at the on-line link above.)  If they choose not to use this method, those letters then must be sent to the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, 3401 Walnut St. Ste 322A, Philadelphia, PA  19104 in signed and sealed envelopes from each recommender.

6. Do you have any specific information about the personal statement?

In order that we that we may best consider your application, we ask that you take special care in composing your Personal Statement.  It should include 1) professional goals (i.e., what you hope to do after you receive a Ph.D.) and 2) possible research activities in the first year of graduate study (i.e., what research problems you would like to work on during your first year, and with whom).  There is no maximum length, other than the system won't allow files that are too big to be uploaded.  Usually the statement is 2-3 pages in length.

7. I have a write-up of research in Psychology that I have conducted.  Can I submit this as part of my application?

While a writing sample is not required, you should feel free to submit one if you wish.  Writing samples should be uploaded to your online application or sent directly by email to Paul Newlon

8. Who will be accepting students and selected as potential advisors?

All members of the graduate group are eligible to admit students and take on new students as advisors for our program. A full listing of all active members of our graduate group may be found here. Because of adjustments necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a smaller number of faculty than usual will be accepting students. It is extremely important that you contact the faculty member you are interested in working with to find out if that person is taking students for fall 2021. If the answer is no, you should not apply to the program.

9. Do you accept fee waiver requests?

All fee waiver requests for hardships, McNair Scholars, etc., should be sent to Ms. Patricia Rea, Associate Director for Admissions in the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences for her review. Requests may be sent be email at

10. Do applicants visit the campus?  Usually we assemble a "short list" of applicants who are invited to visit campus in late-January to mid-February. Because of adjustments necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, all interviews will be held virtually, with dates still to be decided.

11. What other graduate programs are in the area?  See this list.

12. My interests cross the boundary between neuroscience and psychology.  Which department should I apply to?

At Penn, you may work in many neuroscience labs as a psychology or neuroscience Ph.D. student.  Likewise, many psychology labs have both psychology and neuroscience students.  You should look at both programs to see which you think is a better training plan given your specific interests.  Alternatively, you may wish to contact the faculty member(s) whose work is of most interest to you to see if they have a specific recommendation.  You should also be aware that there is no rule preventing your from applying to both programs!


Life in Philadelphia

In the last few decades, Philadelphia has emerged as a fiscally healthy and socially vibrant city.  Philadelphia offers the attractions one expects to find in a major city.  The Philadelphia Orchestra is world-class and in the summer performs outdoor concerts at the Mann Music Center located in the world's largest urban park.  There are several smaller musical organizations of international standing and many local groups and conservatories also offer free concerts throughout the year.  Art in Philadelphia is represented by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the third largest in the country; the Barnes Foundation which has an excellent collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works; the Rodin Museum which has the largest collection of Rodin's works outside France; and the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts as well as numerous galleries.  The Institute for Contemporary Art is also on campus, as is the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  Drama is well represented in the city and the Annenberg Center on campus produces both traditional and experimental theater.  Philadelphia has always been the place to catch previews of next year's Broadway shows.

The last 25 years have seen a restaurant renaissance with most major ethnic cuisines now represented.  Philadelphia also has a plethora of bookstores of all kinds, new and used, general and specialized, with several offering weekly readings by authors.  Café society flourishes in numerous coffee houses and wine bars and the many galleries in the art district draw a lively mix of art-lovers to their opening receptions.  The campus is well situated to afford access to these sources; the University is a modest walk or a brief bus ride from Center City where most of the cultural institutions are found.

Though some students live in Center City or the suburbs, many of our graduate students live in an area just to the west of campus known as West Philly or University City.  The population of the area includes many students and faculty of the University.  It is a pleasant and ethnically diverse place, containing several small and inexpensive restaurants, cinemas, bars, supermarkets, and several convenience stores.

Housing in West Philly is fairly easy to find; the University has an office that maintains listings of vacant apartments and offers advice on choosing an apartment.  Apartment hunting can usually be done in a few days and the Psychology Department graduate students can sometimes assist incoming students by providing a place to stay while hunting.  Many of our students share apartments or houses with other students, and in that way are able to afford reasonably spacious, though not necessarily elegant, housing.  Rent and utilities in such an arrangement comes to about $500 per month per person. Studio apartments are typically rented for $600 per month.

Graduate Student Profile

Students are selected for admission who show evidence of a high level of intellectual talent, a strong interest in psychology, and a commitment to scholarship and research.  We can accommodate about ten new graduate students each year.  Admission decisions take into account many factors, including the clarity of the candidate's statement of interest, its appropriateness to this program, evidence of research experience and accomplishment, letters of recommendation, test scores, grades, and selection of course work that is relevant to the student's plans.  An outstanding record in one of these areas may compensate for poorer performance in another area.  In general, we look for students who are likely to become passionately committed to some intellectual or scientific problem or problems.

Most entering graduate students have some background in science, mathematics, and statistics, as well as some research experience and course work in experimental psychology.  Although a substantial undergraduate exposure to psychology is desirable, it is not necessary.  In particular, students with interdisciplinary interests might have a stronger background in the other field than in psychology.  Students are admitted on the assumption that they will be able to meet all requirements for the Ph.D. Degree.

Of the 66 students receiving the Ph.D. from 1994 through 2004, 10% are in faculty positions, 9% are in research positions (government, industry, hospital, or university), 59% are receiving further training (postdoctoral, internship or residency), 6% are in clinical practice, 4% are in university administration or private consulting, 2% are in the private sector, and 10% are unemployed or unknown to us.


Nondiscrimination Statement

 The University of Pennsylvania values diversity and seeks talented students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds. The University of Pennsylvania does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, citizenship status, age, disability, veteran status or any other legally protected class status in the administration of its admissions, financial aid, educational or athletic programs, or other University-administered programs or in its employment practices. Questions or complaints regarding this policy should be directed to the Executive Director of the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs, Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Suite 228, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106; or (215) 898-6993 (Voice) or (215) 898-7803 (TDD).