Posted on April 12, 2021 by Christopher Reichert

The Department of Educational Psychology is pleased to announce that the school psychology (M.A.) program has been named the winner of the university's inaugural Innovation in Master’s Program Admissions award .

According to Felicia Castro-Villarreal Ph.D., the graduate advisor of record and department director, her department’s faculty was honored to receive the award.

“It means a lot to us that our hard work is recognized,” she said, “especially our work that is student-centered. It means that other aspects of the university, other departments at the university are also prioritizing the student like we are.”

She attributes her program’s success to several key changes in its admissions process. One of these changes was a recent shift to committee decision-making. Whereas admissions decisions had previously been made by one faculty member, this change allows the program to more accurately gauge applicants’ suitability.

“We wanted to get the perspective of the faculty and then also look at how applicants’ perspectives and goals aligned with those faculty members,” Castro-Villarreal said.

In addition, the application process now has a fixed deadline, rather than the previous system of rolling admission. This has allowed the new admissions committee to review all applications together, thereby making the entire process more efficient and equitable.

Lastly, the program has devised a new rubric for admissions which adjusts how much weight is given to documents such as statements of interest or letters of reference versus GRE scores and GPAs. Furthermore, this new rubric has allowed them to evaluate such documents more accurately and more fairly, an aspect which Castro-Villarreal says was especially appealing to the award committee.

“They liked that we found a way to qualitatively and quantitatively evaluate these pieces that are considered non-cognitive pieces, such as the statement of interest [and] letters of recommendation,” she said.

While these changes were difficult to implement, Castro-Villarreal believes the work has been worth it.

“Some of these things are processes that Ph.D. or doctoral programs utilize, but master’s level is more difficult,” she said. “But we felt strongly about these things and…we knew that they would be viewed favorably, and obviously they were. They’ve worked well for us so far.”

Indeed, these processes have aided the admissions committee as the program received what Castro-Villarreal termed “a very marked spike” in applications, even during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, in the fall of 2020, they were forced to suspend applications because they had hit the maximum student-faculty proportion allowed by their accrediting body.

“This year, we’re seeing the same trend,” Castro-Villarreal said. “More applications than usual, and they still seem to be very high-quality, very competitive applications that we’re seeing.”

But the Innovation in Master’s Program Admissions award offers more than just recognition, also including $5,000 for the school psychology program.

Castro-Villarreal says the money will likely go towards stipends to offset gas and travel expenses, cost of textbooks, or money for training and professional development conferences.

“Graduate school is expensive,” she said, “and being a graduate student – or an undergraduate student for that matter – is a hard-fought process.”

Ultimately, the program faculty are proud to have won the award, thankful for the recognition and opportunity it provides.

“We’re very pleased that the graduate school values the student and the admissions process, and diversity and inclusion,” Castro-Villarreal said.

- Christopher Reichert

— Christopher Reichert