I am currently a senior finishing up my bachelor's degree in Psychology through online classes offered at Washington State University. I intend to apply to grad schools (2 PhD programs and 1 MS as a plan B) thereafter. I will be engaging in Independent Study during the Fall, 2018 and Spring 2019 semesters (a literature review project). I will then be eligible to graduate in May, 2019. However, I am wondering if an independent study literature review project is considered to be strong enough "research experience" for grad school apps. Recently, I have been considering staying-on for an extra semester to participate in more research. I have the opportunity to engage in a Hypothesis Testing option where I can run my own experiment (with mentoring, of course!).

I'm just wondering whether staying an extra semester to do research is worth it (the trade-off is I will have less time to study for GREs and write applications because I will start school again in August, versus totally being done and having a few extra months to prepare). Can anyone provide input on this? Basically, my choices are: 1) graduate in May, 2019 with 1 Independent Study project under my belt and have time to study/take GREs and write applications; or 2) graduate in December, 2019 with 2 research projects under my belt, but less time for GRE prep and applications.

I have also read on some of these posts that grad schools may not like applicants who took classes online, so any input here is welcome as well. How do grad schools view courses taken online through major universities? Although my junior and senior year classes have been solely online, I have been able to gain TA experience and I have a good relationship with our program director, so I will be able to get good letters of recommendation. I also have a 4.0 GPA, so I'm hoping that helps my case a bit.

Any input is much appreciated - I'm really torn on this decision. Thanks!

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    Off-topic but I would strongly recommend applying to more than two PhD programmes. The decision process can be a bit random so applying to at least 5 or even 10 places will give you a much better chance of acceptance somewhere, regardless of grades, research experience etc. Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 22:11
  • Hi astronat - thank you for that bit of advice; I will definitely keep that in mind. My biggest problem is that my family is settled where we are, so I can only apply to programs that are local and easy driving distance to me. That leaves me with UCLA, USC, and a master's program at CalState Long Beach. Thanks again! Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 22:59
  • Are you intending to start fall of 2020 regardless? Or fall 2019 in option 1?
    – Dawn
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 23:12
  • Hi Dawn - I'm intending to start Fall 2020 regardless (when my son starts kindergarten). I plan to take a GRE prep course, GREs, and write applications during Summer 2019 since my target schools recommend early submission by November, 2019 for Fall, 2020 entry. Thx! Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 23:16
  • I also am wondering something similar Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 19:02

2 Answers 2


A better GRE score is worth more than a 2nd online independent study project especially if you expect good letters of recommendation.

Think of it this way: online 4.0GPA + bad GRE score = looks fishy = you might not be as good as claimed and maybe you cheated your way through the online education system ("outsourcing" online classes is not uncommon these days). then it won't matter how many independent study projects you did.


Online courses and literature review experiences are, not decisive but definitely a big plus. Especially if you are able to document what you gain in your statement of purpose (or letter of intent) clearly enough. For instance " Through our literature review research, I gained experience and hone my skills on collaboration with teammates especially through online softwares such as xx, yy; and now better able to read the articles, about indexing databases etc." If you are also have an authorship on these things, or any kind of solid output, like a certificate at least, better. This will even help you to get a decent recommendation letter.

About GRE, no one is studying that exam for months or years. As one say" GRE only measures how well you take GRE" not your overall reading writing, math skill etc. Learn the structure of the exam and study accordingly, I have studied on GRE and get 170/170 on quantitative with no more than 10 days worth of study. And for verbal part, you need to read classic and current novels in English and learn the vocabulary, have such kind of a job. You can achieve these, if you are really someone with many extracurricular research experiences and 4.0 GPA. GRE and similar ETS and other standard tests are, standard. Learn its trick and piece of cake.

In short, experience is all.

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