Psychology offers six areas of concentration (known as area groups): biological, clinical, cognitive and cognitive neuroscience, developmental, perception, and social and personality. Although there is a good deal of collaboration and interaction across groups, each area of concentration has its own requirements for graduate study and students are typically admitted into one of these areas of concentration.

Although most incoming graduate students' interests fall within these six areas of concentration, some do not. That some students' interests cut across disciplinary area groups and/or interface with other programs on campus is to be expected in a top-notch department because the boundaries of psychology itself are in flux. An innovative feature of the program is the Individualized Graduate Major designed for those graduate students who do not find a niche in the current area group structure and, instead, wish to cross area group lines and/or incorporate substantial training from other programs in their psychology graduate work. It is important to emphasize that the Individualized Graduate Major leads to a psychology PhD and is not appropriate for students whose graduate study does not emphasize psychological science. Such students are advised to pursue a PhD in another program or a committee degree.

Faculty members and graduate students have many affiliations with other departments, institutes, and training programs: Institute on Aging, Waisman Center, Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center, Health Emotions Center, Neuroscience Training Program, Keck Neuroimaging Center, Hearing Training Program, Center for Research on Gender and Women, Institute for Research on Poverty, NSF National Consortium on Violence Research, Mass Communications Research Center, and Survey Research Laboratory. There are strong ties to the departments of Anatomy, Anthropology, Communicative Disorders, Educational Psychology, Entomology, Forest and Wildlife Ecology, Medical Microbiology and Immunology, Industrial Engineering, Ophthalmology, Psychiatry, Sociology, and Zoology.

Biology of Brain and Behavior

The biological psychology area encompasses the subdisciplines of behavioral neuroscience and animal behavior. Students sponsored by faculty in this area are trained in theory and methods required for understanding the biological bases of behavior. The doctoral track in behavioral neuroscience provides research training in specific methods and techniques needed to assess brain and peripheral physiological mechanisms. Topic areas investigated by program faculty include psychoneuroimmunology, hormone–behavior relationships, neurobiology of stress and arousal, sensory processes, and the neural organization of the cerebral cortex. Age-related changes during development, and the impact of stress on health and behavior are also important foci. Students learn modern surgical, neuroanatomical, neurophysiological, neuroimaging (PET, MRI), immunohistochemical, pharmacological, and behavioral techniques. Training in hormone and immune assays, or cellular recording, are also provided when required for the student's research. Conceptual issues, such as experimental design, and the relevance to human clinical and social conditions are emphasized.

Students sponsored by faculty in this area are trained in theory and methods required for understanding the biological bases of behavior. The doctoral track in behavioral neuroscience provides training in specific research methods and techniques needed to assess brain and peripheral physiological mechanisms. Our students can also pursue training in theories and methodologies involved in the study of animal behavior. Coursework and research provide a unique interdisciplinary experience with a strong emphasis on evolutionary/ecological principles and proximate mechanisms, including communication and the role of hormones and social relationships underlying the expression of behavior. Our goal is to train outstanding students with a special interest in integrating knowledge across traditional discipline lines.

Many facilities are available for graduate training, including the department’s Harlow Primate Laboratory, internationally known for its studies of primate development and learning. Many primate projects also take advantage of the neuroimaging resources at UW and benefit from the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center with its large rhesus monkey and marmoset colonies. Within the Brogden Psychology Building, research programs utilize many other small animal species.

Our program continues to grow and incorporate new perspectives. Our students and faculty interact and collaborate with the Departments of Anthropology, Comparative Biosciences, Psychiatry, Wildlife Ecology, and Zoology, as well as the Neurosciences Training Program, Institute on Aging, and Center for Excellence in Women’s Health Research. The University of Wisconsin provides a diverse and stimulating academic environment for training in Biological Psychology.

Clinical Psychology

The training model for the UW–Madison doctoral program in clinical psychology is that of a scientist–practitioner. Based on the program's endorsement of a scientist–practitioner model, the educational plan focuses on two major and interrelated goals that integrate science and practice:

  1. to produce graduates who have the requisite knowledge, skills, and experience to create and disseminate new knowledge about the processes and mechanisms underlying psychopathology; and
  2. to produce graduates who have the requisite knowledge and skills for entry into the practice of professional clinical psychology and who understand and appreciate the importance of an empirical basis to clinical practice.

The program uses a mentor model for research training; applicants are admitted to the program based in part on how closely their research interests are aligned with that of current faculty. The close working relationship between the faculty mentor and the graduate student is one of the mechanisms that serves to integrate theory and research with the applied training. Coursework and practicum experiences comprise the other mechanisms that foster the integration of science and practice.

The interests of and methods utilized by faculty vary widely but all share the common goal of pursuing innovative, cutting edge analyses of major forms of psychopathology. The program also offers excellent clinical training and in the course of their tenure in the program, graduate students in clinical psychology develop expertise in both assessment and treatment of psychopathology. However the student who is not deeply committed to research and scholarship will, in all likelihood, not be satisfied with the Wisconsin Clinical Program.

During their stay, clinical graduate students complete courses in assessment, clinical research methods, and a sequence of clinical core courses covering the etiology and treatment of psychopathology, in addition to statistics/methodology courses and coursework in nonclinical areas both in and outside of the department. The required curriculum may take more than five years to complete. The clinical program is situated in a world-class department that includes area groups in biology of brain and behavior, cognitive and cognitive neuroscience, developmental, perception, and social and personality. In addition, an Emotion Training Program within the department cuts across all other area groups and is supported by an NIMH training grant. Many clinical students and faculty are involved in various aspects of the Emotion Training Program. Clinical students have access to an extensive range of opportunities through collaborations with other units on campus including the Waisman Center, an interdisciplinary research institute for developmental research; the Institute on Aging; the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior; the Department of Psychiatry; and other departments in the Medical School, College of Letters & Science, and the School of Education.

A major goal of the program is to integrate students' clinical and research activities. Students begin their clinical practicum in the Psychology Department Research and Training Clinic during their third year in the program and typically continue such practicum training throughout the remainder of their graduate careers. An important component of clinical training is the "Small Group Practicum" in which various clinical professors supervise practicum activities on topics related to their own areas of interest. In the summer following the third academic year, the student is appointed to a clerkship in one of the several agencies that cooperate with the department in providing practicum training. Finally, all clinical students obtain at least one full year of full-time clinical experience in an approved internship facility. Whereas many students obtain internships at various of the better-known training centers around the country, other students complete their internships at one of the excellent local sites. Virtually all clinical graduate students have received financial support while in residence in the graduate program.

Cognitive and Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN)

The study of cognition and perception has undergone explosive growth during the past decade with exciting developments in psychology and related fields and with new techniques for studying mind and brain. The cognitive and perceptual sciences (CPS) area group provides a unique and stimulating graduate school experience for students interested in an interdisciplinary approach to cognition and perception. Faculty members combine expertise in cognition and perception with a broad arsenal of methods including experimental, developmental, computational, and biological approaches. This breadth in methodologies is paralleled by breadth across disciplines of communicative disorders, educational psychology, and neuroscience. Areas of exceptional strength in cognition include language development, speech perception, neural representation of language and memory, gesture, higher-level comprehension, music cognition, problem solving, and embodied cognition. Research in hearing and vision includes perceptual development, perception of complex sounds, perception of 3-D layout and auditory space, attention, and neural processing of auditory and visual objects and events. Laboratory facilities are comprehensive and fully state of the art, enhanced by unique opportunities for training in neuroimaging at the Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and in developmental methods at the Waisman Center. The program is committed to maintaining a collegial environment in which students collaborate with faculty in developing their research programs. Graduates with a PhD from the program maintain careers as university or college professors, or as researchers at public or corporate laboratories.

Developmental Psychology

Research in the developmental area group focuses on the interrelationships of biological, environmental, and behavioral processes throughout the life span, and on the mechanisms and processes of change. The program emphasizes interdisciplinary studies and allows graduate students flexibility in designing a program of study consonant with their goals and interests. One central part of the developmental program is a weekly lunch meeting, in which students and faculty present ongoing research and discuss current topics in the field. Students in the program focus on cognitive, emotional, language, perceptual, personality, social development, or relations between these areas. Within these content domains, students and faculty conduct research on both typical and atypical development, and work with individuals representing a wide range of ages, including infants, preschool and school-age children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. Specific faculty research interests include the development of mathematical reasoning and problem solving, development of visual perception and attention, developmental behavioral genetics, gender role development, developmental psychopathology, resiliency in adulthood and aging, and language acquisition.

Participants in research studies are drawn from an unusually wide variety of sources, including local preschools and day care centers; public, and private schools in the Madison area; the Dane County Division of Children, Youth, and Families; the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey; University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics; and the Institute on Aging. Many developmental faculty are affiliated with the Waisman Center on Human Development, which provides a database of typically developing infants and children with developmental disabilities.

Social and Personality Psychology

The program is designed to train students for research on the cutting edge of the fields of social and personality psychology. The curriculum consists of a series of courses and seminars designed to provide students with a thorough introduction to the fields of social and personality psychology. This coursework is complemented by courses that provide the methodological and statistical skills necessary for several kinds of research. The primary emphasis is on experimental laboratory research, but training is also provided in field research, longitudinal studies, observational methods, and archival research. There are also opportunities to pursue theoretical issues in various applied areas (e.g., education, health psychology). The goal is to train students for productive academic careers in university settings. Students are provided with the opportunity to work collaboratively with one or more faculty members on a variety of research topics, including acculturation, achievement behavior, attitudes, competition, culture and cognition, emotion, goals and self-regulation, interest and intrinsic motivation, social cognition, social perception, social neuroscience, and stereotypes, prejudice and intergroup relations. Students are also encouraged to develop their own independent lines of research.

Additional resources are available to students from outside the psychology department. The social psychology program in the sociology department shares faculty members and courses with the program in psychology and offers seminars that supplement those taught in psychology. In addition, resources are provided by the Mass Communications Research Center, the Institute for Research on Poverty, and the Survey Research Laboratory.


The department has an extraordinary array of research facilities. Virtually all laboratories are fully computer controlled, and the department's general purpose computing facilities are freely available to all graduate students. The Brogden Building and the Harlow Primate Laboratory have special facilities for housing animals, as well as for behavioral, pharmacological, anatomical, immunological, and physiological studies. The department is well-equipped for studies of visual, auditory, and language perception and other areas of cognitive psychology. In addition, the Psychology Department Research and Training Clinic is housed in the Brogden Building. See Research Labs for further information about individual faculty research labs and facilities. Connections with other departments and research institutes on campus (e.g., W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, and others) have been described above.


Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline December 1
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not exclusively in English, must provide an English proficiency test score earned within two years of the anticipated term of enrollment. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Requirements for Admission policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1241.
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

An applicant is admitted into the program by an individual faculty member or by an area group (i.e., a group of faculty members associated with a major area of concentration) and not by the department as a whole, nor by an admissions committee. Because these programs tend to be small, they may not admit students in a particular year. Applicants interested in a particular program or working with a particular faculty member should reference graduate program on the psychology website or contact individual faculty members to determine if admissions are likely for that year.

Each faculty member and area group give preference to applicants who have a high potential for success in graduate school and who also share research interests with the prospective faculty sponsor. Applicants should consider carefully the description of faculty research interests, read several of their publications, and consult with faculty and advisors at the undergraduate institution before applying to the program. Whereas most applicants have majored in psychology, the department gives full consideration to applicants with undergraduate majors in other relevant areas.

Given its commitment to students, the Department of Psychology takes seriously its responsibility when admitting an applicant. Every piece of information is considered carefully. Students are selected on the basis of record of academic achievement, references, evidence of motivation and ability to do research, and also the fit between faculty and student research interests.

Information regarding application deadlines is on the program website.  Applicants should have a completed application in by the deadline to ensure full consideration. Most applicants admitted into the program are supported by either a research or project assistantship, teaching assistantship, or fellowship.

Admission Selection Criteria

Although individual faculty members and area groups decide who will be admitted, the psychology department sets certain minimum standards that must be met by those admitted to the graduate program. These are an undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.

Consideration for admission is highly competitive. The department receives approximately 400 applications each year and less than 10 percent are admitted to the program. Applicants who fall below the minimum standards set by the department may still be admitted where there is clear justification (e.g., international students or minority group students whose GRE scores may not be an indicator of potential for graduate work, or students who are below the minimum requirement in one respect but well above it in other respects).

Undergraduate research experience is highly valued in applicants to the program and greatly enhances their chances of admission. Such research experience provides an opportunity to discover whether research is of interest and provides evidence of motivation and ability to do research.

Three references are required and are read very carefully. Good letters in favor of the applicant are essential and should be provided by faculty who know the applicant fairly well. The references should provide information that will evaluate potential for graduate work beyond that revealed by the GPA. For example, a reference from a professor who writes about a student's unique skills, research abilities, and motivation is more influential than a reference that says the student received an "A" and was "very pleasant." Thus, references from faculty the applicant has worked with on a research project or senior thesis carry more weight in making a decision to admit.

In addition to references and grades, the faculty also consider carefully the personal statement.  Applicants should describe in the personal statement any prior research experience and their role in that research.


Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

Many students also receive NSF or NIH predoctoral fellowships and other awards during their course of study within the program. To support professional development, small grants fund student research and travel to present work at national conferences. The department hosts two training grants from NIH, one focused on Emotion and one focused on Language, that each support several predoctoral students.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements

Mode of Instruction

Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students typically take enough credits aimed at completing the program in a year or two.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.

Curricular Requirements

Minimum Credit Requirement 60 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 54 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 30 credits must be graduate-level coursework. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1244.
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required. Refer to the Graduate School: Grade Point Average (GPA) Requirement policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1203.
Other Grade Requirements Students are required to take PSYCH 610 and PSYCH 710. Students must earn a grade of B or better in both PSYCH 610 and PSYCH 710.
Assessments and Examinations Doctoral students are required to take a comprehensive preliminary/oral examination after they have cleared their record of all Incomplete and Progress grades (other than research and thesis). Deposit of the doctoral dissertation in the Graduate School is required.
Language Requirements Contact the program for information on any language requirements.
Graduate School Breadth Requirement All doctoral students are required to complete a doctoral minor or graduate/professional certificate. Refer to the Graduate School: Breadth Requirement in Doctoral Training policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1200.

Required Courses

Students are required to take two semesters of statistics/methods (PSYCH 610 and PSYCH 710) and six additional courses. Two of the six additional courses should be outside the student’s area of research expertise. Students must also complete a required First-Year Project. Students must register for and attend a Proseminar meeting each academic year semester (fall/spring) during their first three years. Students are encouraged to continue to register for and attend a proseminar in later years while in residence.

Students should expect to complete at least 40 credits in courses offered in-person at the UW-Madison campus.

Clinical Psychological Science Pathway1

Students pursuing the limited enrollment accredited Clinical Psychological Science pathway in the program complete the requirements for the doctoral program with specified coursework comprising Foundations in Clinical Psychological Science within the first two years of matriculation, as well as Advanced Clinical Psychological Science. Coursework includes the etiology and treatment of psychopathology, the theory and application of clinical assessment, clinical research methods, statistics/methodology courses, as well as other coursework in nonclinical areas both in and outside of the department. Working from this foundation, students may complete an approved internship or engage in further research. 
The coursework in Clinical Psychological Science typically requires three years to complete. After completing the Foundations coursework, students determine a training path in consultation with the program faculty.  Depending on the student’s research goals and/or clinical training aspirations, it may take six or more years to complete all training opportunities in the program (i.e., clinical practicum, masters and dissertation research, internship).


These pathways are internal to the program and represent different curricular paths a student can follow to earn this degree. Pathway names do not appear in the Graduate School admissions application, and they will not appear on the transcript.

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions

Applying prior coursework toward the graduate degree is allowed only in exceptional circumstances. In total, only 6 credits maximum may be applied from prior coursework, including any prior coursework from graduate work from other institutions, from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree or from the UW–Madison University Special career. Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to the program may not be used to satisfy doctoral degree requirements.

Undergraduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions or UW-Madison

Applying prior coursework toward the graduate degree is allowed only in exceptional circumstances. In total, only 6 credits maximum may be applied from prior coursework, including any prior coursework from graduate work from other institutions, from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree or from the UW–Madison University Special career. Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to the program may not be used to satisfy doctoral degree requirements.

Credits Earned as a Professional Student at UW-Madison (Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, and Veterinary careers)

Refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.

Credits Earned as a University Special student at UW–Madison

Applying prior coursework toward the graduate degree is allowed only in exceptional circumstances. In total, only 6 credits maximum may be applied from prior coursework, including any prior coursework from graduate work from other institutions, from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree or from the UW–Madison University Special career. Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to the program may not be used to satisfy doctoral degree requirements.


Refer to the Graduate School: Probation policy.

Advisor / Committee

Every graduate student is required to have an advisor. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies. An advisor generally serves as the thesis advisor. In many cases, an advisor is assigned to incoming students. Students can be suspended from the Graduate School if they do not have an advisor.

To ensure that students are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, the Graduate School expects them to meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

A committee often accomplishes advising for the students in the early stages of their studies.

Credits Per Term Allowed

12 credits

Time Limits

Refer to the Graduate School: Time Limits policy.

Grievances and Appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

Students should contact the department chair or program director with questions about grievances. They may also contact the L&S Academic Divisional Associate Deans, the L&S Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning Administration, or the L&S Director of Human Resources.



Professional Development

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Learning Outcomes

  1. Develop a broad understanding of the field of Psychology.
  2. Develop a deep understanding of the theory and literature combined with critical thinking skills.
  3. Develop a proficiency in experimental design and statistical analyses relevant to psychological research.
  4. Acquire expertise in the oral and written communication of experimental findings.
  5. Clinical students will receive broad training in the theory and practice of clinical psychology.


Professors: Bennett (chair), Abramson, Alibali, Auger, Berridge, Brauer, Curtin, Davidson, Devine, Gernsbacher, Glasford, Green, Gooding, Harackiewicz, Marler, Niedenthal, Pollak, Postle, Rogers, Ryff, Saffran, Shutts

Associate Professors: Austerweil, Li, Lupyan, Saalmann, Schloss, Walsh

Assistant Professors: Buttrick, Chadwick, Ferrigno, Hawkins, Jerald


Accreditation for the Clinical Psychological Science Pathway

American Psychological Association

Accreditation status: Accredited. Next accreditation review: 2029.

Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System

Accreditation status: Accredited. Next accreditation review: 2024.