College of Natural Sciences Colorado State University Department of Psychology

Cognitive Program Frequently Asked Questions

Application Information

What is the application deadline?
All materials must be submitted on or before January 15.

When will applicants receive notification of selection decisions?
Typically in mid-February or early March.

Can the application materials be completed on the internet or downloaded off of the internet?
Yes, visit the Application Page for further information. 

Is an undergraduate major of psychology required to apply to the Program?
No, but for those who did not major in psychology, remedial coursework may be recommended or required.

How many letters of recommendation are required to apply to the Program? Are forms available for those who will write the recommendations?
We require three letters of recommendation. There are no forms that letter writers need to use—letter writers can simply submit their recommendation using our application portal.

Do I have to specify in my application who I would like to work with as my faculty advisor?
We do request that you specify the faculty member or members that you are interested in working with.  Because we operate according to a mentorship model, the match of faculty interests to student interests is an important factor in the admission process. Note that current advising loads and other factors may preclude a particular faculty member from taking on students in a given year.

Is previous research experience considered when making the selection decisions? 
Yes, research experience is strongly considered, even if not in the area of Cognitive Psychology, as this can demonstrate one’s knowledge and skills in research methodology and statistics. 

What is the average GPA of applicants accepted into the Program?
The average GPA of students admitted to the Program from 2006-2013 was 3.79, with the range between 3.6 and 4.0.

What are the average GRE scores of applicants accepted into the Program?
The average GRE verbal score of students admitted to the Program from 2006-2013 was 158, with a range from 153-166.  (Under the older scoring rubric, the verbal average is 581 and ranges from 500-700.)  For quantitative component, the average GRE score of students admitted to the Program from 2006-2013 was 154, with a range from 147-164.  (Under the older scoring rubric, the quantitative average is 685 and ranges from 570-790.) 

Is the GRE Psychology Subject Test required?
The Psychology Subject Test is optional.

Is a terminal Master's Degree in Cognitive Psychology available at Colorado State?
No, students seeking admission to our Program should be firmly committed to completing the Ph.D.

Can a person who already earned a Master's Degree at another institution apply to the program?
Yes. From 2006-2013, approximately 10% of students who were admitted to the Program held a Master’s Degree in psychology from another institution. We usually accept the Master’s degree from a Department of Psychology in lieu of a Master’s degree from our Program. The more questionable cases are likely to come when a student has a thesis in an area other than psychology.

Can a new student entering with a Master's Degree qualify out of courses?
Yes. We place students out of courses on a case-by-case basis. Students are asked to provide a course syllabus, list of readings, and other relevant class materials. Based on an evaluation of this information, students are typically placed out of courses of comparable content.

Financial Support

What is the cost of tuition for the year?
In 2013-2014, in-state tuition for a student is $489.50 per credit and out-of-state tuition is $1200 per credit. Note, however, that half-time teaching and research assistantships (see below) are accompanied by a full tuition waiver.

Is funding available?
Contingent on a student’s progress in the Program and the availability of funding, students admitted with a bachelor's degree may expect to receive funding through their fifth year of training, and those with a Master's degree, through their third year of training. We have a strong record for financial support: Since the inception of the Program, all students who have requested funding have received it. Financial support comes from several sources: teaching and research assistantships funded by the Department and University; research assistantships funded by grants to individual faculty members; and Department- and University-sponsored fellowships for outstanding students. Funding typically includes a monthly stipend and full tuition waiver.

What types of assistantships are available?
There are two types of assistantships: Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs) and Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs).

What are some tasks associated with the assistantships?
Many of the GTAs associated with the Cognitive Psychology Program require students to run undergraduate laboratory sections under the supervision of faculty. Other GTAs involve class management, exam preparation, grading, running review sessions, etc. GRAs typically require students to assist faculty in conducting research.

Can students request a particular assistantship?
Students' preferences are solicited.

What is the stipend for an assistantship?
The stipend for a half-time (20 hour) GTA or GRA currently starts at $1,453 per month for the nine-month academic year (but see summer funding opportunities below). GTAs and GRAs also receive $650 extra each semester. This money is provided by the University for student health insurance, but can be used in any way desired by the student.

Are fellowships available?
There are several competitive fellowships and scholarships available to graduate students, including the Graduate Fellowship, Teaching Fellowship, and Stout/Baird Memorial Scholarship. Organizations such as the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Health provide competitive fellowships to graduate students as well.

Do students usually need to take out loans or seek outside employment?
It is possible to live on the financial support provided by the Program, but some students do take out loans or seek family support in order to achieve a higher standard of living than Program support would allow. Please visit the Financial Aid page for additional information regarding student loans. Outside employment during the academic year is highly discouraged.

What about summer funding?
Some summer funding is available in the form of instructorships and research assistantships.  We note that summer funding opportunities may not always be available for those who request it.

Program of Study

What courses are required?
Graduate Statistics (2 courses), Research Issues and Models, two foundational core courses (out of Cognitive Processes, Human Learning and Memory, and Human Performance), two additional core courses outside of Cognitive Psychology, a minimum of three specialty seminars in cognitive psychology, and a final course comprising either the third core course in cognitive psychology, a fourth specialty seminar, or some other course approved by the program.

How long does it normally take to complete the program?
The Program is designed to take 4-5 years for students who come in with a Bachelor's degree, and 2-3 years for students who come in with a Master’s degree.

What is the typical workload for a student in the program?
During the first three years, students typically take two courses per semester, hold a 20-hour assistantship, and conduct research. After that, the load usually shifts to less coursework and more research.

What are the areas of strength within the Program?
The Program is particularly strong in the areas of human learning and memory, perception, and human performance.

What opportunities are available to publish and present research at conferences?
Research involvement and the development of research skills are an integral part of doctoral training in cognitive psychology. Students must be actively involved in research each semester that they are in the Program and are expected to present (at a colloquium or professional conference) and/or submit (to a professional journal) research in addition to that conducted as part of their thesis and dissertation. Students typically author or co-author several publications and presentations by the time they graduate. New students usually begin research under the supervision of their advisor and then become more independent as their development progresses.

What teaching opportunities are available?
The Cognitive Psychology Program is designed so that all students get some direct teaching experience by virtue of the Program's teaching requirement. All students are required to teach at least one semester of two different laboratory courses from our undergraduate offerings in cognitive psychology, biopsychology, cognitive neuroscience, sensation and perception, and social psychology. The student is given primary responsibility for teaching the course and evaluating students, but is supervised and mentored by a faculty member. Although not required, there are also many additional opportunities for developing teaching skills, if desired. Graduate students may be invited to teach lecture-oriented courses during regular semester sessions or condensed summer sessions. The Department of Psychology also administers a Teaching Fellow Program that involves the supervised instruction of General Psychology and Mind, Brain, & Behavior.

What are the major selling points of the Program?
One selling point of the Program is that we reap the benefits (in terms of facilities, equipment, resources, and interdisciplinary opportunities) of being in a major research university and strong department, but keep the program itself relatively small (in terms of number of graduate students admitted) in order to provide highly individualized graduate education and close collaboration with faculty. Another selling point is that the Program intentionally allows enough flexibility for students to tailor their graduate education to their career goals, with a variety of course options, the option of focusing on basic or applied research, and various opportunities for interdisciplinary experiences. A third selling point is that in addition to providing first-rate training in research, we offer numerous opportunities to gain experience in college teaching, if so desired. Note that these are mentored teaching experiences in which students learn to teach under the guidance and supervision of a faculty member. As such, students can tailor their graduate training to best prepare for the type of position they ultimately seek, whether focused on research, on teaching, or a balance of the two.

Learning Climate

Do faculty in Cognitive Psychology collaborate with faculty in other Programs or Departments?
Yes, this is very common. Cognitive psychology faculty members are currently collaborating with faculty in the Cognitive Neuroscience and Industrial/Organizational Psychology Programs, as well as the Departments of Computer Science, Computer Information Systems, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Health and Exercise Science, Human Development and Family Studies, Journalism, Music, and Occupational Therapy.

What is the typical relationship between faculty members and students?
The Cognitive Psychology Program operates according to a mentorship model in which students work closely with one or two advisors and as part of a research team. Students take on more independent projects and responsibilities as they progress through the program. Students often work on projects with faculty members other than the advisor and are encouraged to do so. Outside of formal teaching and advising, the relationship between faculty and students is very collegial. There is frequent informal interaction between faculty and students on campus and at Program social events.

How are students assigned to advisors?
An initial assignment is made based on mutual interests.

Can a student change his/her advisor while in the Program?
Often the research interests of students will evolve as they receive their graduate training and it may be beneficial for a student to change advisors to a faculty member whose interests are a better match. In the Cognitive Psychology Program, students may change advisors upon mutual consent of the faculty member and student.

Can a student pursue a different research interest than his/her advisor?
It is not required that students pursue the same research interests as their advisor. However, a similarity in interests is beneficial for the advisor to provide optimal guidance. The advisor will decide whether he/she is capable of and interested in advising a research topic outside of his/her primary area. Students wishing to pursue interests different from their primary advisor should discuss this with their advisor. 

Can students work with more than one faculty member within the Program?
We strongly encourage students to work with other faculty members within and outside of the Program in addition to working with their advisor. Some students choose to have co-advisors and are welcome to do this with the consent of both faculty members.

Can students work with faculty members or take classes from other departments?
Yes, students are encouraged to do so, especially when these activities directly contribute to one’s training goals.

Student LifeLory Student Center picture

What are students in the program like?
Most students are between the ages of 21 and 35, but beyond that, there is considerable diversity. Some students are from Colorado, others from the Eastern U.S. and Canada. Some came to CSU from a large public university, others from a small liberal arts college.

What are some examples of students' research interests?
See the Faculty Research Page and this list of Student Publications for examples of students’ research interests.

Do the faculty and students spend time together outside of the classroom?
Yes. Faculty members typically organize several social events each year. Students also celebrate each other's achievements, such as thesis or dissertation defenses, and get together for coffee, lunch, dinner, etc. Fort Collins and the surrounding area have much to offer groups of students who want to unwind. For example, students will often go hiking, skiing, or visit pubs on the weekends.

What is the CSU campus like?
A wealth of information about the CSU campus is given on the University’s web page for prospective students. You can also take a virtual tour of the campus here.

What is life like in Fort Collins?
Check out the City of Fort Collins FAQ Page.


What is Fort Collins like?
Fort Collins is a “Choice City” that has been rated by several publications as one of the best places to live in the country. For a broad overview of the city, see or Fort Collins has many amenities including top-notch restaurants, shopping, parks, and recreational facilities. It is also in close proximity to the Rocky Mountains, several national parks, and the major metropolitan area of Denver. Residents enjoy a moderate, four-season climate. But don’t be fooled by the stereotype of Colorado as a snow Mecca: Although there’s world class skiing a short distance away in the mountains, down here at the foot of the mountains we see an average of 300 days of sunshine and 14.5 inches of precipitation a year.

What is the size of the town?
The population of Fort Collins is about 144,000 people. There are about 30,000 people enrolled at Colorado State University, so a large portion of the town is comprised of college students and university faculty and staff.

What are people like in Fort Collins?
Fort Collins has an interesting mix of residents with diverse backgrounds. Being a college town, there are naturally many young people in their early twenties. However, Fort Collins has several large, high-tech organizations such as Hewlett-Packard, Agilent Technologies, and Advanced Energy, which attract slightly older (mid 20's to 40's) residents and their families. Other notable organizations found in Fort Collins include New Belgium and Otterbox. Lastly, Fort Collins is also somewhat of a farming community and some residents still make their living this way. Overall, the average inhabitant of Fort Collins is young and well educated. Statistically, the median age of residents is 29, and approximately 51.5% of the population has completed four or more years of college. Here are some links for more facts and figures about CSU and Fort Collins residents.

What is the cost of living in Fort Collins?
The cost of living is slightly higher than the national average. It's much cheaper to live here than Southern California or much of the East coast, but it's significantly more expensive than the Midwest and part of the South. To compare the cost of living in Fort Collins to where you live, check out The mean rent in Fort Collins is approximately $1000 for a 2-bedroom apartment. Colorado State University offers appartments in the University Villages for all students. Please visit Housing and Dining Services web site for more information or for off campus rental information.

What do people in Fort Collins do for fun?
Outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, boating, biking, and skiing, are major pastimes. Fort Collins also has several museums, theaters, and an historical old-town shopping district. Additionally, the numerous restaurants, bars, and pubs offer enjoyable evening entertainment.

What activities are available in the area?
There are many hiking, running, and mountain-biking trails within a fifteen-minute drive. Some of the most famous ski resorts (e.g., Aspen, Vail) are within reasonable driving distances. For example, it is about a three-hour drive to Vail and a two-hour drive to Loveland Ski Resort. Within a 60-minute drive are Denver, Boulder, Estes Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to watching our own Rams participate in Division I athletics, it is an easy trip to Denver to see the Avalanche, Broncos, Nuggets, Rockies, or Rapids. There is plenty of shopping in town, as well as is a large outlet mall and shopping center just outside of town.

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