Are you thinking of studying Psychology?
Psychology is the study of the human mind, mental processes and resulting behaviour.
It’s long been one of the UK’s most popular degree courses, with more than 60,000 students enrolled on Psychology courses across the country. It’s a degree that offers flexible options on graduation, with 20% of graduates becoming practising psychologists. Other psychology graduates choose amongst a wide variety of jobs, from the Civil Service to management and HR. However, the popularity of the course does mean that unlike most science degrees, there’s no shortage of Psychology graduates – which means that job prospects aren’t as good for Psychology as for other science subjects.
It is important to remember that the study of Psychology is rooted in the sciences, which means students should be prepared to analyse statistics or be adept at maths. For students interested in Psychology but less keen on the science side of the subject, some universities offer Psychology as a BA rather than a BSc.
What kind of things can I expect to study?
In your first year, you will cover a wide range of topics within Psychology: modules on memory, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology and social psychology. You will also study other sciences as they relate to Psychology, such as evolution and genetics. Additionally, you will learn research methods, presentation skills and other skills required for the study of any science; in some universities, these skills will be taught in a specific module, whereas in other universities, you will be expected to pick them up through the study of other modules.
In your second year, your compulsory modules will build on what you learned in the first year and progress to more challenging topics, such as cognitive neuroscience and advanced statistics. You will carry out more practical experiments in order to learn professional skills in Psychology.
In your third year, some universities will allow you to take an optional placement year. If you are interested in pursuing a career as a psychologist, this is highly advisable, as it will give you valuable work experience for your CV and allow you to assess whether you are suited to such a career.
Your final year of study – whether that’s your third or fourth year – is likely to offer a choice of optional modules. Some examples include ‘Parental Cognition, Psychopathology and Behaviour’ (Birmingham), ‘The Psychology of Financial Decision Making’ (Newcastle) and ‘Psychology of Allergic Conditions’ (Aston). You will also carry out a final-year research project.
What do I need for a Psychology degree?
As far as A-level subjects are concerned, at least one science subject is essential: Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry are all good choices. A-level Psychology, if your school offers it, is highly recommended. However, Psychology students should also consider taking at least one subject that develops writing skills. This needn’t be a classic essay subject like English or History – subjects like Geography or Sociology are equally preferable. A good grade in GCSE Mathematics is usually a requirement too.
Additionally, Psychology students should be prepared for some introspection over the course of their degree. Students are often asked to draw from their own experiences over the course of their studies, so prospective applicants should feel comfortable with this type of self-analysis.
What skills will I acquire?
Psychology confers a broad variety of transferable skills. Psychology graduates will have the usual array of skills that science students acquire – from experimental design to statistical analysis. However, report writing and presentation skills are a more significant part of Psychology degrees than other science degrees. Additionally, Psychology students will gain an understanding of human behaviour and motivation, the ability to work with a wide variety of people, and skills in demonstrating compassion and empathy.
Will I get to travel as part of my degree?
Travel is not a compulsory part of a Psychology degree, but there are plenty of options for students who’d like to incorporate travel into their studies. For instance, many universities offer Psychology with a year abroad. Psychology is also a popular option for a joint honours degree with a language, which almost always includes spending a year in a country where the target language is spoken.
Aside from international travel, some universities offer Psychology with a placement year, which gives students the chance to spend time in industry, which could be in psychological research or in the NHS.
What careers are possible with a Psychology degree?
As mentioned above, only a fifth of Psychology graduates go on to directly related careers. Qualifying as a chartered psychologist in order to practise Psychology requires further study.
Psychology is a good choice of degree for students who are interested in pursuing a career that doesn’t require any specific degree, as Psychology provides students with skills from the humanities and the sciences, leaving them well-prepared for a wide variety of possible jobs. Youth and community work, marketing and HR are all popular destinations for Psychology graduates. However, Psychology graduates are by no means restricted to jobs that draw so obviously on their skillset, and many go into fields as diverse as finance or the charitable sector.
Students thinking of studying Psychology might also wish to consider:
- Anthropology – this is a much less popular degree, but it offers insight into the works of the human mind and human behaviour from a different perspective, while spanning the humanities and sciences in a similar way to Psychology.
- Biomedical sciences – this degree choice may be of interest to students who are interested more in the scientific side of Psychology and who are considering a future in scientific research.
A final thought on Psychology
Students of Psychology who want to stand out of the (large) crowd of graduates will need to work hard to distinguish themselves, especially if they want to carry on to further study, but the same is true of most other popular degrees as well. Psychology is a popular subject for good reason: it’s fascinating to study, providing an insight into the way we think, behave and live.