As a university teacher in psychology, I work closely with students in all year groups and support the open days that are held by the university. As part of this, I frequently talk to prospective students about what a psychology degree can help them do, and I try to explain that it’s not just about attending lectures. A psychology degree can be the pathway to a wide range of careers; some directly within psychology and some outside of the psychological domain altogether.
It’s an assumption that a psychology degree is all about mental health, but this is not the case and students will study a range of modules depending on what degree they select. Some universities may specialise in neuroscience, occupational psychology, experimental psychology, evolution, or eating behaviours but there are many others. Before deciding upon a university, it’s always a good thing to take a look online to see the modules that may be offered by an institution as these can differ outside of the core British Psychological Society areas.
Dr Paul Penn, a senior lecturer in psychology, provides us with six useful considerations that anyone thinking of studying for BSc psychology should be aware of. These relate to some of the questions that have been asked by potential students and also the parents/guardians of the individuals who are involved with the considerations of a psychology degree. These considerations have been taken with permission from Paul’s Twitter profile, @Dr_Paul_Penn.
Paul’s six considerations are:
You’d be hard-pushed to find a more fascinating and relevant degree to study than psychology
I mean, it is the study of the human mind and behaviour (us) so the benefits of a good grounding in the subject are self-evident. However, this does mean the degree covers a lot of ground, requires a lot of analytical thinking and is intellectually very challenging. I think students are sometimes surprised by the diversity of content in a psychology degree and were expecting something a little more specialised/geared towards mental health.
A psychology degree entails literacy, numeracy, and science
Few degrees can offer this combination and it makes for a well-rounded degree-level education. However, you need to be aware of the scientific focus of a BSc in psychology. You will be studying the scientific method, different approaches to research, statistics, data analysis, report writing, etc. These are key components of psychology. You don’t need to be a science or maths whizz to study psychology, but you do need to want to learn about it. In my experience, many students are surprised (and sometimes rather disillusioned) by the extent of the scientific orientation of the degree.
Thanks to ‘1’ & ‘2’
A psychology degree is a great springboard to a wide range of graduate-level job opportunities. However, you need to be aware that a BSc is not a vocational degree. What I mean by this is that you don’t emerge from the BSc and immediately become a practising psychologist. If you want to become a practising psychologist (for example, an educational or clinical psychologist) this will require several more years of postgraduate study. Such courses are very competitive, often requiring extensive relevant work experience as well as a good degree. This is not to discourage you; it absolutely can be done. You just need to know what you’re signing up for. In my experience, students are often surprised about the amount of additional work, over and above a degree, required to become a practising psychologist.
BSc psychology will give you some fascinating insights into mental health
Your psychology degree will also offer you insights into the roles that different professions have in addressing mental health issues. But you need to be aware that a psychology BSc isn’t structured around mental health; it’s just one part of the curriculum. You also need to be aware that psychology, counselling and psychiatry are distinct disciplines with their own qualifications and career pathways. Holding a BSc in psychology is not interchangeable with qualifications from other allied disciplines.
Implications of what you learn for your own life and development
A great thing about studying psychology is the countless opportunities to think about the implications of what you learn for your own life and development (as well as the wider societal implications). You can also readily use your own experiences to help you understand much of the content you study. However, you should be aware that a degree in psychology is not simply a forum for the discussion of personal problems or personal experiences. Sometimes students do seem rather disappointed when seminars do not play out like an episode of Jerry Springer!
Many BSc psychology courses have a very diverse range of assessments
Finally, many BSc psychology courses have a very diverse range of assessments, meaning that your entire degree will not be spent writing essays. However, this does mean you will have to be flexible in your approach to assessments and take the time to learn how to adapt your work to the demands of different assessment types. You should also know that you will need to write a dissertation (certainly for a BPS-accredited degree) and likely undertake group-based work as well as present your work (either individually or as a team) to an audience.
In my experience in engaging with current and prospective students, I completely agree with Paul. A degree in psychology is unique in that it offers many opportunities that some other degrees don’t. I, myself, progressed through a BSc Psychology degree and went on to undertake an MRes Psychology degree before completing a PhD.
For me, the undergraduate degree was invaluable as it has provided me with the knowledge and people skills that I use in my everyday life. Some BSc Psychology degrees also allow students to take a placement year, and this is a great opportunity to gain experience in a work environment and gain a diploma while you are working. The work environment does not necessarily have to be psychology-related, but having completed two years of a psychology degree before a placement year will give students the basic skills needed to progress within the workplace. I have had students who have completed placements in HR, payroll, marketing, hospitals, utility companies and care settings alongside students who have completed psychology-related placements, such as working with mental health charities or as an assistant psychologist.
Over my career, one of the other main concerns that prospective students have expressed is whether they will enjoy the degree. As I have gone through the educational process myself, I can say that yes, it is an interesting and enjoyable degree to study, however, these concerns would be the same with any degree. Until you are on the degree and are studying and engaging with university life and other students, you may not know the answer to that question. The first year of university is all about getting settled into university life and there may be struggles with this. Staff are always on hand to help should any issues arise, and this should never put students off from applying to a degree of any sort.
Dr Paul Penn’s words have been slightly altered for clarity and style.
Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University.