Tell people you study psychology, and you’re likely to get a response along the lines of, “So you analyze people?”
While based on a stereotype, and the common confusion between psychologists and psychiatrists*, this refrain is not too far from the truth. Psychology degrees are all about the study of people – their behavior, thoughts, actions, interactions and reactions.
*Psychiatry is the study, diagnosis, management and prevention of mental disorders, a career only available to specialized doctors of medicine. For more information about studying medicine, visit our medical degrees guide.
What do psychology degrees cover?
While the majority of psychology degrees are grounded in natural and life sciences, the subject also offers scope to explore social sciences and humanities such as criminology and philosophy. As a result, the subject is likely to appeal to students from diverse academic backgrounds, while future psychology careers are just as broad and varied, spanning roles in sciences, arts and humanities fields. The focus of your degree will likely be reflected in the course title and/or the degree type – either a BSc (Bachelor of Science) or a BA (Bachelor of Arts).
Most undergraduates studying psychology degrees will start with a series of introductory courses dealing with core elements of the subject. This will often involve the exploration of mental health, childhood and development as well as required scientific fundamentals.
During the next few years of studying psychology, the focus will become more specialized, dealing with topics such as cognitive processes, neuroscience and the psychology of certain groups of people, for example criminals, victims of abuse or trauma, and the elderly. In your final year you will typically be required to carry out your own original research, collecting data through observation or scientific study of the brain.
Entry requirements for psychology degrees
Entry requirements for psychology degrees vary from institution to institution. Although many good universities don’t require students with specific qualifications, you will need a strong academic record (especially in science and mathematics) and an aptitude in both scientific and non-scientific subjects. Students with a broad skillset in both sciences and humanities are particularly sought after.
Course structure and assessment methods
The majority of undergraduate psychology degree programs last three or four years, with some institutions requiring students to undertake a relevant work placement as part of the course. Placement options are varied, but common choices include roles within hospitals, prisons and rehabilitation centers. This placement year can prove to be vital when pursuing psychology careers after graduation; practical experience is valued highly by prospective employers.
If your university doesn’t offer a placement option, you may want to find some work experience yourself, either during the vacations or in a part-time capacity. Although specialized experience can sometimes be difficult to access, many relevant roles (voluntary or paid) can stand you in good stead; for example, working with children and adults with learning difficulties, mentoring, or helping in a care home.
Psychology degrees typically employ a range of teaching techniques, allowing students to gain the diverse skills needed to carry out psychological investigations. This will often include practical lessons; lectures in relevant theory and tools, such as how to carry out research and analyze data; and training with professional software programs. Assessment is also varied, typically including timed examinations, essays, laboratory reports and final project reports.
Find the world's best universities for psychology with the QS World University Rankings by Subject >