Getting into a top psychology course isn't easy - and with good reason. Psychology can form the basis for all kinds of careers, which makes it a sought-after degree.
So, if you're going to stand out from the crowd, you're going to need to do more than simply notch those top grades. You'll need to create a personal statement that dodges the clichés and properly explains why you want to study this course.
Follow the tips below, provided by psychology admissions tutors from universities around the UK, and you’ll have the perfect starting point for a winning psychology personal statement.
Avoid generic reasons for doing psychology
Although having a passion for psychology on a personal level is great, it’s best not to start your personal statement talking about how you ‘want to help people’ or ‘find out what makes them tick’. It’s a pretty cliched way of starting, and it doesn’t highlight to the admission tutor why you’re a suitable fit for the course. Neil Howlett, research fellow in psychology at University of Hertfordshire, says:
"It is important to show that you have knowledge of what a BSc in Psychology entails. It’s a science degree, so acknowledging there will be a focus on research methods and statistics and how your qualifications and interests compliment this is important.”
Instead, if you talk about your interest and understanding of maths or science, for example, it will emphasise how you’ll handle the heavy level of data and analysis at degree level. Likewise, Neil goes on to explain why it’s a good idea to add your future plans as a reason for wanting to study this area:
"It may help to research future career routes, as this can show how the degree will equip you to follow this path. If you have any relevant work or volunteer experience then use this to emphasise the skills you’ve developed that will be useful for the degree. For example: working in teams, communication skills or time management."
Mention the various aspects of psychology you’re interested in
"Psychology is a broad subject area, so make sure you do your research," says Charlotte Leask, education liaison officer at Queen Margaret University.
Although most universities will have similar modules due to the BPS accreditation, their psychology courses may focus on different areas. For example, some unis will focus more on social psychology, the biological aspects of psychology or the course may centre on a different area completely, like clinical psychology.
Make sure you've done your research beforehand, so you know what to talk about in more detail within your statement - in particular, areas or modules that interest you. This will emphasise to the admission tutors that you’re enthusiastic about the course as a whole, but also that you know what to expect. Charlotte adds:
"Investigate what interests you and explore career options, so you can be specific in your personal statement. Do you want to be a clinical psychologist, or are you more interested in criminology or neurology? Do you want a broad-based course, or one that is focused on specific areas? Look at the course descriptions carefully, to ensure the course covers your area of interest – talking about criminology if the course is more health focused won’t look good to selectors!"
Make your personal statement personal to you
Dr Caroline Bowman, director of undergraduate studies in the School of Psychology at Bangor University, says: "Often, certain life experiences can motivate people to study psychology. A personal statement should be personal to you, but keep in mind that we want to know that you expect to embark upon an educational journey and not a clinical journey.”
With this in mind, it’s fine to mention a personal experience that has pushed you towards the subject - just remember to follow it up with cold hard academic evidence!
Make sure you also elaborate on your relevant hobbies and interests, any training you’ve done, positions of responsibility or work experience, as this will allow admission tutors to get to know you a bit - especially important if your uni doesn’t interview.
Don’t be tempted to list your A-Levels and what you've done in them, or try and link everything in your life to psychology. Instead, talk about related modules or areas of your A-Levels that interested you and why. If you found any experiments or studies that you did during A-Level psychology particularly interesting, it may be good to include them also.
Don’t assume your work experience is irrelevant
Due to confidentiality surrounding the industry, it can be hard to get experience in the area you're interested in. But don’t assume your work experience is unrelated just because you haven't shadowed a professional. Instead, focus on the skills you've developed.
If you’ve volunteered in a school, you can talk about development, learning, memory or learning disabilities, for example. If you spent two weeks helping out at a psychiatric hospital, you can discuss your responsibilities there.
If you’re applying to something more specific like criminology, even your part-time job might be more relevant than you think. Kim Sadique, interim head of community and criminal justice division at De Montfort University, explains:
"If you’re applying for criminology, make sure to tell us about your volunteering or employment - even if you think it’s not relevant. Working in a retail environment, a pub or shop for example, can be used to demonstrate criminology-related skills such as dealing with conflict/challenging behaviour as well as understanding and working within the law."
If you’ve still got some time before you need to complete your statement and you're worried about your lack of work experience, you could approach some local charities. Addiction charities; those for children with special educational needs; dementia charities or mental health charities will all provide invaluable experience, and usually are open all year round for volunteers.
Just remember to write what you gained or how you developed from any additional experience, so that you can add it to your personal statement. After all, binge-watching CSI or Law & Order unfortunately doesn’t count...
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