Student Advice

What it's like to study Psychology at university from a student!

Sarah Jones  · Nov 15th 2023  · 5 min

Curious about the human mind? Pondering the idea of studying psychology? Psychology degrees are a popular choice among students. They can be a rewarding experience and a fun course to be a part of.


Psychology is one of the most popular degrees in the UK. But, why psychology? Here, our very own Content Manager, Sarah, draws on her own experiences studying at the University of York to give you an idea of what you might expect.

Psychology is such a knowledge-rich course. Your morning lecture will be about the psychology of smell, and in the afternoon you'll be learning about the personality traits of a sociopath.

Why should you study psychology?

Psychology is such a varied, knowledge-rich course. Your morning lectures could be about the psychology of smell. You could then head to a seminar on facial blindness disorders and then have an afternoon lecture about the personality traits of a sociopath.

While all psychology courses will offer something different, most will see you learning heaps of new things. What's great about psychology is also how it's still a developing science. While areas like chemistry are in the later stages of development, there's still incredible amounts of knowledge to learn, research and test relating to the brain and how it affects our behaviours.

For me, psychology was the perfect choice. I loved studying it at A-Level and was excited to expand my knowledge. I even had lectures from key names within psychological research and had the chance to get involved with their projects.

What do I need to study psychology?

Despite popular belief, you don't have to have a psychology at A-Level to apply to study psychology at university.

The psychology entry requirements will depend on the university and also whether you choose to take a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc). If you're looking to study a BSc, you're more likely to require having a science A-Level. Universities tend to accept this as being physics, chemistry, biology, maths, or psychology.

studying psychology

Choosing your psychology course

Not every psychology course is the same. If considering studying this subject, take some time to understand the differences and which is the best fit for you.

The difference between a BA and a BSc in psychology

One of the things to consider is whether you're looking to take a BA or a BSc in psychology. Yes, there is a difference!

While the contents covered is generally similar, a BSc includes more of a focus on scientific research. This will include a research methods module and a research project as part of your final dissertation. For BA psychology courses, you are also likely to submit study results, but there tends to be less focus on the research and scientific elements and more focus on the behavioural side of the subject.

To specialise or not to specialise?

As the pool of potential psychology courses grows, there are even more specialist courses out there. They may focus on an area of psychology like sport and exercise psychology courses, child psychology degrees or social psychology degree courses. Alternatively, they might be more of a joint degree with psychology and a complementary area, for example, psychology and counselling courses or psychology and criminology courses.

This is where it's up to you. Compare the different courses, see if there's an area you're really interested in and if it supports your career goals going forward (but don't panic if you're still undecided on your career!).

I studied a BSc in psychology which covered all the general modules of cognitive psychology, development psychology, abnormal behaviour and research methods. While there were certain areas I loved studying at A-Level, I was surprised by how this changed when I got to university! I was grateful for having such a wide choice of modules.

What is BPS accredited?

When looking at courses, you'll likely stumble across the phrase "BPS accredited". BPS stands for British Psychological Society. Courses that are BPS accredited have met a criteria set out by the BPS to meet certain quality standards.

Is psychology a hard degree?

All university courses are meant to push you and help you develop new skills. It depends on where your strengths lie, too – is it essay writing? Group presentations? Multiple choice exams? Written exams? Because a psychology degree has them all!

If there aren't parts of your degree you didn't find hard, then you must be a superhuman! If you're wanting to understand if you think you'll be a good fit, the universities will have information on their website about what you can expect and skills you'll likely need or will develop throughout the course.

It surprised me, the things I struggled to get to grips with as part of my degree. For me, multiple choice exams were a pain point. I felt more comfortable with essay exams and coursework. I studied hard for the exams but also made sure to go the extra mile in coursework and essays to play to my strengths.
studying psychology

How much reading is involved in studying psychology?

If you're studying psychology, get ready to become good pals with the library. Psychology is a very reading-heavy course, with core reading set for each module for each lecture that you could be quizzed on in exams. And this is just core reading! There'll be additional, optional reading lecturers will share, and also the opportunity for independent reading to support essay writing.

With psychology being a new science and constantly changing and theories still being debated, you'll need to keep an eye out for new research and the latest developments in your topic areas.

How much coursework can be expected?

The level of coursework will depend on how your university structures the course. It will also differ depending on the year of study. For example, you may have 40% coursework, 60% exams in first year, 60% coursework, 40% exams in second year and third year may be 60% dissertation, 40% exams.

Coursework is a great opportunity to flex your independent study, but it is also challenging to get high grades. You'll be looking to critically evaluate research, present compelling psychological arguments and discuss key research findings, beyond core material. It can sound daunting the first few times, but with practice, you'll get the hang of it! Remember, it's almost certainly the first time everyone in the lecture hall will be completing coursework at this level.

All in all, psychology is an incredibly varied degree and is a chance to be part of an evolving science. It can also open so many doors for new interests and prospects after university.

I developed an interest in the use of psychology in advertising. Paired, then, with my passion for writing, I stepped into the world of marketing and haven't looked back!

If you're looking to start your journey into psychology, check out our rankings table to help you choose what university is the one for you.

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