‘So you love Psychology at A-Level, but what about Psychology as a degree?’

Pavlov and his dogs, Skinner and his pigeons, eating disorders, sleep… it’s all been interesting so far!

So the time has come where you have to start thinking about your future, beginning with the first step of choosing a subject to study at university. You may start to think ‘hey, Psychology’s been great to learn for A-level, but is it really a subject worth studying for my degree?’ There are many misconceptions about studying Psychology beyond the world of A-levels, including ‘Psychology is a subject for girls’ and ‘you don’t need to be clever to study Psychology!’ however, this is where people are sorely mistaken – Psychology at university is just as popular amongst males as it is females and once you start impressing your friends with your in-depth knowledge of exactly how their brains’ are working and why they are behaving the way they are, they will soon change their minds about Psychology being a ‘soft’ subject! Saying this, it is important to note that degree level Psychology does differ quite substantially to A-level Psychology. The information and content is just as interesting and you will find yourself going over several things you have learnt before, however, depending on the university you chose, you may find yourself studying Psychology in a far more scientific way than you had previously thought! With this, it is extremely important that you do look at what each university offers as their course content for Psychology as they will all differ from one another.

Moreover, if you are interested in Psychology as a career, be careful which path you go down – this all starts from the type of degree you chose. When people think of Psychology, the first things that come into their minds are likely to be ‘Oooh I bet they can tell what I’m really thinking!’ and ‘Ahhh maybe they’ll interpret my dreams for me – I’ve always wanted to know why I keep dreaming that my teeth are falling out…’. IMPORTANT – most Psychology degrees do not teach you to be a mind reader or a dream interpreter! While it may be nice to have people thinking you can read their minds, what you will actually come to know is pretty much exactly HOW their brains are working rather than what they are really thinking, but there’s no harm in them believing that you’re a mind reader! If body language and dream interpretations are what you want then it is important that you chose a degree that is Psychology BA – this means Bachelor of Arts. Although one or two do, straight Psychology (Psychology as a degree on its own, without any other subjects attached to it, e.g. Philosophy and Psychology) as a Bachelor of Arts is not usually offered at the majority of Russell group universities. These universities tend to offer Psychology BSc – this means Bachelor of Science. This is what you want if you are looking to be accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) once you graduate, and if you are interested in a career in Clinical, Forensic, Occupational or Educational Psychology, etc. What to expect if you go for Psychology BSc? SCIENCE. Most students’ do not realise how much science is actually involved in degree level Psychology. This might sound scary at first, but once you start, you realise how everything you will have learned at A-level suddenly makes sense and you will find yourself applying pretty much everything to everyday life! For example, optical illusions – if this is a topic your university covers, you will no longer be able to simply be fascinated by the effect optical illusions have on you. Instead, all you will be thinking about is what is happening to your brain to trick you into seeing the illusion. This is a great way to impress people! If you are not a science-y person do not be put off by this! You may have absolutely hated science at school, but after studying Psychology at university your favourite topic may soon became neuroscience (this is what happened to me and I now want to follow a career in it!). The science you will come across in Psychology at university is nothing like what you will have experienced at school. The purpose of it is to help you actually understand the content of the information, rather than making you memorise difficult processes that you have no use for. Furthermore, the way information is taught at university is very different to school and A-level teaching. The lecturers are much more approachable and friendlier! They are all experts in their fields and will go out of their way to help you understand what they are teaching. You will often find yourself learning about research that has been carried out by your lecturer and may often meet people who you will have read about in textbooks or journals! It all becomes very exciting studying Psychology at university, when being taught by experts and seeing Psychology in a real world context rather than just written down on paper.

So how does the content of what you learn for A-level really differ when studying Psychology as a degree? The best way to explain this is with an example. If you have or will be studying Eyewitness Testimony as part of the Memory topic for your A-level psychology course, you will know or soon find out all about the infamous workings of Elizabeth Loftus. One study that may stick in your mind is the ‘car accident’ study by Loftus and Palmer in 1974 (yes names and dates will always be needed and will always be a pain to remember!). When learning this topic at AS or A-level, the most important information to remember will be the percentages of participants who falsely remembered seeing broken glass at the scene of the accident depending on how the researcher asked the question. However, if you chose a university that covers the topic of Eyewitness Testimony as part of its Psychology course, you will find yourself revisiting this same information and you will be amazed at how the percentages that once seemed so difficult, suddenly come flying back to you without even having to open a textbook! A-Level Psychology will certainly prepare you for Psychology as a degree, giving you the foundations of the course content that will put you at an advantage to those who did not study Psychology at A-Level. I say FOUNDATION because that is what your A-level topics will seem to you if you continue to study Psychology at degree level. Eyewitness testimony, for example, may become a small, one lecture topic, in the much larger picture of a Forensic module, which may also cover exciting new topics such as Psychopathy and Terrorism. From my own experience, having the foundations of knowledge in even just a few topics that I had learnt during my A-level course really boosted my confidence and I carried this with me throughout the rest of the module.

To really pinpoint one great thing about a Psychology degree it would have to be that EVERYTHING is interesting! While your friends may be working hard trying to figure out equations or reading 40 page articles, you will actually find yourself enjoying your work! Teaching monkeys’ to speak – who wouldn’t want to learn about that?! Another great thing about a Psychology degree is that there is so much variety of what you can learn, it all depends on the university you chose. Therefore, if you know that Psychology is the degree for you, do make sure you spend time looking at each universities specific outline as it is unlikely that you will ever find the same course at any two universities!

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