Published: 14 August 2015

Why study for a psychology degree?

What do actress Natalie Portman, comedian Jon Stewart and controversial former White House intern Monica Lewinsky have in common? They all studied psychology at university

While a degree in psychology isn’t a guarantee of fame and fortune – or notoriety as the case may be – it does offer students the chance to learn a broad range of skills which will help kick-start an exciting career.

What is psychology?

According to the British Psychological Society, psychology is the “scientific study of human mind and behaviour: how we think, feel, act and interact individually and in groups”. The subject goes beyond cultivating investigative and critical thinking skills, however. It teaches quantitative and digital skills, helps with essay writing, fosters ethical thinking, and encourages working in teams and with people.

Psychology courses at university

Psychology is a field that’s been around for about 150 years in universities and increasingly, with neuroscience, it includes the study of the brain. It is well organised into a series of sub-disciplines – biological, social, and developmental, as well cognitive psychology which explores thinking, reasoning, memory and language.

A curiosity about what makes people tick and an enquiring mind are vital for students wanting to study psychology, but universities are also looking for people who read avidly, enjoy discussions, are willing to work hard and have the drive to succeed.

“Psychology is very diverse,” explains Peter Hegarty, Head of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey. “It explores a range of different topics – some are closer to humanities while others will be nearer the natural sciences. So psychology is particularly suited to people who are intellectually an all-rounder.”

Psychology graduate jobs

But how can students use the skills gained in the subject to stand out in a crowded job market and propel themselves on to success in the workplace? The British Psychological Society offers a comprehensive list of careers that are possible with a degree in psychology, from clinical psychologists and counselling to roles working in sport and education.

Importantly, a career in psychology has the potential to make a huge impact to society and on many different areas of life, from education and health to the economy and crime. Some of the most notable achievements of British psychologists include CS Myers’ introduction of the term ‘shell-shock’ during World War One (now widely known as post-traumatic stress disorder) and research on interviewing which led to the use of video recordings of child witnesses in court. Even the design of British coins was based upon psychological research into which shapes are easiest for blind people to identify. 

The broader skills learned – such as critical thinking, communication, teamwork, research and project management skills – are also desirable for employers in a wide range of sectors.

Learn more about psychology degrees and the student experience at Surrey.

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