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Getting started

If you're interested in becoming a psychologist, and want to know about the best way to get things started, you've come to the right place.

How you can get started today

The starting point for each individual’s journey is different.

Some start studying at school or college, while others don't start until university (and some wait until even later, with an accredited Postgraduate Conversion Course).

But whatever level you're currently at in your education, the information below is designed to give you a taste of what to expect when studying psychology.

GCSE (and equivalent)

Courses at this level are designed to give students an introduction to the science behind people's behaviour and an early understanding of how psychology can be used to improve quality of life.

Course content will vary depending on the exam board, but will normally include a mix of simple practical work and an introduction to psychological research in the following key areas:

  • How do people develop?
  • How does memory work?
  • How can psychological problems affect people?
  • How do others affect you?
  • What makes you who you are?
  • How do you interpret the world around you?
  • How do people communicate? 

You will also develop skills including:

  • Oral, visual and written communication
  • Problem solving
  • Numeracy and statistics
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Decision making
  • Organisational skills
  • Team working
  • IT and data analysis skill

By the end of your course, you should have gained a greater understanding of how psychology works, and its role in society, that will put you at a big advantage if you choose to continue onto a Psychology A Level or Scottish Higher programme.  

Further Education (Including A-Levels and Scottish Highers)

A Level, Scottish Highers, and International Baccalaureate level courses will take a closer look at the development of certain ideas and theories in psychology, with a greater emphasis on learning how to critically analyse evidence.

The exact content of your course will vary depending on the exam board, but you can expect to study subjects such as:

  • Social Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Approaches in Psychology
  • Psychopathology
  • Biological Psychology
  • Issues and debates in Psychology

You will most likely undertake some practical research and may get the opportunity to create your own experimental project, and by the end of the course you should be able to understand, analyse and form opinions on theories, and to present and communicate your knowledge in a clear way.

Choosing Your Degree

Choosing the right subject to study is just as important as choosing the right career.

An accredited degree in psychology can be the first step towards becoming a psychologist, but it will also give you valuable skills that can be used in a variety of sectors such as education, business, health and the media.

Generally an A Level or Scottish Higher qualification in psychology is not necessary to go on to undergraduate study, but many institutions require at least one science A Level.

You can search for accredited degree programmes using our course search tool.

As a professional body we are unable to recommend specific degree courses. There are numerous websites that can help you choose your university and course, but the final decision is up to you.

The National Student Survey provides valuable information for prospective students, and help universities and colleges to improve the education that they provide. For more details on the survey, visit the Discover Uni website.

However, to keep your options open we strongly recommend that you take an accredited psychology degree that gives you eligibility for Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC).

This is the case even if you have no plans at the moment to become a qualified psychologist or are not sure what you want to do later.

GBC is required to gain entrance to society accredited postgraduate courses and training programmes that lead to becoming a Chartered Psychologist.

If your degree course is modular, it may be necessary to choose certain modules to qualify for GBC. So check with the course organisers to ensure that your choices will lead to an accredited psychology degree.

Visit the UCAS website for further details about applying to universities.

If your undergraduate degree course is not accredited by the society, you can still obtain eligibility for GBC by completing an accredited one year full-time or two year part-time conversion course (which will be an MSc, MA, MEd or Diploma).  

University

Completing an accredited degree course is one of the best ways to take your psychological education to a new level.

Not only is it a great first step towards becoming a psychologist, but research has shown that psychology graduates are highly regarded by employers in many different industries, due to the transferable nature of the skills which they acquire during their degree.

We strongly recommend that you take an accredited psychology degree that gives you eligibility for Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership, as this is required to gain entrance to the various postgraduate courses and training programmes required to become a fully Chartered Psychologist.

Degrees in psychology can be taken as a single, joint or combined honours course, and cover a variety of content in the areas of human mind and behaviour, with a particular focus on:

  • Biological psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Social psychology

With additional attention paid to:

  • Conceptual/historical issues
  • Individual differences
  • Research methods

Many degrees allow students to select their own modules in addition to core content, and all will include some form of independent project and practical work. If your degree course is modular, it may be necessary to choose certain modules to qualify for GBC, so it's best to check with the course organisers to ensure that your choices will lead to an accredited psychology degree.

Start your search for an accredited course

Degrees in psychology can be taken as a single, joint or combined honours course.

As psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour, you will cover a variety of content in these areas.

The exact content of psychology degree courses varies from university to university, but all courses accredited by the society will include:

  • Biological psychology - how the brain influences behaviour, the effects of hormones, how it can be affected by drugs
  • Cognitive psychology - how we remember, learn, think, reason, perceive, speak and understand
  • Developmental psychology - how humans develop physically, mentally and socially during childhood and adolescence and their life span
  • Social psychology - how human behaviour and experience are affected by social context such as in groups and relationships
  • Conceptual and historical issues - how psychological explanations have changed over time and key debates which shape its future
  • Individual differences - why people have different personalities, how we can measure intelligence, how we treat mental disorders
  • Research methods - how to conduct quantitative and qualitative methods, research design, data collection, analysis and interpretation
  • Many degrees allow students to select their own modules in addition to core content. All will include some form of independent project and practical work

For information regarding specific course content, contact universities directly.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements differ from one institution to another, so it is best to contact universities directly or check out their prospectus.

Applicants often need to demonstrate good numeracy and literacy skills, as well as the ability to handle scientific concepts.

Biology, Mathematics, English; History, Economics and similar arts and social science subjects are all useful preparation.

A/AS level or equivalent qualifications in psychology are not normally required for entry onto an accredited degree. You will find that having a GCSE, A/AS level or equivalent in psychology gives you a head start when you begin a degree.

Changing your career

There are many reasons why you might want to consider a change of career. Maybe you would like to increase your earning potential? Or you feel you chose the wrong career and would like to try something different?

Perhaps you’ve been made redundant and are looking for new options, or maybe you've simply outgrown your current role and feel it's time to move on?

Whatever your reasons, changing your career can be stressful and you should be sure that the time is right for you. Discuss this matter with friends and family and consider speaking to a professional careers advisor before making a final decision.

It is important to consider that it takes several years to become a fully qualified Chartered Psychologist, which includes a full three year degree and a further three years of postgraduate training (although the nature of this training will vary depending on the specific field of psychology you wish to work in). You may also want to consider working in role in the wider psychological workforce.

If you already have a degree, you may be eligible to undertake a conversion course instead of undertaking another full degree programme.

To explore your options and to access further information on the different areas of psychology open to you have a look at our Career options in psychology page.

You can also search Jobs in Psychology for jobs currently available.