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Personal statement advice: psychology

Impress admissions tutors by getting the tone of your psychology personal statement spot-on. Here are some top tips on how to do so (no reverse psychology required)…

If you're writing a psychology personal statement, describing your personal insights into the subject or how you've pursued your interest outside the classroom will impress over quoting Freud or Milgram (which might sound a little pretentious).

That's what psychology admissions tutors told us when we asked them what they're looking for in your personal statement - here are some more of their pointers.

Psychology tutors tell it like it is...

The tutors we spoke to didn't hold back when it came to telling us what they don't want to see:
  • A lack of understanding: "Some applicants display a misconception of what psychology is. We want to know that you understand the importance of scientific elements of the course and the importance of statistics and experimentation."
  • Not enough engagement with the subject: "Some applicants are rejected because of a lack of commitment to the subject, especially in cases where it appears that they’ve applied for a mixture of courses rather than five psychology ones."
  • Making it too personal: "Some applicants expand too much on personal circumstances such as mental health issues or life events. Studying psychology may not necessarily help, so don't overplay personal stories."
  • Getting the tone wrong: don’t just say you "want to help people" and don’t use inappropriate language like "less fortunate people". Also, avoid inserting sophisticated language or phrases if you don’t fully understand them – "straightforward language is never a bad thing".

Personal statement builder | Which? University

Demonstrating why psychology appeals to you

So what should you include in your psychology personal statement? Dr Alice Jones, an admissions tutor at Goldsmiths University of London, wants applicants to show, with evidence, how they've developed their interest in psychology through independent learning.

This could include books or publications you've read. These don't have to be psychology textbooks or the works of Freud, Milgram or Zimbardo, but ideally something you've researched for yourself. Make sure you explain what each example has prompted you to think about and why. 

It doesn't have to be a book or even something you've read with your eyes, either. Anything that shows you've extended your learning beyond the classroom, through journals, websites, podcasts, lectures and so on, will impress.

If you mention an interest in a particular career path, ensure you demonstrate some understanding about how you will get there, too - an awareness that you'll need to pursue postgraduate training, for instance.

What else to include in psychology statements

The University of Bristol highlights five elements of a strong, academically-focused psychology statement:
  • Ensure that it is well-structured and well-written.
  • Give details of any specific interests or ambitions you have that relate to the content of the course.
  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm for psychological research as a focus for academic study.
  • Provide evidence of when you have pursued your interest in psychology outside the classroom (see above!).
  • Give examples of non-curricular activities you are involved in which indicate the contribution you are likely to make to university life.
Any relevant work experience you have under your belt is also worth talking about. But if you haven't gained experience in the field directly, think creatively - there might be ways to link observations from your part-time job, voluntary work or extra-curricular activities to psychology.

One successful applicant finished her statement with a short paragraph about her Saturday job on a supermarket fish counter, describing the satisfaction she got from knowing how to gut and fillet a mackerel. Linking her experience to psychology in an innovative but relevant way was a lot more interesting than just saying it had improved her teamwork or communication skills which are a bit broad.

For more personal statement advice, see our top 10 things not to include, as well as our tips for talking about work experience in your personal statement

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