Writing a personal statement can be the most difficult and yet important thing about any course application. For a course like psychology, there’s also the added concern about what your potential future tutors might think of you as a person if you don’t say the right things.
Since psychology is entirely person-centred and involved in the study of human behaviour and why people act in a certain way, this should actually give you more confidence in how you approach your personal statement.
After all, the most essential thing for your studies is that you have a burning interest in people, and why they behave in a certain way. All you have to do is get that down on paper.
For psychology, your personal statement should possibly be more geared towards you than you might think – your insights and feelings on the study of psychology are far more interesting to your admissions tutors than quoting the studies of others; all that proves is that you’ve retained what you’ve read, not that you’ve developed your own ideas that you want to pursue.
So what do you need to include, and more importantly, how should you structure it?
Your personal statement should integrate your personal interests, subject knowledge and extracurricular experience. For psychology, we suggest focusing on four main areas:
- your personal interest in psychology and link this more explicitly to the range of ways you have explored the subject;
- your academic abilities and how these will ensure you suit the course e.g. you might talk about your mathematical/ scientific abilities and how this complements/ facilitates your interest in empirically studying human behaviour
- extra-curricular activities and how these also relate to your subject interest, e.g. essay competitions, projects, lectures etc.
- gap year plans (if applicable) and future career plans.
We have provided guidance on each of thesw key points below, how to fit them together and structure your personal statement so that you end up with a successful psychology personal statement.
What should I include in my psychology personal statement?
In short, you’re telling the admissions panel why you are suitable to study at their university and why you are an excellent fit for their course.
However, as you only write one personal statement, don't mention any of them by name.
Your passion for the subject will make you a good fit, and you will undoubtedly click more with some panels than others. If the courses vary slightly between institutions, be general with regard to the course content and focus on skills that will be essential for any study pathway, such as problem-solving and creative thinking.
You’ll need to read and research the subject - what interests you most and how do you plan to find out more?
One way of developing an early understanding of key aspects of psychology is to take a good look through the compulsory modules of the courses that interest you and gain an initial overview of key themes or topics through reading and research.
For example, the undergraduate psychology course at the University of Bath covers the following compulsory modules:
- Mind and behaviour
- Applying psychology
- Quantative research methods
- Cognitive neuroscience
- Developmental psychology
- Social psychology.
This means you can try to gain an understanding of each module through research. Cambridge also provide a useful A-Z of key topics in psychology.
After an initial introduction into broad areas of psychology and what they involve, try to narrow them down. Think about which areas pique your interest most, and keep a file with notes on each topic, read articles to extend your knowledge, and remember to relate concepts to your personal experience (e.g. examples from everyday life, real-world applications of concepts) so you don’t end up turning your personal statement into an essay.
- why does XYZ make you want to study psychology at degree level?
- what catalysed your interest in XYZ?
- can you think of examples in your everyday life that relate to psychology?
For example, after doing your research, you may find you are interested in Social Psychology, in particular group identity. Think about:
- What interests you about it?
- You may have read about ‘outgroup homogeneity’: the failure to see differences between members of out-group. Can you think of examples in your everyday experience? E.g. racial prejudice?
Conversely, you may have started with thinking about racial prejudice, if that is something you are particularly passionate about, and that could have led you to research the psychology behind it, which could have brought you to outgroup homogeneity. Either method is good.
When writing your UCAS personal statement, it can be best to start with the personal experience/ interest and mention how this spurred you on to the academic research/ how your interest deepened with wider exploration.
Again, the course descriptions can be a valuable starting point, helping you identify the kind of candidate that the universities are looking for.
This will help you tell the admissions panel why you’re applying, and why your interests guide you towards the subject and why you are suitable. You may have relevant experience you’ve picked up through extracurricular activities at school, or through part-time or voluntary work.
Additionally, skills such as musicianship or being interested in team sports show a suitability for the study of psychology. Covid may have prevented you from gathering lots of additional skill and experience over the past two years, but try to be creative with your application; formed discussion and support groups over video calls are all useful information for your personal statement.
Remember that throughout your personal statement, you should demonstrate how you have built skills in preparation for university and for studying psychology at degree level.
We recommend starting by brainstorming your academic abilities and skills, and how these ensure you are suitable for the course/s you are applying for.
Do plenty of research into your top university choices, and see if they have a page dedicated to what they want from applicants (most universities do if you look carefully at their website). Jot down some notes to help you relate your skills to the study of psychology, which will be useful in forming part of your statement.
Many students mistake “extra-curricular activities” for non-subject-related activities such as sport, art, or music. Whilst you can mention these at the end of your personal statement, you are much better off mentioning anything that directly links to your subject, especially if applying to Oxbridge (non-academic activities should only be 2-3 lines to round-off your personal statement in this case).
If you can’t think of co-curricular activities to mention, now is the time to start finding opportunities to take part in! Essay competitions, research projects and summer lectures/events are just a few things worth undertaking during your spare time to help you become a stantout candidate.
If necessary, tallk about your gap year plans, especially if they relate to your psychology course, e.g. if you are going to be doing some work experience on a mental health ward or help children with learning difficulties.
Your career plans are also another good talking point, and this is something students often include as a way of rounding off their personal statement. What do you want to do with your psychology degree once you've finished university, and what ambitions do you have for the future in your chosen field? Admissions tutors want to see you are serious about psychology and where you want their course to take you once you've graduated.
Also, personal circumstances which might have affected your attendance, grades or other factors may not necessary be a bad thing; how you have coped with challenges is far more interesting to an admissions board than what happened.
How do I write my pyschology personal statement?
Your personal statement is about you. It should ‘sound’ like you – get a friend to read it over for this if necessary.
Many a statement falls at the first hurdle when the panel get to meet you and you’re clearly not the same person – or don’t come across as the same person – that wrote the statement.
Be enthusiastic, but do be careful with anything that might be amusing to you, and not so amusing to anyone else.
You have 4000 characters and 47 lines; that’s a lot less than you think. Use our personal statement length checker to make sure you're not over, or too far under this limit.
Is there anything else that specifically needs to be in a psychology personal statement?
You need to demonstrate your suitability for the course, so think of any interests that you have that are directly relevant. Do you already have ambitions for your career post-degree? Share these in your statement – they all help to show how enthusiastic and suitable you are for a course of academic study of psychology.
Don’t forget that psychology is about behaviour, so include instances where you’ve pursued your interest outside the classroom. Many applications fall down on a lack of scientific understanding and curiosity around the subject, so link experiences to knowledge where you can.
If you have applied for a variety of courses, it may be difficult to persuade the panel that you are sufficiently engaged. If psychology is your aim – and circumstances have dictated that you hedge your bets, for whatever reason – make sure your interest is covered in your statement.
Avoid overplaying personal circumstances; matter of fact uses of experiences to communicate interest are fine, but coming across as though you expect the study of psychology to cure all ills isn’t what you are looking to communicate here.
Finally, pay attention to tone and language, avoiding crass phrases about “helping those less fortunate”. Plain and direct will communicate passion and interest, and an understanding that psychology is more about analysis of data than analysis of people!
Above all, link your interests to insights about what they’ve taught you, and how they help you gain insight and experience.
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