What makes a good Psychology Degree

You can study psychology at numerous institutions, including public universities, private universities, and other private education providers. There are so many options that one of the hardest decisions you will make is where to study. Questions like “Is it a university or a private college”? “Where is the campus located”? “Can I do some classes on-line”? and “How much will it cost”? are important to ask for any type of degree. But what are the questions you should ask for a psychology degree?

What type of psychology degree am I getting?
Careers in psychology generally require an AQF Level 7 Bachelor degree. Some more specialist careers will require an honours qualification or postgraduate study following the bachelor degree. Make sure that the institution offers a bachelor level degree and that there are options for honours and/or postgraduate study. Accreditation is essential. The bachelor degree should be accredited with the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC). This will give you assurances of the quality of the degree and the institution that offers it. Some careers in psychology can be pursued through a more specialised bachelor degree. You should still ensure that it is an accredited degree. For example, a Bachelor of Counselling should be accredited with the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) and/or the Australian Counselling Association (ACA). Registration as a general psychologist will require at least a bachelor degree with honours. The best option is a degree with a 4-year sequence of study in which the honours component is part of the fourth year. Alternatively, you can complete a 3-year degree and then apply for entry into a 1-year honours degree. However, entry into the 1-year honours degree is competitive and universities receive more applications than they have places available.
Is there a capstone course or opportunity for work integrated learning?
A good psychology degree will give you the opportunity to participate in work integrated learning (WIL). This might be called a “practicum”, “placement”, or “internship”. This allows you to observe, participate, and reflect upon psychology-related work in the “real world”. In addition to the learning benefits, a work integrated learning practicum will give you added experience for your CV. You will make connections with people and build your professional network. It is not uncommon for graduates to be later offered a job with the organisation where they did a practicum. Look for a degree with a “capstone” course. The work integrated learning experience is sometimes offered as part of this course. The capstone course is usually offered in the last year of the degree. It will aim to consolidate everything that you have learnt in the context of your future career.
Can I easily transfer between different types of psychology degrees?
Ideally, the institution will offer more than one psychology-related degree. They may offer a 3-year psychology degree, a 4-year psychology degree with honours, a degree in a specific area (e.g., Counselling), a degree that combines a bachelor degree with a master degree, or maybe all of these options. Having options is important because it might take you a semester or two to know if the degree is the right “fit” for you. Being able to easily transfer from one degree to another is also important. If you can seamlessly move into another degree it means you will not have to take extra courses. This will save you time and money. If the institution offers more than one psychology degree, it is particularly important that the first year of the degrees is similar. Even better, the degrees should have a “foundation year” that is identical across all degrees. Common foundation subjects will make the process of moving from one degree to the other very simple.
Can I do courses that teach skills in working with people?
Content and theory in psychology is important. It forms the basis for the discipline. However, when you begin your career, you will be working with colleagues, clients, and many other people. A good psychology degree should include courses in which you learn skills in how to work with people. The degree should give you the opportunity to develop skills in; interpersonal interactions, working with or coaching groups, and counselling. Given the variety of work contexts, you should also gain experience in not only face-to-face interactions, but also interactions that occur over the telephone, internet, videoconferencing, and other means. Other skills that you should also look for in a good psychology degree are skills in applying; psychological theory, behaviour change, and research enquiry.
Is there a focus on employability and student employment outcomes?
Your psychology degree is the pathway to a rewarding career. The institution should recognise this and have a focus on employability. There are several ways that an institution can do this. Look to see whether the degree includes subjects that allow you learn about psychology in professional work contexts and have work integrated learning opportunities. The psychology school should also have a focus on applied psychology and be engaged with industry organisations. Ask if the school has a LinkedIn page or have members who are part of industry advisory boards or engage in outside work.
Can I tailor my degree to study what I am interested in?
Some degrees can be inflexible and do not allow much choice in what subjects you do. But given the diversity of careers in psychology you need to have choice. This will let you choose subjects that give you the necessary knowledge for the career you want. Most degrees consist of “core” or “required” subjects that you must take. Look for a degree that gives you a healthy number of “electives”. These electives are courses that you can choose for yourself. They may offer electives that are specific to psychology or they may be in any discipline. A mix of both is best. About one third of elective courses in a degree is a good balance between covering the core areas of psychology and tailoring your studies to what fits you best.