There are many reasons why you might wish to go to college as a mature student and study for a degree program. Perhaps you want to start a new career in a different industry or climb the ladder within your current one. Perhaps you simply want the chance to immerse yourself in an academic environment and study a subject that you’re passionate about in greater depth. Whatever the reason, choosing to return to higher education can bring you a whole wealth of benefits.
Going to college of course has its challenges, from getting accepted through to graduating with good grades. However, to begin with one of the trickiest choices can simply be deciding what subject to study! In some cases the decision is obvious, either because you need a specific qualification in order to achieve your dream job or because there’s one topic that immediately jumps out at you as the most interesting. When this isn’t the case though, you need to investigate many different curriculums to see what appeals to you the most. For those who are intrigued by human thinking and behavior, psychology could be just what you’re looking for. Here’s why.
What is psychology?
Psychology is generally defined as the study of the human mind and behavior. This involves looking at how a wide variety of social, biological and environmental factors can influence people’s feelings, thoughts and actions. We can then use those results to better understand not only ourselves, but also other people and society at large. In turn, this may be of use in helping us to combat some of the myriad problems that the world faces.
There are many different areas of psychology that you can choose to specialize in depending on your interests. That could be by doing an entire degree program in a niche field, or just some of your modules. Here’s an idea of the various topics you might be able to study:
- Child psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Educational psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Sports psychology
- Social psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Health psychology
- Organizational psychology
As you can see, this makes psychology an extremely varied and fascinating subject area to choose, with a multitude of options available to tailor your studies to match your interests and career aspirations.
What types of psychology degrees are there?
In addition to the different fields of psychology, there are several different types of degree that you can take in the subject. Here’s a quick overview of your options, beginning with the lowest academic level and progressing to the highest:
- Associate degree – this is an undergraduate program that generally takes around two years to complete. Often considered as a stepping stone to doing a Bachelor’s, it’s a good choice for those who want to gain some background knowledge and experience but aren’t ready to commit to anything longer or more challenging yet
- Bachelor’s degree – this is also an undergraduate program, but usually takes four years to complete on a full-time basis. You can normally choose between doing a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science, depending on your goals and preferences. It’s also the necessary qualification for many entry-level jobs in the field
- Master’s degree – this is a graduate program, and normally takes two or three years to complete. Both Master of Arts and Master of Science programs are available, and there are a great many specialist degrees to choose between at this level. Having a Master’s opens up more doors to you in terms of job opportunities, and also qualifies you for higher level roles
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) – this is a doctoral level qualification which can take anywhere between three and eight years to complete depending on whether you study full-time or part-time. It’s a research-focused degree and enables you to concentrate on almost any type of specialism that interests you. It’s a particularly good choice of program if you hope to go into research or teaching after graduation
- Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) – this is also a doctoral level qualification but concentrates more on the professional practice of psychology. It takes a similar amount of time to complete as a PhD, and trains you in areas such as performing psychological assessments, diagnosing mental illness, and conducting clinical interventions. You’ll normally undertake a supervised internship as part of your studies
Whichever form of program you’re interested in, you normally have the choice to complete it on either a part-time or full-time basis to suit your personal circumstances. Similarly, these days you can also opt to take an online psychology degree in order to give yourself extra flexibility to study around your existing family and work obligations.
What are the advantages of studying psychology?
There are many different benefits to be enjoyed as a result of taking a degree in psychology. Firstly, there’s the simple fact that it is a genuinely interesting subject to immerse yourself in. Not only that, but there’s also a wide variety of subfields and specialisms open to you, meaning that you’re almost guaranteed to find an area that you’re passionate about. Secondly, having a psychology degree enables you to start off on the path to a rewarding career in the field. There is an ever-growing need for expert mental health professionals around the world, and studying this subject will train you to help people who truly need it.
In addition to the specific subject knowledge and clinical skills you’ll gain by doing a psychology degree, you will work on a number of transferable skills that will be useful to you in any career – and indeed your personal life too. For instance, these include verbal and written communication, teamwork, leadership, presentation, research skills, analytical and critical thinking, problem solving, mathematical skills and much more.
Having a background in psychology can also serve you well when it comes to your connections with others. Understanding human emotions, behaviors, motivations and similar phenomena at a deeper level can benefit your relationships with everyone from family and friends to colleagues and strangers.
Lastly, by studying psychology you may well find that you are better able to understand yourself too. For example, you might learn how to effectively cope with challenging situations, deal with difficult emotions, make better decisions, overcome innate biases, or motivate yourself to achieve your goals. It can teach you to improve your memory, be more productive, and even live a more fulfilling life. Who doesn’t want that?
What careers can I go on to have after graduating?
Another great aspect of studying psychology is the wide variety of careers it can prepare you for. Here are just a few ideas to get you inspired. Remember, some of them may require additional qualifications or experience.
- Psychology professor
- Clinical psychologist
- Experimental psychologist
- Behavior analyst
- Military psychologist
- Industrial psychologist
- School counselor
- Substance abuse counselor
- Correctional psychologist
- Sports psychologist
- Legal psychologist
- Community psychologist
- Health psychologist
- Child psychologist
- Forensic psychologist
- Social worker
- Mental health nurse
- Life coach
- Human resources manager
- Marketing professional
This gives you an indication of just how diverse the options are for jobs once you’ve qualified. As you can see, the chances are extremely high that you’ll be able to carve out a career that perfectly matches your interests.
What are the next steps?
If this article has convinced you that studying for a psychology degree is the right choice, the first step to take is researching what programs are available. There are many different factors you’ll need to consider when choosing which courses to apply for, such as:
- Whether you want to study part-time or full-time
- Whether you want to study online or on campus
- Where the college is located (if attending in person)
- What level of degree is appropriate for you
- What area of psychology you want to focus on
- What the entry requirements are, and whether you meet them
- How much the tuition fees are
- Whether there are any scholarships available
- The reputation of the college and the course
- Whether the course is accredited by the relevant bodies
- The employment rate of students after graduating
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to a handful, you’ll need to begin work on your applications. This normally means filling in a form andgathering together the necessary documents to submit alongside it (for instance certificates and transcripts from your previous studies). Colleges generally also ask for details of two or three academic or professional references who can vouch for your suitability for the course.
The final piece of the puzzle is your personal statement. This is a type of essay, in which you set out why you want to take this specific degree. Try to let your passion for psychology shine through in your words, and don’t forget to mention any relevant work or volunteering experience you have. This is a good way to stand out from the crowd. It may also be helpful to talk about your future career goals, as well as the reasons why the course is appropriate for you – and you for it.
At this stage it’s also worth checking what scholarships or other forms of financial aid are available to you, because these can often have earlier deadlines than the degree itself and you don’t want to miss out. Then try not to drive yourself crazy waiting for the good news that you’ve been accepted!