It’s that time of the year.

2015 is almost over, and so will my Masters of Psychology course. It has been a long journey, though it feels rather surreal. When I started my study in psychology, I did not expect myself to be involved in the field for so long. Granted, there have been occasions where I have nearly given up, and I recall nights where I lay in bed not knowing what to do in the future. With the support of my family and friends, I was able to persevere on and here I am now.

It’s that time of the year where undergraduate psychology students are waiting for their final results and feeling anxious whether or not they would be able to continue into Fourth Year, or offered an interview into a postgraduate course. Some might have decided that this pathway is not for them, and moved to another field. I’m writing this post to give some advice to undergraduate students out there in the process of continuing (or even starting) your psychology studies. Although some facts in this post may be rather discouraging, it is not my intention to discourage anyone but rather provide an honest overview of studying psychology in Australia based on my personal experience.

Becoming a fully registered and qualified psychologist in Australia is not an easy pathway. You’ll need at least three APAC-accredited degrees, including a Bachelors degree (or Graduate Diploma in Psychology), an Honours degree (or Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology), and a postgraduate coursework degree (e.g., Masters by coursework, or Doctorate) which encompass a minimum total of 6 years of study before you can be registered as a psychologist. Another option of study which has been increasingly popular is the 5+1 or 4+2 pathway, which include 1 or 2 years of supervised practice in addition to 5 or 4 years of study. Click on this link to learn more about the pathways to registration as a psychologist.

Throughout your study experience, most of your friends will not share the same anxiety you get from worrying about whether your marks would be good enough to maintain your grades to get into Fourth Year/postgraduate course, and you’ll often hear “Don’t worry about it” or “Why are you worrying so much” when you express your concerns on your application for future studies. Unlike psychology’s compulsory 6 year pathway, a lot of other fields out there only offer these courses as an optional study, or when you feel like you want to learn more after your undergraduate degree. Don’t worry though — talk to someone who is applying to Fourth Year/postgraduate courses and you’ll realize there are others on the same boat as you.

That being said, getting into a Fourth Year/postgraduate course is very difficult. I’ll use the following statistic to illustrate the competitiveness:

Imagine there are 500 undergraduate students studying psychology in a particular university. Only 20–25% of those would get into a Fourth Year course (i.e., approx. 100-125 students in that batch). Out of those 100/125 students, only the top 20–25% of those students would get into a postgraduate course (i.e., approx. 20–30 students). In other words, the chances of you getting into a postgraduate course is 30/500 = 6%.

Take time to consider why you want to study psychology. This question will be asked in postgraduate course interviews (take note, applicants!). I’ve been told by my lecturers that one of their most commonly received response to this question is “I want to help people”, which they do not like. Think about what you learn in psychology: understanding people’s mental status, being more open and critical about new and existing ideas, or something more specific (e.g., wanting to know more about a particular psychopathology due to a personal experience).

In addition, you have no choice but to do statistics and research. It’s part of the scientist-practitioner model adopted by the field of psychology, which encourages (*cough*forces*cough*)students and practitioners to be aware and utilize findings from past research to inform their study and practice, and subsequently use their experience in practice to contribute further to research. While unfortunate, you would have to spend countless nights learning how to use statistical programs such as SPSS or trying to understand what the numbers in the results section of journal articles actually mean. You would also be required to at least be able to utilize these statistical programs and knowledge properly (and independently) as you have to write theses in your Fourth Year and postgraduate courses.

If you have not been deterred in studying psychology after reading my post — congratulations! I personally feel that psychology is a rewarding field of study, which is accurately captured in this article on Thought Catalog.

Everyone should be a Psych major because studying Psychology teaches you to not just tolerate, but to accept; to not just listen, but to understand. It teaches you that as complex as our brain is, our mind is just as convoluted. And that’s okay. — Nizza Regalado

Happy festive season, everybody.

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