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.

Five things to include in your psychology personal statement

The University of Bristol highlights five elements of a strong, academically focused psychology statement:

  1. Ensure it is well structured and well written.  
  2. Give details of any specific interests or ambitions you have that relate to the content of the course.
  3. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for psychological research as a focus for academic study.
  4. Provide evidence of when you have pursued your interest in psychology outside the classroom (see above!)
  5. 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.

Psychology tutors tell it like it is

Here are some more points to avoid:

  • 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’.