To work as a psychologist in the UK you need an accredited qualification. If you didn't study the subject at undergraduate level, your best option is a psychology conversion course
These intense courses, lasting up to one year full time, bring you to the same point in the pathway towards becoming a psychologist as those who studied an approved undergraduate psychology degree.
'Conversion courses give non-psychology graduates an opportunity to gain a broad knowledge of core psychological topics and can enable access to further postgraduate training. Successful completion of a conversion course also enables you to join the British Psychological Society (BPS) as a Graduate member,' explains Andrew Christer, membership and customer services team leader at the BPS.
Why consider a psychology conversion course?
One of the key steps on the way to becoming a psychologist is to gain Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) of the BPS. This ensures that you have the right level of understanding to move on to the next stage of training.
You'll already have GBC membership if you studied an undergraduate psychology degree that was accredited by the BPS. Take a look at psychologist job profiles to learn more about your qualification route.
However, if you studied a non-accredited psychology degree, or another subject entirely - but still want to progress in this field - then you'll need to attain GBC by taking a psychology conversion course.
'An accredited conversion course can be your stating point to a career in psychology. This may be towards training and qualification as a chartered psychologist, or to provide a better understanding of the human brain for use in other roles either psychological or elsewhere,' says Andrew.
You should only do one of these courses if you're sure you want to be a psychologist.
How do I choose a programme?
There are different types of psychology conversion course available:
- MSc Psychology - a full Masters degree, taking one year to complete. You'll typically need a good degree (2:2 or above) in any subject to be eligible. As well as exams and coursework, you'll be assessed on a personal project or dissertation. Most psychology conversion courses are in the MSc format.
- Postgraduate diploma (PGDip) or graduate diploma in psychology - these are shorter courses, involving nine months of full-time study. PGDips involve less independent research than Masters degrees. The entry requirements usually include having a certain number of psychology credits from previous study.
Always check university websites to find the most up-to-date entry criteria for your chosen course. You can find psychology conversion courses at universities throughout the UK, and many programmes are available in part-time or online learning formats.
Most conversion courses are general and will have a title such as MSc Psychology or PGDip Psychology, as their purpose is to provide the core subject knowledge that BPS accreditation requires.
A small number allow you to specialise at this stage, for example in educational psychology, developmental psychology or business.
One thing to consider as you make your decision is that in England, postgraduate loans are available for Masters courses - but not for PGDips or graduate diplomas. Learn more about funding for postgraduate study.
An MSc conversion course will usually cost somewhere between £6,000 and £10,000 in tuition fees, while diplomas are less expensive.
Where will my qualification lead?
Once you've achieved GBC through your accredited degree or conversion course, you're ready to make the next step towards becoming a psychologist.
In many cases this will be Doctorate-level training approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the body that all psychologists must be registered with in order to practise professionally.
For further details of exactly which path to take, visit the job profile that matches your career ambitions:
- Clinical psychologist
- Counselling psychologist
- Educational psychologist
- Forensic psychologist
- Health psychologist
- Occupational psychologist
- Sport and exercise psychologist
Finally, Andrew has this advice, 'Keep an open mind, try voluntary work, if you're able, to experience different types of psychology and don't be put off if you don't get that job or place on a course immediately.'