Things Every Psychology Student Should Know

Last Updated on March 11, 2023 by

Have you been looking through the internet for information on how to become a psychologist? Do you often get confused by the conflicting information you see on it online? You need not search further as you will find the answer to this question in the article below.

Psychology is a fascinating field containing a plethora of job opportunities. The degrees available are extensive: you can pursue a general B.A. or B.S. in Psychology (what’s the difference?) or choose a specific emphasis such as counseling, criminal, developmental, or life coaching.

Whether you want an overview of the field, or you’re driven to pursue a degree that’s tailored to your needs, here are some things every prospective psychology student should know before diving into this fascinating field.

What Is a Psychology Major?

Psychology is a skills-based major that can prepare students for graduate-level programs in psychology, education, law, medicine and business. It is a widely customizable major and is applicable to many careers. Students learn basic methods to conduct psychological research, reasoning and problem solving. After research is completed, students are expected to write papers on findings from experiments in the American Psychological Association, or APA, writing style, which calls for specific citation methods. Students will also understand the history of psychology by studying past experiments to learn from the earliest breakthroughs in the young field. Psychology majors will become very familiar with the theories of famous psychologists like Sigmund Freud, Albert Bandura, Ivan Pavlov, Wilhelm Wundt and others who shaped the science.

5 Things You Need to Know Before Studying Psychology

You might be fascinated by what psychology is all about or perhaps you learned that this course has very little mathematics (untrue, btw). Before you jump the gun and apply for this course, here are some things you should know to help you make the right decision.

#1. Psychology is scientific

If you’re drawn to psychology because of the philosophical aspect of it such as Renee Descartes’ famous statement “I think, therefore I am” or John Locke’s theory of Tabula Rasa which signifies the human mind is a blank slate, then you’ve come to the right place.

However, psychology isn’t all just mumbo-jumbo theories. In fact, a very large part of it has a lot to do with science. Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour, and that includes learning biological and chemical elements of their brain, types of illnesses and treatments. In addition, theories in psychology don’t just come about from nothing. There are tons of empirical research and experiments done to prove whether a theory is right or wrong, and some of them take years to do so.

If you’re walking into the field thinking you’ll only be asking the big, existential questions about life, you’re hugely mistaken. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

#2. There is a lot of research in psychology

Is essay writing your forte? If so, you’ve hit the jackpot by choosing to study psychology.

Nearly all of your assignments will be in written form. For starters, there’s the all-important research paper that you’ll need to produce. This involves coming up with a topic, finding past research studies, running experiments and drawing your own conclusions. There will also be lots of essays and practical write-ups.

However, you won’t necessarily be snowed under all that research. You’ll also find yourself working on presentations and participating in forum discussions and group projects. These are all great ways to improve your critical thinking, independent learning and teamwork skills.

If you’re more of an exam person, don’t let this put you off. Despite the heavy workload on research, psychology also emphasises understanding and memorising key theories, biological and chemical processes, sickness and treatments — all of which are facts and will be questioned in your examination!

#3. Independent and creative thinking is important

Unlike other courses, psychology is one field where you have to know how to ask the right questions and find an answer for it at the same time. As opposed to blindly learning from a textbook and mindlessly absorbing everything from lectures, most of the tasks are aimed to get you to think critically and look outside the box.

For example, say you’re presented with philosophical approaches from famous thinkers or theories from psychoanalysts and psychologists. Instead of digesting that information and moving on to the next chapter, you’ll be questioned if there are other explanations or flaws to those theories and approaches. This is where you have to think creatively and critically to debunk dated theories and come up with a modern take that’s applicable to today’s society.

While it does sound weird to disagree with established scientists, it’s fun to be critical and develop your take on things. More importantly, you won’t be spoon-fed with information by your lecturers. This method forces you to think independently and at the same time enhances your perspective on things.

#4. Becoming a professional psychologist takes time

Graduating with a psychology degree doesn’t automatically make you a psychologist. To be a psychologistyou’ll need a postgraduate degree in your chosen field (e.g. clinical psychology, educational psychology, occupational psychology). Most postgraduate programmes take approximately 1 – 2 years to complete. So, in summary, it’ll take you about 5 – 6 years from SPM to become a qualified psychologist.

In addition, certain psychology professions are regulated. Clinical psychology, for instance, requires you to be registered with the Malaysian Allied Health Professions Council and have a practising certificate. Counsellors, on the other hand, are required to you be registered with the Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia.

#5. The field is diverse

If you plan on pursuing this course because you want to be a counsellor, great! However, you need to know that psychology encompasses a much broader and interesting discipline. Who knows, you might find that your interest lies elsewhere.

Throughout your studies, you’ll be exposed to a range of modules and topics such as social psychology, criminology, abnormal psychology, educational psychology and health psychology. While what you learn in your degree is basic and fundamental knowledge, it sets a foundation for passion and interest which will help you decide which specialisation or career you want to pursue upon graduation.

The best part, a degree in psychology doesn’t necessarily mean you have to become a psychologist or counsellor! The degree alone provides you with a deep understanding of the human mind, making you a valuable asset in a wide variety of industries, whether it’s education, marketing, advertising, human resources or writing. Not to mention the transferable skills and tools that you gained from your studies will help you be adaptable in any environment.

Psychology is more than just a pile of textbooks. It touches on every aspect of real life and that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a fascinating field. As long as you’re passionate about the subject and are curious about what you’re learning, you’ll get along just fine in this field.

How to Succeed in Psychology Courses

So you’ve decided that psychology is the right path for you. Wonderful! Studying the mind can be extremely rewarding, as it grants insight into how people think and behave the way they do.

Luckily for you, I’ve blazed the trail and have made it to the other side in mostly one piece. I’m here to share what I learned from both my successes and mistakes, so you don’t have to totally wing it!

Here are my top four tips for budding psychologists. Following these will save a lot of pain later in your academic career.

1: Psych 101 is important—pay attention!

Every psychology major (along with almost every other college student) will take Psych 101. This is your foundation. Every psychology course from here on out will reference concepts and people you learn about in this introductory course.

My greatest success in Psych 101: I painstakingly drew out, color-coded, and labeled a diagram of the brain. This is something that I referenced in every. Single. Course. It truly helped me throughout college.

My greatest failure: I did not take good notes on anything else. Learn from my mistakes!

2: Get your terms right.

In Psych 101, you will be flooded with potentially brand-new terms that are necessary to understand both for your academic success and the sake of your grades. Don’t assume you know what a term means! (Even if you’ve heard it before.) It is entirely possible that a term meaning something very technical in the psychological field is widely misunderstood by the general population.

Here are some examples of commonly confused concepts:

Psychologist vs psychiatrist. Psychologists are trained in psychological testing, and often use a therapeutic approach when treating patients. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who primarily diagnose mental disorders and prescribe medications. These titles are easily confused, especially because the two often assist one another with the same patient!

Introverted vs antisocial. Introversion is a personality trait which could be described as a preference for one’s inner world (as opposed to the external world). Antisocial, on the other hand, is a personality disorder that is far from introversion or “shyness.” Those with antisocial personality disorder have a complete disregard for the rights of others and lack of remorse, among other symptoms.

Psychosis vs psychopathy. Psychosis describes a mental break with reality, which could involve a number of causes (schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease, for example). It is a symptom, not a disorder itself. Psychopathy is described by professionals as a disorder which manifests itself as amoral and antisocial behavior. Psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder (described in the point above) are seen as similar, if not identical, disorders. Either way, psychosis and psychopathy are very different!

3: Focus on the theories.

As previously mentioned, psychology is a science—a relatively new one at that—and therefore there aren’t many things that everyone agrees on. Like all sciences, Psychology uses the scientific method: observing, hypothesizing, testing, theorizing. As theories are developed, evaluated, and refined, psychologists better understand the human mind and are able to apply this knowledge to their specific field of work. Psychology students study the theories resulting from the scientific method of research.

Therefore it’s crucial to understand:

who some of the foundational theorists were,

what they theorized,

and how it’s been tested.

For instance, Freud, Pavlov, and Erickson were groundbreaking in their particular views of the human mind and behavior. Their theories will come up in almost every psychology course you take, so be sure to understand their theories thoroughly and early in your studies—you’ll thank yourself later!

4: Understand your worldview before starting your studies.

The field of psychology can be a confusing place, with conflicting theories and strong opinions continuously begging for your attention. This is why it’s especially important in this field to know what you believe before beginning your studies.

Your philosophical opinions should form your psychological ones—not the other way around.

Psychologists all have different worldviews, and as the science evolves, theories that once appeared solid reveal themselves to be shaky at best. If psychology shapes your worldview, it is entirely possible that you will have an illogical worldview that borrows from several opposing views, and falls apart when theories are disproven.

Understanding your own views prior to burying yourself in psychological theories will help you to sort through the opinions and find which ones fit within your own beliefs and understanding of the world.

However difficult it may seem, it is possible to view psychology from the lenses of your worldview and understand how it fits! It’s your job to always wear those hypothetical glasses to interpret theories, therapeutic approaches, and psychological studies according to your views, not the theorist’s.

Whether you go for a B.S. in Psychology: Life Coaching to assist people in achieving their goals, or you end up becoming a super-genius psychiatrist addressing mental health medically, all psychology students should remember that psychology is science, paying attention in Psych 101 is essential, and knowing your worldview will keep you from drowning in theories!

Understanding these basic principles will help you survive your psychology studies with little to no scarring. You’ll come out with a better understanding of yourself and humanity in general, and will be well equipped to help your fellow man in whatever profession you choose. That’s the goal, right?

Read on to get the latest information on how to become a clinical psychologist in south africa, how many years to become a clinical psychologist, how to become a clinical psychologist uk, how to become a clinical psychologist in canada, what education is needed to become a psychologist and what is a clinical psychologist. You will find more up to date information on things every psychology students should know related articles on Collegelearners.

Psychology students problems

People think you are a mind reader. When you tell people what you are majoring in, they ask if you can read their mind.
You spend more time on APA format than any other subject. Your edition of the APA publication manual is dog-eared and the pages are filled with yellow highlighter marks.
All of your friends seem to have undiagnosed psychological conditions. You have tried to diagnose yourself and your friends with mental disorders. During your abnormal psychology class, you found yourself constantly discovering new symptoms that explained why your friends behave the way they do.
You utilize behavioral training to solve everyday problems. You once used operant conditioning to train your roommate to stop leaving his dirty laundry on the floor in your apartment.
You can’t stop psychoanalyzing everyone in your life. You are pretty sure that your academic advisor has an oral fixation — he’s always chewing on something, be it a pen, his fingernails, or a stick of gum.
You spend more time in the library than you do in your dorm room. You are an old pro at writing APA papers and lab reports. Introduction, method, results, discussion — you know the parts of a psychology paper like the back of your hand.
You are known as the “listener” in your social group. All of your friends come to you for advice and you love being able to help. You truly do enjoy listening to people talk about their problems, trying to figure out why they think and behave the way they do, and coming up with solutions that might help.
You have used the phrase “correlation does not equal causation” more times than you care to admit. You also find yourself critiquing news articles that your friends share on Facebook because they constantly seem to confuse correlation with causation.
Psychology experiments are a lot more interesting now. When you volunteer for a psychology study, you find yourself trying to figure out what the independent and dependent variables are and what the researcher’s hypothesis might be.
You can tell the difference between ​negative reinforcement and punishment — and you get really frustrated when people confuse the two. Which is great, because I’ve even heard many graduate students say that they are still not 100% clear on some of the major behavioral concepts such as reinforcement, punishment, the unconditioned stimulus, and many other important terms.

You often find yourself having to define psychological terms to your friends and family because you keep using them in daily conversations. And you are starting to think that psychology should be a required class for all students, not just psychology majors. After all, wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone had a better understanding of the human mind and behavior?
Whenever you hear the word nature, the word nurture immediately pops into your head. You also have a much deeper appreciation for how these two forces interact to influence many different aspects of development.
When you meet someone new, you immediately assess which stage of psychosocial development they are in and how well they are coping with the primary conflict at that stage. You also tend to evaluate which stage of psychosexual development they might be stuck in or whether or not they ever progressed to the formal operational stage of cognitive development.
You have a dog named Pavlov, a cat named Thorndike, and a rat named Skinner. Doesn’t everyone name their pets after their favorite theorists?

You’re no longer terrified of statistics. You understand what significance levels, t-tests, standard deviations, and z-scores are. That doesn’t mean you enjoy statistics, however. You definitely still hate statistics.

Personal And Psychological Problems Of College Students

An increasing amount of attention is being directed to the transition to higher education as experienced by traditional-age and adult students. It is a movement that incorporates a great deal of stress and challenge. Although some students are able to experience this transition as a challenge to personal growth, other students are overwhelmed by the changes and experience emotional maladjustment and depression.

Issues of adjustment and general development require persistent attention by campus professionals due to the immediate relevance to college success. Complex psychological histories often underpin these problems, further complicating treatment. These difficulties are often present as inefficiencies in coping with familial separation, time and stress management, basic study techniques, goal setting, relationship formation, handling emotions, and self-esteem crystallization. Personal, academic, social, and professional success depend on the student’s ability to manage these aspects of their lives.

Family Dynamics

Families in the United States are experiencing significant stress and functional discourse marked by unparalleled changes in family structures. The home environment for many young people represents a place of instability and emotional upheaval where security, caring, and nurturing are depleted or nonexistent. Separation, divorce, death, or abandonment removes one or both parents from the family. The lack of attention and affection that may accompany such change adversely impacts children. Subsequent emotional and financial difficulties of a single parent household further strain the family dynamic.

Substance abuse; domestic violence; emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; and mental illness plague some families. At an alarming rate, young people enter higher education with dysfunctional family backgrounds that evoke stress and trepidation in students. For children of alcoholics, for example, the college social climate that is impressed by alcohol use produces significant anxiety as the student grapples with the personal and familial implications of watching and participating in drinking practices. It is imperative that schools recognize the existence and impact of family discourse and childhood trauma on students, and provide them with the support necessary to enable them to cope with their situations and succeed within the collegiate environment.


With a lifetime prevalence rate of 17 percent in the general population, a significant number of men and women suffer from a clinical episode of depression at some time in their lives, according to Chris Segrin and Jeanne Flora in 2000. An estimated 7 million women and 3.5 million men can be diagnosed with major depression in the United States; similar numbers are diagnosed as experiencing dysthymia, or minor depressive symptoms. College students are twice as likely to have clinical depression compared to people of similar ages and backgrounds in the workforce, according to Wayne A. Dixon and Jon K. Reid in 2000.

Depression manifests in varying degree from general symptomology to a clinical disorder. Symptoms occur in four general domains of human functioning: emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral, with mood disturbance being the predominant feature. Typical symptoms of depression include a change in appetite or weight, sleep, and psychomotor activity; decreased energy; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions; or recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation. Anhedonia, or a loss of interest in activities that were once considered pleasurable, accompany social withdrawal. Depression is a risk factor for a number of other negative health outcomes including diminished immune function and poor illness recovery.

Depression constitutes a problem of enormous personal and social significance, and its impact on American college students is indisputable. Depression interferes with intra- and interpersonal processes, academic and social integration, and retention. Some depressed individuals may evince a hostile, uncooperative, and self-criticizing interpersonal style eliciting negative responses from others. Poor social skills and social acuity are thought to make people vulnerable to the onset of depressive symptomology and other psychosocial problems pursuant to the experience of negative stressful life events.

Eating Disorders

Typically developing between the ages of twelve and twenty-five, eating disorders are a life-threatening reality for 5 to 10 percent of American women and girls past puberty. An estimated 64 percent of college women exhibit some degree of eating disorder behavior, a situation that pushes the body image issue to the forefront of concern in higher education. Although most people diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia nervosa are women, men also suffer from these disorders.

Problematic eating behavior is best conceptualized on a continuum that illustrates the range of eating behavior from normal to weight-preoccupied to chronic dieter to subthreshold bulimia/anorexia and full bulimia/anorexia. Compulsive dieting and overeating behaviors fail to meet the clinical criteria for a label of disorder. These practices, however, often intensify and reach eating disorder status.

Eating disorders stem from a complex interaction of biological, psychological, sociological, spiritual, and cultural factors. American culture’s emphasis on thinness and physical beauty, the prevalence of dieting, myths about food and nutrition, and perfectionistic expectations contribute to this growing problem. Eating disorders often start when an individual experiences a major problem and feels helpless and out of control. It is not uncommon for a student suffering from an eating disorder to report a personal or family history of eating or mood disorders. They typically possess a character profile of achievement-oriented personality, low self-esteem, and drive for perfectionism. Obsession, loneliness, anxiety, depression, guilt, fear of sexual maturation, and feelings of inadequacy are psychological correlates often associated with problematic eating behaviors.

Substance Use

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use on college and university campuses poses tremendous concern for parents, students, higher education professionals, governmental officials, and the general community. No school is immune to substance use and resulting adverse consequences. Alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are the most commonly used drugs on college campuses, but this use encompasses drugs of varying forms including amphetamine, caffeine, cocaine, hallucinogen, inhalants, opioid, phencyclidine, sedative, hypnotic, anxiolytic, steroids, and polysubstances. An essential feature of substance abuse is a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to recurrent and clinically significant impairment or adverse consequences. Substance use and abuse are characterized by noted inefficiencies in life functioning, impaired relationships, high-risk behavior, and recurrent legal troubles. Substance dependency emerges from repeated use of the substance despite significant problems related to its use.

Substance abuse appears to be etiologically linked to “complex interactions of genetic predisposition, psychological vulnerability, and sociocultural influences” (Archer and Cooper, p. 77). Extensive family history of addiction, poor self-esteem, negative emotional orientation, and few coping skills actively play a role in substance dependency. Skewed perceptions of social norms, peer values and behaviors, and pre-college substance use influence a student’s use patterns. Many students who abuse substances are unready to recognize how their life is being adversely affected by their use, and believe substance use to be a part of normal development and experimentation.

The negative effects of student substance use are not campus centered, and impact both the campus and wider communities. Substance use is associated with increased absenteeism from class and poor academic performance. The majority of injuries, accidents, vandalism, sexual assaults and rape, fighting, and other crime on- and off-college campus are linked to alcohol and other drug use. Unplanned and uninhibited sexual behavior may lead to pregnancy, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS. Driving under the influence, tragic accidents, alcohol poisoning, overdosing, and even death from accidents, high-risk behaviors, and suicide carry tremendous, life-threatening implications for all involved. Tobacco use is associated with severe health risks and illness, physical inefficiency, and even death. Fires caused by careless smoking practices place all students at risk.

Students who abstain, use legally, or use in moderation often suffer secondhand effects from the behaviors of students who use substances in excess. Nonbinging and abstaining students may become the targets of insults and arguments, physical assaults, unwanted sexual advances, vandalism, and humiliation. Sleep depravation and study interruption results when these students find themselves caring for intoxicated students.

Other Psychological Disorders
Summer M. Berman and colleagues estimated in 2000 that 37 percent of Americans between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four, many of whom are college students, have a diagnosable mental illness. The fact that the age of onset for many major illnesses is the years from eighteen to twenty-four, the range in which most traditional-age students fall, further complicates the matter. Higher education must realize that a large percentage of college students are, or will be, affected by mental illness. These disorders range from mild and short-lived to chronic and severe, including such illnesses as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, and appear at varying rates on campuses.

The early-twenty-first-century student brings a set of experiences and personal and psychological problems that may predispose them to mental illness. It is not unusual for a college counseling and mental health center to diagnose students with anxiety, mood, eating, impulse-control, personality, substance-related or other mental disorders. Students may enter college with challenges originating from learning, attention-deficit, and disruptive behavior disorders that are first diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adolescence. Dual diagnosis further complicates students’ social and academic integration and success.

If detected, most mental illnesses are treatable or manageable, allowing the individual to proceed effectively through life’s daily routines. Unfortunately, many cases are not diagnosed or treated, and the consequences for the college student are life altering. Many students diagnosed with mental illness withdraw from college before earning a bachelor’s degree; however, with proper attention and support they may have been successful in the collegiate environment.

Campus Services

The services that institutions provide to address students’ personal and psychological problems depend heavily on the school’s philosophy, available resources, and campus need. Colleges and universities of all types should develop and implement confidential services that span multiple policy arenas in order to sufficiently address these problems. Creating partnerships with various facets of the institution, such as the college counseling and mental health center, student health services, women’s center, learning center, spiritual and religious organizations, and other associations, expands the scope of programs offered and students affected.

Comprehensive initiatives that incorporate the domains of psychotherapy, treatment, prevention, outreach, academics and learning, and career, enable institutions of higher education to sufficiently ensure that services are meeting the diverse personal and psychological needs of students. Individual, group, couples, and children and family counseling opportunities address issues related to family, relationship, and personal dynamics. Psychological, neuropsychological, alcohol and drug, and career assessments provide information necessary to better serve the student. Colleges and universities also disperse self-help and educational materials as well as employ standardized programs and interactive computer systems. Schools may outsource counseling services or develop a referral system to direct students to services offered in the community. Connections with twelve step and support groups within the community further assist students. Outreach within and outside the campus enables schools to educate society about the issues surrounding personal and psychological problems and programs.

10 ways to survive being a psychology student

How do you survive as a psychology student? It might be a daunting prospect, but we here at OUP are here to give you a helping hand through three years of cognitive overload. Here are our top tips:

1. Do some essential reading before you start your degree! Psychology is a very broad subject, so build some strong foundations with a wide reading base, especially if you’re new to the subject. Check out our Essential Book List to get you started (and recommendations welcome in the comments below).

2. Stay up-to-date with current affairs. Psychology is a continually evolving subject, with new ideas and perspectives emerging all the time. Read blogsjournals, and magazines; watch TED talks; listen to podcasts; and scan newspapers for psychology-themed stories.

3. Always keep your eyes and ears open. University is your chance to learn beyond the classroom. Pay attention to life – just watching your favourite TV programme can give you an insight into how a theoretical concept might actually work. Use everyday events and interactions to deepen your understanding of psychological ideas.

4. Learn from everyone around you. Psychology asks questions about how we as humans think – so go and think together with some other humans! Compare and contrast different ideas and approaches, and make the most of group learning or other opportunities, like taking part in other people’s surveys or experiments. Joining your university psychology society is a great way to learn from your peers and to balance work with play.

Photo by Reidaroo CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons
Business Student. Photo by Reidaroo CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

5. Learn how to study independently. This is your chance to learn what you want, not what you have to. You will have much greater academic freedom than ever before. Wherever you choose to study, you will have to take on your own independent research, and if you see yourself building a career in psychology, then independent investigation is crucial.

6. Hone your note-taking / diagram-making skills. On your laptop, tablet, smartphone — or with paper and pens — you’ll be writing a lot of notes over the course of your degree. Referencing and formatting might not seem like the most exciting aspects of your degree, but good preparation and organisation will make them more bearable (and quicker!). Get to know how best you learn, remember and process information.

7. Get enough sleep. Sitting up late staring at textbooks and computer screens is easy, but it’s not the healthiest habit to get into. Studying well is less about the number of hours you put in, than how effectively you spend those hours. Keep up a balanced diet, stay hydrated, do regular exercise, and find someone to talk to if you’re feeling stressed.

8. Don’t be afraid to admit to your own weaknesses. Psychology is a demanding subject, and questions are more common than neat answers.

9. Try to enjoy your studies. There are many ideas to explore, from behaviour to dreams, memory to psychoanalysis. Keep looking at different topics that interest you to stay motivated. When it does get too much, don’t be afraid to step back and take a break.

10. Finally, remember what psychology is about. You can get lost in surveys and experiments, theories and concepts, but try to always keep in mind what drew you to psychology in the first place. In studying psychology you’re taking part in a great tradition of questioning how the human mind works and behaves – be proud of that.


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