7 Ways to get Psychology Experience Before Applying for University

by | 3 Mar, 2023 | Psychology

Gaining psychology experience before applying to university not only enhances your application, but it can also help you gain a deeper insight into the subject before you choose to dedicate three or more years to studying it.

It is infamously difficult to get direct psychology experience before your degree, as fields are often protected until you have the right qualifications. That said, there are still a number of ways to get some valuable experience, and although they may not all be directly related to the subject, they can still help you gain vital skills for a Psychology degree and career.

Student working on laptop

1. Shadowing

This involves observing a professional psychologist, or other psychology professional, in order to gain a better understanding of their role.

While this is a more passive form of gaining experience, it can be a really great first step and give you a better understanding of what a particular role is really like. This type of experience is rarely advertised, but being proactive and approaching individuals or organisations you are interested in can help you secure a hidden opportunity. For advice on how to do this, check out Prospect’s How to ask employers for work experience article. 

If you’re interested in more clinical aspects of psychology, the NHS does offer some work shadowing opportunities, such as this one by NHS Cambridge University Hospitals for occupational psychology experience, or this one by Berkshire Healthcare. Check out the NHS foundation trusts in your area for opportunities local to you.


2. Virtual Experiences and Events

There has been a great global shift towards virtual experiences and events since the pandemic, which is actually quite useful in making psychology experience a bit more accessible. This can include:

  • Online webinars (such as these by the Royal Court of Psychiatrists, or these live-streamed by the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Oxford) 
  • Filmed psychology talks (such as these by the Royal Institution). For more video suggestions relevant to your personal interests, check out the OxBright Report.
  • Online internship programs can be a great way to gain experience in research or in the field.


3. Independent Qualifications

Another way to gain psychology experience and increase your psychological understanding is to take part in super-curricular courses. For example, OxBright offers Psychology & Neuroscience Online Courses to help you go beyond your classroom learning and turbocharge your understanding of the subject. You also receive a Certificate and Letter of Recommendation upon completion, which can be incredibly helpful when looking for future jobs, courses, internships etc. 

FutureLearn also offers a variety of psychology courses, many of which also provide certificates upon completion. These courses are particularly helpful if you have an idea of a field you want to specialise in, or learn more about. 

If you’re looking for more formal qualifications, you can also check out part-time courses run by local colleges or online. For example, the online learning college runs a number of courses in Psychology and Counselling, which result in formal qualifications (mostly at Level 3 and Level 4).


4. Internships

An internship is a period of work experience which lasts for a fixed term, and you can gain direct psychology experience by interning with an organisation involved in psychological research.

For example, the Department of Experimental Psychology at UCL runs some hands-on research internships for year 12 students, including the in2scienceUK programme and the Nuffield Research Placement.

5. Volunteering

Volunteering can be a great way to gain a bit of psychology experience every week over a longer period of time. It is important, however, to consider the time commitment required, as some may be difficult to juggle with your academic studies. 

You could consider volunteering for some mental health charities, such as Mind, Rethink, and more. Some NHS foundation trusts also offer volunteering programmes such as this one by NHS South London & Maudsley. These opportunities may be age-restricted due to the confidential nature of the work, but you could also try volunteering in the charity shops run by these charities, or even fundraising for the charity independently.


Indirect Psychology Work Experience

There are also several ways you can build your CV with more general work experience, which will also see you develop soft skills like communication as well as an awareness of the world of work. These will look great on your application to study a Psychology degree, too.


6. Extracurricular Activities

You may be able to get some psychology experience via extracurriculars, such as by being a mentor to younger students, or even completing training to be an in-house anti-bullying ambassador (see the anti-bullying training by the Diana Award), which will allow you to apply your psychological understanding to help others.

Any other extracurricular activities you undertake can be useful in developing relevant skills. For example, learning to play an instrument can express your creative skills and show persistence; or completing a programme like the Duke of Edinburgh award or the National Citizen Service can develop your planning, leadership and teamwork skills.


7. Part-Time Paid Work

This is probably one of the most difficult ways of getting psychology-specific experience before applying to university, because most paid jobs will require greater time commitments, which can be really difficult to balance with your academic studies.

It is unlikely that you will be able to find paid work in psychology at this time, because of the protected nature of the fields. Nonetheless, any part-time work can be useful in developing relevant skills, and offers more insight and experience in the working world than short-term and curated experiences such as internships, work shadowing etc.


Getting psychology experience before applying for university is not an easy feat, but it’s definitely not impossible. The most important thing is to be proactive in looking for experience; there is no harm in enquiring with organisations to see whether they can offer any experience, and it might reveal some hidden opportunities that you may not have otherwise found!

Universities know how difficult it is to get direct psychology experience at this level, so don’t worry too much about it if you’re really struggling, getting some work experience, even if it seems unrelated, can really help your application stand out.

Ready to get a head start on your future?


By Sophie Parker

Our Head of Content, Sophie, is responsible for our blog and our resources. She graduated from University College London, where she read English.