How to...choose a University course

By Maria Gardner


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As more and more business psychology related courses become available, how do you decide which one is right for you?

There is no simple or straight forward answer to this question. However, asking yourself the following will point you in the right direction...

What do you want to get out of completing the qualification?

This might seem like a ‘big question’ but ultimately you need to pin down why you want to complete the MSc and how you see it aiding you on your journey into becoming a practitioner of business psychology.

As highlighted in the next question, there are lots of variations on this core theme and by having a wider understanding of the career path you are aspiring too you can pick the course that is right for you.

What do you want to study?

When choosing a course the first thing to do is know what you are looking for and be able to recognise it. You may see courses listed along the following lines:

  • Occupational Psychology
  • Organisational Psychology
  • Business Psychology
  • Industrial Psychology
  • Work Psychology

These are the ones that are easy to recognise.  In addition, you may also find on offer others that have a more specialised focus, such as:

  • Psychology of Work
  • Organisational Development
  • Leadership & Talent Management
  • Organisational Behaviour
  • Organisation Development & Consultancy
  • Management Consultancy & Organisational Change
  • Organisational Change
  • Managerial Psychology

Full or part-time course? 

This may seem like a very practical or process-focused question; however it will have a significant impact on your studying experience.  Feedback from recent graduates is that the experience of a full-time course is always better than attending a course that is run part-time or distance learning.  The reasons for this are:

  • The hours on the full time courses are typically not that taxing
  • Better access to tutors to ask questions (very important),
  • Easier access to the  library and other non-online resources
  • Greater opportunities to network and interact with fellow students with whom to debate, share knowledge
  • It is easier to work on assignments that require collaboration
  • Full-time courses are typically better established, have been running for longer so have better infrastructure and support in place

If part time is your only option, seek out previous students of the courses you are interested in and ask their feedback.  Universities offering part-time or distance learning courses can have very different approaches to learning methods and the expectations of their students. It is also beneficial to check how long that university has been running a distance learning version of the course and what they support they offer part time students.  This will give you an idea of how well established their infrastructure is (which needs to be expansive and accessible) and what support they offer PT students.

How many people will be on your course?

This may seem like a less obvious question; however the number of fellow students has a noticeable impact on your learning experience. 

A small course will lead to you developing a closer bond with your fellow course mates and probably easier access to your tutors. The disadvantage is that for the courses with smaller student numbers there will be greater levels of competition for places and a 2:1 will be a minimum.  Universities with much larger course numbers have advantages in terms of diversity and variety but can have the downside of maybe not having such good access to tutors. 

What areas of specialism do the tutors have?

Asking this question is important because tutors tend to focus teaching on the areas that they are personally interested in. 

Whilst any Masters course will cover the key areas associated with business psychology, there will always be a greater focus on the areas where the tutors currently have research underway.  Hence, if you know you are more interested in organisational change and less in human factors, then review the profiles of the tutors and try to find a university where the fields of research reflects your interests. 

The tutors’ preferred areas of interest can also influence the level of support you will get for your thesis research.  A topic aligned with research that is already underway at that university is likely to garner you a greater level of support.  Picking a topic that none of your tutors have an interest in can lead to a lack of support or in extreme cases them refusing to be your supervisor. 

How connected are the tutors? 

Whilst it is a growing industry, getting your first job within Business Psychology can still be an uphill challenge.  Hence, attending a university where the tutors are well ‘connected’ can help you find you find work upon completion of your course.  They can point you in the direction of internships and paid research positions.  In addition, some tutors have developed tools that they have then licensed to test publishers and consultancies for distribution, so will be aware of relevant forthcoming vacancies.

Do the tutors have ‘real world’ experience?

Underpinning the discipline of Business Psychology is an understanding that it is fundamentally an ‘applied’ discipline.  However, whilst the situation has improved over the last 10 years, many courses are still taught by people who’ve spent their entire career in academia.  In essence, they have never ‘applied’ the theories, tools and techniques they teach in a real world setting.

The academia/consultancy divide is a long standing one, often debated but yet to be resolved.  Being taught by tutors that are not primarily academics isn’t a deal breaker but it is definitely desirable.  Courses run by tutors that have worked as practicing Business Psychologists it will provide an additional level of insight into what you are learning, which otherwise wouldn’t be possible on a purely academic course.