It’s about that time of year – the time when most third year psychology students start looking at applications for Honours programs and/or panicking about their grades, often in conjunction! I know I had many questions when I went through this process late last year. I am lucky to work in an office surrounded by psychologists and psychology students and had many a water-cooler/tea-room conversation with whoever would spare a ear. Most of my student compatriots seem to have had similar questions. I have collated a list of these FAQs below. Good luck with your applications!
1. What grades do I need to get into Honours?
It depends. Most Melbourne universities require a mid-DI (75+) average. Cut-off scores fluctuate by cohort, so it is best to contact each university individually to check on their current cut-off and to allow a +/- 3% margin around this.
2. Are there any alternatives to Honours?
Most universities will offer a full-fee Honours equivalent, often called a Graduate Diploma or Postgraduate Diploma. The cut-offs for these courses are often significantly lower than Honours, often by as much as 10%. This is a good alternative if you do not have the grades required to get into Honours. There is usually no difference in course content between Honours and Grad Dip courses. However, at my university, Grad Dip students typically work in a group project and collect their data in groups, whereas Honours students work individually. There is a trend towards this changing though, with many Honours projects now being conducted in a group format.
3. I didn’t get into an Honours course, is a Grad Dip/Postgrad Dip going to significantly disadvantage my postgraduate applications?
No. Postgraduate places are offered on the basis of a matrix of factors, including undergraduate and Honours grades, work experience, references and interview scores. Anecdotally, most of the postgraduate coursework students I know completed a Graduate Diploma, instead of Honours! The only time a Grad Dip might disadvantage you is if you come up against an Honours student who has the same grades, interview scores, references and experience as you. This is relatively unlikely, all things considered.
4. I don’t know what my universities requirements are for Honours entry.
Find out. Look at their website, contact the course administrators or course coordinators and attend an Honours information evening. Most universities hold these evenings in the second half of second semester. You should see flyers around your school. Also check your student email.
Never assume that you know what your universities criteria are, as this is liable to change. I know my undergraduate (and Honours) university has recently changed its Honours entry criteria to include second year results.
Also, some universities have specific requirements, like a mid CR (65+) for Research Methods subjects. This is something you should research at the start of your degree, you don’t want an unpleasant shock in third year.
5. I didn’t make the grade for an Honours or Graduate Diploma place, what do I do now?
Re-evaluate whether you want to be a psychologist and explore some of the other pathways and careers open to you (e.g. social work, occupational therapy, alcohol and drug counseling). There are many ways to work in a human services occupation and help people without being a ‘psychologist’. If you are determined that this is the path for you, then consider repeating some subjects as single subjects to bolster your grades. Most universities will allow you to do this. If you choose to do this, ensure that you speak to a coordinator first, so you repeat the correct subjects that are considered for Honours entry. As a general rule, they should be part of an APAC-accredited core major.
Use the time you spend repeating subjects to hone your academic skills, fine tune your writing and to gain some volunteer counseling experience. This will be invaluable in the long-term.
6. Does the university I go to matter?
Yes and no. It depends on what you want from the degree.
My view (and that of most of the people I have spoken with) is that the supervisor matters a lot more than the university as you will be working with them closely and will be dependent on them to have your back. The prestige of the university can certainly have an impact on your future career trajectory. However, as Honours is a portal into post-grad and not an end-point qualification for most of us, I would argue that the prestige of the university matters less than how well the university prepares you for life after Honours, the networking possibilities and the quality of teaching and supervision.
In addition, most Honours courses are highly similar in content due to APAC regulations. The main difference appears to lie in supervisor quality and support and staff and administrative support.
Realistically, most students complete Honours at their undergraduate university, so I would not spend too much time worrying about this.
7. Does it matter whether I do Honours through science, arts or psychology (e.g. Bachelor of Arts (Psychology Honours) vs Bachelor of Science (Psychology Honours)?
No, degree nomenclature is immaterial. There is no difference in course content between these courses.
8. …But I don’t want my degree to have ‘Arts’ in the title!
One of the first things you need to learn as a future psychologist is to separate out issues that matter, from issues that don’t. I am sure you can work out which category this one fits into.
9. How many universities do I apply to?
A glib answer would be ‘as many as you can’, but I think that is a waste of time.
Most universities have specific cut-offs and based on your current scores you will probably be able to work out which courses you have a chance of being accepted into. If you are averaging 75+ for instance, I would not apply to UoM or Monash, as it is very unlikely you will be offered a place. Conversely, if you have a 95+ average, you can be selective about which universities you study at and only apply to top-tier universities or universities that house supervisors you really want to work with.
Realistically, I would look at applying to at least 5-6 universities in your home state if you have a good average (i.e. 80+) and more if your average is between 70-80.
10. How do I find out application deadlines?
Websites and course administrators are your friends. Find out what these deadlines are as soon as possible, because there is nothing worse than scrambling to get an application together at the last minute whilst sitting third year exams!
11. Do universities have application fees for Honours?
For domestic students, no.
12. What documentation do I need to provide?
Check with each university individually, it differs. As a guide, you will be asked to complete a form, provide proof of identity documentation, a certified academic transcript and the names of 2 referees.
Yes, now is a good time to start attending tutorials! I asked two of my lecturers who I had developed good rapport with to be my referees. Approach your lecturers and tutors prior to listing them as a referee.
14. But, my friends said you have to get at least 90% to get into Honours!
As House says, “everybody lies”. One of the most difficult lessons I learned during my undergraduate degree was to take with a large pinch of salt, most hearsay. There is a large amount of hyperbole, paranoia and hysteria around Honours and postgraduate applications and subsequently, quite a fund of rumors and exaggeration. Unfortunately, this is fueled by students sharing misinformation with other students and feeding the panic. The best thing you can do for yourself is to go straight to the source (i.e. lecturers, administrators and coordinators), ignore the hyperbole, learn stress-management techniques and develop a sense of skepticism about statements from non-credible sources.
15. Can I defer an Honours offer?
Usually not, as Honours offers are dependent on the level achieved by your cohort not a standard cut-off i.e. they are norm referenced not criterion referenced.
16. Can I apply for Honours more than once?
17. Can I study Honours part-time?
I am. Most universities will allow this, but it is best to check with the course administrators and coordinators.
If you have any other questions, email me or drop me a tweet @PsychWhisperer Good luck!