I got a 2:2 or a low 2:1. What can I do?

Information about qualifications, experience and the typical career path
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I got a 2:2 or a low 2:1. What can I do?

Post by miriam »

First, we need to acknowledge this is a big setback. It might be time to review whether clinical psychology is the right career path for you, as this will make it more challenging to gain a place on most courses. If you are still determined it is, then brace yourself for significant additional hurdles to overcome. Grade inflation means that most courses require a high 2:1, and won't consider candidates with a 2:2 - though there are some attempts being made to contextualise academic attainments, and a few of the courses with assessments will still allow you to apply with a low 2:1 (Lancaster are the most open-minded about academic background). For most of the others you will need to show evidence of your academic potential by gaining a postgraduate qualification with a high mark.

I know someone who got on with a low 2:1 or even a 2:2

Yes, there are some individuals who manage this, and we share some examples below. But bear in mind the picture has changed over time due to rampant grade inflation. So the fact someone got on with a 63% degree mark in the 1990s without a postgraduate qualification doesn't mean you will find it equally easy now.

If you want some depressing figures, in my graduation year (1995) under 4% of the 8000 psychology graduates got a first, and one third got a 2:1 or above - so the "2:1 or above" criterion for clinical courses meant 2700 grads were eligible to apply for the clinical doctoral courses per year group. By comparison, in 2018/19, 30% of 20,000 students got a first and 80% of students got a 2:1 or above - so the "high 2:1" or 67% threshold courses ask for is actually lower in real terms than it was in my day, and includes more than double the number of people. That means it is statistically easier to reach the academic standard required now, even though the grade category threshold appears to have gone up. Looking at it in terms of how you compare to your peers who graduated the same year, a "low 2:1" mark of 60-63% is now actually well below average and means that about 15,000 other psychology graduates in your cohort scored higher.

Why does this matter? Does it really make a difference to how good a therapist you will be?

Let me answer that in terms of the course and in terms of the job a qualified CP will do:
1) Doctoral courses are self-evidently two steps more demanding than an undergrad degree, and are generally undertaken by people in the top 5% of the population, which is why courses want to see proof of your academic potential in the form of high scores in the selection assessments and/or high marks in your degree and/or a postgraduate qualification. And that is why getting a high mark in your MSc, and this involving autonomous study and a substantial research project or dissertation is important when trying to boost an undergrad grade - as like undergraduate degrees, now students are paying for their courses the vast majority of them pass, and the clinical courses want to see evidence of academic potential rather than of the wealth to pay for a course.
2) When it comes to the role of a CP, this isn't just as a highly skilled and well-paid therapist. We are scientist practitioners who are expected to constantly update our knowledge from the research literature, and to contribute to this ourselves. We often administer and score psychometrics, which require some mathematical insight, and we write complex reports synthesising multiple sources of information - a task remarkably similar to writing a thesis - and in the case of many of my court reports, just as long! We are often involved in service development, research and audit, and in training and supervising others. Each involves being able to apply scientific methods, gather and analyse data, and disseminate the results, as well as having interpersonal skills, empathy and the ability to listen without imposing our own preconceived ideas.

Nettyb and Mr. M have given some useful thoughts on this topic from the perspective of people who have trained in CP after gaining lower degree marks and these are compiled here:
Oh no! I got a 2:2

Getting a 2:2 in your undergraduate degree is likely to be incredibly disheartening if your dream is to become a clinical psychologist. All through my A level Psychology and undergraduate degree it was made very clear that if you wanted to progress onto the clinical psychology training course you had to have a 2:1.

When I got my 2:2 I thought it was the end of the world and considered changing my career plans because I thought I would never get anywhere within Clinical Psychology. I then heard a rumour that some doctoral training courses do accept people that have 2:2s and I decided to investigate and give Clinical Psychology a go.

Is the rumour true?

Well, it wasn't as true in my day or in my case. The stats about the profession as a whole, and from the clearing house website, do suggest that people do get on to clinical training courses if they have a 2:2 (I am one of them). The vast majority of these people will also have good, relevant postgraduate qualifications at Masters or PhD level. A scan of the course info from the clearing house website indicates that some courses will accept applications from people with a 2:2 as long as they have completed a Masters level qualification that is relevant to clinical psychology. Some courses however will not consider applicants with 2:2s at all - so you will need to pick and choose carefully where you apply to.

What do I need to do to get on the course with a 2:2 then?

There are a number of things that you can do to increase your chances of getting on a course.

1. Get a good post grad qualification

First things first you need to complete a relevant masters or PhD level course, and get a very good mark to show your academic potential. The advice that I was given (and have since passed on to other 2:2 applicants) is that you must choose a course that interests you. There is a vast array of master’s courses out there, but most people tend to study masters courses in Psychological Research Methods, Applied Psychology, Health Psychology and Mental Health. Ultimately you need to aim to get at least a Merit for your masters as this shows that you have a good level of academic ability.
When I asked courses about my chances of being short listed for interview I was also told that you can be sure the course is relevant if your masters confers GBC status, and this is advantageous simply because the courses need to know that you have received a good grounding in Psychology.

If you are thinking of doing a PhD look here for more advice.

2. Get good clinical experience and learn how to reflect on it!

This advice goes for those who have 2:1s and above too. Get as much clinical experience as you can, preferably supervised by a clinical psychologist. Try and get some support work experience or a voluntary AP post whilst you are finishing your masters.

Some people argue that it is impossible to get an AP post with a 2:2; however the evidence suggests that this is not the case. Most AP posts I have seen lately have advertised for a psychology degree alone or will specify that if you have a 2:2 then your application will be considered if you also have a completed MSc. Getting that first AP post can be difficult for even those with 1sts so try to get some relevant experience from other posts, E.g. NA, support worker, GMHW etc till that elusive AP post comes along.

If you have a 2:2 when applying for AP posts you need to really sell yourself - show the potential employer that you have a great personality and what you have learned from any relevant experiences you have had. Use the experience of being disappointed about your degree result as an experience that you have learned from to demonstrate how you cope with disappointment and adverse situations. Strictly follow the person specification to structure your application and wow them with how you match all the requirements. Also refer to the job description and demonstrate your knowledge of the area you are applying to work in.

Once you have started gaining your experience start to reflect on it. Think about theory to practise links, how what you have done has affected the client, how what happens at work affects you, how you could do things differently if you face similar situations in the future etc. Some people find that keeping a diary of their learning really helps them to focus their course and job applications.

Working as a Research Assistant may also help in that courses will be clearer about your research skills. Gaining publications in peer-reviewed journals can also show your academic potential.

3. Write a good course application

This is of course relevant to all applicants but in particular to applicants with 2:2s; put across as much of your personality in the form, let the selectors see that you are an interesting individual and not a clinical clone, this will definitely help separate your application from the hundreds of others that all sound the same.

If you only just missed on a 2:1 write in your overall percentage score next to your grade in the qualifications box. This demonstrates that you are a stronger 2:2 applicant, and give the percentage you scored in your MSc to show this is at or above the mark they seek at undergraduate level. The from also provides you with some space to explain why you feel you have underperformed, so use this if you feel you have a valid reason for your underperformance.

4. Apply to sympathetic courses

Try contacting the admissions tutors of courses that you are interested in and ask them what they think of your situation. They may be able to provide you with advice on specific forms of experience that you may be missing or could build on. Make a list of the sympathetic courses and narrow your choices down to courses that will accept people with 2:2s and which suit your orientation.

The criteria for courses change regularly, so do check the individual course's clearing house entry for the year you are applying. Do not expect that it is the same as it was last year. In more recent years, the threshold for many courses has shifted to requiring a mid-high 2:1. The individual course entries are here http://www.leeds.ac.uk/chpccp/courses.html

A final point:

Remember that your application form is key! If you are selected at interview your degree class won’t be a factor in their decision making … your performance on the day however will!

Finally, I’d like to wish you good luck. This process is a difficult one for everyone who wants to become a Clinical psychologist and whilst having a 2:2 is a disadvantage it certainly isn’t a disaster!

Some other thoughts on whether clinical psychology is the be all and end all

If you are only beginning your final year, you still might have a chance to improve your overall grade, as the final year is usually the most important. Whatever amount of effort this will take is worth it, as compensating later is going to be much harder. If you do end up with a 2:2 you might be able to repeat a year of university, or retake exams, to try to improve your classification. Otherwise you will need to aim for publications and/or a postgraduate qualification, and be willing and determined to have a harder longer path into clinical training.

I don't mean to be negative, but you have to give a realistic appraisal to what your chances of getting qualified in clinical psychology are. After all, if in the academic chances you have had so far you have not managed to excel and you are unsure of whether you could manage a post graduate course, AP posts, and the doctoral course itself you need to take a step back and think about what impeded you so far, and if these are things you can or cannot change. If you cannot change them then maybe you need to consider other career paths. Bear in mind that self-funding through a masters degree is a long and expensive commitment even if you have sufficient motivation and ability, and that will only put you "in the running" and only for some jobs and courses.

A realistic look at the competitive nature of the path to qualifying in clinical psychology says that it is pretty darn tough even for those with a 2:1 or first. To compensate for a 2:2 will take time and determination in even bigger amounts than normal, and this might mean more years before you qualify, when you could be a mental health nurse or social worker in only a year or two, so it is well worth going back to basics and deciding whether clinical psychology is the only career that would fulfil you. Not many people really know what CPs actually do, so it would be good to try and learn more about this, perhaps meet up with one or shadow them if you can, and also to learn about other related professions. It might also be that you could work in another profession and then move across into CP in time, if that is still what you want to do, whilst the other profession might offer a great career in its own right. I've met some great CPs with previous careers as nurses, social workers, teachers etc, but I've also met plenty of people who are super happy working as a CBT therapist, mental health nurse, social worker or another role in the NHS (eg in research or management) who had initially aspired to be CPs.
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Content checked by a Qualified Clinical Psychologist on 7/04/2021.
Last modified on 7/04/2021

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Re: I got a 2:2 or a low 2:1. What can I do?

Post by RJParker »

Not all DClinPsy programmes would agree with sentiments of this post in several places. I would suggest to anyone reading this to look at the different programmes and what they look for in a trainee before making any decisions.
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