previous page

Why Study Psychology in New Zealand?

Welcome to Aotearoa New Zealand! Land of Hobbits, and many, many sheep

Just to give a bit of context (because social psychologists are all about the context), Aotearoa New Zealand has a population of about 4.5 million people, around the same as the Republic of Ireland. Just over two-thirds are Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent), with a further 15% identifying as Māori (‘indigenous’ New Zealanders). Generally speaking, we enjoy a high standard of living, and Lonely Planet (and other experts) characterise Aotearoa New Zealand as a brilliant place to live, work, or visit. The New Zealand Tourism body markets the place via a campaign characterised by branding us as “100% Pure New Zealand”, accompanied by pictures of pristine mountainscapes and Hobbit holes.

Social, legal, and political relations between Pākehā and Māori are strongly influenced by the closest thing to a constitutional document that we have – Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi). Signed in 1840, signatories included Chiefs of the major Māori tribes, and representatives of the British Crown. The treaty has three articles describing the boundaries of Crown sovereignty and the right to self-determination by Māori. As a result of this (still contested) agreement, Māori have been able to make arguments for restitution for historical grievances that have been denied to aboriginal Australians (New Zealand’s ‘West’ Island). Studying in New Zealand isn’t just about academics, it’s also a cultural experience.


Victoria University of Wellington

This information isn’t provided (solely) as an advert for our attractions, but rather because it’s useful in understanding the emphases on psychology in the region.

An introduction to New Zealand Universities and psychology departments

Psychology is one of the most popular subjects for University study in New Zealand, and many students take psychology as a complement to a vocational course of study such as law or commerce. There are eight Universities in New Zealand, all ranked in the world’s top 4% according to QS World University Rankings. Because of where we sit in the world, New Zealand Universities are really internationalised – many faculty and students come to us from outside of New Zealand.

Seven-ish Universities have identifiable Psychology Departments, three of which (Victoria University of Wellington, Auckland, and Otago) are ranked in the top 100 departments in the world. What this means is that you can be confident that you’re getting a world-class psychology education around these parts.

Undergraduate Psychology in New Zealand

What does an undergraduate degree involve?

Because of the relatively small number of high-quality Psychology Departments, we’re all pretty broad in what we cover as part of an undergraduate degree in Psychology. All departments provide an excellent grounding in the basics, with a small number of introductory courses that span the breadth of psychology, a slightly larger set of second year courses that consolidate the foundation in these key areas (like social, developmental, abnormal, cognitive, and biopsychology), and a larger set at third year in which you start to specialise. At Victoria University of Wellington, for example, you can study ‘Crime, Psychology and the Law’, or ‘Cross-Cultural Psychology’. At the same time, Otago offers ‘Comparative Cognition’, Canterbury includes ‘Health Psychology and Behaviour Change’, and Massey University offers ‘The Psychology of Women’. As a requirement for accreditation, Psychology Departments are typically required to ensure that students develop some level of cultural competence, and in New Zealand this means familiarity with Māori, so come learn about indigenous psychology. 

You can typically take psychology as a major subject towards a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree, depending on what your interests are. New Zealand degrees are a flexible alternative to North American-style liberal arts degrees (where you study a broad range of things) and United Kingdom-style specialist degrees (where you study pretty much only one thing throughout). As a general rule, you’ll need to spend about half your courses studying psychology over the course of your three-year degree, and that means you’ll also have the flexibility to fill out the other half with psychology (because you love it!) or with something else that interests you. Want to do a BA in Psychology and Criminology? Maybe a BSc in Psychology and Biology? Some universities allow students to take a second Major from outside of their degree home – for example, at Victoria University of Wellington, you could complete a Bachelor of Science with perforated majors in Psychology and Chinese. Increasingly, Universities are seeking to provide opportunities for students to do internships with organisations outside of the university as part of their study and preparation for the workforce, and this will only increase in years to come.    

International students can expect to pay NZ$25,000 to $30,000 per year of study towards a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

Postgraduate Psychology & Psychology Research in New Zealand

Research and postgraduate study

Having said that all universities offer undergraduate degrees in Psychology that span the breadth of the discipline, it’s at postgraduate level that things start to get really exciting. In New Zealand, an institution can only be a university if its staff are actively involved in research pushing the frontiers of theory and practice. Every three to six years, universities receive a report card of the quality of their research activities. In the most recent (2012) evaluation, Victoria was ranked first for research quality, while Auckland and Otago have also taken turns at the number one spot in prior evaluations.

Postgraduate study is research, and thanks to these regular audits, you can be confident of a world-class postgraduate experience. As well as Masters and Doctorate degrees, one of the drawcards offered by all psychology departments involves training to registration as a clinical psychologist. In New Zealand, this is a postgraduate degree that requires either a three-year undergraduate degree, or one-year graduate diploma in Psychology as a prerequisite. All Clinical Psychology programmes are accredited by the New Zealand Psychologists Registration Board.

In terms of distinctiveness, New Zealand’s unique culture and history play out in a range of novel postgraduate qualifications that span theory, research and practice. For example, Waikato University offers a Master of Applied Psychology degree that can be taken in organisational psychology, behaviour analysis or community psychology. Auckland offers Masters and PhD in Health Psychology, and Victoria offers Masters in Cross-Cultural Psychology, Forensic Psychology, and Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience.

International students pay up NZ$30,000 to 40,000 per year for Masters of psychology, but (and it’s a ‘but’ worth paying attention to) international students pay domestic fees for PhD study (around NZ$6,000 to $7,000 per year).

Useful Links - Psychology Departments in New Zealand

Useful links:

New Zealand Psychological Society:

Psychology Departments:

Victoria University:






Auckland University of Technology:


Marc Wilson is an Associate Professor of Psychology, and Associate Dean at the Faculty of Science, at Victoria University of Wellington. He is an award-winning teacher, and describes himself as intellectually indigenous to Victoria University, as he went there to study straight from secondary school, and never left. He teaches social psychology, research methods and statistics, and political psychology. When you enrol to study at Victoria, Marc will be the first person to teach you, because he coordinates the first-year psychology courses.