Professionals with specialized expertise in how people learn can often pursue a variety of lucrative and rewarding careers. Since many educational psychologists work as school psychologists, several schools offer doctoral programs in this field specially designed to train school psychologists. However, a Ph.D. in educational psychology offers a broader range of career opportunities, such as working as a college professor, researcher, or educational consultant.
Use this guide to explore the benefits of a doctoral degree in educational psychology, as well as the requirements for completing this degree and gaining licensure to practice psychology.
Earning a Ph.D. vs. an Ed.D.
Doctoral degrees available in educational psychology include Ph.D., Ed.D., and Psy.D. programs. Ph.D. programs focus on research, while Ed.D. and Psy.D. degrees emphasize the research application to professional practice in education or psychology. College professors and researchers must typically possess a Ph.D. The Ed.D. remains a popular option for professional educators like teachers, administrators, and counselors wanting to gain more expertise, qualify for an additional license, or move into a leadership position. Similarly, school psychologists hoping to advance their careers or enter independent clinical practice may benefit from completing a Psy.D.
All doctoral programs in educational psychology require approximately the same amount of credits and time to complete. However, the application and graduation requirements for Ed.D. and Psy.D. programs can be less rigorous than those for Ph.D. programs. Ph.D. programs require mastery of advanced statistical skills to complete an original dissertation, while Ed.D. programs typically require doctoral candidates to apply research to an existing problem in a capstone project or thesis.
Typical Admission Requirements:
Master's degree, 3.0 GPA, GRE
Time to Completion:
Why Get a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology?
Pursuing a doctorate in educational psychology can lead to new career opportunities and many personal and professional benefits, including those listed below.
- Practice as a school or educational psychologist.
- Teach education or psychology at the college level.
- Conduct educational or psychological research.
- Qualify to assess students and interpret test results.
- Learn to design instructional and behavioral interventions for struggling students.
While degree requirements for doctoral programs in educational psychology vary by school, degree type, program, and specialization, most Ph.D. programs in this field typically require the following.
Doctoral programs in educational psychology include core, specialization, and research methods courses. Research courses on quantitative methods, qualitative methods, research design, and statistical analysis prepare students to establish their dissertation research project and collect and analyze data. Other required course topics include human growth and development, learning and motivation, educational assessment, educational research literature, and behavioral interventions.
Some doctoral programs in educational psychology, especially those with an emphasis in school psychology, counseling, or clinical practice, may require one or more field practicums. During these supervised field placements, doctoral students work in schools to develop specific professional skills, such as educational assessment, as part of a graduate course.
After taking all required coursework and comprehensive exams, doctoral students complete their degree by proposing, writing, and defending a doctoral thesis. Students register for courses that guide them through the research process -- from framing a research question to collecting and analyzing data. Students also work with one or more faculty advisors as they write their dissertation and prepare for an oral defense. It often takes students one or more years to complete a dissertation or capstone project.
To obtain state licensure, psychologists must complete supervised clinical hours. Requirements vary by state, with many requiring 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised practice. Doctoral students in psychology typically complete some of these hours as part of a one-year, APA-approved internship. They complete the remaining hours through a postdoc after graduation. Check with your state regarding any specific internship requirements for the type of license you seek.
What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology?
Most doctoral degree-holders in educational psychology work as school psychologists, college professors, consultants, researchers, or leaders in K-12 education. They use their expertise on how people learn to help educators improve learning outcomes, design educational interventions for students with special learning needs, respond to test results, and develop better instructional materials.
Educational psychologists working directly with students must hold a license. All states license school psychologists and psychologists engaged in clinical practice, including professional educators like school administrators. The requirements to work as a psychologist vary by state but typically include a doctorate, 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical practice, and a passing score on the national exam. Similarly, educators must meet educational, internship, and exam requirements. Make sure to check with the state you wish to practice in with regards to licensing requirements and fees for your desired position. State licenses also require regular renewal and continuing education.
Some educational psychologists work as consultants or researchers and do not engage in direct clinical practice or conduct educational or psychological assessments. These psychologists may not need state licensure. Positions like instructional designer, training specialist, and educational consultant do not require licensure.
- American Psychological Association - Division 15 This APA division represents the interests of educational psychologists. This organization posts job opportunities and promotes the application of psychology to education through journals, newsletters, and conferences.
- National Association of School Psychologists NASPprovides resources for school psychologists and graduate students, including publications, research briefs, and professional standards. This group also offers professional development and national certification.
- Association of Educational Therapists AET serves educational therapists through networking opportunities, continuing education and webinars, workshops and conferences, and regional study groups. This organization promotes ethical standards within the field and helps connect parents with trained therapists.