Doctorate in Psychology (Ph.D. and Psy.D.)

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The American Psychological Association recognizes three distinct categories of doctoral programs: clinical, counseling, and school psychology. Clinical psychology emphasizes compiling and analyzing research data about individuals, while counseling psychology students focus more on treating mental and emotional health issues. School psychology programs explore issues surrounding child and adolescent mental development.

Students interested in teaching or research roles can earn a Ph.D. in psychology, while candidates planning to go into private practice or work with patients may pursue a Psy.D.

This page covers everything you need to know about pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology. Read on to learn how to choose the right school and degree program.

Pros | Cons

It Takes Longer to Earn the Doctorate Degree in Psychology

Most doctorate degree in psychology programs can be completed in four to seven years. This, of course, is the longest possible amount of time a psychology professional can expect to spend on their schooling. The time commitment requires a student's full attention, and it is for this reason that some students elect to move straight from their bachelor's in psychology to their Ph.D. in psychology.


While students will be pledging a great deal of time and effort towards their academic pursuits, those who choose to pursue their Ph.D. in psychology will find that this is the most lucrative career move.


At times, it can be very hard for Ph.D. in psychology students to juggle work, internships, clinical training and psychology studies. What's more, almost all Ph.D. in psychology candidates go on to continue their research and training for one to two years after graduation; these externships and practical experiences must be present in order to qualify most Ph.D.s for work.

Once Graduated with a Ph.D. in Psychology, You Enter the Workforce as an Authority in the Field

Part of enrolling and earning a doctorate degree in psychology is making the time and the connections that will allow students to gain intensive practical experience after graduation.


Ph.D. in psychology candidates with some experience are often preferred to master's degree in psychology candidates who may have more hands-on skills.


Some evidence suggests that Ph.D. in psychology candidates can oversaturate a market. In these cases, employers will be inclined to hire a candidate with more life experience (such as a master's degree) and lesser academic credentials.

The Doctorate Degree in Psychology is Versatile

Because a Ph.D. in psychology is a terminal credential for the majority of occupational psychologists, earning a doctorate degree in psychology in this broad field can offer candidates a certain amount of flexibility when searching for a career. For example, while there may not be many opportunities in a graduate's chosen field right away, a doctorate degree in psychology is an excellent credential for those who may be interested in teaching at the college or university level.


Nearly all fields of psychology have room for those with a Ph.D. in psychology credential.


May need to relocate due to low demand in some regions of the country.

There is a High Return on Investment

It could be argued that the cost of earning a Ph.D. in psychology is not consummate to the annual earnings for an average doctor of psychology. Some data points to the fact that the amount psychologists earn has much more to do with the industry in which they are employed than with their academic credentials. However, the disparity between the earnings for a bachelor's and master's degree graduate and a doctorate degree in psychology are substantial.


Psychologists can earn upwards of $100,000, according to the BLS. The median pay for 2018 was $79,010.


To offset the cost of tuition, doctorate degree in psychology students often must find fellowship, assistantship and paid internship opportunities in their area or through their university.

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What Are The Admission Requirements for Psychology Ph.D. Programs?

  • Minimum Education Level: Master's degree, although a bachelor's with work experience is often also acceptable
  • Writing Sample: Transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate institutions attended, usually with a minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Transcripts: 3-5 letters
  • Standardized Tests: Personal statement of intent; previous academic research papers
  • Recommendations: GRE
  • Additional Required Materials: Immunization records; interviews; comprehensive qualifying exam; health insurance

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctoral Programs in Psychology

Can you prescribe medicine with a Ph.D. in psychology?

Typically, psychologists cannot prescribe medication. Psychiatrists hold prescriptive authority, and their educational backgrounds differ from that of psychologists. These professionals hold a medical degree, whereas psychologists generally do not. However, some states such as Louisiana, New Mexico, and Illinois, give psychologists prescribing authority, and more may soon follow suit.

Can you get a Ph.D. in psychology without a master's?

In many cases, you do not need to hold a master’s for admission to a Ph.D. program in psychology. Many programs accept candidates who hold a bachelor’s in the field. Some may require work or internship experience in addition to a bachelor’s degree, but this varies from program to program.

Can you get a Ph.D. in psychology online?

Yes! A variety of fully online psychology Ph.D. programs allow students to earn their degree anywhere, at any time. While these programs occasionally take longer to complete than the standard four-year timeline for full-time, full-residency programs, actual program lengths vary.

Why get a doctorate in psychology?

Professionals in all states must hold either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to obtain licensure and practice as a psychologist. A doctorate in psychology prepares candidates for clinical practice, and for more advanced roles in the field. Those with a Ph.D. also tend to earn more than those with a master’s degree.

How competitive are Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs?

Doctoral programs in psychology tend to hold high admissions standards, making them very competitive. On-campus programs may be even harder to get into, as they sometimes offer competitive funding and assistantship positions. Applicants should demonstrate a strong academic record with a high GPA.

What’s the difference between a Ph.D. in psychology vs. a Ph.D. in clinical psychology?

Ph.D. programs in psychology tend to place a stronger emphasis on research, and often include more courses in research methods and statistics. Psy.D. programs emphasize clinical practice, and are best suited for individuals seeking more clinical experience.

How Can I Guarantee My Acceptance Into a Doctorate Degree in Psychology Program?

  • The most important thing an applicant can do to increase their chances of being accepted into a doctorate degree in psychology program is to take part in research. Clinical trials and data analysis are some of the most vital components of a psychology career. Psychologists focus as much on mental and behavioral health as they do studying and understanding human behavior.
  • Completing relevant internships and practicums demonstrates a commitment to independent research and looks great on a doctorate degree in psychology application.
  • Prospective Ph.D. in psychology candidates can increase their chance of acceptance by cultivating professional relationships with a community of peers. Many do so by joining alumni associations, reaching out to colleagues on LinkedIn, and participating in professional organizations.
  • Subscribing to pertinent magazines, forums and workshops that are popular among others in the field. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) is a good source for information on this topic.

Should I Get a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.?

The Ph.D. and Psy.D. degrees differ in a variety of ways. Students should consider each option carefully before choosing a program.

Ph.D. in psychology programs take between five to seven years to complete, and typically include one year-long internship. These programs sometimes admit fewer students, as they tend to offer more funding opportunities. Ph.D. programs place a stronger emphasis on research, including more coursework in research methods and statistics, and more research-based opportunities during the program. Graduates may pursue careers in research or academia.

The Psy.D. is a doctor of psychology degree instead of a doctor of philosophy degree. Psy.D. programs take between four and five years to complete, including an internship year. These programs are tailored more towards clinical practice, placing less of an emphasis on research. This track may particularly benefit students who wish to work directly with clients in clinical settings.

Both degrees prepare candidates to seek licensure as clinical psychologists. However, Ph.D. programs may best suit individuals who wish to conduct research or teach in colleges and universities after graduating.

What Should I Expect in a Doctorate Degree in Psychology Program?

Degree Completion Specifics

  • Number of Required Credits: 60-125
  • Typical Length of Program: 5-7 years
  • Culminating Experience Project/Paper/Exam: Yes
  • Practicums/Internships: Yes

Core Concepts

Developmental Psychology

This topic explores the biological, intellectual, and cognitive foundations of behavior.

Assessment, Statistics and Research Techniques

Research is a major component of psychology. Students pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology should know how to effectively and efficiently gather pertinent information.

Multicultural Consistencies

These studies explore some commonly addressed issues for men and women of all ages, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic circumstances.

Dissertation Research

Almost every Ph.D. in psychology program requires candidates to create and present a dissertation. Many courses prepare students to create, catalog, and share this vital work.

Ethics and Legal Issues in Psychology

More detailed than bachelor's or master's coursework in the same vein, Ph.D. in psychology students explore the important legal responsibilities and concerns commonly associated with their particular field of study.


Ph.D. in psychology students often concentrate their studies in a particular clinical or academic discipline. Immersion in these topics solidifies existing knowledge and offers the chance to work side-by-side with other psychology professionals in the candidate's area of interest. Some popular concentrations include:

Behavioral Neuroscience

This subfield explores how human brain systems engage in perception, human error, decision-making, movement, and cognition.

Clinical Psychology

Students gather the data necessary to understand emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal functions in adults and children.

Abnormal Psychological Disorders

In this subfield, students learn to evaluate, manage, and offer empathetic care to individuals suffering from ongoing psychological disorders and trauma.

Human Growth and Development

This research track investigates how the human mind evolves and devolves across the lifespan, paying special attention to behaviors, aptitudes, and at-risk behaviors.


This focus area is ideal for those who wish to learn skills of value in careers such as teaching, intervention, and research. A developmental psychology specialty explores cognitive/socio-emotional development and developmental psychopathology.

What Kinds of Psychology Careers Can I Pursue With a Doctorate Degree in Psychology?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2018, doctoral graduates had the lowest unemployment rate among degree holders and earned the most, on average. Professionals with a Ph.D. in psychology can consider a wide range of positions, the most popular of which are forensic psychology, professorship and clinical psychology. Graduates may also seek positions in one of the following fields.

Career Options

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

Average Annual Salary: $97,260

Postsecondary Teachers

Average Annual Salary: $78,470


Average Annual Salary: $82,050


Average Annual Salary: $149,900

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