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Doctorate Degree in Psychology (Ph.D.)

Is a Doctorate Degree in Psychology Program For You?

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 the treatment of mental and emotional health issues. School psychology focuses on issues around child and adolescent mental development. Students can earn a Ph.D. in psychology (great for teaching or research roles) or a Psy.D. at the graduate-level (a good fit for students who may want to open their own practice or focus more on the treatment of patients in need).

Below is a list of some of the characteristics and highlights associated with pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology. Students should definitely do their homework as they choose which school and degree program best fits their needs. No two degrees, and no two schools, for that matter, are the same.

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.

What are the admissions requirements for a Ph.D. in psychology program?

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

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

  • The most important thing a Ph.D. in psychology applicant can do to help 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 career in psychology, which is focused as much on the treatment of mental and behavioral health as it is on the study and understanding of human behaviors.
  • Completing relevant internships and practicums demonstrates a commitment to independent research and looks great on a doctorate degree in psychology application.
  • Ph.D. in psychology seekers can also up the odds of being accepted by cultivating professional relationships with a community of peers. This can be accomplished by joining alumni associations, reaching out to colleagues on LinkedIn and through professional associations.
  • Subscribing to pertinent magazines (such as gradPSYCH magazine), forums and workshops that are popular among others in the field of psychology. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) is a good source for information on this topic.

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

Degree Completion Specifics

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

Core Concepts

  • Developmental Psychology
    Biological, intellectual and cognitive foundations of behavior are explored in this curriculum.
  • Assessment, Statistics and Research Techniques
    Because research is such a major component of psychology, students in a Ph.D. in psychology program are required to explore techniques in effectively and efficiently gathering such information.
  • Multicultural Consistencies
    These studies explore some commonly addressed issues for men and women of all ages, ethnic groups and socioeconomic circumstances.
  • Dissertation Research
    Students will, in almost every Ph.D. in psychology program, be expected 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 will become familiar with the important legal responsibilities and concerns commonly associated with their particular field of study.


Ph.D. in psychology students most often concentrate their studies in a particular clinical or academic discipline. Immersion in these topics solidifies all existing knowledge and affords students the opportunity to begin working side-by-side with other professionals in the area of psychology that interests them most. Some popular concentrations include:

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
    This topic delves into how human brain systems are engaged in perception, human error, decision-making, movement and cognition.
  • Clinical Psychology
    Students focus on gathering the data necessary to understand emotional, cognitive, behavioral and interpersonal functions in adults and children.
  • Abnormal Psychological Disorders
    In this field, students explore how to evaluate, manage and offer empathetic care to those who suffer from ongoing psychological disorders and trauma.
  • Human Growth and Development
    This research track investigates how the human mind evolves and devolves over time as children and adults grow, paying special attention to behaviors, aptitudes and at-risk behaviors.
  • Developmental
    Of interest to 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 shaping up to be forensic psychology, professorship and clinical psychology. Graduates may also be hired into one of these engaging fields (salary data for each sourced from the BLS).

Career Options

  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

    Average Annual Salary
  • Postsecondary Teachers

    Average Annual Salary
  • Sociologist

    Average Annual Salary
  • Psychiatrist

    Average Annual Salary

Find the Doctorate Degree in Psychology Program That is Right For You

Our program database was designed to make finding the best Ph.D. in psychology program easier. All schools in the database are accredited. This means they have been reviewed by nationally recognized organizations to ensure they meet quality standards. Attending an accredited school that offers a doctorate degree in psychology program guarantees you will receive a good education and that your Ph.D. in psychology degree will be recognized by employers and peers.

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