Social Psychology Ph.D. Programs Guide

Updated August 17, 2022 · 4 Min Read

Discover doctoral programs in social psychology and learn what it will take to advance your career with a doctorate in psychology. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Employed mostly in academia but also in the private sector, government, and nonprofits, social psychologists research how people's relationships with others affect their states of mind. More specifically, social psychologists are interested in how human interactions affect age-old and contemporary issues, such as prejudice, texting, bullying, sexual attraction, and friendship.

A subfield of psychology, social psychology yields careers in postsecondary education, research, consulting, and politics. Continue reading to learn how completing a social psychology Ph.D. program can help you obtain a fulfilling and impactful career in one of these fields.

Earning a Ph.D vs. a Psy.D.

At the doctoral level, prospective social psychology students have two options: a Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs. Although both social psychology graduate programs impart similar knowledge and skills and require a dissertation, you should compare them carefully as they differ in significant ways.

First, most Ph.D. programs admit fewer students than Psy.D. programs, making social psychology Ph.D. programs more competitive.

Second, social psychology Ph.D. programs emphasize academic research along with clinical practice. As a result, Ph.D. programs yield careers in academia (e.g., postsecondary teacher, research) and jobs in clinical settings (e.g., licensed psychologist).

Third, Psy.D. programs prepare students solely for hands-on clinical careers working with patients. As they take fewer statistics and research courses, most Psy.D. students can earn their degrees approximately one year faster than their Ph.D. peers.

Degree Snapshot

Typical Admission Requirements:
GRE or GMAT scores, application essay, academic research sample, 2-3 recommendation letters

Time to Completion:
5-7 years

Average Salary:

Why Get a Ph.D in Social Psychology?

Social psychology degrees open up many more career opportunities and allow professionals to make a significant impact on people's lives. Here are five benefits to earning a Ph.D. in social psychology:

  • Social psychology Ph.D. programs prepare students for more career paths than Psy.D. in psychology programs.

  • As students learn advanced research and statistical analysis skills, they can make a positive contribution to the psychology field by authoring research papers, essays, and books.

  • As social psychology Ph.D. programs boast smaller incoming classes than Psy.D. programs, Ph.D. students receive more individualized attention from professors.

  • Ph.D. in social psychology graduates can use their education outside of academia or counseling. Graduates can work as government or political advisors, among other social psychology-related careers.

  • Unlike most Psy.D. programs, social psychology Ph.D. programs provide students funding opportunities.

  • Online Psychology PhD Programs

    Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

    Example Curriculum

    No two social psychology graduate programs possess the same course, practica, and dissertation requirements. Prospective students can more easily identify the differences among programs if they first understand the similarities, which the following information describes.


    Like master's programs, doctoral programs include core and specialization courses in areas such as social cognition, statistical analysis, and teaching methodology. Students complete these core courses in their programs' the first 2-3 years. Some programs offer accelerated tracks so motivated students can move on to practica and dissertation research as soon as possible.


    Practica experiences allow doctoral students to apply their academic knowledge and research skills in real-life settings. In research practica, students complete original research that lays the groundwork for their dissertations. Most social psychology Ph.D. programs also require teaching practica, wherein students teach undergraduate courses under trained professors' guidance. Practica take place in years 2-4, before students start their dissertations.


    By writing a lengthy dissertation, social psychology Ph.D. program students prove they possess the knowledge and skills to make a significant contribution to the psychology field. Writing a dissertation can take 2-4 years, and before students earn their doctorate, they must first defend their dissertations in front of a committee.


    To become a licensed clinical psychologist, students complete internships to meet their states' licensure requirements. In no later than their second year, doctoral students should research American Psychological Association (APA)-approved internship opportunities in their local communities. Their states' boards of licensure may not recognize internship hours from non-APA-approved sources.

    What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Social Psychology?

    Social psychologists have many career options, including postsecondary teacher, licensed psychologist, and academic researcher. In doctoral programs, students first refine their career paths by choosing a specialization in graduate school and completing internships that align with their career goals. Finally, many recent graduates use their dissertations to attract potential employers' attention.

    Average Salary: $89,000

    Where Do Social Psychologists Work?

    Colleges, universities, government agencies


    States regulate the psychology profession by granting licenses to only the most qualified professionals. Once students start doctoral programs, they should research the latest requirements as soon as possible.

    Licensure requirements vary among states but often include education, experience, and exams. Licensed psychologists in most states need a doctoral degree and at least 1,000 hours of post-graduate professional experience working under a licensed psychologist.

    Licensed psychologists in most states need a doctoral degree and at least 1,000 hours of post-graduate professional experience

    Many states use the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Licensure candidates should take this four-hour, multiple-choice exam just before or after earning their degrees. This exam involves a substantial fee. Many states also require exams that cover professional ethics and relevant state laws.

    Licensure candidates should expect to pay at least $400 when applying for a license. Applications can take one month to process. Once psychologists receive their licenses, they can pursue additional social psychology jobs. Licensure renewal takes place every 1-2 years, and psychologists must complete continuing education hours to keep their licenses active.

    Professional Organizations

    • Society for Personality and Social Psychology The SPSP provides its 7,500 student and professional members access to the society's three journals, private job board, and grant opportunities. Students save approximately 75% on membership dues compared to active members.
    • Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues SPSSI student members can complete professional development and may qualify for grants or other funding. Both members and non-members can research SPSSI's latest research in career trends.
    • European Association of Social Psychology The EASP provides valuable benefits to Europe-based, English-speaking graduate students earning their Ph.D.s in social psychology. Both student and professional members can access the EASP's vast collection of psychology publications.

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