Is an Online Psychology Doctoral Program For You?
Online degree programs are convenient for distance learners, particularly students saddled with busy work schedules or demanding family obligations. Students looking to satisfy degree requirements quickly and save money on campus room and board costs often choose digital programs over on-campus study. Online psychology programs also cater to professionals who are interested in accruing practical experience and eventually earning licensure in their specialty.
What Should I Expect From an Online Program?
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctoral Degree in Psychology?
An online doctoral degree in psychology generally takes 5-7 years to complete. The duration depends on whether the student pursues a doctor of psychology or a doctor of philosophy in psychology. Learners pursuing a doctorate in psychology online are still required to complete fieldwork or an internship in person, which can add to the length of an online degree if it involves commuting to a laboratory or hospital to satisfy these requirements.
Some classes in an online program allow degree candidates to fully pace themselves with lectures and exams. Others follow a set class schedule with designated lectures and exam times. The latter style often groups students in a cohort for the duration of their time in school. Online programs with stricter deadlines may take longer to finish than schools with self-paced curriculums.
What Classes will I Take in an Online Doctoral Degree Program in Psychology?
The types of classes in an online doctoral degree in psychology vary according to the school. While pursuing a psychology doctorate online, learners complete a clinical internship or supervised practicum, apply the scientific method towards research and daily work, and investigate the elements behind mental illness and treatment. Students also come to understand research ethics and proper APA citation and learn to apply psychological research to real-world situations. They eventually complete a doctoral dissertation to conclude their degree. The courses listed below exemplify an online doctoral curriculum in psychology.
Skills Gained: MATLAB, sensory perception, and recognition
Research Theory & Methods
Skills Gained: APA formatting knowledge, research ethics
Skills Gained: Research strategies, experience conducting high-level analysis
Concentrations Available for an Online Doctoral Degree in Psychology
A doctorate in psychology typically includes several optional concentrations. Focusing on a specific concentration can help learners with a specific career or job goal in mind. Each specialization requires hands-on intensive experience through practicum courses or an internship. An online doctorate in psychology typically features concentrations in forensic, educational, sports, school, and clinical psychology.
- Forensic Psychology
- Forensic psychology applies theories of psychology to the legal system through specific cases and the criminal justice system at large. Students focusing on forensic psychology learn about current social and cultural issues, along with case law and courtroom procedures. A forensic psychology concentration prepares students for work in research and as a mental state examiner in a courtroom.
- Educational Psychology
- Educational psychologists review and evaluate learning institutions and further develop and promote educational methods. Students in this concentration often focus on a specific learning challenge like ADHD, or study the teaching methods and instructional process of a specific group, like adult or adolescent learners. An educational psychology concentration prepares students for work as a school psychologist or a university lecturer.
- Sports Psychology
- Sports psychology incorporates knowledge of the mind-body connection to assist athletes to overcome problems and enhance their performance. Students focusing on sports psychology learn a wide array of relaxation techniques and cognitive restructuring methods that can be applied on and off of the playing field. A sports psychology concentration prepares students for work as a sports psychologist or mental conditioning coach.
- School Psychology
- School psychologists use cutting-edge research and insights to assess and eventually treat learning and psychological issues in students, to foster a safe and constructive academic environment. Students in the school psychology concentration gain skills in data collection, assessment, instructional support, behavioral intervention, and professional ethics. A school psychology concentration prepares students for work in a K-12 school or as a psychologist in a juvenile justice or mental health center.
- Clinical Psychology
- Clinical psychologists diagnose existing or potential disorders through observation or tests, and then determine a treatment plan based on the needs of the client. Students in the clinical psychology concentration learn to conduct proper research, identify and diagnose psychological, emotional, and behavioral disorders, and understand and adjust action plans for treatment. This concentration prepares students for work as a clinical psychologist or as a researcher.
What's the Difference Between a Traditional and Online Psychology Degree?
There are many differences between a traditional and online psychology degree, and learners should examine each of them carefully before choosing a program. Students earning a doctorate in psychology online typically enjoy more flexibility in their coursework and classes, as they can work remotely at their own pace. Learners in a traditional psychology degree program can access campus resources like the library and professor office hours in person, while an online student must use academic tools in the virtual space, and correspond with instructors through email or an online portal.
Traditional: A traditional degree is less flexible than an online program but favors students who prefer a dedicated schedule of classes each semester, designated due dates for homework, and set examination periods. Traditional programs typically dictate specific schedules for completing internships and practicums.
Access, libraries, on-campus activities, office hours
Traditional: Students in a traditional program can immediately access all campus services. The ability to visit the library to study or check out resources, meet with a professor face-to-face, or participate in on-campus activities with other learners studying the same subject matter can be invaluable while pursuing a degree.
Traditional: While all students need strong motivation and discipline, the set schedule of classes and assignments in a traditional program appeals to many degree-seekers. Students on campus can also collaborate face-to-face on assignments with others in their degree program.
Are Online Psychology Doctoral Programs Cheaper Than Traditional Programs?
Students earning a doctorate in psychology online may initially expect to pay the same tuition rates as an on-campus program. However, learners pursuing a psychology doctorate online could find savings in a variety of areas. Traditional brick and mortar universities often tack on many fees to the tuition price, for amenities like access to the gym, or to get a lottery number for the on-campus housing system. Online learners could see a significant savings on their tuition bill with the omission of such fees.
Parents with small children could also save money on childcare and transportation costs by pursuing a doctorate in psychology online. However, in some cases on-campus housing subsidized by the university can be cheaper than living off campus, especially if located in a major city. Many universities also offer a wide variety of cutting-edge technology on campus that could benefit those earning their doctorate in psychology online. According to the American Psychological Association, graduates with a master's degree in psychology accrue about $60,000 in debt, compared to $78,000 for a PhD, and $146,000 for a PsyD.
How are Online Psychology Courses Different from Campus-based Programs?
While the coursework looks the same for both a traditional and online doctoral degree in psychology, the course materials and technology used may differ depending on the delivery method. Students in an online program must access a computer to submit assignments and to view lectures; some classes in an online psychology doctorate may also require learners to collaborate remotely, requiring a high-quality webcam and computer microphone to communicate. Most universities maintain an online learning portal for distance students to use as they work toward their degree.
These portals essentially create a virtual campus for the distance learner, allowing them to view their grades, communicate with professors and other students, see the schedule of classes for the next semester, and log in to live classes. Many portals also offer an accompanying mobile application for students to access the same virtual campus from their smartphone. Despite the differences between the delivery of an online and traditional doctoral degree in psychology, the curriculum remains the same. Both online and traditional classes adhere to the same program and institutional standards.
Do Online Psychology Doctoral Programs Require Students to be On-campus? Do Any of the Programs Have Labs or Clinical Work?
Students engaged in an online doctorate in psychology must fulfill more than just basic course requirements. An accredited psychology degree program also encompasses mandatory field work, along with either clinical hours or an in-person internship. Some programs require online learners to attend specialized classes on-campus before graduating. Students sometimes take a reduced class load during certain semesters to attain necessary clinical hours, conduct research, or participate in fieldwork. The number of clinical hours required to graduate depends on the state.
Emil Rodolfa, chair of the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers, recommends students aim for roughly 2,000 internship clinical hours and 2,000 hours postdoc to satisfy state requirements. Traditional institutions sometimes offer a designated site for students to complete clinical requirements. Online learners can also work with their university to organize simulated labs or virtual communities, to meet clinical hour requirements.
Do Online Students Still Qualify for Financial Aid?
Like students on campus, online learners can pursue financial aid in order to help fund their education. Students can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to assess their eligibility for Stafford or Perkins loans. Distance and traditional students often pursue the same financial aid awards, though there are some scholarships available exclusively for online learners. Many students apply for and receive financial aid.
For more information on psychology scholarships, click here.
What License do I Need to Practice Psychology?
Students in both a traditional psychology doctoral program and an online psychology doctorate need to obtain specific licenses in order to become a psychologist. According to the American Psychological Association, most Americans perceive the successful completion of a doctoral degree as the credentials needed to become an independent clinical psychologist.
However, each state dictates their own licensing requirements through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. Standards can vary greatly by state. Practicing psychologists must obtain state licensure, unless exempt through employment at some universities and federal institutions. State boards require a doctorate degree in order to grant licensure.
Fees to obtain a license range from $500-1000 and above, inclusive of application fees and outside resources like study books and test preparation courses. In order to receive licensure, graduates must pass the 225-question EPPP test. The test covers key areas of psychology and the social and biological basis of behavior. Most states recognize 70% or higher as a passing score. Licensing does not extend from one state to another, but some states offer an expedited licensing process if one qualifies.
Some states also require students to pass a jurisprudence exam. Students can view a breakdown of state licensing requirements by looking at the Handbook of Licensing and Certification Requirements for Psychologists in the U.S. and Canada, published by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.
Careers for Graduates of Online Psychology Programs
Explore Psychology Careers
How Do You Know If an Online Psychology Program Is Accredited?
Students should only pursue a doctorate in psychology from an accredited program. The American Psychological Association awards accreditation to programs that meet its stringent standards. APA-accredited programs employ enough qualified faculty to properly teach students and offer constructive and organized curriculum.
Accreditation especially benefits online learners, as they may only access a professor or their peers via email, and confusing or poorly organized coursework could critically impact their ability to successfully complete the program. Overall, APA-certified programs provide students with the fundamental knowledge and experience necessary to achieve licensure and pursue a successful career in psychology.