Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs


Updated April 15, 2024

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Interested in earning a doctoral degree in psychology online? Learn more about how online degrees work and how they differ from traditional graduate programs. 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.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Are you wondering if an online doctorate in psychology program is the right choice for you? Find out the difference between Psy.D. and Ph.D. programs, typical coursework, online vs. on-campus programs, and potential careers after graduation in this guide.

Popular Online Psychology Doctoral Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Benefits of Earning a Doctorate in Psychology

If you want a career in clinical practice and academia, a doctorate in psychology may be your best option. While lengthy and rigorous, a psychology doctorate comes with many professional and personal advantages, including:

  • Professional Licensure: In most states, you need an accredited doctorate to pursue clinical psychologist licensure. You can work in various professional settings or own an independent practice with licensure.
  • Advanced Careers: With a terminal degree in psychology, you can pursue the careers with the highest wages and the most responsibility in your field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned an average annual salary of $101,170 in 2023.
  • Influence the Future of the Field: The research you complete during and after your doctoral program can significantly impact the knowledge and professional practices in your field.
  • Position of Expertise: Your education can empower you to lead and influence in many ways, such as teaching the next generation of psychologists or helping individuals live more meaningful lives.

What Should I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Psychology Program?

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctoral Degree in Psychology?

An online doctoral degree in psychology generally takes 4-8 years to complete. The duration depends on whether students pursue a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in psychology. Learners pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology online must still complete fieldwork or an in-person internship, which can lengthen the time it takes to earn the degree.

Some online Ph.D. psychology programs allow students to pace themselves with lectures and exams. Other programs follow a set class schedule with designated lectures and exam times. Students may follow a cohort for the duration of the program. Online programs with stricter deadlines may take longer to finish than programs with self-paced curriculums.

What Classes Will I Take in an Online Doctoral Degree Program in Psychology?

Online psychology Ph.D. classes vary by school. Degree-seekers complete a clinical internship or supervised practicum, apply the scientific method toward research and daily work, and investigate mental health conditions and treatment.

Students also come to understand research ethics and the American Psychological Association (APA) citation style. They learn to apply psychological research to real-world situations and eventually complete a doctoral dissertation to conclude their degree. See below for common courses for students pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology online.


This course introduces students to neuroanatomy, biophysics, and developmental neuroscience. Some courses include a laboratory component taught in a hands-on style to emphasize teamwork. Degree-seekers learn how to analyze neural systems with basic mathematical techniques.

Skills gained: MATLAB, sensory perception, recognition

Research Theory and Methods

In this course, students learn how to properly conduct psychology research. This includes the scientific method, the proper steps to ensure research validity, and experimental and correlational design. Learners typically present a final paper or project to demonstrate their knowledge about research methodology.

Skills gained: APA formatting, experimental design, research ethics

Cognitive Development

This course introduces students to the different paradigms for understanding cognitive development. The course also shows learners how to effectively use different research strategies to work through some key questions in the cognitive development space.

Skills gained: Research strategies, experience conducting high-level analysis

Concentrations Available for an Online Doctoral Degree in Psychology

There are many exciting concentrations available in psychology. In addition to concentrations, the doctoral curriculum includes core and elective courses, fieldwork, and a thesis.

  • Forensic psychology is where clinical assessment and the legal world intersect. Forensic psychologists use their specialized knowledge to perform assessments of individuals who are involved in the legal system.
  • Educational psychology involves the application of psychological and developmental theories to better understand how people learn and offer avenues for improving education delivery.
  • Sports psychology examines the athletic performance, health, well-being, and motivation of those participating in sports. Sports psychologists can help to improve the lives and performance of athletes.
  • School psychology uses psychological tools and insights to support students’ learning experience and teachers’ performance as educators. School psychologists use specialized knowledge of mental health, learning styles, and human behavior to influence school environments and teaching methods.
  • Clinical psychology involves the application of clinical assessment and treatment of mental health conditions to support individuals across the lifespan. Clinical psychologists are behavioral health professionals licensed to treat many mental health conditions.

Differences Between Online and Traditional Doctorate in Psychology Programs

Generally, only the delivery mode differs between an online vs. in-person doctorate in psychology. These programs cover the same material and award the same degrees.

However, in a practical discipline like clinical psychology, practicum components require in-person attendance. Doctoral programs in this discipline feature several hundred practicum hours, which you typically need to complete on-site. As a result, the APA doesn't currently accredited fully online programs.

Be sure to review your state's requirements, as you may need an APA-accredited degree for licensure.

Are Online Psychology Doctoral Programs Cheaper Than Traditional Programs?

Students earning a doctorate in psychology online can save on their educational costs in many ways.

On-campus learners pay for amenities like gym access and parking spots. Online learners can save significantly on their tuition since they do not incur such fees.

Distance learners can save money by not commuting to campus. However, online learners without reliable home internet may still find themselves paying for the commute to places with a reliable connection.

Students can save money on childcare and campus housing costs by pursuing a doctorate in psychology online. However, in some cases, on-campus housing subsidized by the university can be more affordable than living off-campus, especially in major cities.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, graduates with a master's degree in psychology accrue about $46,140 in debt, compared to $98,170 for a Ph.D. and $127,300 for a Psy.D.

How Are Online Psychology Courses Different From Campus-Based Programs?

Whether you earn your psychology doctorate online or on campus, the curriculum and diploma are the same. However, you must decide which psychology program format works best for you.

Online courses may be delivered asynchronously, in which every student listens to the lectures and participates in discussions on their schedule, or synchronously, in which they are in real-time.

Classes are delivered through a learning management system (LMS). The LMS hosts assignments, discussion boards, other collaboration functions, and grades. It also links to the library and other services.

In an online program, faculty may be accessible via video meetings (like Zoom), telephone, messaging through the learning management system, email, or texting.

Do Online Psychology Doctoral Programs Require Students to Be On Campus?

Students enrolled in an online doctorate in psychology program must fulfill more than just basic course requirements. An accredited psychology program also encompasses mandatory fieldwork and 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 varies by state.

Do Online Students Still Qualify for Financial Aid?

Online students generally have access to the same forms of financial aid as on-campus students as long as the schools students choose are fully accredited by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Research specific aid for psychology graduate students and other scholarships. Be sure to submit a Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for federal grants, loans, and work study.

With diligent research and a firm grasp of the financial aid landscape, there’s no reason online graduate psychology students attending an accredited program should not be able to find assistance in paying for their education.

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

Both a Ph.D. and a Psy.D. prepare students for advanced psychology careers. However, the goals and purpose of each degree vary.

Psy.D. programs prepare students to pursue applied careers, such as practicing clinical psychology, while Ph.D. programs prepare learners for careers in research and teaching. Curriculum structures also vary. Psy.D. programs focus on the practitioner-scholar model, emphasizing psychological science. Ph.D. programs focus on analytical research.

Students typically complete their Psy.D. requirements in 4-6 years, while Ph.D. students can take 5-8 years.

Typically, students who graduate with a Psy.D. work with patients and clients across professional settings. Ph.D. graduates focus on research-oriented work, providing some psychological services.

During their coursework, Psy.D. students explore the direct application of psychology knowledge through clients and patients. In contrast, Ph.D. students explore teaching, statistics, and research, emphasizing theoretical and practical psychology knowledge.

What License Do I Need to Practice Psychology?

All learners must get specific licenses to work as a psychologist. According to the APA, a doctorate is the credential needed to become an independent clinical psychologist.

However, each state dictates its licensing requirements through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). 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 to grant licensure.

In most states, you’ll need to graduate from an APA-accredited online doctoral program in psychology to get a license from your state’s licensing board. Graduates must pass the 225-question Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) to receive licensure. 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.

Fees range from $500 to over $1,000, including application fees and outside resources such as study books and test preparation courses.

Some states also require students to pass a jurisprudence exam. Degree-seekers can view a breakdown of state licensing requirements by reviewing the Handbook of Licensing and Certification Requirements for Psychologists in the U.S. and Canada, published by the ASPPB.

Licensing does not extend from one state to another, but some states offer an expedited licensing process if one qualifies. However, some states offer license reciprocity. The ASPPB now offers credentialing through PSYPACT to practice teletherapy across state lines in participating states.

Careers for Graduates of Online Psychology Programs

While most psychology doctorates practice as counseling or clinical psychologists, this degree prepares students to apply their psychology expertise in other settings. You can work as a consultant for other clinical psychologists, conduct clinical research, or train further clinical psychologists. Learn more about what you can do with an online doctorate in psychology.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists help people understand and manage various conditions and disorders, such as mental and behavioral disorders and chronic conditions. They provide assessments, testing, diagnoses, treatment plans, and, in some states, medical prescriptions.

Median Annual Salary: $96,100 (BLS, May 2023)

School Psychologist

School psychologists help students and their families work through educational and personal issues. They assess student performance and develop intervention strategies, such as performance plans or additional support. They also help with and consult on school policy development and professional practices.

Median Annual Salary: $84,940 (BLS, May 2023)

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Industrial-organizational psychologists work in corporate or other organizational settings to optimize organizational efficiency through psychology. They apply organizational, group, and cognitive psychology to help individuals and work teams.

Median Annual Salary: $147,420 (BLS, May 2023)

Postsecondary Psychology Teacher/Professor

Postsecondary psychology teachers teach and perform research in college or university settings. Many have Ph.D. degrees. Depending on the school, their work may emphasize either teaching or research.

Median Annual Salary: $82,140 (BLS, May 2023)

Page last reviewed on November 28, 2023

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