Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs

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Online education brings advanced degrees and even doctorates in psychology within your reach. Review how to earn a psychology doctorate online. 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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If you want to become a psychologist but aren't in a position to earn a doctoral degree on campus, an online psychology doctorate might be the solution. With online courses, you can earn your doctor of philosophy in psychology (Ph.D.) or doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) without having to live near the campus or travel.

This guide to online doctorates in psychology explains how and what to expect. Explore the options available to you and what you need to consider to start your dream career.

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 students pursue a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in psychology. Learners pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology online must still complete fieldwork or an internship in person, which can lengthen the time it takes to earn the degree.

Some online Ph.D. psychology programs 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 degree. 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 illness and treatment.

Students also come to understand research ethics and proper American Psychological Association (APA) citation. They learn how 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.

  • Neuroscience

    This course introduces students to all aspects of 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 knowledge, 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 of the 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; many of these are available as part of an online doctorate. The core doctoral curriculum includes core courses, and you can pursue your concentration in your elective courses, fieldwork, and thesis.

Forensic psychology examines how law and psychology interact. It includes elements of criminal psychology, but also focuses on the legal system. For example, it explores perception and eyewitness accounts, how judges and juries decide, and how the legal system can reduce recidivism.

Educational psychology examines learning at the individual level, in the classroom, and in the educational system. It includes classes on cognition, learning, and both child and adult education.

Sports psychology applies psychology to improving sports performance at an individual and team level. Topics include building teams, the psychology of coaching, psychological barriers to top performance, and how to provide psychological support to players and retirees.

School psychology explores learning in schools and how schools can optimize learning. It includes cognition, learning and learning disabilities, social and group dynamics, organizational dynamics, and engaging families.

Clinical psychology is the diagnosis and treatment of psychological conditions. Students learn about different conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. They learn to treat them in individual and group settings.

Online Psychology Doctorate 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.

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 as clinical psychologists while Ph.D. programs provide learners with training in research and teaching. Curriculum structures also vary. Psy.D. programs focus on the practitioner-scholar model, emphasizing psychological science. Ph.D. programs explore 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 and Ph.D. students explore teaching, statistics, and research aspects, emphasizing theoretical and practical psychology knowledge.

What's the Difference Between a Traditional and Online Psychology Degree?

In any doctoral program, but especially an online program, you may face logistical and personal challenges. A doctoral program is a marathon and students need to prepare themselves for this long journey. You must be flexible, make sure the program is accessible for you, and maintain your motivation.

Flexibility refers to your ability to change with circumstances. How easily do you adapt to new situations? Are you frustrated with or inspired by ambiguity? Are you able to maintain online relationships with students, faculty, and staff?

Accessibility varies by program and describes how easily you can participate to your fullest extent. It includes technology and systems and the logistics of attending classes. Does the program work with your other responsibilities? Is your internet access reliable?

Motivation is key to success, especially in a long process like earning a doctorate. Most people need a mix of intrinsic motivations, such as love of learning and the subject matter, and extrinsic ones, such as future prestige and career opportunities. What can help you maintain your motivation, especially in the face of challenges?

  • Online: It is generally more accessible in terms of geography and possibly in scheduling, but it requires reliable high-speed internet. It requires more flexibility in building and maintaining relationships with peers, faculty, and staff, and it may require more flexibility in fieldwork. Some students may have difficulty maintaining motivation if they feel isolated from peers.
  • Traditional: Students with disabilities may find a traditional campus more difficult to navigate, so less accessible. Many students find it easier to develop relationships in person. Some students find a campus environment more motivating.

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. Traditional brick-and-mortar universities often add many fees to the tuition price.

Learners pay for amenities like access to the gym, parking spots, or to get a lottery number for the on-campus housing system. Online learners can experience a significant savings on their tuition since they do not incur such fees.

Parents or guardians 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 in major cities.

Many universities also offer cutting-edge technology on campus that could benefit those earning their doctorate in psychology online. According to the APA, graduates with a master's degree in psychology accrue about $60,000 in debt, compared to $78,000 for a Ph.D. and $146,000 for a Psy.D.

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

The course curriculum and diploma is the same, whether you earn your psychology doctorate online or on campus. However, the logistics are different, and you need to 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 own schedule, or synchronously, in which the lectures and discussion are in real time.

Almost all classes will be delivered through a learning management system (LMS). The LMS also typically hosts assignments, discussion boards and other collaboration functions, and grades. It also links to the library and other services.

In an online program, faculty may be accessible by video meetings (like Zoom), telephone, messaging through the learning management system, email, or even texting. However, if you are in a different time zone than the program, communication may be delayed.

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 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 varies by state.

Do Online Students Still Qualify for Financial Aid?

Like students on campus, online learners can pursue financial aid to help fund their education. Students can complete the FAFSA to assess their financial aid eligibility. Distance and traditional students often pursue the same financial aid awards, though some scholarships exist exclusively for online learners.

However, the APA does not accredit online doctoral programs in psychology which may affect FAFSA eligibility.

For more information on psychology scholarships, click here.

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 own 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 in order to grant licensure.

It should be noted that the APA does not accredit online doctoral programs in psychology. It is up to each state's licensing board to determine if a candidate is eligible for licensure from a nonaccredited program.

Licensing does not extend from one state to another, but some states offer an expedited licensing process if one qualifies.

Fees range from $500 to more than $1,000, inclusive of application fees and outside resources such as study books and test preparation courses. To receive licensure, graduates must pass the 225-question Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. 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.

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.

Online Psychology Doctorate 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.

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.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

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: $91,000 (Payscale January 2023)

Postsecondary Teachers

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

Median Annual Salary: $77,860 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2021)


Page last reviewed December 21, 2022

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