If you’re wondering if an online doctorate in psychology program is the right choice for your career goals, use this guide to help you make that decision. Find out the difference between Psy.D. and Ph.D. programs, the coursework you can expect, the difference between online and on-campus programs, and some of the fascinating career paths that these degrees make possible.
Popular Online Psychology Doctoral Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
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 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 internship in person, which can lengthen the time it takes to earn the degree.
Some online Ph.D. psychology programs allow degree candidates to pace themselves with lecture 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 health conditions 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.
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, experimental design, research ethics
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 doctoral curriculum includes core courses as well as elective courses, fieldwork, and thesis in your concentration.
- Forensic psychology describes an area of specialty where clinical assessment and the legal world intersect. Forensic psychologists use their specialized knowledge to perform assessments of individuals whose lives lead to involvement with the legal system.
- Educational psychology involves the application of psychological and developmental theories to gain a better understanding of how people learn and offer avenues for improving how education is provided.
- Sports psychology examines the athletic performance, health, well-being, and motivation of those who engage in sports activities. 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 provide mental health support to individuals across the lifespan. Clinical psychologists are behavioral health professionals licensed to treat a many mental health conditions.
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 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.
On-campus learners pay for amenities like access to the gym and 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.
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 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 NCES, 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?
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?
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).Specific forms of aid for psychology graduate students are worth researching, as are other types of scholarships. It’s important to note that the U.S. government offers valuable resources for graduate students seeking student aid that should not be overlooked.
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.
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.
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. To receive licensure, graduates must pass the 225-question Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). 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 more than $1,000, inclusive of 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 near 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.
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: $139,280 (BLS, May 2022)
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: $78,810 (BLS, May 2022)
Licensure and practice. (2023).
Payscale. (2023). Average industrial-organizational psychologist salary.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic, Occupational Outlook Handbook. (2021). Postsecondary teachers.
What is psychology? (2023).
Page last reviewed on November 28, 2023