Earning an online doctorate in psychology can launch your career in the highest paying fields of psychology and provide a pathway to state licensure required for clinical practice.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for all psychologists may grow by 3% from 2019-29, but the demand varies considerably by specialty area and degree level. Psychologists who earn doctorates in clinical, counseling, or school psychology can anticipate over 5,700 new employment openings through the decade in social services, healthcare, schools, and private practice.
Online Ph.D. programs in psychology feature flexible schedules and convenient access to course materials, offering an attractive alternative to traditional campus-based degrees for working professionals or students managing family and work responsibilities. An online doctorate in psychology can take approximately five years to complete, but required internships and dissertation research may add to the time needed to finish the degree.
Applying To an Online Ph.D. Degree Program in Psychology
Students often enter online Ph.D. programs in psychology directly after completing their bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field. Some programs restrict admission to master's degree-holders. Most psychology programs adhere to competitive admissions criteria, accepting candidates who demonstrate a minimum 3.0 GPA and completion of specific psychology prerequisites.
While admission guidelines vary, requirements for most online doctoral programs in psychology comprise official transcripts, at least two letters of recommendation, a personal statement describing career goals, and a resume highlighting any relevant internship or volunteer experiences. Some schools may require GRE scores and a personal interview.
Candidates for online Ph.D. psychology programs must agree to participate in face-to-face practicums in clinical settings and, in some cases, in-person campus residencies.
Featured Online Programs
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The Best Ph.D. Degree Programs Online for 2021
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the private Keiser University offers an online Ph.D. in psychology. featuring a 60-credit curriculum with two residencies. Some of the foundation courses include research, ethics, and scholarly writing; cognitive and affective basis of behavior; and behavioral neuroscience. As part of the culminating work toward the end of the program, students enroll in 12 credits of dissertation coursework.
Other topics students explore in the eight-week courses involve curriculum design as well as the theory of learning and motivation, sociocultural behaviors, cross-cultural measurements, and educational psychology. The program allows for two pathways for students so that they may enter either with a master's degree or a baccalaureate degree.
Keiser requires a minimum GPA of 3.0 and encourages submitting GRE or MAT scores for future applicants.
Keiser University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
Liberty, a private Christian university based in Lynchburg, Virginia, features an online Ph.D. in psychology among its many curriculum offerings. Courses in the 60-credit curriculum focus on interpreting psychology and human behavior concepts with a Biblical perspective. Courses include general psychology, clinical techniques, behavioral theory, and culminating dissertation courses.
Liberty requires a 3.0 GPA and 12 credits of psychology courses from undergraduate work for applicants, as well as letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose outlining an applicant's goals. Transfer students may apply up to 50% of their previous coursework to the program. Additionally, a 50% military discount on tuition is offered, along with other financial aid and scholarship opportunities.
Potential careers for graduates of Liberty's Ph.D. program in psychology include roles as a professor, corporate psychologist, researcher, project manager, or program/department head.
Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI
Located in East Lansing, MSU enrolls more than 45,000 students annually. Known for flexibility and affordability, one program MSU offers is a hybrid doctoral program in counseling, educational psychology, and special education. The specialized coursework situates graduates for success in psychology fields within academia. Many graduates pursue careers in K-12 school systems, virtual education organizations, community colleges, higher education, and academic nonprofits.
Annual tuition runs around $14,000 for Michigan residents and $27,000 for out-of-state students. Students generally study in the program for about five years prior to graduating, depending on whether they are full- or part-time.
Potential future applicants must submit GRE scores, a writing sample, and a statement of professional and scholarly goals. MSU recommends candidates for the Ph.D. in counseling, educational psychology, and special education hold at least some prior teaching experience.
Michigan State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Norfolk State University, based in Norfolk, Virginia, offers a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Designed for students pursuing academic careers within the field of psychology, the degree offers a balanced view of clinical psychology. The program follows the scientist-practitioner model and graduates must pass a comprehensive exam as well as write a dissertation prior to receiving their doctoral degree. Full-time students may complete the degree within five years, including a one year internship.
Students at NSU take part in the Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology, which awards the Ph.D. This consortium provides balanced training in science as well as practice and follows a model which produces graduates who are ethical psychologists, knowledgeable about diversity, experienced in empirical research, and prepared for leadership roles in healthcare settings or academic service.
Norfolk State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
Virginia Beach, VA
Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Regent University offers a 100% online curriculum for its Ph.D. in counseling and psychological studies degree. The 51-credit program includes a common core in research, statistics, psychometrics, and Christian leadership.
Career opportunities for Regent's Ph.D. program include university faculty and leadership, research writer, mental health services executive, guidance director, and nonprofit administration roles. A variety of concentration areas allow students to focus on the topics and interests most relevant to their career path. Some areas of focus involve courses such as addictions and biblical counseling, human services for student affairs, marriage and family ministry, or trauma and crisis counseling.
Ph.D. applicants must hold a master's degree in mental health or a closely related field, a minimum 3.5 GPA, and one year of experience working in the field of mental health or psychology.
Saybrook, a private university based in Pasadena, California, offers a hybrid Ph.D. in psychology program. While students must typically hold an undergraduate degree in social work, counseling, or psychology, 12 credits of psychology coursework may waive this undergraduate degree requirement. The curriculum emphasizes scholarship based in the traditions of existential, humanistic, and transpersonal psychology.
Students generally complete the program in five to six years with up to 83 credits, and graduate with an area of specialization within psychology. Specialization areas include one of four topics: consciousness, spirituality, and integrative health; psychophysiology; transpersonal psychology; or creativity studies. Tuition is $1,200 per credit and courses are synchronous with occasional on-campus residencies.
Saybrook University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
The Chicago School, centrally located in downtown Chicago, Illinois, offers several online Ph.D. in psychology degrees with a wide array of specializations to more than 4,000 students annually.
Prospective doctoral students choose from one of many options: an Ed.D. in educational psychology and technology, a Ph.D. in business psychology, a Ph.D. in organizational leadership, or a Ph.D. in international psychology. Some additional choices include the online Ph.D. in applied behavior analysis, which may be completed with or without the credential component, and concentrations in trauma services or organizations & systems. Students also may explore the Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision program.
The Chicago School is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is an active member of the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in psychology?
A Ph.D. in psychology refers to a research degree that emphasizes statistical analysis and experimental methods. Ph.D. programs require a comprehensive exam and a written dissertation, and graduates often enter careers as professors or researchers. The Psy.D. is a practice-oriented degree that does not require a dissertation and prepares graduates to apply their psychological training in licensed clinical practice.
What is accreditation and why is it important?
Colleges and universities that hold accreditation from agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation meet established standards of academic quality. Regional accreditation enables students to transfer credits easily and receive federal financial aid. The American Psychological Association, Commission on Accreditation only reviews residential doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology and does not currently accredit online-only programs.
How much do you make with a Ph.D. in psychology?
The BLS reports the median annual salary for all psychologists at $80,370 as of May 2019, noting that compensation varies considerably by educational level, specialties, and years of experience. Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists, many of whom hold a doctoral degree, make an average annual income of $78,200. Psychology professors employed in postsecondary institutions earn a mean salary of $87,530.
What can I do with a Ph.D. degree in psychology?
Online Ph.D. psychology programs offer career-focused specialties, including behavioral psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, forensic psychology, and health psychology. These specialized psychologists consult for industry or government executives, provide counseling in correctional facilities, conduct evaluations for public health organizations, or serve as researchers and educators. Earning an online clinical psychology Ph.D. enables graduates to provide direct services -- assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients.