How to Choose Between a Psy.D. and Ph.D. -- Your Guide to the Differences and Advantages of Each Doctoral Degree in Psychology

There are two types of doctoral degrees in psychology: a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. Both prepare students for careers in psychology, but their goals and purposes differ.

A Psy.D. degree prepares students for careers as clinical psychologists while a Ph.D. trains students in research and teaching. The Psy.D. embraces the practitioner-scholar model and applies psychological science to individuals and groups while the Ph.D. emphasizes analytical research in the field. Psy.D. students work as clinical psychologists either in private practice or other fields, while Ph.D. graduates often work in academia or as full-time researchers, some also work as clinical psychology professionals.

Both a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in psychology train students for careers in psychology, but they lead to different professions. A Psy.D. prepares learners to work with patients and clients in a professional setting. A Ph.D. prepares graduates to conduct research and provide some psychological services.

  Psy.D Ph.D.
The Basics A Psy.D. is a doctor of psychology degree. A Ph.D. is a doctor of philosophy.
Career Outcome A Psy.D. leads to work as a clinical psychologist. A Ph.D. leads to careers as licensed psychologists, psychology professors, or psychology researchers.
Degree Length 4-6 years 5-8 years
Program Focus Direct application of psychology knowledge through work with clients and patients. Research, statistics, and teaching preparation alongside theoretical and practical psychology knowledge.

Students who pursue a Psy.D. often become clinical psychologists. As specified below, students who earn a Ph.D. in psychology can obtain different careers.

With a Psy.D., students can pursue careers as a clinical psychologist in private practice; they may also work as a forensic and school psychologist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in the next decade, employment for psychologists will grow by 14%. A Psy.D. degree also prepares learners to work as social workers, a profession that will see an estimated 16% increase over the next several years.

Ph.D. programs build skills applicable to careers in clinical psychology, but they also train students to work as marriage and family counselors, addictions counselors, and industrial organizational psychologists, those who study human behavior to assess efficiency in the workplace. Further, Ph.D. programs hone the analytical and critical thinking skills candidates need to work as psychological researchers and teachers. Researchers may work in government positions or within private organizations and companies. Postsecondary teachers, according to the BLS, will experience a 15% job growth rate in the coming years.

This section highlights educational differences of the Psy.D. and Ph.D. in psychology. In sum, Psy.D. classes focus on human behavior and theories, practice, and foundations of clinical psychological practice. Ph.D. coursework combines the fundamentals of psychology, statistics, and applied research.

Curriculum Differences

A Psy.D. program explores aspects of psychology and human behavior as they relate to individuals and groups. Candidates learn to evaluate and assess the psychological needs of others and study human development and emotion across the lifespan. Psy.D. programs also include coursework in professional and ethical standards of clinical psychological practice.

Psy.D. Courses

  • Advanced Psychotherapy: Coursework in advanced psychotherapy explores the major categories of mental health disorders and trains students to apply diagnostic categories and systems.

  • Lifespan Development: A lifespan development class provides an overview of human functions from birth to death. Students study intelligence, social relationships, motor functions, personal identity, and related matters at various life stages.

  • Psychological Measurements: Classes in psychological measurements introduce students to fundamentals of psychological testing and assessment. Students learn how to administer and assess tests appropriately.

  • Personality Assessment: Coursework in personality assessment trains students to identify objective personality measures in patients and clients. Psy.D. candidates learn to administer, score, and interpret results, as well as prepare clinical reports.

  • Ethics for Psychologists: This class emphasizes the American Psychological Association's code of conduct as well as state and federal regulations of the profession. Students gain insights into licensure requirements and learn how to work as efficient, ethical clinical psychologists.

Ph.D. in Psychology Courses

  • Quantitative Research Methods: Coursework in quantitative research methods gives students foundational knowledge of statistical psychological theory and applications. Students learn mathematical modeling and data analysis as they relate to psychology.

  • Qualitative Research Methods: This course teaches students methods for conducting empirical research by developing research questions used in focus groups, individual surveys, and observation.

  • Psychology of Personality: A course in the psychology of personality includes information on theories of personality formation and development. Students learn methods to understand personality and how it relates to individual, group, and organizational processes.

  • Psychological Tests and Measures: This course trains Ph.D. candidates in theories and methods of psychological assessments. It also prepares them to evaluate, administer, and score tests and measures properly.

  • Multicultural Psychology: Multicultural psychology instructs students to recognize that social, economic, and cultural factors relate to human personality, behavior, and cognitive function. Coursework emphasizes research and clinical practice through a multicultural perspective.

Admission Differences

Admission to Psy.D. and Ph.D. programs includes similar requirements. Prospective students submit documentation from previous college coursework, along with any work experience and letters of recommendation. Both degrees also often include written and oral components to admission processes. Finally, learners may take into account a school's GPA and/or GRE requirements when deciding which program best meets their needs.

  Psy.D Admission Requirements Ph.D. Admission Requirements
Is an admission essay required? Yes Yes
Does an applicant's undergraduate degree need to be in psychology? No, but preferred No, but preferred
Minimum Degree Level Required Master's, perhaps bachelor's Master's, perhaps bachelor's
Minimum GPA for Admittance 2.7-3.0 3.0-3.5
Is previous work experience required? No No

When researching a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. program in psychology, students should take into consideration accreditation status, length of program, admission requirements, and available concentrations. A comprehensive look at doctor of psychology or a doctor of philosophy in psychology degrees will help clarify the programs' key similarities and differences.

Choosing the right psychology program also means looking into career opportunities available. Undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology offer students an array of professional options, with doctoral programs usually resulting in increased earning potential. Looking into everything psychology has to offer will guide students to the right program as they work toward an exciting career in the field.