Best Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs

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A faster than average job growth rate means great things for bright minds looking for positions in the field of psychology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates job growth in psychology to increase by 19% in a 10-year span (through 2024), with specialties in the field (such as clinical, counseling, or school psychology) growing at a rate of 20%. However, in order to truly compete for such roles, you’ll need a doctorate in psychology and for most career paths in your state you’ll also be required to hold certification or licensure, which requires a doctorate degree in psychology (either a PhD or PsyD).

WILL THIS PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?

Yes. As mentioned above, you must first earn a PhD or PsyD (or in the case of school psychologists, an EdS) for state licensure to qualify for psychology work, whether in research, academia, a healthcare setting, or in a private practice. The process of earning an online doctoral degree in psychology provides the necessary background on theories, methodologies, and skills (from analytical to observational to interpersonal), and knowledge you’ll need to carry out research, studies, tests, treatment, and reports in the field.

DO I NEED PREVIOUS WORK EXPERIENCE TO GET IN?

Admission requirements to psychology doctorate online programs vary by school and department. Many institutions require at least three years of previous related work experience. When it comes to learners interested in earning their doctorate in psychology, this requirement isn’t difficult to achieve because many applicants have already taken on internships and practicum courses in a lab or applied setting within the field.

CAN I WORK WHILE I COMPLETE MY ONLINE DOCTORATE IN PSYCHOLOGY?

Typically, an online degree program is structured for maximum flexibility in order to accommodate one’s schedule, which can include family obligations and, yes, work. A doctorate in psychology online program is no different, affording students more time for their other commitments. Note that even 100% online programs will require a hands-on internship, research work, fieldwork, or even a full-time residency, which will of course influence the time you will have for obligations such as work.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES TO EARNING MY DOCTORATE ONLINE?

As with most online programs, one of the advantages of an online doctorate in psychology is schedule flexibility. This also ties into location, as some students are limited by where they reside. Enrolling in an online psychology doctorate program is always a time and finance commitment, but going to school online can save on both. Depending on the program and how much free time you have to dedicate to coursework, earning a PhD, PsyD, or EdS can take anywhere from three to seven years.

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Rank School Name Relative Cost Location Description
Southern California Seminary 5/5 El Cajon, CA

California Southern University has served non-traditional students since 1978. The school offers online programs in business, law, and psychology. Its doctor of psychology is a 66-credit, clinically-focused degree that meets the requirements for state licensure in California. The program emphasizes counseling and therapy and culminates with a community-based research project. The optional practicum requires students to complete 175 hours over two courses. Courses include advanced theories of personality, cultural diversity, and physiological psychology. Full-time students can finish the online doctoral degree in psychology in four years.

Psychology doctorate online applicants should have a master's degree in psychology or a related field. CalSouthern accepts up to 30 transfer credits. No entrance examination is required for admission, and courses start monthly. The doctoral research project, which covers clinical application and analysis, replaces the dissertation. Tuition is the same for all students regardless of residency.

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The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles 4/5 Los Angeles, CA

The Ph.D. in international psychology prepares graduates for work at multinational organizations. The online doctoral degree in psychology emphasizes working with a global team and applied business analysis. These skills are applicable to various settings, including roles at embassies, government agencies, and nonprofits. Students can choose from two concentrations: organizations/systems and trauma services.

Both concentrations require fieldwork, with the organizations/systems specialization taking students abroad to places in Brazil, Peru, and Rwanda. Students travel to these destinations with their peers, as this online doctoral degree in psychology is taught through a cohort model, meaning students begin and end the program with the same group. The school estimates that the online doctorate in psychology will take three to four years for full-time students to complete. Tuition is the same for all doctorate in psychology degrees at the Chicago School, which is accredited by WASC. Transfer credit is accepted from institutions with regional accreditation.

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Saybrook University 4/5 Oakland, CA

Saybrook's Ph.D. in psychology offers four concentrations: consciousness, spirituality, and integrative health; existential, humanistic, and transpersonal psychology; creative studies; and psychophysiology, which explores the interrelationship between the mind and body. While this online doctoral degree in psychology is primarily taught through distance learning, Saybrook does use a hybrid learning model, requiring two in-person training sessions a year. The degree, which takes four to five years to complete, is intended for students interested in non-clinical careers in psychology; it does not provide a path toward licensure.

The online psychology doctorate, offered through the College of Social Sciences, applies humanistic principles to everyday problems in the world. Graduates are prepared for work in various settings including education, community health, and corporate offices. Students may transfer up to 31 credits from their prerequisite master's degree. The GRE is not required; admissions are on a rolling basis. Saybrook is accredited by WASC.

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Touro University Worldwide 3/5 Los Alamitos, CA

Touro's Psy.D. in human and organizational psychology explores hierarchy, relationships, and interaction at organizations, including management and staff. Issues covered include motivation, retention, and productivity. Through this doctorate in psychology, students gain a better understanding of psychology in the workplace and how such skills can help in addressing morale, company culture, turnover, and operations.

This online doctoral degree in psychology is offered entirely online. The degree has three phases, beginning with theory/research study and ending with a presentation and defense of a dissertation. Applicants must hold a master's degree from an accredited higher education institution with a minimum 3.4 GPA. No GRE is required; the admissions process is accelerated. Touro is accredited by WASC. Tuition is the same for all online students and is calculated per semester credit.

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A psychology doctorate online program will either award a general degree or one designed for a subset in the field, such as I/O (industrial-organizational) or counseling. See the following table for examples of a few of the more popular concentrations or specializations that doctorate in psychology holders pursue. Note that details may vary depending on the school and program chosen, but these represent a sample of what can be expected.

CONCENTRATIONS OFFERED FOR AN ONLINE DOCTORATE IN PSYCHOLOGY

Concentration Description Careers this concentration prepares for
Industrial-Organizational Psychology A doctorate degree in psychology online with a concentration in I/O prepares graduates to work in an organizational setting, such as a start-up or corporation, assisting in areas like team morale, employee satisfaction, workplace productivity, and operational efficiency. I/O psychologist (working with human resources, marketing, sales, and management)
Health Psychology The health psychology specialization of an online psychology doctorate program focuses on the relationship between health, wellness, and illness and psychological, behavioral, and social factors. Grads enter the field ready to help patients cope with illness, recovery, and loss, as well as address certain behaviors, moods, and habits. Health psychologist (specialty of clinical psychology)
Counseling Psychology Through this concentration, students train for future work in both one-on-one and group counseling, which can be further specialized (family therapy or working with adolescents, for example). Licensure from one’s state is required to practice as a counseling psychologist (also known as a psychological counselor or clinical psychologist). Counseling psychologist (at hospitals, clinics, or schools)

CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE DOCTORATE IN PSYCHOLOGY

While the curriculum varies for online psychology doctorate programs, the basic theories, concepts, and methodologies they cover are generally the same. Here are a few sample courses typically offered, each designed to ready students for careers in psychology (or one of the field’s specialties).

  • Individuals/Groups in Organization: Explore how an organization’s success/failure relates to its culture and the behaviors of its workforce and management teams. Learn how to observe, interpret, and analyze individual behaviors and cognitions, and how to apply new, emerging theories in the I/O field.
  • Stress and Coping: Intended for online doctorate in psychology candidates working toward become health psychologists, this course addresses the topical issues of stress, stressors, and coping strategies and how these behaviors can impact our health and physiology.
  • Human Motivation: Explore what’s behind the drive, ambition, and initiative of individuals, and how motivation can come from within as well as external sources. Develop understanding of established and current theories on human motivation, and learn how such knowledge can help groups, organizations, and individuals such as students achieve success.
  • Cognitive Neuroscience: Particularly relevant for those in health psychology, cognitive neuroscience pays special attention to neural activity and mental processes. From social cognition to perception to emotion, students explore behavior and change and how to help people gain control over — and, in turn, improve — their health.
  • Personality and Behavior: This doctorate degree in psychology course examines behavior through the lens of personality. Students ask what role personality plays in the decisions people make, and how character impacts our everyday interactions. This is a notable course for the prospective I/O or school psychologist.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE DOCTORATE IN PSYCHOLOGY?

In a recent survey of psychology doctoral candidates, the National Science Foundation found that on average, learners took six years to complete a PhD or PsyD. Students pursuing their online doctoral degree in psychology can take anywhere from three to seven years to receive their degree. Factors, such as whether the student is attending full- or part-time, naturally influence program length. For a doctorate in psychology, particularly the PsyD (and for school psychologists, the EdS), fieldwork is a requirement that may be achieved through an internship, supervised research project, or residency.

As with any advanced degree, a doctoral dissertation is an enormous undertaking that requires a significant amount of time and effort to complete. For psychology doctorate online candidates, transfer credits can also affect program length. Some programs allow a maximum number of transfer credits from a student’s master’s degree work, while others may not. Finally, some programs are based on a cohort model, which means students go through the program together as a group, removing the option of moving through a program at an individual pace.

Accreditation is a designation awarded to an institution from a respected authority. Institutions that successfully receive accreditation meet standards of quality established by an accrediting authority. Accreditation comes in three varieties: national, regional, and professional. When choosing a school, prospective doctorate psychology online students are wise to carefully consider the accreditation that an institution or program has earned (or lacks!).

National accreditation is a recognition awarded by agencies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). These agencies award accreditation on a national level to specific types of schools, such as vocational or trade institutions. Common agencies of this type include DETC, ACICS, and ACCSC.

Regional accreditation is generally considered the premier form of designation. Agencies recognized by both the U.S. Department of Education and CHEA award regional accreditation. Six agencies in six regions award regional accreditation: MSA, NEASC, NCA, NAC, SACS, and WACS. Credits earned from a regionally accredited school easily transfer to other institutions and regional accreditation qualifies schools for most forms of financial support.

In addition to national and regional accreditation, doctorate in psychology candidates must also weigh a third accreditation: specialized and/or professional accreditation. The field of psychology’s most important professional accreditation agency is the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA accredits clinical, counseling, and school psychology programs, and to receive licensure in some states, learners must first attend an APA-accredited program.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is the federal agency in charge of educational policy for the nation. In addition to helping to implement new laws enacted by Congress, the ED also administers federal financial aid and awards accreditation to higher education institutions that meet acceptable levels of quality.

CHEA promotes academic quality through accreditation, and recognizes 60 accrediting agencies. Its agencies award accreditation at the national level. The ED and CHEA back regional accreditation, and by being recognized by the federal government, post-secondary institutions and programs of this type qualify for federal student aid. To review accredited schools, please visit the databases at both the DOE and CHEA.

While a master’s degree in psychology can qualify you for some positions in the field, such as a research assistant, the most desired prospects are reserved for those who hold a doctorate in psychology. To practice as a legally-recognized “psychologist,” one must be licensed and state licensure requires a doctoral degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that graduates who earn their degree in a specialty, such as I/O or forensics, hold an even greater advantage. Demand for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is projected to grow at a rate higher than average over a 10-year span (though 2024). The current median age at which a doctorate degree in psychology is conferred is 31.

Psychology Specialty Jobs Growth in Field (projected) from 2014-2024 Change in Jobs (estimated) from 2014-2024
Clinical 20% 26,400
Marriage/Family Therapist 19% 5,000
School 20% 22,500
Industrial-Organization 19% 400
All others 10% 1,600

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

DOCTORATE IN PSYCHOLOGY SALARY

In addition to a chosen specialty, professional experience level impacts annual earnings of employees in the field of psychology. Patient counseling and psychological testing skills are the most prized by employers and can sometimes influence salaries by double digits. The next table features job data from PayScale regarding expected salaries for clinical psychologists, school psychologists, and other psychology professionals at different stages of their respective careers.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Psychology (all) $73,721 $65,368 $80,697 $90,017
Clinical Psychologist $73,791 $68,436 $59,953 $88,768
School Psychologist $58,388 $53,750 $59,953 $71,341
Assistant Professor $65,144 $65,047 $65,836 $63,826
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor $45,945 $41,270 $46,262 $48,651

DOCTORATE IN PSYCHOLOGY CAREERS

A doctorate in psychology prepares you for a career in the field of psychology, usually in a specialty such as industrial-organizational, counseling, or health. Most organizations in the field require a potential employee to hold a PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, and a PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology. These degrees are also a requirement for state licensure. Professions who hold the appropriate psychology degrees are often highly sought after — not just in healthcare and social work settings, but also by schools, organizations, and the military, for example.

Health Psychologist

A health psychologist is a type of clinical psychologist who studies how psychological and behavioral factors interact with health, wellness, and healthcare. Health psychologists generally work in either private practice or in a healthcare setting such as hospitals, clinics, or community centers. They examine the influence of psychological factors on our health/physiology.

Median Annual Salary – $78,690
Median Annual Wage Difference for Specialty vs. General Degree in Psychology – 4.5%
Projected Growth Rate – 20%

Forensic Psychologist

A newer speciality of the doctorate degree in psychology, forensic psychologists work in the legal and criminal justice system, primarily assisting on cases to help explain psychological aspects, such as motivation and defense. While many work in private practice, forensic psychologists may also be on staff at hospitals, mental health centers, courts, and educational institutions.

Median Annual Salary – $94,650
Median Annual Wage Difference for Specialty vs. General Degree in Psychology – 21.5%
Projected Growth Rate – 10%

Industrial-Organizational (I/O) Psychologist

An I/O psychologist helps an organization relate to employees, which facilitates greater workplace productivity and job satisfaction. I/O psychologists work together with HR and management to help in the areas of hiring and retention, team moral, company culture, and training.

Median Annual Salary – $104,570
Median Annual Wage Difference for Specialty vs. General Degree in Psychology – 29.1%
Projected Growth Rate – 19%

School Psychologist

School psychologists helps an organization relate to employees, which facilitates greater workplace productivity and job satisfaction. I/O psychologists work together with HR and management to help in the areas of hiring and retention, team moral, company culture, and training.

Median Annual Salary – $75,670
Median Annual Wage Difference for Specialty vs. General Degree in Psychology – 0.5%
Projected Growth Rate – 20%

Developmental Psychologist

From ways of thinking to behavior to circumstance, humans change over a lifetime. Developmental psychologists can assist in dealing, coping, and adjusting. Developmental psychologists primarily work with two groups: children and adolescents, and the elderly. In turn, many developmental psychologists practice in healthcare facilities, centers for the homeless, and retirement homes.

Median Annual Salary – $75,020
Median Annual Wage Difference for Specialty vs. General Degree in Psychology – -1.0%
Projected Growth Rate – 10%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Professional organizations exist to further the interests of their members and to advocate for their field or industry. Joining such an organization can be helpful for networking, job hunting (in particular for students and recent graduates), and the continued development of skills as members participate in workshops, seminars, annual conferences, and more. An online doctorate in psychology candidate for instance can expect to find resources, financial opportunities, and even mentors.

It’s no secret that higher education is often expensive. Most students require financial assistance, and online doctoral degree in psychology candidates are no exception. However, the specialized nature of the field opens certain financial aid doors that are closed to others. Professional organizations, employers, and communities offer a wide variety of scholarships, grants, and work programs to help support the psychologists of tomorrow. To help fund your doctorate in psychology, which may take up to seven years to complete, you’ll want to explore all your options, from federal aid to private programs. Note that federally-backed loans, like the Stafford Loan, carry a low interest rate for students. In turn, students are wise to begin by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.