Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Program Guide

Interested in earning a doctorate in clinical psychology? Learn the differences between a clinical psychology Ph.D. or Psy.D., including career options and potential salaries.
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  • A doctorate is the minimum degree for clinical psychology licensure in most states.
  • Clinical psychology doctoral students can earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D.
  • Ph.D. graduates can pursue university-level research and teaching
  • Psy.D. holders provide direct clinical psychology services to patients and clients.

Clinical psychology doctoral programs can lead to various careers. Graduates can conduct research, teach at the university level, or work directly with patients.

Find out more about choosing a degree and program, how to get accepted, what you can do with a clinical psychology doctorate, and how much you can earn.

Should You Get a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology?

A doctorate is the minimum requirement for becoming licensed as a clinical psychologist in nearly all U.S. states. Earning a doctorate takes time, money, and effort. Deciding whether to pursue a doctoral degree can hinge on career goals, potential salaries, and degree options.

As you read through this guide, some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Should you opt for an academic- and research-focused Ph.D. in clinical psychology or a clinical practice-focused Psy.D.?
  • How much money can you expect to earn, and will the return on your investment be worth the time, money, and effort?

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What to Expect From a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Program

What to expect in a clinical psychology doctorate program depends on whether you choose a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in clinical psychology or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.)

Ph.D. programs prepare graduates for careers in academia. The Psy.D. curriculum focuses on clinical practice working directly with patients. You may find overlapping course content common to both degrees.

What You’ll Learn

Doctoral programs in clinical psychology include courses in cognitive behavior, human development, research, scholarly writing, and learning theories. Graduation usually requires residencies or internships and a dissertation or thesis.

Psy.D. and Ph.D. programs include specialization areas and training in generating knowledge of or providing clinical psychology services.

Students hone skills in the following areas:

  • Culturally appropriate communication skills
  • Knowledge of history and systems of psychology
  • Quantitative and qualitative research
  • Statistical analysis
  • Patient assessment, diagnosis, and treatment

What You’ll Pay

$47,773 per year

Average Tuition, Fees and Expenses for the 2019-20 School Year

How Long You’ll Spend in School

4-7 Years

Source: NCES

Ph.D. Program vs. Psy.D. Program: Clinical Psychology

Program and Career Goals

Ph.D. programs center on advancing knowledge of clinical psychology through teaching and scientific research, primarily in higher education. Psy.D. teachings apply scientific knowledge of clinical psychology to groups and individuals. Both types of doctoral degrees can prepare graduates to become licensed psychologists.


Generally, the Ph.D. curriculum includes qualitative and quantitative scientific research, scholarly writing, statistics, and post-secondary teaching methods. Psy.D. courses emphasize clinical psychology methodologies and theories through practical experience in patient assessment, consulting, diagnosis, intervention, and treatment. However, both types of programs include research and clinical practice.

Capstone Experience

While overlap may exist between the two types of doctorates, generally, Ph.D. students can expect to complete comprehensive exams, residencies, and dissertations. Psy.D. programs also require a thesis or examination and experiential learning, such as practicums and internships, providing psychological services to patients.


According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), graduate students pay an average of $20,556 in tuition and fees in 2020 for a research Ph.D. and $34,566 per year for a professional practice Psy.D. Typically, Ph.D. programs are more likely to offer tuition waivers and teaching or research assistantships than Psy.D. programs.

Average Salary

The average annual salary for graduates of Psy.D. programs is $87,000, with a range of $58,000-$116,000 for clinical psychologists, according to Payscale data from July 2023. Ph.D. graduates average $99,000 per year, and clinical psychologist salaries range from $62,000 to $125,000.

How to Choose a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Program

Choosing a doctorate in clinical psychology entails researching schools and programs to determine which ones best meet your academic and professional goals.

Factors to consider include:

  • Ph.D or Psy.D.: Are your goals more research or clinical-focused? Are you interested in working in academia and research or directly with patients?
  • Accreditation: Is the program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA)?
  • Specialization Areas: Which programs have the research or practice concentrations you're interested in pursuing?
  • Admission Requirements: Do you have the requisite minimum GPA? Have you completed the prerequisite degree or coursework?
  • Cost: Can you afford the tuition? Do the programs offer tuition waivers, assistantships, or financial aid?

How to Get Into a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Program

While admission requirements vary by program, you can expect to see some common requirements.

Most Ph.D. and Psy.D. admissions require:

  • A master's degree in psychology from an APA-accredited program (some may accept a bachelor's degree)
  • A minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Prerequisite coursework specified by the program
  • Official transcripts
  • 2-3 letters of recommendation
  • A personal statement
  • A resume
  • A writing sample
  • An individual or group interview

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology?

A doctoral degree — either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. — is the minimum requirement for licensure as a clinical psychologist.

A Ph.D. can lead to research and teaching-focused careers, while a Psy.D. is clinically focused. However, there is some overlap. For example, Psy.D. graduates may conduct applied research and Ph.D. graduates may practice clinical psychology.

Potential clinical psychology careers include child psychologist, forensic psychologist, psychosocial specialist, researcher, and university professor.

Populations clinical psychologists commonly focus on:

  • Children: Working with children, adolescents, and teens, clinical psychologists help with processing emotions, overcoming trauma, employing coping strategies, managing learning disabilities, and addressing mental health issues.
  • Families: Clinical psychologists counsel families as they navigate changes such as divorce or adoption, stress due to job losses or addictions, or conflicts arising from family dynamics. Researchers study families to understand issues and formulate treatment options.
  • People in the legal system: Forensic psychologists and researchers assist those working in the courts and justice systems by creating criminal profiles and evaluating whether suspects are fit to stand trial.
  • People with substance use and mental health conditions: Clinical psychologists help and study patients experiencing mental health disorders and addictions to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other substances by formulating and implementing effective assessment, diagnostic, and treatment procedures.
  • Older adults: Clinical psychologists and researchers specializing in older adults help those 65 and older deal with life changes, loss of independence, physical and mental health problems, and the deaths of loved ones.

How Much Can You Make With a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the average annual salary for clinical and counseling psychologists at $102,740. The BLS reports annual average salaries for psychologists who teach and conduct research at postsecondary schools at $88,470.

Clinical psychologists who work in research at colleges and universities rather than in clinical practice make $78,300 per year, about $24,000 less than the average salary for all clinical and counseling psychologists, $102,740, according to BLS data.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology

Is a Ph.D. in clinical psychology worth it?

A Ph.D. in clinical psychology can be worth the time, money, and effort. The educational costs can be greatly reduced with tuition waivers and teaching or research assistant positions offered to Ph.D. students. Ph.D. graduates earn an average salary of $99,000 annually, which can help with student loan repayment.

What is the difference between a Ph.D. in psychology and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology?

A Ph.D. in psychology is research focused, while a clinical psychology doctorate is assessment and treatment focused. Ph.D. students conduct scientific research and can find careers in academia advancing the field. Clinically focused Psy.D. students train to work directly with patients and clients in areas like child psychology, forensic psychology, and addiction.

Do you get paid more with a Ph.D. or Psy.D.?

Ph.D. holders earn higher salaries. Ph.D. wages average $99,000 per year, compared to Psy.D. salaries average $87,000, according to Payscale.

How hard is it to get into a Ph.D. program for clinical psychology?

Clinical psychology Ph.D. program admissions are highly competitive. A 2019 study indicated a 12.1% acceptance rate to clinical psychology doctoral programs. An APA survey published in 2019 found that participating clinical psychology doctoral programs received a median of 149 applications and accepted a median of 11 students.

Page last reviewed on August 21, 2023 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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