Guide to Doctorate in Psychology Programs

Are you considering a doctorate in psychology? Keep reading to learn about what a psychology doctoral program might look like and how to choose the right program for you.
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Are you considering a doctorate in psychology? If so, you're in good company — thousands of Americans are awarded doctorates in psychology every year. However, doctoral programs are an incredibly varied field of study, with options available for you to study online, in person, or in a hybrid format. You can also choose a specialty and even choose to earn either a Ph.D. in psychology or a Psy.D.

Whatever your field, you'll be studying and conducting original research as you earn your doctorate. Keep reading to learn about what a psychology doctoral program might look like and how to choose the right program for you.

What Are the Benefits of a Doctorate in Psychology?

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    An online doctoral degree in psychology will expand and deepen your clinical and theoretical knowledge.
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    A psychology doctorate can help you qualify for roles in teaching, research, and advanced clinical positions.
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    Grads can go on to leverage their degrees into fascinating, well-paid careers.

Featured Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

How to Choose a Doctorate Program?

When you're comparing different psychology doctoral programs, you should consider multiple factors before deciding on one to enroll in. Here are four considerations to bear in mind as you're preparing your applications and comparing potential programs:

  1. 1

    Accreditation

    It's crucially important that your doctorate is from an accredited school and program. For psychology programs, look for accreditation from the American Psychology Association (APA). This ensures that your program meets professional standards and will make your degree legitimate in the eyes of colleagues and future employers
  2. 2

    Graduation rate

    A school's graduation rate can be a good indicator of past student successes. A higher graduation rate means that more students have successfully completed their degrees, meaning it's more likely that the school has high-quality student support services to help you graduate.
  3. 3

    Dissertation requirements

    To complete your doctorate, you will almost certainly need to complete a dissertation. Different schools have different requirements for your doctoral dissertation, which can be an original research paper, an experiment and subsequent write-up, or another type of original project.
  4. 4

    Financial aid

    Before you enroll in a doctoral degree program, you should know how much you'll need to pay. This is where it can be important to choose a school with strong financial aid programs and funding opportunities, like research assistantships, teaching assistantships, stipends for doctoral students, and need-based financial aid grants.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Psychology?

A doctorate is a terminal degree, meaning it's the highest qualification you can attain in the field. It's not unusual for a doctoral program in psychology to take more than five years to complete. This can mean over 50 credits of required work, but these will generally be split between traditional coursework credits and credits earned through practicum training and work on your original research/dissertation.

If you choose to study online, this timeline may be slightly different. Some online doctoral programs offer accelerated courses, which can allow you to complete your degree at a quicker pace.

Is a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in Psychology Better?

Both a Ph.D. and Psy.D. are legitimate and respected doctorates, but they have a few key differences.

A Psy.D. is a professional doctorate structured with a focus on clinical practice. A Ph.D., on the other hand, is a research doctorate focused on producing original research. Which is right for you will largely depend on whether you're planning on a career in clinical practice, research, or academia.

Top Career Paths With a Doctorate in Psychology

It's natural to wonder what kind of job opportunities a doctorate in psychology can lead to — and what kind of salaries you can expect. Here are some of the most popular careers for graduates of psychology doctorates, along with their median salaries for 2023:

Psychology Careers
Career Median Annual Salary (May 2023)
Industrial/Organizational Psychologist $147,420
Counseling Psychologist $96,100
Clinical Psychologist $96,100
Professor $82,140
School Psychologist $84,940
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Much Money Can I Make With a Doctorate in Psychology?

Graduates with a doctorate in psychology earn an average salary of about $92,000, according to Payscale data from September 2023. This is approximately $29,000 more per year than those with a master's in psychology.

Your salary will also vary depending on your specialty. For example, clinical and counseling psychologists earn a median annual salary of around $96,000, while industrial-organizational psychologists earn around $147,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

It is important to note that these figures may also vary depending on your experience and location.

Median Annual Wage for Psychologists, May 2023

Clinical and Counseling Psychologists
$96,100

Industrial/Organizational Psychologists
$147,420

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Psychology Programs

Is a doctorate in psychology worth it?

Whether or not a doctorate in psychology is "worth it" or not is a personal question only you can answer. You will need to consider your career goals and personal financial situation, as well as if you are ready to make the time commitment required for a doctorate, before making your decision.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, meaning you will need to go to medical school and earn an MD to become one. While you're there, you can specialize in psychiatric medicine and complete a residency in psychiatry before you can practice.

How difficult it is to be accepted into a psychology Ph.D. program will depend heavily on the program and school. You should look up your school's admissions requirements, as well as its Ph.D. program's acceptance rate, to get an idea of how difficult it typically is to be accepted.

There are schools that offer doctoral programs in psychology either fully or partially online. Online programs may require you to complete in-person clinical practice or internships in your community.

There are doctoral programs in psychology that do not require you to hold a master's degree to apply. While a master's degree can improve your odds of acceptance, it is not a requirement for many programs, and you can be accepted with a strong undergraduate record alone.

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed May 12, 2024.

BestColleges.com 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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