Doctorate in Psychology

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Updated on Jun 8, 2021

Is a Doctorate in Psychology Right for Me?

If you are wondering if a doctorate in psychology is right for you, it will depend on your long-term career goals. Are you hoping to become a licensed practicing psychologist? Or do you think you’d want to open your own private practice one day? If you have the time, resources and motivation, a doctorate in psychology — whether it’s a PhD or PsyD degree — is an essential step in making those dreams a reality. A doctorate in psychology will prepare you for a career in clinical, counseling or school psychology and open up the best career opportunities in the field of psychology.

Of course, pursuing a doctorate in psychology is a major commitment of time and resources. After completing your bachelor’s degree, a PhD or PsyD can take an additional 4-7 years. If you have already completed a master’s degree, you can still expect to spend at least 3 or 4 years on your doctorate, as this doesn’t usually lessen the time commitment of your doctorate degree significantly. According to a report by the American Psychological Associationfrom 2016, the annual median cost of in-state tuition for doctoral students of psychology was about $11,000 at public institutions. On the higher end, the annual median cost of tuition at private institutions was about $34,000.

While a doctorate in psychology may seem like a huge investment of time and resources, when it comes to searching for a job, a PhD or PsyD will give you a competitive advantage in the field. A doctoral degree is necessary for anyone hoping to become a licensed psychologist, opening up the highest-paying careers in clinical, counseling or school psychology. With a doctoral degree, psychologists can earn over $100,000 annually, with the highest-paid psychologists earning over $137,000 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While money shouldn’t be your only motivating factor, this may make the up-front cost of your doctoral degree a little less intimidating.

If you are passionate about psychology and willing to put the necessary time and resources into a doctoral degree, you will become an expert in the field, whether you choose to pursue a career in academia, research or as a practicing psychologist. You will gain analytical, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills while also learning to evaluate, diagnose and treat mental illness, which will prepare you for a successful career as a licensed psychologist.

What are the Admission Requirements for a Doctorate in Psychology?

While admission requirements may differ slightly depending on the programs you apply to, generally you will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field and complete the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) for admission into a doctoral psychology program. It is also helpful to complete internships or have some kind of practice in the field and to be a member of professional organizations related to psychology.

To be accepted into a PhD or PsyD program, you will need to demonstrate a strong understanding of psychological concepts gained through a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field such as education, human development, social work or family studies. Some schools may have a preference for candidates with a strong background in research or academics, while others may prefer applicants with service or internship experience. You may also consider joining professional organizations related to your desired field, like the American Counseling Association, American Academy of Clinical Psychology, or National Association of School Psychologists. A student membership will also provide you with helpful resources such as professional development opportunities, access to research and educational opportunities.

Once you have chosen a doctoral program, there are a few other basic requirements you will want to make sure you have met. Most programs will require an undergraduate grade point average of at least 3.0 and internship experience. If you haven’t met those requirements yet, you will want to make sure that you do before graduating with your bachelor’s degree. Once you are ready to apply to a program, keep in mind that you will typically need letters of recommendation, GRE scores and transcripts sent to the school you are applying to along with the application and fee.

woman studying in library

PhD vs PsyD: What's the Difference?

If you decide to pursue a doctorate in psychology, the next step is to decide if you would like to work toward a PhD or a PsyD. This may depend on the type of work you are interested in doing after you earn your doctoral degree and what programs are offered at the institution of your choice. In general, a PhD may be focused more on research while a PsyD will prepare you to work with patients. Both of these routes will prepare you to become a licensed psychologist.

Until the 1970s, a PhD was the only option available for those choosing to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology. Typically, a PhD program is focused heavily on research and prepares candidates for a career in academia or research. If you are interested in working at a university after completing your degree rather than working with patients, a PhD in psychology may be the right choice for you. However, you may choose to specialize in clinical, counseling or school psychology, which would also prepare you to practice as a professional psychologist that works with patients.

A PsyD, on the other hand, is focused more on clinical work, and will train you to diagnose and treat mental illness. This option is growing in popularity, and is a great option if you are passionate about working directly with patients. As with a PhD, you may choose to specialize in clinical, counseling or school psychology. If you have internship or practicum experience working with patients, you may be a good candidate for a PsyD program.

Both PhD and PsyD programs tend to take between 4 and 7 years to complete, although PhD programs tend to take slightly longer to complete than a PsyD. If you choose to pursue a PhD, you will typically be evaluated in the form of a dissertation, while a PsyD will require a combination of exams and practical work. Again, while these programs vary in some ways, each one will prepare you to become a licensed psychologist as long as your degree is from an APA-accredited doctoral program.

If you want to learn more about the two degree options, read our comprehensive FAQ guide here.

What Psychology Doctorate Concentrations are Available?

Whether you choose a PhD or PsyD program, there are several different concentrations to choose from depending on your career goals. The APA accredits doctoral programs in clinical, counseling and school psychology, though there are many other specializations that may fall under one of these programs as well. It’s important to be sure your doctoral program is accredited if you want to become a licensed psychologist.

Doctoral psychology concentrations may include:

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Counseling Psychology
  • School Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Cognitive Behavioral Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Sports Psychology

Here are more details on the three most popular psychology concentrations:

Clinical Psychology1

A concentration in clinical psychology will train you to assess and treat mental illnesses as well as emotional and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists may work in research, education or health care settings and may diagnose and treat patients with severe mental illnesses as well as minor problems like stress or adjustment issues. In this concentration, you will gain a strong foundation in research and broad understanding of psychology across disciplines. Clinical psychologists can work with varied populations and in many different settings, so a doctoral degree in clinical psychology can be a flexible option.

Counseling Psychology2

While counseling psychology is similar to clinical psychology, there are some differences between these concentrations. A doctoral program in counseling psychology will be focused on preparing you to work directly with patients. Counseling psychologists also often work with healthy individuals on improving personal, relationship or work problems rather than severe mental illnesses, although they can also diagnose and treat mental illnesses. If you choose a concentration in counseling psychology, you will learn to help individuals improve their overall well-being and overcome personal and family crises. They often help clients focus on their strengths to overcome challenges and make decisions.

School Psychology3

A concentration is school psychology will prepare you to work with students, parents and other school professionals to provide support and interventions to improve students’ success at school. This can include emotional, social and learning support as well as intervening during times of personal crisis. A doctoral degree in school psychology will train you to assess learning needs and assist with planning or adapting educational programs and curriculum as needed, as well as providing counseling services and promoting a positive school environment. A doctorate in school psychology will also prepare you to communicate with parents and teachers to help support students in their development.

a counselor and her client

What Careers Can I Pursue with a Doctorate in Psychology?

A doctoral degree in psychology can prepare you for a variety of career paths. Many psychologists work in academia, research or a clinical setting, but your options aren’t always limited to those settings. Some psychologists work with businesses and organizations, work in public safety or even work with professional athletes. Psychology is a diverse field, and a doctorate in psychology has the potential to prepare you to work in a number of careers.

Careers in research and academia are common for psychologists. Some psychologists work in higher education, splitting their time between teaching and doing research. Others may work in a laboratory setting where they may conduct experiments to better understand the brain and human behavior. This career path may also include designing and giving psychological tests, conducting interviews and writing articles about the results of studies. Research psychologists may work in universities, organizations or government offices as well.

With a doctorate in psychology, you could also work in a clinical or counseling setting. This type of career would allow you to work with patients to diagnose and treat mental illness, navigate life changes and manage stress and emotions. Clinical psychologists tend to work more with patients with diagnosable mental illnesses while counseling psychologists often work with healthier individuals. These psychologists often work in schools, hospitals, clinics or private practice settings.

Some psychologists work in other fields such as conservation, business, health care policy, law, criminal justice and even sports. For example, conservation psychologists study the relationship between humans and nature and may be employed by zoos or environmental agencies to improve conservation efforts. Another less traditional but growing career path is industrial and organizational psychology. These psychologists often work to improve efficiency and employee satisfaction within a business. Some psychologists also work with businesses and organizations to better understand consumers and improve user experience related to new technologies. There are so many possibilities within the field of psychology, and what you do with your doctoral degree will depend on your own personal interests.

What Licenses and Certifications will a Doctorate in Psychology Prepare Me For?

A doctorate in psychology is required if you would like to become a licensed psychologist in any state. This opens up the possibility of becoming a practicing psychologist in whichever specialization you choose. Additionally, completing a doctoral degree in psychology is a step toward earning specialized certifications, which will improve your career outlook and could give you a competitive edge over other candidates when you are searching for a job. While these certifications are certainly not required, they are often recommended as a way to showcase your expertise in a specific area of psychology.

To gain licensure in any state, you will need to have completed your doctoral degree in psychology as well as meeting some other criteria. These include completing supervised professional experience in the field, a background check and the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Many states will require you to pass a jurisprudence exam also, which covers the laws and regulations you will need to know to practice psychology in your state. Depending on your field, you may need to pass other exams, such as the Praxis School Psychologists test. Along with these basic requirements, you will need to fill out an application, provide references and pay a fee, which varies by state.

Basic requirements for licensure:

  • Complete doctoral degree in psychology from an APA-accredited program
  • Complete supervised internship or practicum in the field
  • Pass EPPP
  • Pass state jurisprudence exam
  • Meet additional requirements depending on field
  • Submit application, references and fees

Once you have become a licensed psychologist, you will be eligible for certification in your area of focus, as long as you meet the specialization requirements. Certifications are offered through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) and include the following specialty boards:

  • Behavioral and Cognitive
  • Clinical Child and Adolescent
  • Clinical Health
  • Clinical
  • Clinical Neuropsychology
  • Counseling
  • Couple and Family
  • Forensic
  • Geropsychology
  • Organizational and Business
  • Police and Public Safety
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Rehabilitation
  • School

While a doctorate in psychology will help to prepare you for board certification, you will need to meet other requirements, including gaining training and experience in your specialty area and passing an examination. Once you have completed these steps and have been accepted to a specialty board, you will be seen as an expert in that area of psychology.

Basic requirements for board certification:

  • Be a licensed psychologist
  • Complete training in a specialty area
  • Gain experience in specialty area
  • Pass specialty specific examinations
  • Submit application and fees
a group of people at a conference

What Are The Top Professional Organizations For Psychologists?

Even if you are still working on your undergraduate degree in psychology, becoming a member of professional organizations in your field can be a valuable resource for psychologists in any stage of their career. Many of these organizations provide members with research, conferences, continuing education and career development opportunities. If you are preparing to apply for doctoral psychology programs, being an active member in one or more professional organizations can provide you with support and show that you are serious about advancing your career as a psychologist.

American Psychological Association (APA)

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest and most well-known association of psychologists in the United States. They provide members with the latest research, education and career development opportunities in the field of psychology.

Association for Psychological Science (APS)

The Association for Psychological Science (APS) is an international organizations that works to advance scientific psychology across fields and geographic borders. Members have access to research and career resources.

American Academy of Clinical Psychology (AACP)

The American Academy of Clinical Psychology (AACP) is an organization of psychologists that encourages high-quality service through ethical an science-based practice in the field of clinical psychology. Their website offers opportunities for continuing education, community resources, research and professional resources.

American Counseling Association (ACA)

The American Counseling Association (ACA) provides members with educational and career resources for counseling psychologists, including their annual conference, research and news related to counseling.

National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers (NAPPP)

The National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers (NAPPP) promotes clinical doctoral level psychology. Members can take advantage of continuing education courses to receive training and certifications.

National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) offers community resources and informational about the field of school psychology as well as research, professional development and certification opportunities for members. Members can also choose to be a part of their mentorship program.

Frequently Asked Questions About Psychology Doctoral Programs

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

Once you have completed your undergraduate degree in psychology or a related field, a doctorate in psychology should take anywhere between 4 and 7 years to complete. Having a master’s degree may reduce that amount of time somewhat, though not significantly. Typically, a PsyD will be completed in a shorter amount of time than a PhD, but it will usually take at least 4 years to complete.

How Much Does a Doctorate in Psychology Cost?

The cost of your doctorate in psychology could vary greatly depending on if you attend a public or private institution and if it is in-state or out-of-state. A report by the American Psychological Association from 2016 found the annual median cost of in-state tuition for doctoral students of psychology to be about $11,000 at public institutions, while out-of-state tuition was $24,000 annually. The annual median tuition cost for a doctoral degree at private institutions was about $34,000.

Can I Get a Doctor of Psychology Degree Online?

There are APA-accredited doctor of psychology degrees that can be completed partially online, and some regionally accredited programs are offered fully online. These hybrid programs will require you to at least complete in-person practicum and internships. Because you need to have completed supervised field experience to become a licensed psychologist, there are no APA-accredited doctoral programs that are offered entirely online. However, there are other fully online doctoral degrees in psychology that are regionally accredited and do not lead to licensure in psychology. You will need to determine if it is worth your time and resources to enroll in one of these programs.

What Accreditations Should My Psychology Doctoral Program Have?

There are a few different accreditations you will want to look for in a doctoral psychology program. Since most states require APA-accreditation for licensure, this is one of the most important accreditations to look for. Along with APA accreditation, there are regional accreditations that are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as well as accreditations based on specialization. For example, school psychologists should look for accreditation by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). If you are planning to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology, look for accreditation by the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS). Accreditation ensures that your doctoral program meets high standards of quality and will prepare you for a career in psychology.

What Kinds of Courses Will My Psychology Doctoral Program Offer?

A doctoral psychology program will typically consist of core curriculum courses as well as courses specific to your chosen specialization or concentration. Core courses often include research courses, such as statistics and research methods. A psychology doctoral program will also include courses that will train you to treat and diagnose patients, including psychopathology and clinical psychological assessment courses. Other courses in your specialization may include advanced courses related to learning and development, neuropsychology, social psychology or counseling.

Is a Doctorate in Psychology Right for Me?