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2020 Top Doctoral Programs in Psychology

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Society relies on qualified mental health professionals like psychologists to help individuals cope with challenges. Professionals who identify as empathetic, observant, focused, and analytical often thrive as psychologists. Students with a master’s degree in a mental health field who enjoy making observations and analyzing human behavior should research doctoral programs in psychology.

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Earning a doctoral degree is one of the final steps toward licensure. Other noteworthy steps toward becoming a psychologist include completing supervised hours and taking a licensing exam. Overall, learners often spend 10-15 years in school and about two years completing supervised hours before practicing.

Psychologists often work during normal business hours. They interview clients in an office or participate in research in a laboratory. Some psychologists start their own practice, while others work for organizations like hospitals or schools.

Choosing the right program can influence an individual’s success in this field. To aid the search, we regularly update this list of the top 10 psychology doctoral programs. We evaluate these schools based on their affordability, graduate retention rate, accreditation status, and graduate success rate. This guide also features information about typical courses in a psychology doctoral program.

Top 10 Doctoral Programs in Psychology 2020

Rank School Location
1 CUNY Graduate School and University Center New York, NY
2 Duke University Durham, NC
3 Florida International University Miami, FL
4 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
5 Georgetown University Washington, DC
6 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
7 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN
8 John F. Kennedy University Pleasant Hill, CA
9 Oklahoma State University Stillwater, OK
10 Stanford University Stanford, CA

Doctoral Degree in Psychology Overview

Learners who want to study human behavior and determine possible treatments for mental health issues can pursue a Ph.D. in psychology. Psychologists observe clients and patients and interpret how they relate to their environments. They test patterns and theories to predict behaviors.

Psychologists typically do not prescribe medication or conduct treatment sessions. Instead, they communicate their observations to counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists, who prescribe treatments. These professionals rely on psychologists and their strong analytical skills to make sense of behaviors and emotions.

Psychologists gain information through laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis, and psychotherapy. They often work in private practice settings, but some work in a healthcare setting where they collaborate with social workers and physicians.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals earned a median annual salary of $80,370 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for psychologists to grow 14% between 2018 and 2028.

To practice, psychologists must complete a psychology doctoral program. Doctoral candidates must complete supervised clinical hours during and after their studies before they can practice on their own. States set their own licensure requirements, including which exam learners must pass and how many supervised hours they must complete.

Once psychologists earn their license, they must complete continuing education hours every two years. Professional organizations often provide continuing education opportunities to their members. Since states maintain different requirements for psychologists, psychologists who move states sometimes need to retake the licensing exam or complete additional supervised hours. However, states with similar licensing requirements often participate in reciprocity agreements.

Common Psychology Courses

Research and Statistical Methods in Psychology

In this course, students learn to interpret psychological data. Learners examine previous studies and analyze them for quality. This course also involves a research project in which students apply scientific methods and psychological principles to test a theory. Ph.D. students can align their research projects with their dissertations.

Analyzing Interpersonal Behavior

This course focuses on the factors that influence communication and actions between two humans, including values, religious beliefs, cultural backgrounds, gender, and sexual orientation.

Students attend both traditional lectures and laboratory sessions. During lab hours, students examine hypothetical situations and apply knowledge gleaned during lectures to determine possible resolutions to conflicts.

Experimental Psychology

This course outlines what researchers already know about psychology and identifies which areas need more research. Doctoral students can use this information to determine a possible research topic for their dissertation.

This course combines lab hours with lecture hours. During lectures, students learn about theories and critique previous experimental psychology trials. They apply this knowledge during lab hours to create plans for their own experimental research project.

Abnormal Psychology

In this course, learners discover how to classify and treat abnormal psychology issues. Learners examine schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive, bipolar, and manic depressive disorders and discuss how they commonly appear in behavior.

This course also teaches learners to collaborate with other mental health professionals to help patients achieve success. This course sometimes requires a practicum or supervised experience hours.

Human Sexuality

In a human sexuality course, learners examine theories and principles that influence human sexuality. This course also teaches students how to serve patients who identify as LGBTQ+ in a counseling setting. Students also critique studies relating to human sexuality and determine ways to apply these findings to the psychology practice. They also discuss the cultural implications of sexual behavior.

Psychology Concentrations

Doctoral students can pursue a concentration to increase their job prospects in a specific psychological field. Common concentrations include counseling psychology, developmental psychology, experimental psychology, forensic psychology, and sports psychology.

 Counseling Psychology

Students who want to help clients overcome issues and achieve psychological well-being should consider pursuing a concentration in counseling psychology. This concentration combines therapy principles with psychological principles. Students learn how traits like sexual orientation and race impact the healing process.

 Developmental Counseling

A developmental counseling concentration teaches students how to help individuals through certain life stages. Courses focus on the biological changes that affect mental health during childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Colleges sometimes offer concentrations for specific developmental stages.

 Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychology deals with the complexities of the human mind that researchers do not fully understand yet. This concentration covers research ethics and how to apply the scientific method to psychological studies. Students in this course learn from historical mistakes and successes and analyze case studies to determine what factors influence outcomes.

 Forensic Psychology

A forensic psychology concentration prepares students to contribute to criminal investigations. This concentration covers how the human mental state can influence illegal actions. Forensic psychology courses also teach students how to collaborate with detectives and lawyers to find motives and perpetrators.

 Sports Psychology

In a sports psychology concentration, courses examine the relationship between mental states and performance. Sports psychologists often work with college or professional athletes.

Some concentrations require an internship or supervised hours in a related clinical setting. Most concentrations require a research project, dissertation, or term paper.

Psychology Requirements

Contacting admissions departments is the best way to learn the current requirements for specific doctoral programs in psychology. Most college and university websites also provide this information. Each program sets unique admission requirements, including standardized tests and minimum GPA thresholds.

Most doctoral programs in psychology feature similar requirements, such as an online form, a fee, official transcripts, an essay or statement of purpose, GRE scores, and recommendation letters.

Admissions committees review completed applications. They often look for minimum GPA and GRE scores. These components can also influence school-sponsored scholarships. Typically, doctoral programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0-3.5 and a minimum GRE score of 290. Certain programs require an in-person interview.

Because some doctoral programs prefer professional experience, students should consider completing an internship during their master’s program. Completing an internship can prepare students to earn competitive research grants or paid work-study positions within the university.

Prospective online students should also note any in-person requirements, such as on-campus weekend intensives. Due to the competitive nature of psychology doctoral programs, most prospective students apply to multiple programs. As such, learners should allocate extra time to completing applications so that they can meet multiple deadlines.

Students who do not earn admission to a doctoral program in psychology on their first try should try again. They can take additional master’s courses to improve their GPA and retake the GRE.

How to Become a Psychologist

  • COMPLETE A BACHELOR’S OR MASTER’S DEGREETo qualify for a doctoral program, applicants need a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. On average, earning a bachelor’s degree takes four years while a master’s degree takes about two years. Some doctoral programs accept bachelor’s degrees in subjects other than psychology, but most require a master’s degree in the field.
    Although certain states do not count supervised hours completed before a doctoral program toward licensure requirements, many bachelor’s and master’s degrees feature a clinical practicum or internship. Distance learners should note these in-person requirements before applying.
  • ENROLL IN A PH.D. PROGRAMSome doctoral programs in psychology only accept a few new learners each year. As such, prospective students should consider applying to multiple programs.
    Students can benefit from attending a school based in the state where they plan on practicing. Most programs tailor their education requirements to match state licensing requirements. For example, licensed psychologists in Texas must complete 3,500 hours of supervised experience, half of which must be completed during their doctoral program. As a result, many doctoral programs based in Texas require 1,750 hours of clinical experience.
  • COMPLETE TRAININGFinishing a psychology doctoral program does not immediately qualify graduates to practice. In Texas, for example, graduates must complete an additional 1,750 hours of supervised experience. The exact number of required hours varies by state.
    This training must take place under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Throughout supervised hours, students work with patients and apply the theories they learned during their studies.
  • BECOME LICENSEDAfter completing training and education requirements, psychologists can earn their license. Each state maintains its own licensure requirements and examination. Prospective psychologists should prepare for this exam by reading through the requirements on their state’s government licensing website.
    Psychologists who want to move their practice to a new state may need to take a new licensing exam or complete additional training hours. However, many states participate in reciprocity agreements.
    Once psychologists earn licensure, they must maintain it through continuing education hours. Each state determines continuing education requirements, but most states require about 40 hours every two years.

Best Doctoral Programs in Psychology 2020

  • CUNY Graduate School and University Center

    New York, NY



    City University of New York offers a psychology doctorate program with 10 training areas, including basic and applied social psychology, behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and health psychology and clinical sciences. The program prepares graduates for careers in teaching, research, and psychology practice.

    The program offers faculty and labs for each of the 10 training areas on eight campuses throughout the CUNY system, including Queens College, Brooklyn College, and John Jay College.

    Prospective students must apply to one area of study within the psychology Ph.D. program at a time. Admission criteria vary by area of study. CUNY is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

  • Duke University

    Durham, NC



    Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, offers a Ph.D. in psychology with five graduate training areas: clinical psychology, social psychology, cognition and cognitive neuroscience, systems and integrative neuroscience, and developmental psychology. Ph.D. candidates work closely with one or two faculty members, following the program's apprenticeship model.

    The program begins in the fall. Duke offers guaranteed full funding to admitted students for at least five academic years. The university's Global Health Institute, Social Science Research Institute, and Center for Child and Family Policy offer research and training opportunities for Ph.D. students in psychology.

    Applicants must submit three letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and transcripts. The admission committee interviews applicants in early spring. Duke University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Florida International University

    Miami, FL



    Accredited by the American Psychological Association, Florida International University's Ph.D. in psychology focuses on clinical science in child and adolescent psychology. The program gives students advanced knowledge and skills in statistics, research methodology, and theory construction. Students receive training in psychological treatment and assessment techniques for children and adolescents.

    All Ph.D. students receive guaranteed funding, including a stipend and tuition waiver, for four years. The program also encourages students to apply for additional internal and external financial aid.

    Admission requirements include significant research experience, strong letters of recommendation, and a record of academic achievement evidenced by GPA and GRE scores. Florida International University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Florida State University

    Tallahassee, FL



    Florida State University in Tallahassee offers a research-focused Ph.D. in psychology that provides training in clinical psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, and social psychology. The clinical psychology program is accredited by the American Psychological Association.

    The psychology doctorate program features instruction from internationally renowned faculty who explore questions of the human brain, mind, and behavior. Most students receive financial support, such as tuition waivers and stipends, from fellowships or assistantships.

    Admission requirements include three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, college transcripts, GRE scores, and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Most admitted students hold 1-2 years of empirical research experience and an average 3.7 GPA. The program does not require the psychology subject GRE. Florida State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Georgetown University

    Washington, DC



    Georgetown University's Ph.D. in psychology emphasizes developmental science. Located in Washington, D.C., the program offers convenient access to some of the world's leading nonprofit and research organizations. Degree requirements include coursework in methodology and statistics, applications of developmental science, and advanced theory. Students also gain practical experience in teaching and writing grants.

    Students can pursue a lifespan cognitive neuroscience or human development and public policy concentration. Both concentrations explore social, biological, familial, cultural, political, and economic contexts. The psychology department also offers a dual degree in psychology and public policy with the McCourt School of Public Policy.

    Application requirements include an academic statement of purpose, official college transcripts, three official recommendations, a resume/CV, GRE scores, and a writing sample. Georgetown University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Harvard University

    Cambridge, MA



    Harvard University is a private, Ivy League research institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that offers a Ph.D. in psychology. The psychology doctorate program covers four primary areas: social psychology; clinical psychology; developmental psychology; and cognition, brian, and behavior.

    Students can follow one of two paths: common curriculum or clinical science. The common curriculum track focuses on social psychology, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, behavioral neuroscience, and perception. The clinical science path emphasizes clinical psychology research, particularly severe psychopathology. Required courses for both tracks include professional ethics; history of psychology; and cultural, racial, and ethnic bases of behavior. The program takes 4-6 years to complete.

    Applicants must submit transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and GRE scores. Harvard University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). The Ph.D. in psychology is accredited by the American Psychological Association.

  • Indiana University-Bloomington

    Bloomington, IN



    Indiana University - Bloomington offers a mentor-based Ph.D. in psychology that examines how the brain-behavior system works. Students can choose from seven specializations: clinical science, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, mechanisms of behavior, molecular and systems neuroscience, and social psychology.

    The psychology department manages 52 research laboratories that focus on clinical and translational science; cognitive, social, and developmental psychology; and cellular, molecular, cognitive, behavioral, systems, and computational neuroscience. The program assigns each new student a faculty mentor who supports their research and academic careers.

    The department receives $10 million in external research funding each year, mostly from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Indiana University - Bloomington is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  • John F. Kennedy University

    Pleasant Hill, CA



    John F. Kennedy University offers a doctor of clinical psychology accredited by the American Psychology Association. The hands-on program includes fieldwork at a cross-cultural clinical site. Graduates can apply for state licensure as a psychologist in California and find careers as program administrators, clinicians, and assessors.

    The doctorate typically takes five years of full-time study to complete. The 180-credit program requires core courses, electives, and an internship. Classes include multicultural awareness in professional psychology, clinical interviewing skills, and cognitive-behavioral theory and applications to diverse populations. Ph.D. candidates must pass three written comprehensive exams, write a dissertation, and complete a 36-credit internship.

    John F. Kennedy University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

  • Oklahoma State University

    Stillwater, OK



    Oklahoma State University offers a Ph.D. in psychology that prepares students for careers in research, teaching, and clinical practice. The department offers financial support to Ph.D. candidates through research assistantships, teaching assistantships, traineeships, and fellowships. All students receive an office on campus and access to department equipment.

    Students can focus on clinical psychology, which prepares students to work as scientific clinical psychologists. The experimental program offers concentrations in cognitive, comparative-neurobiology, developmental, and social/personality psychology. OSU's Psychological Services Center offers a variety of research and clinical practice opportunities.

    Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree in any field, but students need substantial prior psychology coursework. Recommended prerequisite courses include introductory psychology, experimental psychology, and statistics. Oklahoma State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  • Stanford University

    Stanford, CA



    Stanford University's psychology department ranks among the top in the nation. The Ph.D. in psychology prepares students for careers in research and teaching and takes approximately five years to complete. The program offers five areas of study: cognitive, developmental, neuroscience, affective, and social psychology.

    Degree requirements include a first-year project, five core courses, a professional seminar, two statistics courses, an oral exam, and a dissertation. Students must spend at least half of their time in the program engaged in research. They must also teach at least five psychology courses.

    Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree, statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and unofficial transcripts from all postsecondary institutions. Prospective students must complete an interview with the admissions committee. Stanford University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

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