Written by: Staff Writer
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.
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
|1||John F. Kennedy University||Pleasant Hill, CA||$8,500|
|2||University of Florida||Gainesville, FL||$19,053|
|3||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill, NC||$18,849|
|4||Harvard University||Cambridge, MA||$47,562|
|5||University of Illinois at Chicago||Chicago, IL||$18,456|
|6||Stanford University||Stanford, CA||$51,354|
|7||University of South Florida||Tampa, FL||$13,699|
|9||Yale University||New Haven, CT||$42,100|
|9||Florida International University||Miami, FL||$15,153|
|10||University of Utah||Salt Lake City, UT||$15,827|
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 Degree
To 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. Program
Some 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.
Finishing 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.
After 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
John F. Kennedy University
Average Net Price: $8,500
John F. Kennedy University offers a doctor of clinical psychology.The program holds accreditation from 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. They 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 and clinical interviewing skills. There is also a class entitled cognitive-behavioral theory and applications to diverse populations. Ph.D. candidates must pass three written comprehensive exams. They must also write a dissertation and complete a 36-credit internship.
John F. Kennedy University is regionally accredited WASC.
University of Florida
Average Net Price: $19,053
The College of Public Health and Health Professions offers a psychology doctorate program. The degree provides general clinical psychology training. Ph.D. candidates can design their own major or choose from four areas of study. These include clinical child/pediatric psychology and clinical health psychology. Still other options are neuropsychology, clinical neuroscience, and cognitive and emotional neuroscience.
The clinical psychology Ph.D. includes several courses. Some of these are clinical assessment across the lifespan and neuropsychology of aging. There is also a class in the best methods for the analysis of psychological change.
Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree and at least two psychology courses. Grades must be a "C" or greater. Applicants must submit official transcripts, GRE scores, and a resume. Other requirements include a statement of purpose and three letters of recommendation.
The University of Florida is regionally accredited SASCOC. UF's Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology is accredited by the American Psychological Association.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Average Net Price: $18,849
UNC offers one of the best doctoral programs in psychology. The Ph.D. in psychology prepares students for advanced careers in research. Many also go on to teach. The program offers training in six subfields. These include behavioral and integrative neuroscience and clinical psychology. Other options include cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, quantitative psychology, and social psychology.
Courses cover topics like addiction science and advanced family theory and research. Students also complete a child and adolescent practicum. Ph.D. candidates must pass written and oral exams and complete a dissertation. They must also conduct research during each year of enrollment.
Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Incoming students must hold a 3.0 GPA. UNC makes admission decisions based on the applicant's academic record. Other factors include letters of recommendation, test scores, and a statement of purpose.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is regionally accredited by SASCOC.
Average Net Price: $47,562
Harvard University is a private, Ivy League research institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The school offers a Ph.D. in psychology. The psychology doctorate program covers four primary areas. These are social psychology; clinical psychology; developmental psychology; and cognition, brain, and behavior.
Students can follow one of two paths: common curriculum or clinical science. The curriculum focuses on social psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Other topics include 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 and history of psychology. The program takes 4-6 years to complete.
Applicants must submit transcripts and three letters of recommendation. Other requirements include a statement of purpose and GRE scores.
Harvard University is regionally accredited by NECHE. The Ph.D. in psychology is accredited by the American Psychological Association.
University of Illinois at Chicago
Average Net Price: $18,456
The University of Illinois at Chicago offers a Ph.D. in psychology. The program includes five majors. These include behavioral neuroscience and social and personality. Students must also complete a programmatic, student-centered, or special-topic minor. The psychology department funds all psychology Ph.D. students for their first year.
All students complete a first-year research apprenticeship and a one-year statistics course. The program requires a master's thesis by the end of the second year of study. Ph.D. candidates create a dissertation proposal by their fourth year. They defend the dissertation by the end of their fifth year. The department hosts a weekly colloquium. This meeting encourages students and faculty to share their research.
The University of Illinois at Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The psychology program is accredited by the American Psychological Association.
Average Net Price: $51,354
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. The program takes students approximately five years to complete. The degree offers five areas of study. These are cognitive, developmental, neuroscience, affective, and social psychology.
Degree requirements include a first-year project and five core courses. Other requirements include a professional seminar and two statistics courses. 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 and statement of purpose. Other requirements include three letters of recommendation and unofficial transcripts. Prospective students must complete an interview with the admissions committee. Stanford University is regionally accredited by WASC.
University of South Florida
Average Net Price: $13,699
USF offers one of the best doctoral programs in psychology. The Ph.D. in school psychology typically takes five years to complete. Students earn a master's degree in their first two years and begin Ph.D. coursework in their third year.
The program offers specializations in many areas. These include organizational consultation, pediatric school psychology, school-based mental health services, and intervention. Learners can also design their own specialization.
Students must meet program requirements in research competencies. Other requirements are in psychological foundations, consultation/intervention/problem-solving, and professional practice. The curriculum includes courses like biological bases of behavior and research design. The Ph.D. also requires a dissertation and an internship.
The University of South Florida is regionally accredited by SASCOC. The Ph.D. in school psychology is accredited by the American Psychological Association. It is also accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists.
Average Net Price: $42,100
Yale University is an Ivy League university founded in 1701. The school offers a Ph.D. in psychology. The degree focuses on training for academic and applied research careers. And it emphasizes the historical and theoretical contexts of psychology.
The competitive psychology doctorate program enrolls 15 new students each year. Yale allows students to receive training that aligns with their career goals. Degree requirements include three basic-level courses and a first-year research paper. Other requirements include an essay in the student's concentration and a dissertation.
The program offers weekly seminars in clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, and developmental psychology. Yale University is regionally accredited by NECHE.
Florida International University
Average Net Price: $15,153
FIU's Ph.D. in psychology focuses on child and adolescent psychology. The program is accredited by the American Psychological Association. The degree gives students advanced knowledge 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. This includes a stipend and tuition waiver for four years. The program also encourages students to apply for financial aid.
Admission requirements include significant research experience and strong letters of recommendation. Other requirements include high GPA and GRE scores. Florida International University is regionally accredited by SASCOC.
University of Utah
Average Net Price: $15,827
The University of Utah's Ph.D. in psychology emphasizes collaborative research. Psychology faculty and students frequently working with other departments. These include the medicine and computer science departments. The program automatically considers all Ph.D. students for funding opportunities.
Psychology students choose from four concentrations. These are clinical psychology, social psychology, cognition and neural science, and developmental psychology. Although students choose one concentration, they can also move between concentrations. The program offers cross-area interests. These are in developmental psychopathology, sexuality, and biological bases of behavior.
Admission requirements include a personal statement, CV, and unofficial transcripts. Other requirements include three letters of recommendation and GRE scores. Applicants without a psychology degree must take the GRE advanced subject test. The University of Utah is regionally accredited by HLC.
University of California - Los Angeles
Average Net Price: $18,993
The University of California - Los Angeles offers a psychology doctorate program. Concentrations include behavioral neuroscience, health psychology, social psychology, and clinical psychology. Graduates can work as university instructors, researchers, and psychologists.
Students take core courses on topics like social psychology, research methods, and statistics. Learners also complete a dissertation. Some concentrations require an internship. Students work on research projects with faculty members throughout their time at UCLA.
The university offers research opportunities through the Institute for Social Science Research. Students can also research at the Fernald Child Study Center. The program also works with local clinics, hospitals, and institutes. The University of California - Los Angeles is regionally accredited by WASC.
Average Net Price: $54,712
Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, offers a Ph.D. in psychology. Students complete one of five graduate training areas. These include clinical psychology, social psychology and cognition and cognitive neuroscience. Ph.D. candidates work closely with one or two faculty member. This is done to follow the program's apprenticeship model.
The program begins in the fall. Duke offers guaranteed funding to admitted students for at least five academic years. The university's Global Health Institute Center offers research and training opportunities
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 SASCOC.
University of Washington
Average Net Price: $21,656
The University of Washington offers a mentor-based psychology doctorate program. The degree prepares students for research and teaching careers. Learners study under one or more mentor faculty members with similar scholarly interests. The program typically takes 5-7 years to complete.
UW's Ph.D. in psychology offers the many subdisciplines. Some include animal behavior, behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology, and child clinical psychology. The program also offers a diversity science specialization, minor, and data science option.
Applicants do not need a prior degree in psychology. But some prior psychology coursework is desirable. The University of Washington is regionally the HLC.
University of Pennsylvania
Average Net Price: $38,630
The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia offers a research-focused Ph.D. in psychology. The department's faculty include past presidents of the American Psychological Association. It also includes members of the National Academy of Sciences. The full-time program features first-year coursework, focused research experiences, and seminars.
Students must complete 20 credits of coursework. Ph.D. candidates can choose a clinical or non-clinical track. The non-clinical program takes 4-5 years to complete. Clinical students spend five years in the program. They follow that with a one-year clinical internship.
The clinical training program prepares students for academic and research careers. Students receive training in assessment, diagnosis, and psychotherapy. The University of Pennsylvania is regionally accredited by MSCHE.
Oklahoma State University
Average Net Price: $13,283
Oklahoma State University offers a Ph.D. in psychology. The program prepares students for careers in research, teaching, and clinical practice. The department offers financial support to Ph.D. candidates. It does this 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. This 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 any bachelor's degree, 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.
University of Iowa
Average Net Price: $19,256
The University of Iowa in Iowa City offers a Ph.D. in psychology that admits students each fall. The program prepares graduates for many careers. These include teaching, research, and other scholarly endeavors.
Students focus on one of three areas. These are clinical science, behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, and cognition. Students work with a faculty mentor and research advisory committee. With them, they create an individualized plan of study. All Ph.D. candidates receive advanced training in contemporary psychological techniques. They also focus on methods and psychological research and theory.
Applicants must submit unofficial academic transcripts and official GRE scores. Other requirements include three letters of recommendation, a CV, and a personal statement. The University of Iowa is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Virginia
Average Net Price: $21,424
The University of Virginia offers a psychology doctorate program. The degree includes specializations in clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, and community psychology. Each specialization features its own application and graduation requirements.
UVA offers all students an annual stipend, full tuition waiver, and health insurance coverage for five years. The psychology department also encourages Ph.D. candidates to pursue additional financial aid. This includes through grants and fellowships.
The admissions committee evaluates candidates using a holistic review process. It strongly considers prior research experience and program fit. Applicants must submit a personal statement and three letters of recommendation. Other requirements include GRE scores and unofficial transcripts.
Indiana University - Bloomington
Average Net Price: $20,579
Indiana University - Bloomington offers a mentor-based Ph.D. in psychology. The program examines how the brain-behavior system works. Students can choose from seven specializations. These include clinical science, cognitive neuroscience, and cognitive psychology.
The psychology department manages 52 research laboratories. Students can focus on clinical and translational science. They can also focus on cognitive, social, and developmental psychology. The program assigns each new student a faculty mentor. This mentor supports their research and academic careers.
The department receives $10 million in external research funding each year. Most comes from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Indiana University - Bloomington is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Average Net Price: $16,544
The University of Missouri - Kansas City offers a psychology doctorate program. The degree allows students to focus on clinical psychology or applied cognitive and brain sciences. Both degree options emphasize research. They also feature a mentorship model that pairs students with a faculty member. The faculty member will share student research interest areas.
The clinical psychology Ph.D. is accredited by the American Psychological Association. It requires a clinical practicum and internship.
The psychology department strives to provide 3-4 years of funding to Ph.D. students. This includes a living stipend and tuition waiver in exchange for an assistantship. The university also offers fellowship opportunities for psychology graduate students.
Applicants must submit a statement of purpose and three letters of recommendation. Other requirements include documentation of work experience, official transcripts, and official GRE scores. The admissions process also includes a voluntary interview. University of Missouri-Kansas City is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Florida State University
Average Net Price: $16,900
Florida State University in Tallahassee offers a research-focused Ph.D. in psychology. The degree 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. These professionals explore questions of the human brain, mind, and behavior. Most students receive financial support. Aid includes tuition waivers and stipends from fellowships or assistantships.
Admission requirements include three letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose. Other requirements include college transcripts, GRE scores, and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Most admitted students have 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 SASCOC.
City University of New York
Average Net Price: $16,040
City University of New York offers a psychology doctorate program. The program comes with a total of 10 training areas. These include basic and applied social 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. Students can attend throughout the CUNY system.
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.
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Average Net Price: $34,903
Students can pursue a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. They choose from six areas of study: biopsychology, clinical science, cognition and cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, personality and social contexts, or social psychology. The psychology department also participates in three joint programs of study. These are social work and psychology, women's studies and psychology, and education and psychology.
The Ph.D. program does not offer a master's degree and requires students to attend full time. The department offers financial support to Ph.D. candidates for five years. This includes a tuition waiver, health insurance, and a stipend.
Admission requirements for the program include a bachelor's degree and a strong academic record. Other requirements include GRE scores, college transcripts, and three letters of recommendation. The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The University of Texas at Austin
Average Net Price: $17,153
The University of Texas at Austin offers a psychology doctorate program. Areas of study include behavioral neuroscience; clinical psychology; cognitive neuroscience; cognitive science; and perception, brain, and behavior.
Students must complete their degree within seven years. Learners also complete psychology coursework, research, and seminars. Core courses include principles of sensory and behavioral neuroscience, human language processing, and fundamentals of developmental psychology. Students also complete two quantitative courses and an ethics course.
Prospective students can only apply to one area of study within the psychology Ph.D. program. Applicants must submit a statement of purpose and three letters of recommendation. Other requirements include unofficial transcripts, GRE scores, and a CV. The University of Texas at Austin is regionally accredited by SASCOC.
Average Net Price: $50,012
Georgetown University's Ph.D. in psychology emphasizes developmental science. The program offers convenient access to some of the world's leading 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.
Application requirements include an academic statement of purpose and official college transcripts. Other requirements include three official recommendations, a resume/CV, and a writing sample. Georgetown University is regionally accredited by SASCOC.
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Average Net Price: $17,391
The University of Wisconsin - Madison offers a psychology doctorate program. The degree comes with six concentrations. These include biological psychology, clinical psychology, cognitive and cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, perception, and social and personality. Students can also create their own concentration. All doctoral students must complete a minor.
The psychology Ph.D. program offers research and learning opportunities with other departments. It also offers training programs and institutes. These include the Institute on Aging and Health Emotions Center.
The competitive program admits less than 10% of applicants each year. Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA and a minimum GRE score of 310. Other requirements include a personal statement and three letters of recommendation. The program highly values applicants with undergraduate research experience. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.