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2021 Top Doctoral Programs in Psychology

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Psychology uses a scientific lens to examine behavior and emotional, cognitive, and social processes. This emcompasses many subfields, such as clinical, human development, and social behavior. It differs from similar disciplines, such as sociology and anthropology, in that it focuses on individuals rather than society at large.

Psychologists seek to understand, describe, and predict behavior through all life stages. They work in many settings, such as schools, private practices, and mental health facilities. Unlike counselors, who help clients with their overall wellbeing, psychologists observe and interpret clients’ behavior. It differs from psychiatry in that psychologists cannot prescribe medication.

If learning more about human behavior and thought interests you, consider a doctorate in psychology. Successful psychologists know psychological theories and practices. They also require high-level communication, research, and questioning skills. The ability to empathize with people across cultures and circumstances also helps in this field.


  • What is psychology?

    Psychology studies the human mind and behavior. It examines individuals and provides treatment based on scientific analysis.

  • How long does it take to earn a doctorate in psychology?

    The amount of time to earn a doctorate in psychology depends on the program. Programs range from 4-7 years.

  • What are the requirements for getting into a doctoral program in psychology?

    Many psychology doctoral programs require at least an undergraduate degree in psychology or a related field. Programs may also ask for GRE scores.

  • What is the difference between psychology and counseling?

    Psychology uses scientific methods to analyze human behavior. Counseling seeks to increase a person’s overall wellbeing. Psychologists typically need more education and licensing to practice in the field.

2021 Top Doctoral Programs in Psychology

  • 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).

Career and Salary Outlook for Psychology

Salaries for careers in psychology depend on many factors, such as geographic location and education level. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earn a median annual salary of $80,370. The BLS also projects an average growth rate of 3% from 2019-2029.

Salaries for psychologists also vary by industry. Government psychologists earn a median annual salary of $96,870 while school psychologists earn $76,960. Psychologists work in environments such as hospitals, schools, or clinics. Many work on a team with social workers, physicians, or teachers.

Earning a doctoral degree can increase a psychologist’s salary. Counselors earn a median annual salary of $78,200, which typically requires only a master’s degree. Most psychologists earn a doctoral degree to practice psychology. They typically need a license to practice.

Career Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10%
Psychologists Less than $45,380 $80,370 More than $132,070

Source: BLS

Licensing in Psychology

Practicing as a psychologist typically requires state licensure. Psychology boards assess psychology doctorate program graduates to ensure their competency, knowledge, and ethics. State licensure provides a standard for professional psychologists working with clients.

Many psychology doctorate program graduates take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). This test evaluates aspiring psychologists on core knowledge and skills. After completing the exam, graduates submit their EPPP test score for the board to evaluate.

Licensure requirements vary by state. Some states hold reciprocity agreements, allowing psychologists licensed in one state to practice in another without needing new credentials.

Accreditation for Psychology Degrees

Prospective students should always check a school’s accreditation before applying. Accreditation assures schools and programs meet high academic standards. The rigorous review process confirms consistent and quality education.

Schools participate in either a national or regional accreditation process. Regionally accredited schools receive accreditation from independent reviewers in a particular geographical area. Regional accreditation benefits students in various ways, such as access to federal financial aid.

Students looking to study psychology can check with the American Psychological Association (APA) for accredited programs. Accreditation through APA ensures psychology programs train future psychologists to meet professional standards.

Courses in a Psychology Doctorate Program

The best psychology doctorate programs prepare students for work as practicing or research psychologists. Psychology doctorate programs teach students the skills needed to effectively treat clients and contribute relevant research to the field. These skills include assessment, research design, and behavioral analysis.

Many programs allow students to specialize in a subdiscipline. For example, many programs offer a focus in developmental psychology. Developmental psychology students take courses in behavioral and cognitive development or social psychology. Other subdisciplines include cognitive neuroscience, clinical psychology, and social psychology.

The following list provides course examples offered in many psychology doctorate programs. Every program may not offer all courses listed. Rather, this list represents a sample curriculum.

Clinical Psychological Assessment
This course prepares students for careers as clinical psychologists. Students increase their knowledge of practical applications in the field, such as how to prevent, diagnose, and treat cognitive and behavioral issues. They help clients with behavioral issues in relationships. Clinical psychology courses teach students how to administer and assess psychological tests.
Learning and Development
Many students specializing in developmental psychology take this course. A course in learning and development evaluates principles, methods, and applications of behavioral analysis. This covers the human lifespan and different themes in development. Students typically need to complete a course in behavioral analysis before taking this course.
Advanced Psychological Research
This advanced course explores questions or problems in psychological research. Students may work under the supervision of a professor or senior researcher with similar research interests. This may include research in labs in addition to the exploration of current problems in research through readings and discussion.
History of Psychology
This course provides an overview of psychology’s history. It addresses psychological theories and practices throughout history, including the field’s scientific and philosophical foundations. Some topics include functionalism, behaviorism, and philosophy of mind. History of psychology courses also discuss contemporary issues in psychology.
This course prepares students for careers as clinical psychologists to assess and treat cognitive disorders. Students learn about different mental and behavioral disorders and experiences. This helps students describe, categorize, and identify these disorders.

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Scholarships for Psychology

Even when attending the most affordable psychology doctorate programs, scholarships help students save money. Psychology graduate students can find scholarships to help pay for tuition, books, or housing. Many students apply for scholarships related to their field of study or background. They may also apply for scholarships based on their financial need.

The following list includes scholarships available to students earning a doctorate in psychology.

American Psychological Foundation Graduate Student Scholarships

Who Can Apply: APF offers 21 scholarships to psychology graduate students. Applicants must attend or intend to enroll in a psychology doctorate program. These scholarships help students fund research for master’s theses and doctoral dissertations.
Amount: $1,000 – $5,000

Early Graduate Student Researcher Award

Who Can Apply: The APA Science Student Council offers this scholarship to doctoral students in psychology or a related field. It awards students demonstrating outstanding research. Applicants must complete two full years of graduate study before applying and hold APA membership.
Amount: $1,000 – $5,000

Queen-Nellie Evans Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Minority graduate students demonstrating commitment to helping marginalized communities qualify for this scholarship. Applicants planning to work in academia, clinical service, or public policy receive preference.
Amount: $4,000

Top 10 Doctoral Programs in Psychology 2021

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

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