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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 encompasses 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.

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Psychology PhD Job Outlook & Salary

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

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

  • Methodology: Here’s How We Rank Schools

    At Best Value Schools, we help students of all ages get the best possible value for their education. When choosing the best schools and programs, we prioritize tuition rates, student debt, financial aid opportunities, graduation rates, and the availability of online programs.

    We source unbiased data from government and educational databases like the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 6,374 schools across the U.S. We organize that data into five weighted categories to compile our school rankings.

    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 25%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 35%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 10%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 15%

    You can read more about our comprehensive evaluation process on our methodology page.

Have Questions About Doctoral Programs in Psychology? We Have Answers.

  • What is a PhD in psychology?

    A PhD in psychology is a doctoral level degree in the psychology field. Psychology studies the human mind and behavior. It examines individuals and provides treatment based on scientific analysis. A psychology PhD is the highest graduate degree you earn and will open doors to owning your own clinical practice, leading research projects, becoming a professor, and more.

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

    Completing a PhD in psychology can take anywhere from four to seven years. The amount of time to earn a doctorate will depend on the program. Some universities have psychology graduate programs that include both the masters and doctorate curriculum in the same program. A program could also take longer to complete if it requires an internship or practicum.

  • 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.

Doctorate in Psychology Courses

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.

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.

Scholarships for Doctorate in Psychology Students

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

The Top 10 Doctoral Programs in Psychology of 2021

  • American International College

    Springfield, MA

    Located in Springfield, Massachusetts, AIC offers a doctor of education in educational psychology. Students can pursue one of two tracks: a non-licensure track for special education or a school psychology track designed to meet qualifications for licensed school psychologists.

    Students begin the 96-credit program with core requirements such as behavioral statistics, counseling theory and practice, psychology and development, and systems and theories in psychology. Students in the school psychology track take education-setting specific practicums and internships to prepare for licensure within the education system. Non-licensure track students take practicums in general psychology and predoctoral internships to prepare for careers in special education or other non-licensed psychology avenues. Students must finish a comprehensive exam before beginning dissertation work.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission, but the school prefers students to hold a master's degree with a 3.25 GPA.

    AIC is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

  • Appalachian State University

    Boone, NC

    Located in Boone, North Carolina, Appalachian offers a doctor of psychology in clinical psychology. This applied practice degree trains students to work with rural populations specifically but also offers the foundational skills required for any clinical psychology practice.

    The 113-credit program includes psychology core such as research methods in psychology, history and systems of psychology, and cognitive and affective aspects of behavior. It also includes clinical and professional core coursework like multicultural counseling, personality assessment and psychometrics, and community-based psychology. Learners must complete a dissertation and a clinical internship representing at least one year of full-time work.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. Students must also submit GRE or GMAT scores to apply. Program participants receive a master's degree en route to the doctoral degree.

    Appalachian is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  • Arizona State University

    Tempe, AZ

    Located in Tempe, ASU offers a doctor of philosophy in clinical psychology. Students admitted with a bachelor's degree can complete the program in six years, which includes 84 credits of doctoral-level requirements.

    Students can choose one of four specialty tracks, including health psychology; community and prevention; child clinical; and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. The required core coursework includes analysis of variance, psychopathology, clinical interviewing and ethics, and clinical research methods. Students must complete a master's thesis in preparation for the doctoral dissertation and take a year-long internship for hands-on experience.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a competitive to qualify for admission. Students must also submit GRE or GMAT scores to apply.

    ASU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the American Psychological Association and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System.

  • Auburn University

    Auburn, AL

    Located in Auburn, Alabama, Auburn offers a doctor of philosophy in clinical psychology. Students participate in research, community efforts, and clinical training. The department also gives students the opportunity for graduate teaching assistant positions.

    Students complete core clinical requirements, including ethics and problems in scientific and professional psychology, developmental psychopathology, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Learners take a series of courses in research methods, as well as a history of ideas in psychology, biological psychology, and social psychology. Students earn a master's degree en route to the doctoral degree, completing a full dissertation by the end. The program also requires internships and a written comprehensive exam or oral defense.

    Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree and at least 15 credits of work in psychology for program eligibility. Students must also submit GRE scores (waived for 2021).

    Auburn is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  • Baylor University

    Waco, TX

    Located in Waco, Texas, Baylor offers a doctor of psychology in clinical psychology. The practitioner scientist model of the program prepares students to conduct research and provide service to their local community.

    Students take courses like ethics and professional issues in clinical psychology, clinical psychopathology, group and systems approaches to psychology, and history and systems. Learners also complete a seminar in applied statistics and complete a clinical internship for hands-on experience. The doctoral degree requires a dissertation, and students accumulate more than 1,000 hours of clinical practice between the research and the internship requirement.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with at least 12 credits of previous psychology work and an overall GPA of 2.7 (major course GPA of 3.0). The school does not require standardized tests.

    Baylor is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  • Boston University

    Boston, MA

    Located in Boston, Massachusetts, BU offers a doctor of philosophy in counseling psychology and applied human development. Students follow the scientist-practitioner model and choose from two specializations: counseling psychology or applied human development.

    Learners complete a series of credits in research methods, including applied multiple regression and qualitative research methods. The curriculum also includes history and systems of psychology, adolescent development, and social bases of behavior. Students in the counseling psychology track also receive training in counseling foundations. Students complete internships for hands-on practice and a dissertation as the culminating project of the Ph.D.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree (master's preferred) and submit GRE or MAT scores (waived for 2021). Applicants must also complete an analytical essay as part of the admissions process.

    BU is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

  • Bowling Green State University

    Bowling Green, OH

    Based in Bowling Green, Ohio, BGSU offers a doctor of philosophy in psychology. Students can choose from four different tracks: clinical, industrial organizational, developmental, and neural and cognitive sciences. Students may also choose an interdisciplinary track, earning a master of science in computer science en route to the doctoral psychology degree.

    Students spend the first two years completing foundational psychology courses in assessment, theories and techniques of clinical interventions, behavioral pathology, and interviewing. In addition to a suite of courses in research methods, students also complete practicums for hands-on experience, and clinical track students participate in a year-long internship. The program culminates in a dissertation building on the research completed throughout the program.

    Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree and the following prerequisite courses: introduction to psychology, statistics, and research design. The school requires GRE scores, but students do not need the advanced test in psychology.

    BGSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  • Brigham Young University

    Provo, UT

    Based in Provo, Utah, BYU offers a doctor of philosophy in clinical psychology. Students spend four years taking required coursework with a one-year, full-time paid internship following.

    Students take required courses such as data analysis in psychological research, theory and research in social psychology, cognitive processes, and history and systems of psychology. The program includes clinical core options like assessments and professional and ethical issues in psychology. Learners complete a practicum before engaging in their year-long internship to prepare for work in the field, totaling 2,000 hours. Students complete a master's thesis in preparation for the doctoral dissertation, and a comprehensive exam completes graduation requirements.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's or master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. The department requires GRE scores with a top 10% score in verbal reasoning, a top 20% score in quantitative reasoning, and a score of 5 in analytical writing.

    BYU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

  • Brown University

    Providence, RI

    Located in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown offers a doctor of philosophy in psychology. Students complete clinical courses, research projects, and a dissertation.

    Students begin with a first-year project, a year-long research project, and culminating preliminary exam built in partnership with advisors. Students complete two core courses in psychology before moving on to research and quantitative methods. Three specialization courses allow students to choose a niche specialization in psychology before beginning dissertation work. The program takes an average of five years to complete and includes four semesters of teaching assistantships.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree to qualify for admission. The school does not require GRE exams or subject tests, and the school uses a statement of purpose to match students to faculty areas of interest.

    Brown is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

  • Carnegie Mellon University

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, CMU offers a doctor of philosophy in psychology.

    Students begin the program with two psychology core courses in cognitive, developmental, or social and health psychology, plus a research course. Students choose first-year research projects and then move on to other coursework in different fields. Students then choose a dissertation topic during year four and complete it during year five of the program. The program requires summer reading and research activities, and students must defend their dissertation to complete graduation requirements.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree to qualify for admission. Students must also submit GRE scores to apply. The school does not mention minimum score requirements, but students need competitive scores to get into the selective program.

    CMU is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

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