Psychology focuses on analyzing mental and emotional phenomena and behavior. Traditionally 5-6 years in length, psychology doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) programs involve specialized coursework, supervised clinical internships, and dissertation research projects. Many Ph.D. students shorten their degree timeline by enrolling in accelerated online programs or transferring relevant master’s degree coursework.
Specific prerequisites often differ by program, but the best online Ph.D. programs in psychology often require above-average GRE scores and a 3.0 minimum GPA. Applicants typically submit official transcripts and test scores, recommendation letters, and personal statements. Some programs also require resumes or curriculum vitae and virtual or in-person admissions interviews.
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These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online graduate degree programs. Figuring out where to apply? Consider one of these online Master’s or PhD programs.
Top Best Value Online Ph.D. in Psychology Programs
Ph.D. programs in psychology often help graduates prepare for careers as clinical psychologists, researchers, or professors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned a median annual salary of $80,370 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for psychologists to grow 3% between 2019 and 2029.
Continue reading to learn more about psychology Ph.D. careers, coursework, and resources.
What Can I Do With a Psychology Degree?
Psychology’s primary goals include understanding mental and emotional experiences and encouraging healthier, more positive outcomes. Many counselors and social workers hold psychology-related master’s degrees, but psychologists typically need a doctoral degree.
Many working professionals with master’s degrees in psychology enroll in online Ph.D. programs in psychology to qualify for more prestigious jobs such as research director, professor, or clinical psychologist. Many applicants with a professional background enroll in a doctoral psychology program for career transition or advancement.
Psychology students usually specialize in behavioral, clinical, cognitive, or counseling psychology. Other popular specializations include developmental psychology, organizational psychology, social psychology, and health psychology. According to the BLS, the fastest-growing psychology fields include school psychology, geriatric psychology, and developmental psychology.
Accreditation for a Psychology Degree
The best online Ph.D. programs meet high academic standards established by the American Psychological Association (APA), the field’s leading organization. The programmatic accreditation process helps ensure that psychology programs deliver an ethical, skillful, rigorous, and professional psychology education.
Regionally accredited colleges and universities meet academic standards established by accrediting agencies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The seven CHEA-approved regional accrediting agencies include the New England Commission of Higher Education, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
The CHEA also recognizes several national accrediting agencies, which accredit less academic professional and religious schools. Students at nationally or regionally accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, but regionally accredited schools typically do not recognize or transfer credits or degrees earned from nationally accredited schools.
|Is a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) or Ph.D. better?
||A Ph.D. often proves more useful to students seeking research or academic careers, while a Psy.D. typically suits students planning on practical, clinical careers.
|What do you do in a psychology Ph.D.?
||Psychology Ph.D. programs combine classroom learning with research or clinical practicum and internship experiences. To graduate, enrollees complete a major research project.
|Does a Ph.D. make you a doctor?
||The acronym “Ph.D.” stands for doctor of philosophy. Ph.D. in psychology graduates qualify for the title of doctor.
|How long is a Ph.D. in psychology?
||Usually requiring about 70 credits, psychology Ph.D. programs traditionally require 5-6 years to complete. However, program design, pacing, and prior coursework influence graduation timelines.
What Are the Requirements for a Psychology Degree?
Ph.D. programs in psychology look for strong academic candidates with a 3.0 minimum GPA and a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology-related fields. Application requirements typically include official transcripts, resumes or CVs, recommendation letters, and sometimes GRE scores.
Most psychology Ph.D. programs combine core courses, internships/practica, dissertation projects, and specialized coursework in a field of choice. Psychology covers dozens of specialized fields, so prospective students should research programs offering concentrations in their desired field. Concentration offerings vary by program, but often include organizational psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology, and behavioral psychology.
Courses in a Psychology Program
Depending on whether students enter with related master’s degrees, psychology Ph.D. programs usually require at least 70 credits. Curricula vary, but all programs include core research methods courses, such as statistical methods and quantitative reasoning. Most programs also include foundational courses that cover academic writing conventions. Nearly all Ph.D. programs require a dissertation, which demands that students apply sophisticated psychology research, analysis, and writing skills.
Ph.D. students also complete elective or concentration courses corresponding to a chosen field. These courses offer specialized skills and knowledge related to particular approaches, populations, roles, or contexts. Many Ph.D. in psychology programs include the courses below.
- Cognition Foundations
- This course provides a graduate-level overview of cognitive science and psychology and integrates findings from neuroscience, developmental psychology, and computational psychology. Participants examine how cognitive functions such as memory, attention, reasoning, and language influence human thought, feeling, and behavior. Many psychology Ph.D. programs offer cognitive foundations courses as core courses, electives, or as part of a concentration.
- Developmental Psychology
- Considered a core psychology course in many programs, developmental psychology surveys theories and practices for sustaining and improving psychological health at all stages of the human lifespan. Enrollees learn about child development, social influencing factors, assessment, and various interventions. Graduate-level developmental psychology courses also cover research methods and program evaluation. Students often take multiple developmental psychology courses and clinical experiences.
- Statistical Methods in Social Research
- This core research course reviews statistical principles and inference methods plus social science research design concepts and tools. Participants learn about regression, correlation, and significance testing. Additional topics include estimation, nominal and ordinal data methods, and two-sample comparisons. Some courses also introduce multivariate analysis, multiple regression, and model building.
- Introduction to Neuroscience
- Usually an elective course and sometimes a field of emphasis in psychology Ph.D. programs, neuroscience studies the effects of various brain features, functions, and phenomena on human thought and behavior. Enrollees examine neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, and neuroscience principles. The course emphasizes the roles that the central nervous system, physiology, and neurophysiology play in mental and emotional processes, habits, and behaviors.
- Foundations for Graduate Study in Psychology
- Learners often complete this core course during the first semester of psychology graduate programs. The course outlines programmatic and disciplinary expectations for psychology graduate students. Students receive information about psychology research methods, professional writing, and university and departmental resources. Foundations courses also help students determine their professional goals and select or design a corresponding program of coursework, practica, and research.
Certifications and Licensure for Psychology Majors
Considered a terminal degree, the Ph.D. in psychology satisfies or exceeds degree requirements for most psychology careers. However, some career paths or positions demand specialized training or licensure by a state board. The below certifications and licenses qualify earners to provide direct therapeutic services to clients.
Certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist
This certification supports counselors and therapists by demonstrating facility with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. To become a certified cognitive behavioral therapist, candidates need a psychology-related, accredited graduate degree, six years of postgraduate CBT professional experience, and satisfactory performance in a CBT certification program.
Granted by state boards, this credential licenses recipients to work as licensed psychologists. Eligible candidates hold an accredited doctoral degree, pass a licensure exam performance, and possess a clean record and prerequisite professional experience designated by the state.
Licensed Professional Counselor
Serving current and aspiring substance abuse counselors, the LPC credential requires an accredited master’s or Ph.D. in counseling, about 3,000 supervised clinical hours, and successful performance on the National Counselor Examination. The National Board for Certified Counselors oversees this examination.
Professional Organizations for Psychology Majors
Psychology-related professional organizations often help psychology students and professionals choose and understand a particular field, participate in professional networking events, earn credentials, and identify career opportunities. These organizations also usually offer continuing education resources, current research and news, advocacy, and conferences.
American Psychological Association
The United States' leading psychology organization, APA establishes ethical codes and professional standards, offers educational and career resources, and runs an annual convention. APA also maintains the discipline's major research database.
Association for Psychological Science
An international nonprofit committed to psychological science advancement, APS shares interdisciplinary research, raises awareness, facilitates networking, and advocates for the discipline. Publications include six psychological science journals and Observer magazine.
Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology
An APS organizational affiliate and representative of APA Division 14, SIOP offers research and publications, events, education, and a career center for industrial and organizational psychologists. SIOP also provides grants and scholarships to eligible members.
American Counseling Association
This nonprofit serves professional counselors through continuing education, ethical consultation, and career advancement. The organization also performs advocacy and raises public awareness regarding mental health issues and treatment.
Scholarships for Psychology Students
Some college and graduate students, including psychology doctoral students, qualify for scholarships or fellowships based on identity, merit, field of study, or financial need. The following sampling of psychology scholarships and fellowships support psychology students through financial awards toward educational expenses. These awards do not require repayment.
Who Can Apply: These scholarships support current or aspiring psychology doctoral students enrolled in thesis-based graduate programs at accredited institutions. Departments that maintain membership in the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology nominate scholarship candidates.
Who Can Apply: This grant goes to professionals or graduate students who understand and indicate long-term interest in public education related to psychoanalytic principles and treatments. Candidates provide a project outline that describes its relevance to the grant and includes a project timeline and budget. Application submissions also include a curriculum vitae and two recommendation letters.
Who Can Apply: The Lee Hakel Graduate Student Scholarship and Mary L. Tenopyr Scholarship recognize doctoral student achievement in the industrial and organizational psychology field. Eligible candidates demonstrate full-time enrollment in an industrial and organizational psychology-related doctoral program at a regionally accredited school. Candidates also require an approved dissertation plan and APA Division 14 affiliation.
Who Can Apply: This APA-funded fellowship supports psychology doctoral candidates who demonstrate research competency and possess Institutional Review Board approval. Applicants submit a CV, project timeline and budget, and two recommendation letters.
Who Can Apply: Funded by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, this fellowship goes to Ph.D. students researching industrial and organizational psychology. Recipients need clinical experience dealing with employee training, development, selection, or placement. Applicants submit a resume, a description of career goals, recommendation letters, and a master’s thesis summary.
Best Value Online Ph.D. in Psychology Programs 2021
Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale, FL
A private university based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Keiser offers a hybrid-format doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in industrial and organizational psychology that prepares graduates to apply psychology research findings in addressing workplace issues and designing effective methods.
Students with psychology-related master's degrees complete 60 total credits, including 18 industrial and organizational psychology-related credits, 15 research credits, 15 foundations course credits, and 12 dissertation credits. Core course topics include personnel psychology, interventions in social systems, and organizational testing and assessment. Enrollees without a master's degree in psychology complete an additional 18 prerequisite credits, including a thesis project.
Online students usually take 1-2 eight-week courses per term. Keiser's online Ph.D. in psychology uses a cohort-based model and includes two intensive residencies. Students transfer up to nine credits from accredited schools.
Keiser University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI
A public university based in East Lansing, Michigan, MSU provides hybrid and on-campus versions of its educational psychology and educational technology (EPET) doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) program. Serving aspiring education researchers, technology developers, teachers, and administrators, the EPET program features two curriculum tracks in education psychology and education technology.
Education psychology students interested in policy leadership, academia, or curriculum development careers often pursue further specialization in language and literacy education or in urban education. The curriculum focuses on research, education, and literacy theory, and includes courses such as current issues in children's literature, literacy in sociocultural context, and educational inquiry. Meanwhile, the educational technology curriculum emphasizes skills in teaching and learning technology development.
The hybrid EPET runs primarily online and requires five years to complete. Some hybrid students attend classes on campus for one semester. Many EPET enrollees benefit from the support and guidance of collaborative research groups.
Michigan State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Saybrook, a private, nonprofit university based in Oakland, California, offers two online doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in psychology: a psychology Ph.D. and a clinical psychology Ph.D. Like all of the best Ph.D. programs in psychology, Saybrook allows students to pursue individual goals and interests. The hybrid program combines online coursework with five-day residencies in Monterey at the start of each semester. Full-time enrollees typically complete these programs in 5-6 years.
The psychology Ph.D. offers four specializations: creativity studies; psychophysiology; existential, humanistic, and transpersonal psychology; and consciousness, spirituality, and integrative health. The clinical psychology Ph.D. emphasizes research and clinical psychotherapy practice skills in fields such as child and adolescent psychology, developmental psychology, and humanistic-integrative psychology.
Clinical psychology enrollees enjoy live mentorship and training during residential conferences at the Oakland campus. During residencies, participants consult with faculty and advisors to plan their degree process.
Saybrook's psychology Ph.D. applicants provide recommendation letters, personal statements, resumes, and official transcripts, plus an admissions interview.
Saybrook University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Touro University Worldwide
Los Alamitos, CA
A nonprofit higher learning institution committed to philanthropic duty and social justice, TUW offers online programs available to students across the world. TUW's 66-credit, 100% online doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) in human and organizational psychology focuses on motivating employees, reducing turnover, and inspiring leadership.
This accelerated program serves working professionals. The program runs eight-week courses throughout the year and takes three years to complete. The curriculum allows self-pacing and incorporates group course assignments and research. The program begins with 13 courses focused on research methods, evidence-based practice, and the scholar-practitioner model. Enrollees then move onto a dissertation proposal stage, followed by dissertation development. TUW does not require any on-campus residencies.
Psy.D. students need an accredited master's degree and a 3.4 minimum graduate GPA. Application materials include recommendation letters, an entrance essay, and official transcripts.
Touro University Worldwide is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.