Guide to Accredited PhD in Psychology

For students fascinated with the human mind and what makes people tick, a PhD in psychology is just the thing. Nearly one million students obtain a bachelor’s in psychology each year. Of those, more than 23,000 go on to obtain a master’s degree and 1,700 eventually receive a PhD. The majority of graduating students in the field pursuing advanced degrees are women. To be a good psychologist takes keen observation, communication skills, insight and patience. Read More

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In addition to the PhD in psychology, students can pursue a PsyD, which focuses on more practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. It typically takes only four years to complete, so this is a good option if you want to earn your doctorate faster. PsyD graduates tend to work with people rather than as researchers.

Jobs in counseling, education and school psychology can often be obtained with just a master’s degree. Students with just a bachelor’s degree tend to work in fields outside of psychology, such as business administration, education or sales.


Before ever setting foot in the classroom, PhD hopefuls need to choose a sub-discipline in the field. These specializations will differ depending on the school, but here are a few of the most common ones:

  • Clinical: Clinical psychologists are concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illnesses. They might work with patients directly or perform behind-the-scenes work related to research and analysis. Clinical psychologists make up the largest subset of psychology majors.
  • Counseling: Counseling psychologists meet with clients in counseling centers and private practices, as well as hospitals, schools, and workplaces. Unlike the clinical degree, counseling programs are often housed in the education department and are less rigorous.
  • School/Education: Professionals who earn this specialty work within the education system and are primarily concerned with identifying and treating learning and behavioral problems among students of all ages.
  • Industrial/Organizational: I/O psychologists apply the principles and research methods of psychology to the workplace in order to improve various professional environments. This could take the form of applicant screening, counseling, training or marketing. They frequently work in the private sector or as outside consultants.

Other subdisciplines in psychology include developmental, cognitive, social, quantitative, forensic, health and sports.


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Length of Study

Students looking to go all the way in psychology need to start out with a bachelor’s degree, either in psychology or a related field in the social science. From there, you can choose to obtain a master’s degree, but most doctoral programs don’t require it. Most PhD programs take roughly four to seven years to complete.

Remember that in order to practice psychology, you’ll need to be licensed through your state’s licensing board. Only students who have completed their coursework and required internships are eligible for licensing. Additionally, some states require that the university from which your degree was awarded is APA-accredited.


The first two years of a doctoral program are spent on coursework covering therapy, research methods, assessment, and statistics, depending on your sub-discipline. Additionally, many programs will have you doing firsthand research or acquiring clinical experiences, which can involve anything from administering tests to counseling patients. The work you do at this stage plays a big role in what kind of internships you’ll be eligible for down the line. Some schools will require a thesis or dissertation in order to graduate, as well as competency exams in major areas of study. Finally, you’ll need to secure and complete a one-year internship in order to receive your degree.

While you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree in psychology, there are a few key courses you should have under your belt in order to be considered for many PhD in psychology programs. They include:

  • Statistics in Psychology
  • Experimental Methods Research/Design
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Personality of Psychology


Hundreds of online and offline programs offer psychology doctorates across the nation. Choosing the right school means researching all your options and finding the program that best suits your needs in terms of cost, specialty, location, and faculty.U.S. News & World Report is a good place to narrow down your list of potential schools.

Most applications are due in December or January prior to the forthcoming academic year. It’s a good idea to apply to several schools in order to increase your chances of acceptance. Typically, you’ll need to gather these materials:

  • Application (and fee, if applicable)
  • Letters of recommendation from undergraduate faculty (usually three)
  • GRE general test score
  • Some schools require the GRE Subject Test in psychology as well
  • Statement of purpose/letter of intent
  • Official transcripts from every university attended

Compiling all of these materials takes time, preparation and money. Grad school applications alone typically cost $50 apiece, so be sure to factor that into your budget.


The easiest way to pay for your PhD is to get into a program that offers full funding for its students, but these coveted spots are limited and the competition is fierce. The cost of an unfunded degree is roughly $130,000. Once you narrow and select your schools, look into what kind of financial aid and tuition assistance is available.


The job market for psychology graduates is looking bright . The biggest employer for PhD’s in psychology is elementary and secondary education; these professionals comprise roughly 42 percent of the job force and earn an average salary of $70,000 a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college professors earn a median salary of $62,050. Counselors at the master’s level make less than $40,000 a year; clinical psychologists with a doctoral degree can expect to earn double that figure. For those interested in making some money, Business Insider recently noted the top five highest paying jobs available in the field.

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