Doctorate in Psychology
The Doctor of Psychology degree, also known as PsyD, is an applied doctorate designed to prepare psychology students for a direct practice career as a licensed clinical psychologist, rather than a career in research or academia. The degree typically takes a minimum of four years to complete through full-time study with successful completion of several comprehensive exams required in order to progress, but according to Psychology Today, the average PsyD student is in school for between four and six years total.1 The program curriculum typically focuses on clinical, counseling, or school psychology theories, such as cognitive behavior and psychodynamics, that provide an in-depth understanding of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness in the general population. Students can also choose to specialize in specific types of therapies or populations, such as children or athletes. Common PsyD degrees are in school psychology, child psychology, health psychology, and counseling psychology. Completion of a doctoral paper, thesis, or research dissertation is also required. The PsyD prepares graduates to apply for psychology careers, including licensed clinical psychologist certification, and work in a variety of settings or private practice. Most people who are looking for a research-focused or academic career opt for a PhD in psychology.
According to O*NET OnLine, clinical psychologists earned a median wage of $76,990 in 2018 and they have a higher-than-average projected job growth rate, at 14% through 2026.2 As the PsyD program is a more recent addition to the range of psychology programs offered at the college level, relatively few schools currently offer this program online compared to the research-focused PhD degree in psychology. However, many traditional programs can be found across the country if you are interested in this unique graduate degree. Doctor of Psychology programs are most often found at professional schools of psychology rather than public or research universities (where PhD programs are found).
An undergraduate degree is the minimum requirement to apply, but some universities require a master’s degree as well. The major usually does not need to be in psychology as long as the prerequisite courses have been completed successfully. These may include introductory psychological theory, statistics, and cognitive, behavioral, and social psychology. A minimum 3.0 grade point average (GPA) is typically required for entry to the PsyD, although each university will have its own minimum requirement and the most competitive applicants may have a higher GPA. In addition to the required coursework, applicants must complete the general GRE and the GRE psychology subject test and submit their scores. Again, each university determines the minimum score requirement each year. As the PsyD is a professional program, the application process also requires you to send proof of academic and personal suitability. Generally, this includes transcripts from all previous study, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume. You will also likely need to pay an application fee, which can vary from $50 to over $100 per school.
One advantage PsyD programs have over their PhD in psychology counterparts is that they are typically a bit less selective, thus, theoretically easier to get into. The APA published a survey reporting that around 40% of PsyD applicants are offered admission each year, compared to only 11% of PhD applicants.3 PsyD programs also produce more graduates each year, with an average of 22 graduates per year in a given PsyD program versus just seven graduates per year in a PhD program.3
Core Concepts and Coursework
PsyD students take a variety of psychology courses in the first, second, and third years of the program. Courses in the first year of the program focus on foundational theories of human behavior and psychology as well as the formation of a professional identity as a psychologist. In the second year, students progress to clinical techniques and skills, such as assessment and interviewing, which can be used in practicum with various populations. The third year coursework allows students to gain more specialized knowledge of various theories and interventions relevant to their career goals. The fourth year of the program, which is typically the final year, rarely requires coursework and instead comprises a full-time internship and completion of the research dissertation.
Doctorate in Psychology Coursework
- Psychological Theory and Foundations
- Biological Foundations of Human Behavior
- Ethics and Professional Development in Psychology
- Cognitive Assessments
- Behavioral Assessments
- Clinical Interviewing
- Advanced Psychodynamic Theory
- Child Development and Psychopathology
Traditional Doctor of Psychology Programs
The following schools offer traditional, on-campus PsyD degrees and are well-known for the quality and breadth of their programs.
The Graduate School of Education & Psychology at Pepperdine University offers a full-time PsyD in clinical psychology that takes four years to complete including the required dissertation and internships. The program is licensed by the American Psychological Association (APA) and is designed to prepare graduates for clinical work in a variety of settings and with a variety of populations. Applicants must have a master’s degree with prerequisite courses in biology, psychology, and statistics to be eligible and must complete an admissions interview either in person or via telephone prior to admittance. While Pepperdine is a Christian institution, the program curriculum has a multicultural and multi-faith approach to psychology and integrates an evidence-based, scientific framework with attention to individual differences in assessment and intervention. Students begin placements in university-run community clinics in the first year and continue to engage in supervised practicums and internships in the southern California area throughout the program in order to apply classroom learning. A final dissertation is required and is completed with the support of one of the university’s Applied Scholarship Communities. Pepperdine also offers a Master of Science in behavioral psychology.
Rutgers offers two PsyD programs licensed by the APA starting in the fall term through the Graduate School of Applied & Professional Psychology: the Clinical PsyD and the School PsyD. The Clinical PsyD program allows students to explore a variety of intervention methods and their underlying philosophies and permits either concentrated study in a specific area of psychology or a broader approach. The School PsyD program specifically prepares students to work in the school system or with children and youth in clinical settings. A concentration in multicultural psychology is also open to all students, which focuses on various aspects of human diversity in the assessment and treatment of mental health. Students in both programs complete supervised practicums in settings across New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania throughout the program to develop practice skills, progressing from one day per week in the first year to a full-time placement in the final years. As this is an intensive schedule, only full-time study is possible. Up to 30 transfer credits may be approved for students with prior graduate-level training in psychology.
The University of Denver has offered the PsyD program since 1976 and has been licensed by the APA since 1979, making it one of the oldest programs in the country. Over time, the Graduate School of Professional Psychology has developed several unique features and specializations within the program. For example, all students are required to take a four-course module on multiculturalism and choose a specialty focus tool, such as family therapy, group treatment, or military psychology. At the beginning of the program, students are assigned a faculty mentor to assist them with academic matters as well as a clinical supervisor in placement. The 135 quarter credit program focuses on training students in four areas: coursework, clinical work, community-based clinical work, and mentorship. Courses cover a broad range of topics including theoretical foundations, biological, behavioral and social development theories, research methodology, assessment and diagnosis, ethics, treatment, and diversity. It is also possible to take relevant courses from other departments in the university to supplement the PsyD curriculum. Rather than requiring a dissertation, students must complete a doctoral paper, which can be research-based or another format, such as a case study. The university also offers various master’s level degrees in psychology.
Online Doctor of Psychology Programs
Due to the applied nature of the PsyD degree, there are fewer online programs offered. The American Psychological Association (APA) does not accredit fully-online doctoral psychology programs, but it does accredit some hybrid programs. The APA recommends that when you are choosing an online PsyD program, you should look for a school that is accredited by a US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation approved agency; consider the access you will have to campus resources and services compared to traditional students; consider the access you will have to faculty; consider whether you will receive placement assistance for your practicum; and consider whether your program will lead to licensure in your state if that is what you are seeking. You can read more about pursuing your psychology degree online on our Guide to Earning an Online Psychology Degree page. Though it focuses on bachelor’s degrees, the page provides information that is relevant to anyone considering an online psychology degree. The following PsyD programs are known for their specialization options and minimal residency requirements.
Touro University Worldwide offers one of the few PsyD degree programs available fully online with no residency requirements. The program concentrates on human and organizational psychology, including themes from leadership, ethics, and industrial psychology. This program is designed for individuals who plan to work in organizations as advisors or leaders and, unlike many other PsyD programs, does not meet the requirements for licensure for clinical work. The “scholar-practitioner” model is used to help students understand how academic theories can be used to address issues in workplaces and other types of organizations. Students spend the first two years studying various research methods and theories before progressing to the dissertation proposal. Courses include Applied Social Psychology, Evidence-Based Practices, and Developing a Research Topic. The research proposal must be approved by a committee before the student can begin the independent research project. The final year is spent working on the dissertation. Applicants must have a master’s degree in psychology with a minimum 3.4 GPA, although GRE test scores are not required.
William James College offers a four-year PsyD program specializing in Leadership Psychology with optional concentrations in African & Caribbean mental health and Global Mental Health or an optional emphasis on Leading Nonprofits and NGOs. These options will appeal to applicants interested in working in the areas of diversity, cultural competency, and mental health in diverse organizations. The program has a cohort model, which means full-time students progress through courses together in order to graduate at the same time. While the majority of coursework is completed online, the program does require three four-day residencies in Boston each year as well as a mandatory orientation before the start of the program. Courses include the Psychology of Leadership and Followership, Ethics and Standards of Organizational Practice, and Organizational Assessment, Development, and Change. Students complete at least 600 hours of practicum and 300 hours of internship as well as a graduate portfolio and dissertation. Placement sites are based on the student’s location and career goals and are overseen by a matched mentor to ensure the quality of the learning experience. If the nonprofit emphasis is chosen, students can opt to take an international learning credit in Guatemala, Kenya, or Haiti. The school also offers several other master’s and bachelor’s degree programs in psychology.
As the PsyD is designed to train students to become licensed clinical psychologists, most students choose to work towards full licensure after graduation. If you plan to apply for licensure, be sure to choose a PsyD program accredited by the American Psychological Association in order to be eligible. The licensure process varies by state, therefore, it is advisable to check the licensure requirements of the state where you intend to practice before beginning a PsyD program to ensure you will meet the requirements. In some states, you may need to complete an additional internship or post-doctoral placement to accrue enough hours to meet the requirements. Licensure requirements typically include successful completion of an accredited degree program with a supervised internship and successfully passing the Exam for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). It is possible to work in a psychology-related position without licensure, although you will likely not be able to complete clinical assessments or diagnose and treat mental illnesses. For more information on becoming licensed as a psychologist, read our How to Become a Psychologist page.
Jobs with a Doctorate in Psychology
There are many job opportunities for PsyD graduates, particularly if you pursue licensure as a clinical professional. Some examples of jobs with a doctorate in psychology include:
- Addictions Counselor
- Applied Researcher
- Clinical Psychologist
- Government Researcher
- Industrial-Organizational Psychologist
- Marriage and Family Therapist
- Mental Health Clinician
- Professional Consultant
- School Psychologist
- Sport Psychologist
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a degree in psychology to apply?
Not always. Many schools accept students from different academic backgrounds provided the prerequisite courses have been met, including substantial course content in psychology and statistics.
Do I need to attend an accredited college or university to receive my PsyD degree?
Choosing an accredited school is necessary if you plan to apply for a clinical psychologist license. Check the American Psychological Association to find accredited programs and state requirements to ensure you meet the licensure requirements.
What’s the typical salary for a Doctor of Psychology graduate?
The salary will vary depending on the type of psychologist you choose to become and where you work. According to the BLS, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists reportedly earned a median salary of $76,990 in 2018; however, the median salaries for psychologists working in hospitals and government were higher ($86,530 and $96,410 respectively).4
For more information regarding jobs for PsyD graduates, check out our Careers page.
Can I complete the program online or part-time?
Due to the applied nature of the PsyD program, most schools require students to attend full-time on-campus. Some schools may offer flexibility with scheduling and attendance in exceptional circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
1. Psychology Today, “Choosing Between a PhD and PsyD: Some Factors to Consider:” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/careers-in-psych/201603/choosing-between-phd-and-psyd-some-factors-consider
2. O*NET OnLine: Clinical Psychologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3033.00
3. American Psychological Association, Commission on Accreditation 2018 Annual Report Online, Summary Data: Doctoral Programs: https://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/about/research/2018-doctoral-summary.pdf
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/OOH/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm