What Can You Do with a Doctorate in Psychology?

Written by: Psych Degree Starter Editorial Team   •  Jun 11, 2024

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Psychology?

A doctorate in psychology provides in-depth knowledge and expertise in understanding human behavior, mental processes, and emotional health, opening the door to a multitude of career paths for individuals who pursue this advanced course of study.

This pinnacle degree, which can be either a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology), is essential for those looking to make significant contributions to the field of psychology through research, clinical practice, or academic teaching. 

With the rising awareness of mental health issues and the increasing need for qualified professionals, a doctorate in psychology offers not only personal fulfillment but also excellent career prospects and earning potential.

What Is a Doctorate in Psychology?

A doctorate in psychology represents the highest level of education in the field, encompassing extensive training in both theoretical and practical aspects of psychology. There are two primary types of doctorate degrees in psychology: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology and the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).

  • PhD in Psychology: The Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology focuses heavily on research and the scientific aspects of psychology. It prepares graduates for careers in academia, research institutions, and clinical practice. PhD programs emphasize the development of new knowledge through rigorous research, requiring students to complete a dissertation based on original research.
  • PsyD: The Doctor of Psychology is designed for those who intend to practice psychology professionally. While it includes some research components, the PsyD program emphasizes clinical training and practical experience. Graduates typically pursue careers in clinical settings, providing psychological services directly to patients.

Key Differences Between a PhD and a PsyD

While both degrees prepare individuals for careers in psychology, significant differences in their focus and training include the following:

  • Research vs. Practice: PhD programs are research-oriented, while PsyD programs focus on clinical practice.
  • Duration: Both programs generally take four to seven years to complete, depending on the specific program and the student’s pace.
  • Career Outcomes: PhD graduates often pursue academic and research positions, while PsyD graduates are more likely to work in clinical settings.

Program Structure

Both PhD and PsyD programs require a combination of coursework, practical training, and a culminating project:

  • Coursework: Both programs include advanced courses in psychological theories, research methods, ethics, and specialized topics.
  • Practicum and Internship: Both programs include hands-on training in real-world settings under the supervision of licensed professionals.
  • Dissertation (PhD) or Clinical Project (PsyD): Both programs require a significant research project or clinical intervention study that demonstrates the student’s expertise.


Accreditation is crucial when selecting a doctoral program in psychology. The American Psychological Association (APA) and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) are the primary accrediting bodies in the United States. Accredited programs meet rigorous standards of quality and are recognized by employers and licensing boards, ensuring that graduates are well-prepared for their careers.

Why Earn a Doctorate in Psychology?

Earning a doctorate in psychology provides a range of benefits, making it a highly valuable degree for those interested in understanding and improving mental health. Whether pursuing a PhD or a PsyD, graduates are equipped with advanced skills and knowledge that open up diverse career opportunities.


  • Advanced Expertise: Graduates gain in-depth knowledge of psychological theories and practices, enabling them to contribute significantly to the field.
  • Research Opportunities: A PhD offers extensive training in research methodologies, allowing graduates to conduct groundbreaking studies and contribute to the scientific community.
  • Clinical Skills: A PsyD focuses on developing practical clinical skills, preparing graduates for hands-on roles in various therapeutic settings.
  • Career Flexibility: With a doctorate, individuals can work in academia, research institutions, healthcare settings, private practice, and more.
  • Professional Recognition: Holding a doctorate in psychology often leads to higher professional status and recognition within the field.

Online Degree Benefits

  • Flexibility: Online psychology programs offer the flexibility to balance studies with personal and professional responsibilities, making it easier for working professionals to pursue advanced education.
  • Accessibility: Students can access programs from top universities regardless of their geographic location, broadening their options for high-quality education.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Affordable online psychology programs often have lower tuition rates and eliminate the need for commuting or relocation, reducing overall educational expenses.
  • Diverse Resources: Online students can access a wide range of digital resources, including libraries, databases, and virtual labs, enhancing their learning experience.

What Can You Do With a PhD in Psychology?

A PhD in Psychology provides extensive training in research, theory, and advanced practice, opening up various career paths in both academic and professional settings.

Academic Careers

  • University Professors: PhD holders can teach undergraduate and graduate courses, mentor students, and conduct research.
  • Research Scientists: They can work in academic or private research institutions, leading studies that advance psychological knowledge.

Clinical and Counseling Careers

  • Clinical Psychologists: They diagnose and treat mental health disorders, working in hospitals, private practices, and clinics.
  • Counseling Psychologists: They help clients manage emotional, social, and mental health issues through therapeutic techniques.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Roles

  • Corporate Consultants: These professionals apply psychological principles to improve workplace productivity and employee satisfaction.
  • Human Resources Managers: They design and implement employee training programs and performance assessments.

Government and Public Policy Positions

  • Policy Advisors: PhD graduates work with government agencies to develop and evaluate policies related to mental health, education, and public safety.
  • Program Evaluators: They assess the effectiveness of public health programs and initiatives to ensure they meet community needs.

Private Practice and Consultancy

  • Private Practitioners: PhD holders can establish independent practices to provide specialized psychological services directly to clients.
  • Consultants: They offer expert advice to organizations on issues such as mental health, organizational behavior, and employee well-being.

A PhD in Psychology equips individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary for advanced roles in research, clinical practice, and academia, making meaningful contributions to the field and society.

What Can You Do With a PsyD?

A Doctor of Psychology focuses on clinical practice and preparing graduates to apply psychological principles in therapeutic and professional settings.

Clinical Careers

  • Clinical Psychologists: PsyD holders diagnose and treat mental health disorders in hospitals, clinics, and private practices.
  • Counseling Psychologists: They provide therapeutic services to individuals, couples, and groups to help manage emotional and mental health issues.

School and Educational Psychology

  • School Psychologists: They work in educational settings to support the mental health and learning needs of students.
  • Educational Consultants: PsyD graduates can consult with schools to develop programs that enhance student well-being and academic performance.

Health and Rehabilitation Psychology

  • Health Psychologists: They work in medical settings to address the psychological aspects of physical health and illness.
  • Rehabilitation Psychologists: These professionals assist individuals with disabilities or chronic illnesses to improve their quality of life.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

  • Workplace Psychologists: Applying psychological principles to improve employee well-being and organizational performance in corporate settings.
  • Training and Development Specialists: Designing and implementing programs to enhance employee skills and productivity.

Private Practice and Consultancy

  • Private Practitioners: PsyD holders can establish their own practices to offer specialized psychological services to clients.
  • Consultants: Providing expert advice to businesses, schools, and healthcare organizations on mental health and organizational behavior.

A PsyD prepares graduates for hands-on roles in clinical and professional settings, emphasizing the application of psychological knowledge to improve mental health and well-being.

How Much Does a Doctorate in Psychology Cost?

The cost of earning a doctorate in psychology can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the type of institution, program format, and geographic location. Understanding these costs is crucial for prospective students to plan their finances effectively.

Average Cost Range

  • Public Institutions: Tuition for doctoral programs at public universities can range from $10,000 to $20,000 per year for in-state students and $20,000 to $35,000 per year for out-of-state students.
  • Private Institutions: Private universities generally may charge higher tuition rates, ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 per year.
  • Online Programs: Online programs can vary widely in cost, with some being more affordable due to lower overhead costs, ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 per year.

Factors Influencing Cost

  • Type of Institution: Public universities are generally less expensive than private universities.
  • Residency Status: In-state students often pay significantly less than out-of-state students at public institutions.
  • Program Format: Online programs can offer cost savings on commuting, housing, and other campus-related expenses.
  • Duration: The total cost will also depend on the length of the program, which can range from four to seven years.

Additional Costs

  • Books and Supplies: Students should budget for textbooks, software, and other academic materials, typically costing $1,000 to $2,000 per year.
  • Fees: Additional fees for student services, technology, and lab use can range from $500 to $2,000 per year.
  • Living Expenses: Costs for housing, food, transportation, and personal expenses vary by location but can add $15,000 to $25,000 annually to the total cost.

Financial Aid Options

  • Scholarships and Grants: Many universities offer scholarships and grants based on merit or financial need, which do not need to be repaid.
  • Assistantships: Teaching and research assistantships provide stipends and tuition remission in exchange for work.
  • Loans: Federal and private student loans are available to cover educational expenses, though they must be repaid with interest.
  • Employer Sponsorship: Some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs for employees pursuing advanced degrees relevant to their job.

Doctorate in Psychology Curriculum

The curriculum for a doctorate in psychology is designed to provide a comprehensive education in both theoretical and practical aspects of psychology. It includes a combination of coursework, practicum experiences, and a culminating research project or dissertation.

Core Courses

  • Advanced Psychological Theories: In-depth study of major psychological theories and their applications
  • Research Methods: Training in quantitative and qualitative research methods, including statistical analysis and experimental design
  • Ethics in Psychology: Examination of ethical issues and standards in psychological practice and research
  • Psychopathology: Study of mental disorders, their diagnosis, and treatment

Specializations and Electives

Students can choose from a variety of specializations to tailor their education to their career goals. Common specializations include:

  • Clinical Psychology: Focus on assessment and treatment of mental health disorders
  • Counseling Psychology: Emphasis on therapeutic techniques and interventions for individuals and groups
  • Forensic Psychology : Application of psychological assessments, treatments, and research methods to legal contexts
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology: Application of psychological principles to workplace issues
  • Neuropsychology: Study of brain-behavior relationships and cognitive function

Practicum and Internship Requirements

Practical training is a critical component of doctoral programs in psychology, providing hands-on experience under supervision.

  • Practicum: Early-stage practical experience in real-world settings, typically completed during the first few years of the program
  • Internship: A more intensive, full-time experience usually completed in the final year of the program, often required for licensure

Dissertation and Research Project

The culmination of a PhD program is the dissertation, an original research project that contributes new knowledge to the field of psychology. For PsyD programs, the capstone may be a clinical project or intervention study.

  • Dissertation: Requires extensive research, data collection, and analysis, resulting in a substantial written document
  • Clinical Project: Involves designing and implementing a clinical intervention, followed by an evaluation of its effectiveness

The curriculum of a doctorate in psychology is rigorous and comprehensive, preparing graduates for advanced roles in research, clinical practice, and academia.

What Are the Admission Requirements for Doctorate in Psychology Programs?

Admission to a doctorate program in psychology is highly competitive and requires meeting several academic and professional criteria. Prospective students should be prepared to demonstrate their qualifications and commitment to the field.

Academic Prerequisites

  • Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree: Applicants typically need a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. Some programs may require a master’s degree for admission.
  • GPA Requirements: Most programs have a minimum GPA requirement, often around 3.0 to 3.5 on a 4.0 scale, to ensure academic readiness.

Standardized Tests

  • GRE Scores: Many programs require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, particularly the general test. Some may also require the psychology subject test.
  • TOEFL/IELTS: International students may need to provide scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to demonstrate English proficiency.

Supporting Documents

  • Letters of Recommendation: Applicants must submit letters of recommendation from professors, employers, or professionals who can attest to their qualifications and potential for success in a doctoral program.
  • Statement of Purpose: A detailed statement outlining the applicant’s academic interests, career goals, and reasons for pursuing a doctorate in psychology.
  • Resume or CV: A comprehensive resume or curriculum vitae highlighting relevant academic, professional, and research experiences.

Relevant Experience

  • Research Experience: Programs often prefer candidates with substantial research experience, which may include working in a lab, conducting independent studies, or publishing research.
  • Clinical Experience: For PsyD programs, clinical experience, such as internships, volunteer work, or professional practice, is highly valued.

Accreditation for Doctorate in Psychology Programs

Accreditation is a crucial factor to consider when selecting a doctorate program in psychology. It ensures that the program meets established standards of quality and is recognized by employers and licensing boards.

Importance of Accreditation

  • Quality Assurance: Accreditation guarantees that the program adheres to high academic and professional standards, providing a rigorous education.
  • Licensure Eligibility: Graduating from an accredited program is often a requirement for obtaining licensure to practice psychology.
  • Transferability of Credits: Accredited programs facilitate the transfer of credits between institutions and recognition of degrees by employers and other educational institutions.

Key Accrediting Bodies

  • American Psychological Association (APA): The APA is the primary accrediting body for doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology in the United States.
  • Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS): PCSAS accredits programs that emphasize scientific training and research in clinical psychology.
  • Regional Accreditation: In addition to specialized accreditation, it is important that the institution offering the program is regionally accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.

How to Verify Program Accreditation

  • Institution’s Website: Most universities provide accreditation information on their official websites, including details about both institutional and program-specific accreditation.
  • Contacting Accrediting Agencies: For additional assurance, students can view directories on accrediting agency websites or directly contact accrediting bodies to confirm the accreditation status of a program.

Career Options for People With Doctorates in Psychology

A doctorate in psychology opens the door to a variety of rewarding career paths, each offering unique opportunities to apply psychological principles and improve mental health outcomes.

Academic Careers

  • University Professors: Graduates can pursue careers as professors, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, mentoring students, and conducting research.
  • Research Scientists: PhD holders can work in academic or private research institutions, leading studies that advance knowledge in various areas of psychology.

Clinical Careers

  • Clinical Psychologists: Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental health disorders, working in hospitals, private practices, and mental health clinics.
  • Counseling Psychologists: Counseling psychologists help clients manage emotional, social, and mental health issues through therapeutic techniques and interventions.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Roles

  • Corporate Consultants: Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological principles to improve workplace productivity, employee satisfaction, and organizational effectiveness.
  • Human Resources Managers: They design and implement employee training programs, performance assessments, and recruitment strategies.

Government and Public Policy Positions

  • Policy Advisors: Graduates can work with government agencies to develop and evaluate policies related to mental health, education, and public safety.
  • Program Evaluators: They assess the effectiveness of public health programs and initiatives to ensure they meet community needs.

Private Practice and Consultancy

  • Private Practitioners: Psychologists with doctorates can establish independent practices to provide specialized psychological services directly to clients.
  • Consultants: They offer expert advice to organizations on issues such as mental health, organizational behavior, and employee well-being.

Earning a doctorate in psychology provides a wealth of career opportunities, allowing graduates to make meaningful contributions across various sectors, from academia and clinical practice to corporate and government settings.

Doctorate in Psychology Salary and Job Outlook

Earning a doctorate in psychology significantly enhances earning potential and job prospects across various fields. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists earn competitive salaries with promising job growth.

Salary Overview

  • Median Annual Wage: As of May 2023, the median annual wage for psychologists was $92,740.
  • Top Earners: The highest 10% earned more than $151,880 annually.
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: These professionals had a median annual wage of $147,420.
  • Clinical and Counseling Psychologists: These roles had a median annual wage of $96,100.
  • School Psychologists: The median annual wage was $84,940.

Job Outlook

  • Employment Growth: Overall employment for psychologists is projected to grow by 6% from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the average for all occupations.
  • Annual Openings: Approximately 12,800 job openings for psychologists are projected each year over the decade, primarily due to the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or retire.
  • Demand Drivers: Increased awareness of mental health issues, the need for psychological services in schools and hospitals, and the demand for organizational psychologists in corporate settings contribute to this growth.

Scholarships and Financial Aid Information for Doctorate in Psychology

Financing a doctorate in psychology can be challenging, but various scholarships and financial aid options are available to help students manage the costs.

Types of Scholarships

  • Merit-Based Scholarships: Awarded based on academic achievement and potential in the field of psychology
  • Need-Based Scholarships: Granted to students who demonstrate financial need, often through a FAFSA application
  • Field-Specific Scholarships: Provided by professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) for students pursuing specific areas of psychology

Grants and Fellowships

  • Federal and State Grants: Available to students who qualify based on financial need and other criteria
  • Research Fellowships: Offered by universities and research institutions to support students conducting significant research projects
  • Professional Associations: Organizations like the APA and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provide fellowships for advanced study and research

Assistantships and Work-Study Opportunities

  • Teaching Assistantships (TAs): Assisting with teaching duties in exchange for a stipend and tuition remission
  • Research Assistantships (RAs): Faculty-led research projects where students gain valuable experience while receiving financial support
  • Work-Study Programs: Part-time employment opportunities on campus that help students finance their education

Tips for Applying for Financial Aid

  • Start Early: Begin researching and applying for scholarships and financial aid well before deadlines.
  • Complete the FAFSA: Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for federal and state financial aid.
  • Seek Institutional Aid: Contact the financial aid office at your chosen university for information on available scholarships, grants, and assistantships.
  • Explore Professional Organizations: Many psychology-related organizations offer scholarships, grants, and fellowships to support graduate students.

Doctorate in Psychology FAQ

How Much Can You Earn With a Doctorate in Psychology?

Earning a doctorate in psychology can lead to a substantial increase in earning potential:

  • Clinical and Counseling Psychologists: Median annual salary of $96,100.
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: Median annual salary of $147,420.
  • School Psychologists: Median annual salary of $84,940.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctorate in Psychology?

The time required to earn a doctorate in psychology varies:

  • PhD Programs: Typically take five to seven years to complete, including coursework, research, and dissertation.
  • PsyD Programs: Usually take four to six years, focusing more on clinical practice and less on research.

Is Getting a Doctorate in Psychology Worth It?

The decision to pursue a doctorate in psychology should consider both the costs and the benefits:

  • Professional Opportunities: A doctorate opens doors to advanced career paths in academia, clinical practice, research, and industry.
  • Financial Benefits: Doctorates can lead to higher earning potential compared to a master’s degree.
  • Personal Fulfillment: Many find the opportunity to contribute to the field and help others to be deeply rewarding.

Can I Earn a Doctorate in Psychology Entirely Online?

While fully online doctoral programs in psychology are rare, some hybrid and low-residency options are available:

  • Hybrid Programs: These programs combine online coursework with occasional on-campus residencies.
  • Low-Residency Programs: These programs require minimal on-campus attendance, making it easier for working professionals to complete their degrees.

What Careers Can an Individual With a Doctorate in Psychology Get?

Graduates with a doctorate in psychology can pursue various careers:

  • Academia: Professors and researchers at universities and colleges
  • Clinical Practice: Clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, and school psychologists
  • Corporate Sector: Industrial-organizational psychologists and corporate consultants
  • Government and Public Policy: Policy advisors and program evaluators
  • Private Practice: Independent practitioners and consultants providing specialized psychological services

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