Whether you’ve recently earned your master’s degree in psychology or are simply looking to learn more about academic paths with higher education in psychology, it’s worth exploring doctoral-level psychology programs. This is an exciting stage where you can further your knowledge, specialize in your chosen field, and embark on a rewarding journey of academic and professional growth. Every year, over 6000 students in the US earn their doctorate degrees in psychology, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Before making any decisions, it’s important to understand the distinct paths available to you:
The Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology.

In this article, we’ll dive into relevant information on doctoral-level psychology programs, uncovering the differences between PsyD and PhD offerings. Our goal is to provide you, as a prospective student, with the insights needed to make an informed decision that aligns with your academic and career objectives. 

While it can prove to be a valuable investment, take your time when you evaluate whether or not a doctorate in psychology is right for you. If you have a strong interest in clinical practice, counseling, or applied psychology, a doctorate program can provide:

  • Advanced training and specialized skills to excel in these areas
  • Opportunities to make a positive impact on individuals’ lives
  • Preparation for leadership roles in the field

Doctorate degrees in psychology are ideal for those who:

  • Embrace lifelong learning and personal growth
  • Possess genuine curiosity about human behavior
  • Are dedicated to advancing the field and improving mental health care
  • Aspire to become research scholars and contribute to the scientific community
  • Seek to push the boundaries of knowledge in a specific subfield of psychology

Whether you aim to conduct groundbreaking research or apply psychological principles in practical settings, a doctorate degree in psychology offers a pathway to deepening your expertise and making a meaningful impact in the dynamic field of psychology.

The Doctor of Psychology is a professional doctorate degree in psychology that emphasizes the practical application of psychological knowledge and skills. Unlike other doctoral programs, PsyD programs are focused on training students for professional practice, rather than research and academia. The primary goal of a PsyD program is to provide students with the practical expertise necessary to become competent and skilled practitioners in various areas of applied psychology. 

The curriculum of a PsyD program typically includes coursework in assessment and intervention techniques, therapeutic approaches, ethics, and professional conduct. Through a PsyD, you gain hands-on experience from supervised clinical placements, allowing you to apply your knowledge in real-world settings. In addition, completing a doctoral project or dissertation, often with a clinical focus, is a common requirement in PsyD programs. 

A doctorate degree in psychology is generally required to practice as a clinical psychologist in most states. PsyD degree programs are designed to arm you with the expertise and practical skills to work in advanced research or challenging clinical settings.

How Long Does it Take to Get a PsyD?

The time it takes to get a PsyD can vary depending on various factors, such as the program requirements, the student’s pace, and the type of degree they hold before starting the program. On average, PsyD programs take anywhere between 4 to 6 years to complete depending on factors such as your prior academic experience, coursework, and career objectives.

Related: How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychologist?

Psychologist with doctorate degrees in psychology. American PsyD graduate practicing psychology.

A PhD in Psychology is a doctoral degree that offers a comprehensive and research-focused approach to the field of psychology. This rigorous program prepares individuals to become experts in the scientific study of the human mind and behavior. 

With a PhD in Psychology, you can aim to pursue various career paths. In academia, you can become a professor, teaching and mentoring future psychologists while conducting groundbreaking research in your area of expertise. As a researcher, you can work in academic institutions, government agencies, or private research organizations, exploring new frontiers in psychology and contributing to the scientific community’s understanding of human behavior and mental processes. 

Additionally, a PhD in Psychology can open doors to high-level positions in clinical and counseling settings, where you can apply your expertise to provide evidence-based interventions and contribute to developing best practices in the field. Overall, a PhD in Psychology offers a comprehensive and rigorous education that equips you with the knowledge to become an opinion leader in the field of psychology.

A PhD program can help you build research-oriented skills such as conducting literature reviews, designing experiments or studies, collecting and analyzing data, and interpreting research findings.  The curriculum initially covers core areas of psychology, such as cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, psychopathology, etc., and then helps prepare you for a career in your chosen specialization. 

In addition to coursework and research, PhD programs often include teaching experiences. Students may have the opportunity to serve as teaching assistants, helping instruct undergraduate courses and gain valuable teaching skills.

How Long Does it Take to Get a PhD in Psychology?

The time required to earn a PhD in Psychology can vary depending on several factors, including the specific program, the student’s area of specialization, the nature of their research, and their individual progress. On average, it takes approximately 5 to 7 years (sometimes even more) to earn a PhD in Psychology.

PhD in Psychology student conducting research for dissertation. Doctorate degrees in psychology can lead to rewarding careers for psych majors.

The table below highlights the primary differences between both these doctorate degrees in psychology:


Clinical practice and applied psychologyResearch, theory development, and academia
Training Emphasis on practical experience and hands-on trainingResearch skills and scholarly pursuits
Emphasizes clinical courseworkBalanced coursework in research and practice
Program Length
Typically shorter, around 4-6 yearsTypically longer, often 5-7+ years
Career Path
Primarily clinical practice and therapyAcademia, research, and clinical practice
DissertationTypically applied or clinical in natureOriginal research study

Broadly, there are quite a lot of similarities between PsyD programs and PhD programs in psychology. The main similarities to note are:

  • Both degrees qualify individuals for clinical practice and therapy.
  • Both degrees make you eligible to apply for licensure as a practicing psychologist.
  • Both degrees develop research skills and build knowledge and skill sets that can be applied to either clinical practice or education.
  • Both degrees can lead to careers in research, academia, or clinical practice.
  • Both often have similar specializations, letting students focus on their areas of interest in psychology.

When considering doctorate degrees in psychology, there are certain general requirements that aspiring students should be aware of. Here’s an overview of these requirements:

Educational Background
A bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field is typically required for admission.
You can also pursue a doctorate if you already have your master’s in psychology, and in some cases, this may help you graduate sooner. Some programs may have specific prerequisites or recommend coursework in areas like statistics or research methods.

Academic Performance
Some programs have a minimum GPA (Grade Point Average) requirement for consideration, often somewhere. (Do your best to maintain a GPA between 2.5 to 4.0.!)

Standardized Tests
Many programs require scores from standardized tests, such as the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). The GRE subject test in psychology may also be recommended or required by some programs. But there’s good news – the duration of the GRE has been reduced significantly (a GRExit if you will).

Letters of Recommendation
Many programs ask for letters of recommendation from professors, mentors, or professionals who can speak to your academic abilities and potential for success in graduate studies.

Personal Statement
Students are typically required to submit a personal statement outlining their goals, research interests, and reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology.

Research Experience
Prior research experience, such as working in a lab or conducting independent studies, can strengthen an application. Some programs may specifically require or strongly value research experience.

Certain programs may conduct interviews as part of the selection process to assess a candidate’s fit for the program. 

Before enrolling for a doctorate in psychology, you should carefully review the specific requirements and application guidelines of each program you’re interested in, as these requirements can vary. Adhering to the program’s guidelines and demonstrating strong qualifications can increase the likelihood of your admission to the best doctoral programs in psychology.

Most PsyD programs and PhD programs in psychology let you specialize in your desired sub-field. While the focus and curriculum may differ, both programs tend to offer the same areas of specialization. Here’s a brief overview of some of the popular specializations you can pursue with a doctorate degree in psychology, and what they entail:

Clinical Psychology

This specialization focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders and psychological distress. Clinical psychologists often work in healthcare settings, private practice, or academic institutions.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology examines mental processes such as attention, memory, perception, and problem-solving. Researchers in this field investigate how individuals acquire, process, and use information.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology explores human development across the lifespan, examining how individuals change physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. This specialization often involves studying topics like child development, adolescent psychology, and aging.

Social Psychology

Social psychology investigates how individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by social interactions and group dynamics. Researchers in this field study topics such as attitudes, social cognition, interpersonal relationships, and group behavior.


Neuropsychology focuses on understanding the relationship between brain function and behavior. It involves studying how brain injuries, diseases, or disorders impact cognitive processes, emotions, and behavior.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

This specialization applies psychological principles to workplace settings, addressing issues such as employee motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, team dynamics, and organizational development.

Health Psychology

Health psychology examines the psychological factors that influence physical health and well-being. Researchers in this field study topics like stress, health behavior, coping mechanisms, and the impact of psychological factors on illness and recovery.

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology combines psychology and the legal system. It involves applying psychological knowledge to criminal investigations, evaluating witness testimony, assessing competency, and providing expert testimony in legal proceedings.

Educational Psychology

Educational psychology focuses on the study of learning, teaching, and instructional methods. This specialization explores topics such as educational assessment, motivation, instructional design, and the psychological factors that influence academic achievement. It can lead to rewarding careers in education for psych graduates.

Sports Psychology

Sports Psychology focuses on the psychological aspects of sports and athletic performance. With this specialization, you can study topics such as motivation, confidence, goal-setting, mental preparation, and the impact of psychological factors on athletic performance. Sports psychologists work with athletes to enhance their mental skills, develop resilience, manage stress, and optimize performance. Through the application of psychological principles, sports psychology aims to improve athletes’ overall well-being, mental toughness, and ability to perform at their best in competitive sports settings.

Related: Alternative Careers for Psych Majors

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology emphasizes helping individuals address personal and emotional challenges, improve mental health, and enhance overall well-being. Professionals in this field often work in counseling centers, educational institutions, or private practice.

These are just a few examples of popular doctorate-level psychology specializations. It’s important to note that the availability of specific specializations may vary among institutions. When considering a doctoral program, it’s beneficial to research the programs offered and ensure they align with your interests and career goals.

These specializations allow students to develop expertise in specific areas of applied and research-oriented psychology, enabling them to make a significant impact in their chosen fields. By tailoring your education to your interests and career goals, you can pursue rewarding careers aligned with your passions and contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities and the field of psychology as a whole.

A doctorate in psychology can open up a world of exciting opportunities. It allows you to dive deeper into the intricacies of the human mind, make a meaningful impact in people’s lives, and contribute to the ever-evolving field of psychology. If you choose to pursue a doctorate degree in psychology, here are a few potential benefits to consider:

Advanced Expertise
With a doctorate, you gain extensive knowledge and specialized skills in your chosen area of psychology. It can set you up to become a true expert in your field.

Career Advancement
Having a doctorate in psychology can pave the way for career advancement. It can equip you with the knowledge and skills you need for various academic positions, research roles, consulting gigs, and even leadership positions.

Research Opportunities
If you have a passion for research, a doctorate allows you to dive into high-level investigations. You can contribute to the scientific community, conduct groundbreaking studies, publish your findings, and present at prestigious conferences.

Clinical Impact
A doctorate in psychology can lead to licensure as a psychologist, enabling you to provide therapy, counseling, and clinical services. You can build skills that can help you make a positive difference in people’s lives by helping them navigate their mental health challenges. You can contribute to addressing mental health issues, advocating for change, and improving the overall well-being of individuals, families, and communities.

Professional Recognition
Earning a doctorate shows your dedication and achievement in the field. It earns you respect and recognition among your peers and professionals in academia and psychology-related industries.

Personal Growth
Pursuing a doctorate is not just about academics; it’s a transformative journey. It challenges your thinking, enhances your critical skills, and promotes personal growth, leading to a deeper understanding of human behavior.

So, if you’re ready to embark on a rewarding and fulfilling career path, a doctorate in psychology is your ticket to making a difference and unlocking meaningful opportunities in the fascinating field of psychology.

Pursuing a doctorate degree in psychology can lead to rewarding careers for those passionate about the subject. Whether you choose the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) path, both offer unique opportunities for growth and specialization. 

The PsyD program focuses on practical application and clinical practice, equipping students to become skilled practitioners in various areas of applied psychology. On the other hand, the PhD in Psychology emphasizes research, theory development, and academia, preparing individuals to become experts in the scientific study of human behavior.

The decision to pursue doctorate degrees in psychology should be carefully considered, aligning with your interests, career aspirations, and passion for advancing the field. They require dedication, commitment, and a genuine curiosity about human behavior. There are many benefits to earning doctorate degrees in psychology, as they not only equip you with advanced expertise and potential career advancement, but also offer the opportunity to make a positive impact on individuals’ lives and contribute to the scientific community’s understanding of the mind.

Besides our own blog, for more in-depth information on psychology, including intricate details about specific career paths, sub-fields, and academic papers, here are a few resources you can visit:

Can you get a PhD without a Master’s in Psychology?

Yes, it is possible to get into a PhD program without a master’s degree, but some PhD programs may require work or internship experience in addition to a bachelor’s degree. The requirements vary from program to program.

Is it difficult to get admission to PhD and PsyD programs?

PhD and PsyD programs are often highly competitive. On-campus programs can be even more challenging to get into, as they often have limited spots and offer competitive funding and assistantship positions. To improve your chances, it’s advisable to aim for a strong academic record with a high GPA.