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Ph.D. in Psychology Degree Programs

There are two types of doctorates in the field of psychology: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). A Ph.D. generally prepares students for careers in research or academia, while a Psy.D. is best suited for those who wish to work with patients in a clinical setting.

This page focuses on the Ph.D. You can learn more about the Psy.D. by visiting our Psy.D. degree page.

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What Can I Do With a Ph.D. in Psychology?

According to the APA, a Ph.D. is for those interested in “generating new knowledge through scientific research and/or gaining teaching experience.” Ph.D.-holders typically go on to pursue careers in research, teaching, or a combination of both. Some become clinical psychologists—although Ph.D. programs emphasize research methods and theory, most also provide the training needed to become licensed as a clinician.

Psychology Ph.D. Careers in Research

The goal of research psychologists is to better understand human behavior—both generally and to address a specific problem (the latter is known as “applied research”). They begin by asking a question—such as “Are bystanders less likely to come to the aid of a victim if there are others present?” To answer that question, they formulate studies, analyze their results, and draw conclusions. (Psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané actually did research the bystander question, devising an experiment called the “Bystander Apathy Experiment.”)

There are a number of methods that researchers use. They might conduct a survey, observe the behavior or people or animals in their natural environment, or analyze existing research. They might work in a lab to conduct controlled experiments, use computer simulations, or perform case studies.

Researchers generally have expertise in a particular subfield and work within that field. Examples include:

  • Developmental psychology: Focuses on how behavior, thinking, and feelings change throughout the human lifespan
  • Educational psychology: Studies the way people learn and retain knowledge, particularly in classrooms or other educational settings
  • Cognitive psychology: Deals with learning, perception, memory, and other critical mental processes
  • Behavioral psychology: Deals with human actions and the events or stimuli that cause them
  • Neuropsychology: Focuses on brain behavior and function issues stemming from everything from brain injuries to dementia to developmental delays

Research psychologists might work in government agencies (such as the National Institute of Health), private research organizations, law enforcement agencies, the military, or universities.

Psychology Ph.D. Careers in Academia

Earning a Ph.D. can lead to a career as a postsecondary teacher. These teachers generally also conduct research, working with other faculty and graduate students in their area of expertise.

Other opportunities in academia include positions such as:

  • University or college administrator: If you pursue a career as an administrator you might oversee student services, faculty member research, or academics at the college or university level.
  • Department chair: As a department chair you’ll serve as the executive leader of your department, advocate for the faculty, promote vision and leadership for the department, and provide a forum for both faculty and students to voice their concerns and opinions.

Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Careers

A clinical Ph.D. trains you in the techniques and methodologies needed for a career producing new scientific research, just like a regular Ph.D. The difference is, you’ll complete a clinical specialty with significant training in applied psychology for working directly with patients in clinical settings.

There are a host of specialty career options in this area, such as school psychologist, child psychologist, neuropsychologist, and social psychologist.

Featured Psychology Ph.D. Schools

If you’re pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology, you have a wide variety of excellent programs to choose from across the country. The following are just a few of the top programs in the nation. We chose the programs on this list based on our own research with regard to factors such as cost, quality, and program options. Note that all schools listed provide full tuition funding through stipends and fellowships.

University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Nearly 48,000 combined graduate and undergraduate students attend the University of Minnesota, the flagship university of the Twin Cities, which serves as the state’s land grant public research university. The Department of Psychology, the largest in the College of Liberal Arts, is home to 140 Ph.D. students.

Degree programs: The highly customizable psychology Ph.D. program offers eight areas of specialization: biological psychopathology; clinical science and psychopathology research program; cognitive and brain science; counseling psychology; industrial/organizational psychology; personality, individual differences, and behavioral genetics; quantitative/psychometric methods; and social psychology.

Stanford University (Stanford, California)

The world-renowned Stanford Department of Psychology was honored by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. One of the first departments formed at Stanford, the psychology program has roots dating back to the 19th century.

Degree programs: The full-time Ph.D. in psychology program offers several different subfields, including affective science, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and social psychology. No matter which field you choose, you’ll spend the final year of the five-year program working on your dissertation.

University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California)

Berkeley‘s graduate psychology program is designed to produce scholar-researchers equipped to contribute significant independent research to the field. Candidates are encouraged to also take out-of-department courses to supplement their field of study.

Degree programs: The Ph.D. program is organized into six training units, each of which is overseen by department members who focus on that specific unit. The units include behavioral and systems neuroscience, clinical science, cognition, cognitive neuroscience, developmental, and social-personality.

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)

The Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC-Chapel Hill was founded in 1920 and consistently ranks among the top in the nation. The graduate program prepares students to teach, conduct research, and provide professional and public services at the highest levels in the field of psychology.

Degree programs: Training in the Ph.D. program is offered in six subfields: social psychology, quantitative psychology, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, and behavioral and integrative neuroscience.

Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)

The highly competitive graduate program at Yale accepts only about 15 new Ph.D. students every year. As an applicant, you’ll specify which of five labs you’ll call home, although the program includes cross-lab collaboration.

Degree programs: The five areas of concentration available in the psychology Ph.D. program are social/personality psychology, neuroscience, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, and clinical psychology. Each program offers weekly seminars for both faculty and students.

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, Illinois)

The Department of Psychology at UOI, Urbana-Champaign was created in 1904. The research program includes nearly two dozen research themes, each of which is overseen by faculty dedicated to that program and theme.

Degree programs: There are nine different options for research by program areas, including social-personality, quantitative, industrial-organizational, developmental, cognitive, cognitive neuroscience, clinical-community, behavioral neuroscience, and attention and perception.

What Can I Earn With a Ph.D. in Psychology?

Salary can vary depending on who you work for, where you work, and what you do. However, the data that follows from PayScale.com can give you an idea of your salary potential with a Ph.D.

Salaries with a Ph.D. in Psychology

Professor, postsecondary


Senior researcher


Clinical psychologist


What Can I Expect in a Ph.D. Program?

No matter what career path you decide to pursue, getting your Ph.D. will entail completing a program that can last anywhere from five to seven years. Here is what you can expect.

Admission Requirements

A bachelor’s degree is required for all graduate-level study. Some Ph.D. programs also require a master’s degree. But even if a program doesn’t, it can be wise to get one. Earning a master’s allows you to make a fully-informed decision about your focus area and may lower the amount of time it will take to complete your Ph.D.

Schools may vary in the specific requirements for entering a Ph.D. program, but in general you will need to:

  • Have a specified GPA in your undergraduate or master’s program, usually of 3.0 or higher
  • Write an essay—sometimes a statement of purpose, sometimes one of your own choice, or sometimes both
  • Interview with faculty members
  • Provide official transcripts
  • Submit letters of recommendation
  • Give proof of internships or other work experience
  • Submit a resume or curriculum vitae
  • Provide a portfolio of published works

Curriculum in Psychology Ph.D. Programs

The subject matter and curriculum will vary depending on your area of specialization and career path. All Ph.D. students, however, can expect to encounter coursework focused on research methods. These courses might include:

  • Quantitative analysis and design
  • Research theory, design, and methods
  • Statistics for psychology
  • Ethics in research

In addition to coursework, you will likely have to pass a comprehensive exam, write and defend a dissertation, and complete a specified number of hours (usually equivalent to one or two years) of a practicum, internship, or externship in your area of study.

Accreditation and Ph.D. Programs in Psychology

It’s important that your Ph.D. program is accredited. Schools or programs that are accredited have been recognized by independent third-party governing bodies for the rigor of their programs.

Examples of accrediting bodies for graduate programs in the field of psychology include:

Cost of a Ph.D. Program

Although Ph.D. programs can be expensive, the good news is that many universities fully fund their doctoral students. This may include full tuition and a stipend for living expenses throughout the course of the doctoral program. In exchange, doctoral students work in research or as teaching assistants.

If cost is an issue for you, make sure that you understand a university’s policies regarding tuition before you commit.

Online Psychology Ph.D. Degrees

The APA accredits some hybrid doctoral programs, which include both online and face-to-face instruction. The APA does not, however, currently accredit any fully online doctoral programs, though other accrediting agencies may. Also, programs delivered 100% online will not satisfy licensure requirements in most states or will require you to demonstrate equivalency to an APA-accredited doctoral degree, if you are intending to practice as a psychologist anywhere in the U.S.

After You Earn Your Psychology Ph.D. Degree

Once you earn your degree, you may be able to jump right into your career. But those who plan to work in clinical settings will need to get a license. Some states also require researchers to earn one. Check with your state’s psychology board to learn about your location’s regulations.

Once you start working, you will need to keep abreast of developments in your field; or, you may wish to delve more deeply into your current specialty or focus on a new one. Therefore, continuing education in the form of professional development is an essential component. For those who need to be licensed, it is usually required for license renewal.