The Comprehensive Guide to Psy.D. Programs

With greater awareness of mental health comes a greater demand for compassionate professionals who can work as counselors, therapists and psychologists. In most cases, these jobs require advanced degrees and specialized training in human behavior and other areas of study. The need for a degree rooted in the clinical practice of psychology gave rise more than five decades ago to the Doctor of Psychology degree, or Psy.D., as it’s more commonly known.

Distinct from a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, a Psy.D. is often the next academic step after a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology or another behavioral science, and the end result quite often is becoming licensed to practice as a psychologist.

While not everyone who earns the degree will go on to earn licensure and practice as professional psychologists, for the bulk of students working toward that degree, such a role is their primary career objective.

It’s not difficult to see what makes psychologist jobs and practices so appealing. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a typical psychologist earns more than $80,000 per year, while industrial-organizational psychologists, or those with specialized training, can expect to make nearly $95,000. With a median annual wage in the U.S. of just $39,000, these jobs are comparatively lucrative.

These roles are in high demand, with no slowdown projected in job availability. In fact, through 2028, demand for psychologists is expected to grow by 14%, nearly triple the growth rate of all jobs (5%) in the American economy. And that’s before factoring in the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has exacerbated an already serious mental health crisis in the United States.

Whether the end goal is a job as a clinical psychologist, school psychologist, therapist, counselor or some other role for which a deep understanding of human behavior is informative, prospective students should learn more about the Psy.D., schools that offer degrees and what career outcomes could be possible.

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Psy.D. vs. Ph.D.

What are the biggest differences between a Psy.D. and Ph.D. and why does the best fit for each person depend on the job they’d eventually like to get? While both are doctoral degrees and represent the highest possible achievement in the field, the student experience is wildly different.

Program focus

  • Psy.D.: Mix of coursework and clinical experience, often in real-world mental health settings.
  • Ph.D.: Mix of coursework and lab-based or other academic research

Ideal career outcome

  • Psy.D.: Licensed psychologist
  • Ph.D.: Professor or academic researcher

Program length

  • Psy.D.: 4-6 years
  • Ph.D.: 5-8 years

While it’s entirely possible for a student with either type of degree to become a licensed psychologist or an academic researcher — indeed, many people in the field do both — a good rule of thumb is that if your career goal is working directly with individuals to help them resolve their mental health or behavioral issues, a Psy.D. is most likely the best degree you can get. You’ll still undergo a rigorous course of academic study, but that will be paired with or help set up, depending on the program, experiences in a clinical setting.

It’s also important to note that in some cases, students may be able to enter Psy.D. programs right out of college, while that’s less common with a Ph.D. program. Some students may find it helpful to complete a master’s degree in psychology or a related field before pursuing a Psy.D., as the coursework can be intensely challenging, often including many of the following topics:

  • Psychopathology
  • Group and Organizational Dynamics
  • Advanced Statistics
  • Life Span Human Development
  • Empirical Research
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Ethics and Professional Issues

Regardless of the specific type of degree they pursue, once the program is completed, prospective psychologists are required in every state to pass a licensure exam before they can begin legally practicing as psychologists, and many employers who hire individuals at jobs other than psychologist may require licensure despite the job title.

Different Types of Psy.D. Degrees

Depending on the institution, it may be possible to earn a highly focused or specialized Psy.D. degree. Let’s explore how the five most common types differ when it comes to the types of courses and eventual career.

  • Clinical: These Psy.D. programs are by far the most common, and many schools that offer Psy.D. degrees only offer them in clinical psychology. While that makes these versatile degrees, enabling students to pursue licensure in psychology and seek a wide range of jobs, it also means that students may need to craft a specialty themselves with the electives they choose.
  • School: Psy.D. degrees in school psychology are the second most commonly offered type of Psy.D. degree, with a programmatic focus on young people and education. In some cases, graduates will seek further education to become school counselors or psychologists, while others may choose to work with young people in mental health crises.
  • Counseling: The third most commonly offered Psy.D. focuses on counseling, which is a degree that prepares individuals to conduct assessments and provide counseling services to all individuals, not only those with pathological or chronic behavioral health problems. Relevant coursework for these degrees can include classes like abusive relationships, group counseling and human sexuality.
  • Forensic: Something of a specialty Psy.D., degrees in forensics are aimed at people who are interested in working within the legal or civil court system, including working with law enforcement, defense teams or as victim advocates. Coursework covers psychology but also touches upon courses dealing with law and courts.
  • Correctional: Slightly related to a Psy.D. in forensic psychology, degrees in correctional psychology deal with criminal justice-related topics, but these degree programs tend to focus on those who have been accused or convicted of crimes and are housed in correctional settings like prisons or jails. In addition to general training in psychology, people pursuing a correctional Psy.D. would take coursework focusing on criminal justice, courts and the penal system.

Psy.D. Program Accreditation

For any degree-seeker at any level, attending a program that has been accredited by the major bodies in their field of study is crucial. After all, this signals to others, including potential new employers, that an applicant has graduated from a reputable, rigorous program that meets all the requirements set forth by the accrediting body. In other words, that a well-regarded institution vouches for the degree holder.

EXPERT VOICE: If the student wants to practice as a psychologist, then I would urged them to look to an APA accredited graduate degree program offering the doctor of psychology (PsyD) degree. If they desire a career that will prepare them for practice but primarily to teach and do research then a university offering an APA accredited PhD program is best. – George Geysen, Psy.D. Doctor of Clinical PsychologyUniversity of Hartford. Currently a psychologist in private practice. 

For Psy.D. degree programs, accreditation by the American Psychology Association (APA) is the gold standard, but this is not the only organization that offers accreditation to Psy.D. degree programs. Many very well known and successful psychologists have forgone an APA specific program and opted instead for the convenience of an Online program.

Other accreditation bodies to know include:

  • National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
  • Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS)
  • Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Higher Learning Commission

What makes APA accreditation so sought-after? In a word: Selectivity. The organization accredits only a tiny percentage of the colleges and universities that apply, and those that do earn the endorsement are required to publish annually a series of data points related to how effective the program is at training psychologists. This includes things like total degrees granted, the typical number of years required to graduate, the percentage of students who get internships and, crucially, the percentage of graduates who earn professional licensure. For prospective students, these data points are critical in judging which programs are best among those they’re considering.

Best Psy.D Programs According to Professors

These are the highest-ranked Psy.D programs:

  1. Rutgers University
  2. PGSP/Stanford University Consortium
  3. Baylor University
  4. Loyola University Maryland
  5. Pepperdine University
  6. Long Island University
  7. Yeshiva University
  8. Xavier University
  9. University of Hartford

See all PsyD university reviews. 

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Best Psy.D. Programs According to

Our mission at is to foster a social community for clinical psychologists around the world in which to educate, inform and share. As part of that mission, we set out to rank the best PsyD programs in the United States and share that information with you, our community.

To do this, we surveyed dozens of our members currently searching for a PsyD program on what they consider to be important decision-making factors. Based on the survey results, we focused on four key metrics to determine the best programs: affordability, completion time, degrees conferred, and internship placement.

To determine our rankings, we evaluated over 80 APA accredited Psy.D programs and assigned points based on each metric.

RankUniversity NameStateAverage CompletionTuition Cost
1George Washington UniversityDC4$44,800
2Alliant International University--Los AngelesCA4$48,200
3Alliant International University--FresnoCA4$38,560
4Palo Alto UniversityCA4.9$50,451
5The Wright InstituteCA5$37,650
6Alliant International University--San Francisco BayCA4.9$40,970
7University of DenverCO4.9$65,856
8Alliant International University--SacramentoCA4.6$36,150
9The Chicago School of Professional Psychology--ChicagoIL5$53,613
10Nova Southeastern UniversityFL5$45,390
11Widener UniversityPA5$34,246
12Philadelphia College of Osteopathic MedicinePA5$37,913
13Yeshiva UniversityNY5$38,320
14Midwestern UniversityAZ4$36,220
15Adler University - ChicagoIL5$49,980
16Chaminade University--ArgosyHI5$38,384
17Pacific University--OregonOR5$36,644
18Yeshiva UniversityNY5$35,750
19Pace UniversityNY5$39,928
20Azusa Pacific UniversityCA5$42,510
21The Chicago School of Professional Psychology--IrvineCA5$52,220
22University of St. ThomasMN4$26,200
23Wheaton CollegeIL5$40,660
24Pepperdine UniversityCA5$64,200
25Midwestern UniversityIL5$32,547

See All 50 Best APA Accredited Psy.D. Programs for 2023

Psy.D. Programs by State

While Psy.D. degrees are growing in popularity, not every school offers this degree. Click below to see details about the best Psy.D. degree programs near you.

AlabamaHawaiiMassachusettsNew MexicoSouth Dakota
AlaskaIdahoMichiganNew YorkTennessee
ArizonaIllinoisMinnesotaNorth CarolinaTexas
ArkansasIndianaMississippiNorth DakotaUtah
DelawareLouisianaNevadaPennsylvaniaWest Virginia
D.C.MaineNew HampshireRhode IslandWisconsin
FloridaMarylandNew JerseySouth CarolinaWyoming

Career Outlook for Psy.D. Graduates

What jobs are out there for Psy.D. graduates, and what can sought-after applicants expect to earn? Let’s take a look at a few potential job titles and see what federal jobs data has to say about them.

Annual income

Industrial-organizational psychologist$92,880
Clinical, counseling and school psychologist$78,200
Marriage and family therapist, state government$72,230
School and career counselor$57,040
Rehab counselor, state government$51,260

Employment growth, 2018-2028

Marriage and family therapist22%
Substance use counselor22%
Clinical, counseling and school psychologist15%
Industrial-organizational psychologist13%
School and career counselor8%

Frequently Asked Psy.D. Questions

Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions related to Psy.D. degree programs and institutions that offer them.

Q: Is a Psy.D. a doctor?
A: Yes, a person who has completed a doctoral program, such as the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), is a doctor. Whether that person uses the abbreviation professionally is a personal choice, though, as many people who work as licensed psychologists, which is often the career goal of those who earn a Psy.D., prefer to use only their names and not the title of “Dr.” in front of their names.

Q: How many years is a Psy.D. program?
A: This varies depending on the program and the degree, but it’s safe to assume it will take the average Psy.D. 4-5 years to get their degree. Many programs can be finished in as few as 4 years, but the bulk will take at least 5, including all academic coursework and required internships or practicum experiences.

Q: Are Psy.D. programs hard to get into?
A: While Psy.D. programs tend to be easier to get into than Ph.D. programs, some Psy.D. programs are incredibly selective. Baylor’s Psy.D., for instance, admits only about six students per year, meaning there’s massive competition for just a handful of spots.

Q: How much do Psy.D.s make?
A: Depending on the job they get and where they work, salaries for those who hold Psy.D. degrees range from about $47,000 to upwards of $100,000.

Q: Can a Psy.D. prescribe drugs?
A: In Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico and Louisiana, licensed psychologists who meet minimum educational standards can prescribe medications for certain mental health disorders. But in the remainder of states, these professionals are not permitted to prescribe drugs.

Q: Do you have to get a master’s before a Psy.D.?
A: Not necessarily. In many Psy.D. degree programs, those who have earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field are encouraged to apply, and in some programs, these post-college students will earn a master’s degree as part of their Psy.D. program. In other cases, applicants are strongly encouraged or required to earn a master’s degree before seeking admission to a Psy.D. program.

Q: Is a clinical psychologist an M.D.?
A: No, M.D.s who practice in the mental health space are referred to as psychiatrists. These are individuals who have completed medical school, focusing their educational pursuits on mental health and the study of human behavior. So a psychologist is more likely a Psy.D. or Ph.D. than an M.D.

Q: What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
A: While both professionals are likely to deal with issues surrounding mental health and behavioral disorders, the biggest difference between the two is that a psychiatrist is a medical doctor and a psychologist isn’t, or rather, is very unlikely to be a medical doctor. While it’s technically possible for a person to complete medical school and then go back to school to earn the Ph.D. or Psy.D. necessary to become a licensed psychologist, it’s an unlikely scenario.

See All Psy.D. FAQ’s

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