Getting Your Psychology PhD or PsyD Without a Master’s

Completing a doctoral degree in psychology can be a crucial educational step toward a challenging but rewarding career in the field, whether working with patients or contributing to the field in other ways.

With multiple possible degree paths that end in similar outcomes, it can be difficult for students to understand the best route to take, depending on the education they already have. Specifically, for students who have only a bachelor’s degree, many worry their options for a psychology Ph.D. or a Psy.D. may be limited.

So let’s explore what students need to know about getting a psychology Ph.D. or Psy.D. without having a master’s degree.

Psychology Doctorate Options

At the end of both a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology and a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), an individual will have earned a doctorate and, depending on their personal preferences and professional goals, could use the “Dr.” title. But the details of the degrees are quite different, and which is right likely will depend on the individual and their career dreams.

In general, Psy.D. degrees are more appropriate for those who want to work directly with patients or clients, while Ph.D. degrees may appeal more to those who want to work in academic research to help advance understanding of human behavior.

SEE ALSO: Online Accredited PsyD Programs

Of course, that’s a guideline rather than a rule, and students who earn either type of degree can work in many different areas of psychology, or may earn enough experience and education to overlap a few areas of the field.

Importantly, though, it’s more common for Psy.D. tracks than Ph.D. tracks to include supervised professional experience as part of the doctoral program, which may impact a graduate’s ability to earn professional licensure (more on that later).

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Starting Point

Regardless of what comes next, prospective psychology doctoral students will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. Ideally, they’d major in psychology in college, though there are a handful of other subjects that could suffice, depending on their doctoral program.

These include:

  • Counseling
  • Social work
  • Biology
  • Anthropology

Many doctoral programs will accept applicants who have only a bachelor’s degree, but there are several considerations that may impact whether doctoral candidates can apply with only an undergrad degree:

  • Length of doctoral program: Shorter Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs, meaning those that are designed to be completed in only a few years, will usually require students to complete a master’s degree before they apply. For example, an optional completion timeline offered in the Psy.D. program at the University of Indianapolis accepts only those applicants who have already completed a master’s degree in the field, and the admissions office prefers those who already have some practical experience under their belts. UIndy’s 3+1 track can be completed in only four years, while most psychology doctorates will take at least five and sometimes closer to seven years.
  • Master’s en route: In most longer-timeline programs, students will earn a master’s degree on their way to getting their doctorate. For example, the Tufts University Ph.D. in Psychology will last at least five years, and students will complete a master’s degree at the end of their second year in the program.
  • Prior coursework: In many psychology doctoral programs, students aren’t required to have majored in psychology at any level but rather it’s necessary for them to have completed certain coursework integral to the study of psychology. At the Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Clinical Psy.D. applicants are required to have completed undergrad courses in introductory psychology, statistics, abnormal psychology and biological bases of psychology, in addition to at least one course in cognitive, developmental and/or social psychology, psychology and perception, conditioning and learning, and psychology of personality.

SEE ALSO: List of Combined Master’s and PsyD Programs


In every state, a series of rules and guidelines apply to the licensure of psychologists. States vary quite dramatically in what they require, but a psychology doctorate is generally the most important educational step.

However, professional experience is also required in every state, usually both before and after earning a doctorate. That means that students who attend Psy.D. or Ph.D. programs that don’t include a supervised professional experience period, such as an internship or other professional practicum, may not satisfy the licensure requirements in their state.

Additionally, many states require students who attend programs that are not accredited by the American Psychology Association to provide a detailed list of all coursework at the doctoral level, and students may have to take remedial graduate courses if their programs don’t meet the standards.

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Earning your doctoral degree in psychology, whether by completing a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., is the single best way to earn licensure and become a professional psychologist. While there’s no single possible way of getting there, students who don’t have a master’s degree, and have no need to earn one, likely will find many options for doctorate programs.