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What Is a PhD in Psychology Degree?

For many professionals, reaching the pinnacle of education in psychology means earning a PhD in Psychology. This doctoral-level degree signifies that a person has completed a rigorous course of study in various aspects of human psychology and is qualified to work in many high-level roles within psychology, whether in academia or clinical settings.

A PhD in Psychology represents the highest possible academic achievement in the field, whether the individual focuses on neuroscience, behavior or other areas of psychology, and a PhD in Psychology differs from another popular psychology doctorate, a PsyD degree, in a few critical ways.

What are the key components of a PhD in Psychology, how does the degree differ from a PsyD, what types of jobs are available for those with a psychology doctorate, and what are some program options for interested learners?

Psychology Doctorate Options

Regardless of the doctoral path a person chooses, most programs require doctorate-seekers to have earned a master’s degree in an applicable field, though some programs may offer joint-degree paths.

Both a PhD in Psychology and a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) enable people to work in the highest levels of psychology, the degree types have some key differences. For instance, a PhD in Psychology tends to be a more academically rigorous program, including aggressive training in research, while a PsyD tends to have a stronger clinical focus.

Here are a few of the other main distinctions:

PhD in Psychology PsyD
Multiple career options, including teaching and clinical psychology work. Direct work with patients or clients is primary career option.
Highly competitive and rigorous admissions process. Generally requires less time to complete and may be easier to get into.
More commonly offered degree, so students have more school options. Though growing in popularity, PsyD is often considered an alternative degree.

In short, if your ultimate career goal is to work directly with clients and you have little to no interest in furthering the study of psychology or publishing peer-reviewed work in the field, a PsyD may be the better option. But a PhD is still considered in many quarters to be a more prestigious degree.

A PhD does not relegate you to the research lab, though. Individuals with a PhD in Psychology in most states can practice as clinical psychologists, school psychologists or in other specialties within psychology in addition to being qualified to teach undergraduate and graduate students alike. In other words, the degree may provide broader career options than its PsyD counterpart.

Costs & Program Length

While each university’s PhD in Psychology program is unique, most programs will require about six years, and many of them must be taken full-time. But given the rigorousness of PhD programs, that should come as no surprise. Remember that the degree is designed to provide an in-depth understanding of psychology and the research that’s been done in the field to date, so this is not a quick degree option.

SEE ALSO: 8 Most Affordable Online Psychology PhD Programs 2019

Your individual interests and the particular school you choose will also play a part in determining how long it’ll take to complete your degree. Many universities offer several different PhD in Psychology degrees that have variable timetables, even though they’re offered by the same institution.

Typical PhD in Psychology students will be able to complete their doctoral work in about six years, but it’s important to remember that many colleges and universities set maximum time limits as well, with some schools terminating enrollment if students haven’t finished their degrees in a set amount of time. This practice varies by school, as does the max limit, with some schools setting a seven-year limit and others extending beyond that.

The cost of a PhD in Psychology degree, like the overall length of programs, varies by institution and specialty being pursued. According to an analysis by the American Psychological Association, median in-state doctoral tuition was nearly $11,000 per year, with median out-of-state doctoral tuition coming in at $24,000 per year. Private institutions, as you would expect, are even more expensive, with median annual doctoral tuition rising to about $34,000.

However, PhD students are much more likely than lower-level students to secure teaching assistantships and have at least part of their tuition covered, with about 8 in 10 of advanced doctoral students at public institutions receiving a full tuition waiver. Research assistantships also are widely available for doctoral students, with about two-thirds of private doctoral students having their tuition fully covered.

PhD in Psychology Jobs

With a PhD in Psychology, an individual is prepared for a huge range of jobs in psychology, throughout the public and private sectors and in a range of work settings, from academia to the military and everything in between.

SEE ALSO: Highest Paying Psychology Careers

The job outlook for psychologists is bright, with employment projected to grow by 14% through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This growth rate is double the rate projected for all occupations in the U.S. economy. As public acceptance of the need for psychological services continues to grow and access to these services expands, the demand for psychologists looks to remain strong into the next decade.

Percentage change in employment by occupation, 2016-2026

Clinical, counseling and school psychologists 14%
Social scientists and related workers 11%
Psychologists, all others 11%
Industrial-organizational psychologists 8%
All occupations 7%

In addition to a healthy outlook in terms of job availability, a PhD in Psychology also is a solid investment from a sheer dollar standpoint, with salaries for psychologists topping six figures.

Annual median wage by occupation

Psychologists, all others $100,700
Industrial-organizational psychologists $97,260
Social scientists and related workers $78,650
Clinical, counseling and school psychologists $76,990
All occupations $38,640

Salaries for clinical psychologists are strongest in California, though several other states and the District of Columbia also boast relatively high wages for these roles.

Annual median wage by state, clinical, counseling and school psychologists, top 10

California $100,850
Oregon $89,150
Connecticut $88,890
New York $88,710
Rhode Island $86,370
New Jersey $85,160
District of Columbia $84,780
Alaska $84,740
Minnesota $84,630
Colorado $84,410

The availability of clinical psychologist jobs is strongest on the East Coast, with five of the top 10 states in either New England or on the East Coast.

SEE ALSO: Average Clinical Psychologist Salary by State

Clinical, school or counseling psychologist employment per 1,000 jobs, top 10 states

Rhode Island 1.824
Vermont 1.477
Montana 1.244
New York 1.211
New Mexico 1.152
Massachusetts 1.134
Wyoming 1.127
Minnesota 1.123
Wisconsin 1.074
Delaware 1.062

Best PhD in Psychology Programs

Choosing a PhD in Psychology program involves considering dozens of factors, including areas of focus, faculty, cost, program length and many others. But the good news is that in all but one state, there’s at least one PhD in Psychology program that’s accredited by the American Psychological Association, and most states are home to multiple programs the APA accredits. (The two APA-accredited programs in New Hampshire offer only PsyD degrees).

SEE ALSO: Best Online PsyD Degree Programs

Depending on your state’s licensing process for clinical psychologists, it may not be necessary to earn a degree from an APA-accredited program, but that’s one important way to ensure the degree you’re about to invest in meets industry standards and will be seen regardless of where you seek employment as a prestigious degree.

Three of the five highest-rated PhD in Psychology programs, according to U.S. News and World Report, are in California, and the Ivy League boasts three of the top 10.

Highest-rated PhD in Psychology programs in U.S. News and World Report, top 10

School State
Stanford University California
University of California-Berkeley California
Harvard University Massachusetts
University of California-Los Angeles California
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Michigan
Yale University Connecticut
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign Illinois
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts
Princeton University New Jersey
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Minnesota

Conclusion

While it’s pretty much an ancient field, the understanding of human psychology seems to evolve by the day. For individuals who have a passion for understanding the reasons why people do what they do, earning a PhD in Psychology means they can contribute to the growing understanding of human behavior as well as make an impact in day-to-day lives.

Additional References

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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief

Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of PsydPrograms.org. Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.