For students fascinated with the human mind and what makes people tick, a PhD in psychology is just the thing. Nearly one million students obtain a bachelor’s in psychology each year. Of those, more than 23,000 go on to obtain a master’s degree and 1,700 eventually receive a PhD The majority of graduating students in the field pursuing advanced degrees are women. To be a good psychologist takes keen observation, communication skills, insight and patience.
Getting Started: Understand the Time Commitment of a Psychology PhD Program
Students looking to go all the way in psychology need to start out with a bachelor’s degree, either in psychology or a related field in the social science. From there, you can choose to obtain a master’s degree, but most doctoral programs don’t require it. Most PhD programs take roughly four to seven years to complete.
Remember that in order to practice psychology, you’ll need to be licensed through your state’s licensing board. Only students who have completed their coursework and required internships are eligible for licensing. Additionally, some states require that the university from which your degree was awarded is APA-accredited. This article by the American Psychological Association walks you through the process of acquiring your license.
Consider other psychology programs
In addition to the PhD in psychology, students can pursue a PsyD, which focuses on more practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. It typically takes only four years to complete, so this is a good option if you want to earn your doctorate faster. PsyD graduates tend to work with people rather than as researchers.
Jobs in counseling, education, and school psychology can often be obtained with just a master’s degree. Students with just a bachelor’s degree tend to work in fields outside of psychology, such as business administration, education, or sales.
Next, Choose a Subdiscipline
Before ever setting foot in the classroom, PhD hopefuls need to choose a sub-discipline in the field. These specializations will differ depending on the school, but here are a few of the most common ones:
- Clinical: Clinical psychologists are concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illnesses. They might work with patients directly, or perform behind-the-scenes work related to research and analysis. Clinical psychologists make up the largest subset of psychology majors.
- Counseling: Counseling psychologists meet with clients in counseling centers and private practices, as well as hospitals, schools, and workplaces. Unlike the clinical degree, counseling programs are often housed in the education department and are less rigorous.
- School/Education: Professionals who earn this specialty work within the education system, and are primarily concerned with identifying and treating learning and behavioral problems among students of all ages.
- Industrial/Organizational: I/O psychologists apply the principles and research methods of psychology to the workplace in order to improve various professional environments. This could take the form of applicant screening, counseling, training, or marketing. They frequently work in the private sector or as outside consultants.
Other subdisciplines in psychology include developmental, cognitive, social, quantitative, forensic, health and sports.
Look Inside a PhD in Psychology Program
The first two years of a doctoral program are spent on coursework covering therapy, research methods, assessment, and statistics, depending on your sub discipline. Additionally, many programs will have you doing firsthand research or acquiring clinical experiences, which can involve anything from administering tests to counseling patients. The work you do at this stage plays a big role in what kind of internships you’ll be eligible for down the line. Some schools will require a thesis or dissertation in order to graduate, as well as competency exams in major areas of study. Finally, you’ll need to secure and complete a one-year internship in order to receive your degree.
See What Courses You’ll Take
While you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree in psychology, there are a few key courses you should have under your belt in order to be considered for many PhD in psychology programs. They include:
- Statistics in Psychology
- Experimental Methods Research/Design
- Abnormal Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Personality of Psychology
Choosing a School for your Psychology Doctorate
Hundreds of online and offline programs offer psychology doctorates across the nation. Choosing the right school means researching all your options and finding the program that best suits your needs in terms of cost, specialty, location, and faculty.U.S. News & World Report is a good place to narrow down your list of potential schools.
To get you started, here are some of the top national programs:
- Stanford University: This is the top ranked school for PhD in psychology programs. It currently accepts between 10 and 15 students per year. Students can enter with a bachelor’s degree in any subject. The GRE subject test in Psychology is not required, but encouraged.
- Walden University: Walden University is a great choice for students who need the flexibility and convenience of an online degree. The program offers eight specializations and anyone with a bachelor’s degree is eligible to enroll.
- Cal Southern: At $395 per credit hour, Cal Southern is a good option for budget conscious students. They offer a four-year program with coursework done online and practicum completed at local sites. In addition to the PhD, students can also look into a four-year PsyD degree.
Prepare Yourself to Apply for Competitive PhD Programs
Most applications are due in December or January prior to the forthcoming academic year. It’s a good idea to apply to several schools in order to increase your chances of acceptance. Typically, you’ll need to gather these materials:
- Application (and fee, if applicable)
- Letters of recommendation from undergraduate faculty (usually three)
- GRE general test score
- Some schools require the GRE Subject Test in psychology as well
- Statement of purpose/letter of intent
- Official transcripts from every university attended
Compiling all of these materials takes time, preparation, and money. Grad school applications alone typically cost $50 apiece, so be sure to factor that into your budget.
The easiest way to pay for your PhD is to get into a program that offers full funding for its students, but these coveted spots are limited and the competition is fierce. The cost of an unfunded degree is roughly $130,000. Fortunately, there are some ways to offset the cost of your tuition. Check out these five strategies to pay for grad school for some ideas, courtesy of USNWR.
Understand the Job Market for Psychologists
The job market for psychology graduates is looking bright.Employment for psych graduates is expected to increase 22% over the next seven years, particularly for students with a doctoral degree and an applied specialty.
The biggest employer for PhD’s in psychology is elementary and secondary education; these professionals comprise roughly 42% of the job force and earn an average salary of $70,000 a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, College professors earn a median salary of $62,050. Counselors at the master’s level make less than $40,000 a year; clinical psychologists with a doctoral degree can expect to earn double that figure. For those interested in making some money, Business Insider recently noted the top five highest paying jobs available in the field.
Use These Resources for More Information on Psychology
Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine
American Board of Sport Psychology
American Psychiatric Association
American Psychological Association
Association for Psychological Science
Association for Behavior Analysis International
B.F. Skinner Foundation
Cognitive Neuroscience Society
Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc.