A doctorate in psychology is a minimum job requirement for practicing psychology in most of the United States. It is almost impossible to teach psychology at the college level without a doctorate in psychology, and even jobs that don’t require supervised clinical practice, such as work in government agencies or in research, still require a PhD or a PsyD.
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Not just any doctorate in psychology is a credential for employment as a psychologist. Your doctoral program should be certified by the American Psychological Association (APA) to assure licensing boards, employers, and the public of the validity of your credentials. However, your doctorate in psychology does not necessarily have to be a PhD.
A doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree in psychology is intended for students whose goal is generating research. PhD students study research methods, mathematical modeling, and statistical methods in depth. They do original research and write a dissertation. They do a year of supervised clinical work.
About 10 to 15 percent of students who apply to PhD programs are admitted. A typical PhD program takes five to eight years.
A doctor of psychology (PsyD) degree is intended for students whose goal is treating patients. PsyD students don’t spend as much time studying research methods as PhD students. They may do a capstone project in lieu of a dissertation, although they do more clinical work.
About 40 percent of students who apply to PsyD programs are admitted. A typical PsyD program takes four or five years.
PhD students don’t usually pay tuition. They often get stipends of $20,000 to $40,000 per year plus health insurance, although they will have duties in their departments.
PsyD students usually pay tuition, although sometimes they have campus assistantships that come with tuition remission and a small monthly stipend.
There are sometimes opportunities for Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) students to study industrial or organizational psychology, without an internship or state licensing to practice psychology.
What are the prerequisites for studying for a doctorate in psychology?
PhD in psychology requirements vary from institution to institution but there are some common expectations.
Most doctoral programs expect applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, although some programs will require an MA before applying for their PhD program. You will usually need between one and three letters of admission, and appropriate GRE scores.
But there are two additional important considerations for applying to study toward your doctorate in psychology.
First, make absolutely sure that your school’s doctoral program in psychology is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). It would be tragic to spend tens of thousands of dollars, or more, and years of your life on courses that do not lead to a career in psychology.
Then, make sure you are applying to schools that are a good fit with your goals. Even the best doctoral programs in psychology aren’t necessarily the best in every specialization in psychology. And since you will be spending a great deal of time with your major professors, it’s important that you “click.” You should not attempt to study under a professor whom you idolize (psychology students will understand the reasons for that), but it is equally important not to suppose that you will thrive in a student-professor relationship with anything other than appropriate professional distance and mutual respect,
We have identified 20 of the best psychology doctorate programs in the United States for this article. We are listing them in alphabetical order, because there is no single doctoral program in psychology that is best for everyone.
Each of these doctoral programs will be a perfect fit some students, and a bad fit for others. We urge you to scan the entire list of programs to find the university that best meets your needs, and to take time in face-to-face interaction with faculty before and after you apply.
|Brigham Young University (Provo)
|Ithaca, New York
|Durham, North Carolina
|Georgia Institute of Technology
Brigham Young University (Provo)
Brigham Young in Utah has an outstanding PhD program in neuroscience. It does not lead to licensure as a clinical psychologist, but it can lead to research positions in universities and in medical research. The university has unquestioned appeal to students who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and its extremely low tuition costs will attract others.
Doctoral students at Cornell have multiple opportunities to collaborate with neurobiologists and physicians in studies of evolutionary neuroscience, studies in perception and cognition, and social and personality psychology. The University shares facilities with the Weill School of Medicine in New York City for cutting-edge psychological research.
Professors in Duke’s psychology department are “heavily cited.” They are opinion leaders in their fields whose work is important to other research endeavors. The program at Duke takes a very broad view of human behavior, collaborating with researchers in medicine and genetics.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgia Tech’s psychology department focuses on industrial applications and has a heavy quantitative emphasis. You should be comfortable relating to engineers, because you may find yourself sharing a building with them. PhD students at Georgia Tech typically study quantitative or engineering-related aspects of psychology, or there is active research in the psychology of aging.
Getting into Harvard isn’t easy. If you do, you will have five to eight years to study under some of the most distinguished scholars in the field, and, if you are admitted to dua programs, earn an MD/PhD or a JD/PhD. The emphasis at Harvard is not clinical, although superb clinical training programs are available.
Stony Brook University
Doctoral students in psychology at Stony Brook start doing research early. Stony Brook focuses on collaboration with medical research centers.
University of California at Berkeley
Doctoral students in psychology at the University of California are encouraged to “retain a perspective on the field” but to take a deep dive into their research specializations. The department organizes itself into six specializations: Social and Personality Psychology; Behavioral and Evolutionary Neuroscience; Perception and, Cognition, and Developmental Psychology. Students may study across these specialties as it is appropriate to their goals in research.
University of California at Davis
UC Davis offers a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) program emphasizing community collaboration. Students are free to create programs that support their special interests if they cannot find them within the traditional specialization of social psychology, personality theory, cognitive science, quantitative methods, developmental psychology, and neuroscience.
University of California at Irvine
If your focus is on the intricacies of social behavior, UC Irvine might be a great destination for your PhD degree. The department has 25 professors supervising just 70 doctoral students, giving students ample opportunities for interaction and guidance.
University of California at Los Angeles
UCLA accepts students with bachelor’s degrees — because the psychology department does not offer a master’s degree. The strength of the program at UCLA is its extraordinary interconnections and networking opportunities. Students at UCLA can pursue multiple projects at the Geffen School of Medicine and the Brain Research Center on campus.
University of California at San Diego
The most famous professors in the doctoral program in psychology at the University of California at San Diego are officially attached to the Psychiatry Department, but the university encourages connections between psychology and medicine. The faculty as a whole is “highly cited,” producing unusually high volumes of research.
University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida offers three very practical fields of study for its PhD students in psychology: Applied Experimental/Human Factors Psychology, Clinical Psychology, and Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Students can also work at on-campus clinics such as the Understanding Children and Family Laboratory, the Psychophysiology of Mental Illness Laboratory, , and the Substance Use Research Group.
University of Connecticut
The University of Connecticut’s PhD program in psychology is well-known for its contributions to neuroscience. The university has doctoral programs in industrial/organizational psychology, childhood development, and even ecological psychology.
University of Florida
The University of Florida is notoriously generous with student financial support. PhD students receive tuition waivers and stipends for five years. PhD students in counseling psychology can also receive Licensed Professional Counselor status from the State of Florida.
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan is famous for its innovation in teaching quantitative methods and computational psychology. Students are free to focus on Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience ,Biopsychology, Clinical Science, Developmental Psychology, Social Psychology and Personality and Social Contexts while developing world-class data analysis skills.
University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Students in the psychology department’s PhD program at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities have opportunities to study in depth in fields ranging from biological psychopathology to psychometric methods. The university also offers a doctoral program in educational psychology.
University of New Mexico
Students in a psychology PhD program at the University of New Mexico can choose among cognitive, developmental, evolutionary, or medical psychology with or without a quantitative emphasis. The program produces considerable volumes of highly cited research.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The doctoral program in psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill encourages students to become “active contributors” to the specializations of greatest interest to them. There are many opportunities for research in neuropsychology and in programs related to epidemiology and public health.
University of Texas at Austin
UT Austin offers a PhD track in neuroimaging through the university’s brain science institute. Students can also choose from eight other specializations, including Behavioral Neuroscience; Perception, Brain, and Behavior; Cognitive Science; Clinical Psychology; Social and Personality Psychology; Developmental Psychology; Cognitive Neuroscience; and Individual Differences and Evolutionary Psychology.
Yale University encourages its PhD students in psychology to “shop around’ for their best match with faculty advisers. There are numerous opportunities for the academic study of clinical psychology and mental illness through the department and in its collaborative programs with the School of Medicine.
How did we choose these 20 universities?
Any listing of “top” academic programs is ultimately subjective, but we made an effort to keep our rankings rational and replicable. We gave equal weight to
- Carnegie classification. This is a measure of the academic productivity of a psychology program. The higher the Carnegie classification, the more research from the faculty of the program is cited in professional and scientific journals.
- Faculty citations. We also looked at the Reuter’s list of “highly cited” researchers to identify faculty members of each program.
- Specialization options. We gave higher scores to departments with greater breadth, programs that offered more specializations to their students.
- Student support. We weren’t looking for tuition — because PhD students in good doctoral programs don’t pay tuition. Instead, we evaluated the size of the stipends students were paid to participate in the program.
And we eliminated any psychology PhD programs that accepted more than 50% of applicants. Successful doctoral students know what and why they are studying, and successful PhD programs know which students they can serve best.
What about an online doctorate in psychology? Remember our advice from earlier. If your program is not approved by the APA, and programs for an online doctorate in psychology are not, it won’t help you reach your career goals
We have made an effort to make sure we are giving you the very latest information about each program, but doctoral programs in psychology change stipend rates, add specializations, discontinue specialization, hire highly rated professors, and see great professors retire. We appreciate your updates of this information.
We’d also love to know about your personal experiences.
Have you graduated from one of these programs? Is there a great program we need to know more about? We welcome your comments below, and invite any updates on the information we provide for each school.