2021 Best Online Doctoral Degrees in Psychology

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There are many online doctoral degrees in psychology that allow you to advance your knowledge and pursue your specialization at your own convenience.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Psychology

Careers in the field of psychology are accompanied by higher than average salaries, but they often require a terminal degree and proper licensing.

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There are also psychology specializations that don’t emphasize psychotherapy services. A doctorate can open doors to many kinds of job opportunities in various public and private settings.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Psychology

A doctoral degree is typically a requirement for becoming a licensed psychologist. The field of psychology offers alternative experimental theories and treatment approaches. That said, some concentrations put you on distinct career paths, many of which don’t involve psychotherapy services.

For instance, there are specializations that can train you to assess learning disabilities, develop employee training structures, or work in research and academia.

Select the program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:

Regardless of the specialty you select, you will still receive a strong foundation in psychology and related courses.

Online PhD in General Psychology

PhD in General Psychology

General psychology is an experimental branch of science focused on understanding human cognition, perception, personality, and emotion.

You can learn about psychological theories, therapeutic treatment approaches, and related experimental data and findings. The study of general psychology can also help prepare you for a broad range of academic roles, such as teaching psychology courses in high schools, colleges, and universities.

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A Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) is aimed toward those who want to get licensed as clinical therapists and work with clients. In a general psychology doctoral program, you can also learn about any number of standardized assessment tools related to personality testing, aptitude or vocational testing, cognitive testing, and mental health screening.

Online PhD in Behavioral Psychology

PhD in Behavioral Psychology

Behavioral psychology is a specialized branch of psychology rooted in theories of behaviorism. Behavioral psychologists focus their attention on the subject’s objective and observable behaviors. Behaviorist’s assert that an individual’s behaviors are responses to identifiable stimuli, including appetites, mental stimuli, and environmental stimuli.

Behavioral psychologists look at therapy through the lens of adaptive and maladaptive behaviors. They generally experiment with how to modify behaviors to improve wellbeing, relationships, moods, or productivity.

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This branch of psychology differs from general psychology because it tends to focus on objective measurements of observable behaviors. It also tends to downplay many subjective concepts and influences that may interest general psychologists, such as repressed memories, the unconscious mind, or feelings.

Online PhD in Child and Adolescent Psychology

PhD in Child and Adolescent Psychology

Child and adolescent psychology focuses on common features of childhood and adolescence as well as methods for treating common psychological challenges for these life stages.

Many child and adolescent psychologists study developmental psychology. Developmental psychology attempts to identify reliable features of human change and development during different life stages.

The study of learning acquisition, personality formation, identify awareness, and family and interpersonal dynamics are concepts that may guide child and adolescent treatment methods.

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Child and adolescent psychologists might use their training to help patients better manage their own emotions and personality formation. They may also help patients sustain more rewarding and supportive relationships.

Psychologists in this field may develop their own clinical practice, work alongside pediatric physicians in clinical settings, or work with young people in community mental health settings, incarceration facilities, or school settings.

Online PhD in Educational Psychology

PhD in Educational Psychology

Educational psychologists have specialized knowledge in the area of school-related psychological services.

They often work for schools or school districts. They might work alongside academic counselors, helping to assess and support students with common academic or behavioral challenges.

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Educational psychologists also facilitate specialized cognitive testing, using prescribed tools and measurements to assess and identify learning disabilities. They can then recommend relevant interventions in accordance with a range of special education codes.

Online PhD in Forensic Psychology

PhD in Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychologists apply psychological methods in contexts related to criminal justice and law enforcement. They can use their specialized training to work with criminals or incarcerated individuals, providing therapeutic support or rehabilitation services.

Forensic psychologists can also perform psychological assessments related to court proceedings and may even provide expert testimony. They can also work for community health organizations or the courts. They may act as consultants to attorneys or judges or provide counseling services to victims or others impacted by crimes.

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Specialized topics in forensic psychology include the study of criminal profiles and personality disorders related to deviant behaviors. Forensic psychologists are likely to develop relevant expertise in the fields of both general psychology and criminal justice.

Online PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology (I/O)

PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology

Industrial organizational psychology is the study of behaviors, attitudes, and social dynamics in workplace settings. I/O psychology draws on a range of psychological and sociological concepts.

For instance, it draws on behaviorism in order to better understand and predict how the workplace environment impacts employee behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes. It also observes how employee behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes impact others in the organization.

Looking at behavior and psychology through the lens of workplace dynamics, I/O psychologists advise organizations on how to improve workplace efficiencies and worker productivity. They help organizational leaders enhance employee health, wellbeing, and retention rates.

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Components of I/O psychology include group dynamics, leadership competencies, communication norms, governance structures, and teamwork dynamics. It also involves hiring, promotion, and compensation structures as well as other informal or invisible incentive structures.

An organizational psychologist with a PhD might work in academia or for any number of large organizations or HR departments. They can also pursue work as consultants, advising organizational leaders.

Psychology Careers & Salaries

Psychology Careers & Salaries

Your online doctorate in psychology can open doors to a truly wide range of career fields, but much can depend on your area of specialization. General psychologists tend to find career opportunities in postsecondary teaching or clinical practice.

School systems large and small rely on skilled educational psychologists to identify, assess, and support students with learning disabilities. Educational psychologists also help maintain compliance with a complex regimen of special education laws and policies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychology expertise can offer you a range of meaningful career choices that are well paid and can also have rich intrinsic rewards.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Human Resources Managers $121,220
Training and Development Managers $115,640
Psychologists, All Other $105,780
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $96,270
Sociologists $86,110
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists $79,820
Postsecondary Psychology Teachers $78,180
Social and Community Services Managers $69,600
Marriage and Family Therapists $51,340
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $47,660

An online PhD in Psychology can help you build a rewarding career according to your aptitudes and interests.

A doctorate in industrial organizational psychology can open up diverse job opportunities across any number of private or public organizations. IO psychology-related careers can involve workplace development training, related consulting work, and the management of HR policies and practices.

Many psychology PhD graduates pursue academia or research and advocacy roles. Others deliver or manage specialized services in a variety of settings, such as schools, clinical settings, the criminal justice system, or human resource departments.

Psychology Doctoral Curriculum & Courses

Psychology Doctoral Curriculum

Curriculum and courses will vary by school and program and may include lecture formats as well as seminars.

  • Experimental Practices: This course examines popular theories and practices in the field, providing you with a sophisticated understanding of objective criteria for evaluating the reliability and efficacy of scientific principles in psychology.
  • Psychology in Public Policy: You’ll learn about psychology-related topics and perspectives as it relates to critical findings and trends in the larger field of public mental health, public policy, and public policy reform and advocacy.
  • Clinical Practice: You’ll learn about critical frameworks of best practices governing clinical methods in psychotherapy and the roles and responsibilities of clinical practitioners, including patient’s rights, privacy laws, ethical practices, and standards for therapeutic care and treatment.
  • Clinical Supervision: This class covers how to be compassionate, ethical, and effective supervisors of new practitioners.
  • Psychology and Somatics: This class examines psychological disorders and treatment methods through mind-body connections. This topic is at the intersection of psychology, biology, physiology, and medicine.
  • Seminar in Applied Psychology: You’ll practice thinking critically and analytically about the application of psychological concepts and methods in the context of public health trends.
  • Behavioral and Organizational Models: This course focuses on advanced findings and topics in behavioral and organizational psychology with an emphasis on observable behaviors in a range of structured group settings.
  • Psychology and the Lifespan: You’ll apply psychological concepts and methods to the study of specific lifespan experiences and investigate alternative approaches to treatment for different age groups.
  • Research Methods in Psychology: You’ll be trained in methods, practices, and standards for reliable research design, data collection, and data analysis.
  • Research Colloquium: You’ll discuss and critique research topics and practices with a faculty advisor, and you’ll receive constructive feedback on current dissertation work or related capstone projects.

A PhD program will typically include the researching, writing, and presenting of a dissertation. A PsyD program may offer the choice between a dissertation and a capstone project.

Admissions Requirements

Doctoral Degrees in Psychology Admissions

While many psychology PhD programs online require a masters degree first, whether it’s a masters in forensic psychology online or a classroom-based masters in organizational psychology, others do not.

Some programs will consider prior academic work, relevant professional experiences, and a candidate’s professional and academic goals when making admissions determinations.

Common admissions requirements for online doctoral programs in psychology include:

  • Masters degree
  • Satisfactory college GPA
  • GRE or GMAT scores (if required)
  • Letters of recommendation

Some universities strongly consider GRE scores for applicants to their online doctoral programs. But, just as there are some programs offering an online masters in psychology with no GRE requirement, there are also some that don’t require GRE scores for admission to doctoral studies.

Some schools may indicate specific course prerequisites or other admissions qualifications. You can see what information is provided on each school’s website, and you can also check with an admissions officer as needed. Some programs may not require a dissertation, but instead offer capstone options, making them some of the fastest online psychology degrees.

Accreditation

Doctoral Degrees in Psychology Accreditation

It can be strategic to apply only to fully accredited schools and programs. The accreditation process helps ensure that school services, student resources, and instructional programs meet accepted standards.

School accreditation can be a precondition for some forms of financial aid as well as an important precondition for future licensing.

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By attending a fully accredited school, you can help ensure that you’ll receive high-quality instruction and up-to-date training in your field. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) can help you learn more about accreditation.

APA Accredited Psychology PhD Programs

APA Accredited Psychology PhD Programs

Some doctorate degree in psychology programs have accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA).

This kind of programmatic accreditation helps ensure that instructional content is designed to deliver a high level of professional preparation in the field of psychology health services. The APA accreditation website offers search tools that can help you find APA accredited programs.

Some state licensing boards may also require APA or other programmatic accreditation, so it’s beneficial to inquire about your state’s licensing requirements as you consider different online PhD or online PsyD programs.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Doctoral Degrees in Psychology Financial Aid

Some students may work full-time and study part-time, making it easier to cover tuition costs. That said, you may find it more rewarding to study full-time, in which case you may want the help of financial aid.

If you do need assistance, you might qualify for federal aid, state aid, or need-based or merit-based scholarships. Student loans are another common form of assistance. For loans and other forms of aid, terms and conditions can vary, so it’s strategic to look over all offers carefully before proceeding.

If you’re currently working in the field, you may want to see if your work offers employer-based tuition assistance. If you plan to apply for need-based aid, you might want to start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Psychology Professional Organizations

Psychology Professional Organizations

If you plan to pursue a career in psychology or earn a doctorate in psychology online, you may consider joining a professional organization. Common organizations include:

Some perks of membership can include professional development opportunities, access to up-to-date information on professional practices, and opportunities for professional networking.

How to Become a Licensed Psychologist

Licensed Psychologist

To get licensed, you’ll need to fulfill several kinds of requirements. Some requirements vary by state, but in many states, licensure requires the following:

  • Doctoral degree. A Ph.D. in Psychology or PsyD from a properly accredited school and program is generally required.
  • Work experience. States require varying post-grad experience, such as supervised clinical practice hours or an internship.
  • Licensing exam. Once you’ve completed your state licensing board’s requirements, you can take your state’s licensing examination.

Learning about your specific state’s licensing requirements may save you time and trouble down the road. For instance, some state boards want applicants to have a degree from an APA accredited program.

Licensing requirements may differ for professionals who plan to deliver clinical services versus those who plan to pursue careers in educational psychology, forensic psychology, or industrial-organizational psychology.

What Can You Do with a Doctorate in Psychology?

Doctorate in Psychology

With the right qualifications, education, experience, and licensure, your specialized skills can open doors to rewarding and well-paid opportunities.

What you can do with your doctorate depends on your specialization and career goals. Some professionals in the field concentrate on delivering health- and therapy-related services while others work in research or academia.

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A specialized doctorate can help you develop expertise in educational psychology, forensic psychology, or industrial organizational psychology. Common careers in psychology include general psychologist, clinical psychologist, research psychologist, and school psychologist.

Related careers can include marriage and family therapist, probation officer and correctional treatment specialist, social and community services manager, HR manager, and training and development manager.

What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist?

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist

Psychologists, depending on their specialization, are trained to work in a range of roles. They typically use experimental methods and theories to help individuals, groups, or organizations improve individual wellbeing, happiness, and productivity.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and prescribing medication for psychiatric conditions and severe mental disorders.

Psychologist Psychiatrist
  • Uses behavioral observations, assessments, and talk therapy for therapeutic interventions
  • Not licensed to prescribe prescription medications or psychotropic drugs
  • May offer counseling services to individuals, couples, or groups
  • May engage in studies and practices related to group behaviors and HR dynamics in organizational settings
  • Licensed medical doctor specializing in psychiatric medicine
  • Can write prescriptions for psychotropic medicine and manage drug treatments
  • Assesses and treats the most severe psychological or psychiatric disorders
  • May conduct psychotherapy or make referrals to a psychologist

Despite these differences, it is not uncommon for psychologists and psychiatrists to collaborate in assessing and treating patients with mental health symptoms.

What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist vs. Therapist?

Psychologist vs. Therapist

Some psychologists are licensed to deliver therapy in informal practice or formal clinical settings, such as hospitals. That said, not all psychologists are therapists. Some may instead work in academia, policy research, educational psychology, or organizational psychology.

Likewise, not all therapists are psychologists, but they may have training that equips them to practice some kinds of therapeutic interventions that psychologists do.

Psychologist Therapist
  • Can become licensed to deliver mental health services in the form of psychotherapy
  • Can provide non-mental health support Can work in entirely non-therapeutic practices
  • Can describe licensed psychologists
  • Can describe licensed social workers
  • Can describe licensed family and marriage counselors

Therapists who provide long-term or intensive psychotherapy services will typically be fully licensed psychologists.

What’s the Difference Between a PsyD vs. PhD in Psychology?

A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is an advanced academic degree while a PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology, is more akin to an advanced professional degree. That said, both degree programs still have a lot in common.

PhD in Psychology PsyD
  • More extensive scientific and academic research
  • Can better prepare you for careers in academia and research
  • Requires a dissertation
  • Work-related and practice-oriented focus
  • Intended to prepare you for the work field or clinical practice
  • May require a dissertation or capstone project

The degree that’s the best fit for you ultimately comes down to your personal career goals and interests.

Is a PhD in Psychology Worth It?

PhD in Psychology professional

Yes, a PhD in Psychology is worth it for many professionals. Technology may change how medical and mental health services are delivered and managed, but psychologist occupations are growing at the average speed for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There’s likely to remain a consistent demand for skilled therapists and psychotherapists. If you’re not interested in clinical mental health services but enjoy studying psychology, there are still also a range of careers you can pursue.

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A specialization in educational psychology, forensic psychology, or industrial-organizational psychology can open doors to careers in schools, the criminal justice system, or any number of organizations seeking to improve human resource systems and policies.

Universities Offering Online Doctorate in Psychology Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Capella University

Capella University

Capella University offers an online Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology program. Students must complete 13 classes, a dissertation, and a comprehensive exam to graduate. Up to 25 qualifying credits can be transferred into the program. To be eligible for the program, students must have a master’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University offers an online program for a PhD in Psychology with a specialization in Cognition and Instruction.

Classes last for 8 weeks. A total of 60 credits are needed to graduate. Applicants must have a master’s degree with a GPA of 3.4 or higher. If the applicant has a GPA of 3.0 or higher, they may be able to receive conditional acceptance.

Grand Canyon University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University offers an online PhD in Psychology program. Applicants must have a master’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 and 2 letters of recommendation.

The program usually takes about 3 years to finish and requires 60 credit hours. Each course takes 8 weeks to complete. Students may also choose to take one of four specializations: Developmental Psychology, Industrial/Organizational, Social Psychology, or Theology.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Michigan State University

Michigan State University

Michigan State University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology.

The program typically takes 5 years to complete. To receive the Graduate Certificate in Educational Psychology, students must complete 3 specific courses. Applicants must submit 3 letters of recommendation, a writing sample, a resume, an official transcript, and GRE scores.

MSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Northcentral University

Northcentral University

Northcentral University offers an online PhD in Psychology program. Students must complete 20 courses to graduate and may choose from 10 specializations for their degree.

The program can be started at any time and can typically be completed in 46 months. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a master’s degree in psychology.

Northcentral University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Saybrook University

Saybrook University

Saybrook University offers an online PhD in Psychology program. Students in the program may choose one of four specializations, including Creativity Studies and Psychophysiology.

Applicants must submit official transcripts and letters of recommendation when applying. Both an interview with the admissions staff and an interview with the faculty must be completed.

Saybrook University is accredited by the Senior Commission of Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Sofia University

Sofia University

Sofia University offers an online Doctor of Philosophy in Transpersonal Psychology program. To graduate, students must complete 75 units.

The program allows students to choose from four different pathways. Applicants must submit official transcripts and letters of recommendation when applying. An interview with the program chair is required to be accepted into the program.

Sofia University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University offers a PhD in Educational Psychology. The program requires 91 credit hours. Students have the option to transfer in up to 30 qualifying credit hours if they were passed with a grade of B or higher within the past 7 years. Applicants must submit official transcripts and GRE scores when applying.

Texas Tech University is accredited with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Touro University Worldwide

Touro University Worldwide

Touro University Worldwide offers an online program for a Doctor of Psychology in Human and Organizational Psychology.

Each course lasts for 8 weeks, while the program as a whole can typically be completed in 3 years. Students need 66 credit hours to graduate. Applicants must have a master’s degree with a GPA of 3.4 to be eligible for the program.

Touro University Worldwide is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

Walden University

Walden University

Walden University offers an online program for a PhD in Psychology with 6 different specializations for students to choose from.

To graduate, students must complete 4 residencies. Students may also apply for the Fast Track option to receive their degree faster. Those interested in the program must submit an online application and submit official transcripts.

Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your Doctoral Degree in Psychology Online

Doctoral Degree in Psychology Online

After earning your doctorate in psychology online and obtaining licensure, you may pursue careers in a variety of industries, depending on your specialization. Some professionals in the field work as psychotherapists, postsecondary teachers, educational psychologists, forensic psychologists, or I/O psychologists.

With many convenient online psychology doctoral programs to choose from, you may find doctoral programs that offer the accreditation, specialization, and course curricula that fit your goals and interests. You can start exploring online doctoral psychology programs today.

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Keith Nickolaus
WRITTEN BY
Keith Nickolaus
Keith has a Ph.D. and Master's in Comparative Literature from the University of California - Berkeley and a Bachelor's in Literature from the University of California - Santa Cruz. A retired educator, Keith lives in Berkeley and researches and writes about trends in innovation, policy, and education leadership.