2021 Best Online PhD in Psychology Programs

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If you’re interested in a career that allows you to explore the nuance of individual and group dynamics, then earning a PhD in Psychology online may be a good degree path for you.

Online PhD in Psychology Programs

Earning your PhD in Psychology may allow you to develop psychological expertise in relation to various areas of concentrations.

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Common specialty areas related to psychology include children and adolescents, behavior and human development, forensic populations, education, family and marriage, or workplaces.

Online PhD in Psychology Programs

Within the field of psychology, there are a number of different PhD pathways that may be available to you. Six common degree paths are listed below, each allowing you to specialize in a particular area of the field:

The concentration that’s the best option for you will depend on your career goals and personal interests.

PhD in Psychology (General)

PhD in Psychology general program

Completing a PhD in Psychology general program can allow you to explore topics across various concentrations or specializations. This can help you develop a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the field.

Common careers related to the field of psychology include marriage and family therapist, school psychologist, forensic psychologist, postsecondary teacher, and consultant.

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Given the broad nature of a general psychology PhD program, you may be required to complete courses that cover theories of psychology, developmental psychology, forensic psychology, or consulting on organizational change.

Other course topics could include program evaluation, educational psychology, gender issues, cognition and motivation, learning and memory, and behavior and biology.

PhD in Behavioral Psychology

PhD in Behavioral Psychology program

Earning a PhD in Behavioral Psychology can help you develop an in-depth understanding of the relationship between a person’s behavior and their environment, along with biological considerations that may be an influential factor.

Various roles in this specialty area include postsecondary teacher, family therapist, social worker, mental health counselor, or behavioral disorder counselor. You can study topics such as the foundations of behavioral science, human behavior, analysis of behavior, understanding verbal behavior, and ethics in behavioral analysis.

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Other courses could cover principles of epidemiology, biostatistics, and behaviors and developmental disabilities.

PhD in Child and Adolescent Psychology

PhD in Child and Adolescent Psychology program

Earning a PhD in Child and Adolescent Psychology allows you to explore topics in relation to the development of children in different contexts. This can include children’s development in relation to their parents, siblings, community, and peers.

Your education may also emphasize how coping skills and resilience can impact a child’s development over time. You can study subjects like developmental psychology, child and family relationships, developmental psychopathy, coping and resilience in children, research methodology, and assessment and intervention methods.

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Various roles in this sector can include family psychologist, child psychologist, and behavioral consultant.

PhD in Educational Psychology

PhD in Educational Psychology program

Pursuing a PhD in Educational Psychology can allow you to focus on education theories, ranging from learning in adolescents through to adulthood. This stream of education in psychology often focuses on the testing and measurement of student progress.

Some programs focus on certain age groups of students or learners. Educational psychology professionals may work as teacher trainers, postsecondary teachers, educational researchers, educational consultants, or school psychologists.

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In your doctoral program, you can study topics like lifespan, culture and psychology, the teaching of psychology, program evaluation in psychology, quantitative reasoning, tests and measurement, and adult learning theory. Other courses could include theories of learning and motivation, research theory, and consulting for organizational change.

PhD in Forensic Psychology

PhD in Forensic Psychology program

Earning a PhD in Forensic Psychology can expose you to concepts such as white-collar crime, criminal behavior, and police investigative tactics. You may develop expertise in relation to why individuals commit criminal acts, how to support victims of crime and their families, and what tactics to use in jury selection.

A doctoral degree in forensic psychology may lead toward a career in counseling, consulting, research, or education. Positions in this specialty area include postsecondary teacher, forensic psychologist, juvenile offender psychologist, police consultant, and victim therapist.

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Subjects that you may study in your program include investigative psychology, forensic mental health, psychology in courts, police psychology, and crime, psychology, and law.

PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology

PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology program

Pursuing a PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology can allow you to explore topics related to psychology in the workplace. These topics can include talent management, training and development, human resource management, and leadership.

Professionals in this field can also have a role to play in workplace motivation, performance measurement systems, and employee psychology.

While earning your PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology, you may have the opportunity to choose between different areas of focus. Common emphases include consulting, evidence-based coaching, human resource management, and international business.

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You can study topics like psychological motivation at work, personnel psychology, job attitudes, measurements and change in the workplace, leadership development, and ethics of industrial organizational psychology.

Positions in this sector include human resources director, workplace psychologist, behavioral analyst, organizational development specialist, and talent management specialist. A PhD can also help you qualify for positions in postsecondary education or research and development.

Psychology PhD Careers & Salaries

Psychology PhD Careers & Salaries

Earning your Ph.D. in Psychology may allow you the opportunity to work in different industries, such as government, healthcare, ambulatory care, and education. A number of psychology professionals are also self-employed.

Other workplaces that offer employment to psychology professionals include research and development organizations, private clinical practices, mental health facilities, and outpatient health centers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, online PhD programs in psychology may help qualify you for a variety of advanced careers in the field.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Chief Executives, Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services $208,000
Chief Executives, Healthcare and Social Assistance $160,950
Psychologists, All Other $105,780
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $96,270
Social Scientists and Related Workers $87,260
Sociologists $86,110
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists $79,820
Postsecondary Psychology Teachers $78,180
Survey Researchers $59,870
Marriage and Family Therapists $51,340

A number of positions in the field are expected to experience positive job growth over the next several years. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects increased employment rates for psychologists (3% job growth), sociologists (4%), postsecondary teachers (9%), and marriage and family therapists (22%).

Psychology Doctorate Curriculum & Courses

Psychology Doctorate Curriculum

Completing a psych PhD program will require to you complete a variety of courses in your chosen area of specialization. Some of your courses could include the following:

  • Themes and Theories of Psychology: You’ll learn about various theories in the field of psychology, including psychodynamics, learning, motivation, biopsychosocial, and gender theories.
  • Psychological Motivation at Work: You’ll explore the theories of motivation in a workplace, including topics like equity, goals, and organizational attachment.
  • Tests and Measurement: You’ll develop an understanding of testing and measurements tools and concepts used in a workplace.
  • Research, Theory, Design, and Methods: This course explores psychological concepts in relation to the execution of research and methodology.
  • Culture and Psychology: You’ll learn how culture can influence the beliefs, behavior, development, and socialization of individuals.
  • Lifespan Development: This course explores the progress of human development throughout the lifespan, from infancy and childhood to adult and senior stages of life.
  • Social Psychology: You’ll study cognitive and social behaviors in individual and group situations.
  • Social Cognition and Attitudes: You’ll explore topics related to cognitive processing, including consciousness, attribution theory, and social influence.
  • Program Evaluation: You’ll learn how to effectively assess and evaluate programs, and you’ll learn how to utilize qualitative and quantitative methods as well.
  • Ethical Considerations in Psychological Practice: This course examines key ethical considerations when it comes to the practice of psychology.

The specific courses that you’ll be required to take can vary greatly depending on the area of concentration you choose to pursue. In addition to completing various courses, you may also be required to complete a dissertation.

How to Choose an Online Doctoral Degree in Psychology Program

Doctoral Degree in Psychology Program

There are a number of considerations that may influence your decision as to which doctoral degree program in psychology is the right fit for you. Determining factors for a program could include:

  • The accreditation status of the school
  • Full-time versus part-time attendance options
  • The available concentration options
  • Financial aid or funding opportunities
  • Graduation rates
  • Programmatic accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA)

In some cases, the location of the school offering an online program can also influence your decision, as this may impact the overall costs of your education.

PhD Programs in Psychology Admissions Requirements

PhD Programs in Psychology Admissions

Some students wonder how hard it is to get into graduate school for psychology. Enrolling in a PhD in Psychology program may require you to meet a number of admissions criteria, such as the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
  • Transcripts from all postsecondary studies
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose
  • GRE or GMAT scores (only some schools require them)

Specific admission requirements can vary from one school and program to the next. In some cases, programs may have additional requirements, such as a written essay or an English language proficiency exam.

Accreditation

PhD Programs in Psychology Accreditation

Regional accreditation is a status granted to schools that meet a specific set of predetermined quality standards. Earning this status verifies the quality of their academic offerings.

Attending a program that is regionally accredited can impact your ability to transfer credits into another program, and it may also influence the decisions of hiring managers.

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The accreditation status of the program you choose to attend is also an important consideration when it comes to pursuing psychology licensure. Most state boards require you to earn a degree from an APA accredited program. For more information on regional accreditation, you can visit the US Department of Education’s website.

Psychology Licensure and Certifications

Psychology Licensure and Certifications

If you wish to become a licensed psychologist, there are a number of steps you’ll be required to complete, depending on your state board’s criteria. Common steps to obtaining licensure include:

  • Graduating from a bachelor’s degree program
  • Earning your PsyD or PhD in Psychology from an accredited institution
  • Completing a specific number of supervised work hours in the field of psychology
  • Passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)

While these are common steps to becoming a licensed psychologist, it is important to note that the specific requirements for licensure can vary from one state to the next.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD Programs in Psychology financial aid

There are a number of financial aid opportunities that can help qualifying students fund their doctoral studies. Financial aid options include:

  • Federal and state aid in the form of grants and loans
  • Scholarships from private and public organizations
  • Work-study programs
  • Employer training or professional development programs

In some cases, you might be eligible to enroll in PhD programs that are fully funded. For more information on financial aid and scholarship opportunities, you can visit the US Department of Education and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Psychology Professional Organizations

Psychology Professional Organizations

Participating in a psychology professional organization can offer several benefits, such as the ability to network with other like-minded professionals. Here are some associations that may be of interest to you:

Other benefits of joining a psychology professional organization include access to training and conferences, employment opportunities, and mentoring programs.

Do You Need a PhD to Be a Psychologist?

professional doctorate in psychology

Some psychologist positions, such as industrial organization psychologist roles, may be accessible with only a master’s degree. It is commonly accepted, though, that a PhD or professional doctorate is the desired educational level for psychologist professionals.

The specific education requirements can vary from one employer to the next and will also depend on the individual licensing requirements of each state.

In addition to completing the appropriate graduate-level education, your state licensing board may require that your grad program is accredited by a specific institution, such as the American Psychological Association (APA).

What Can You Do with a PhD in Psychology?

PhD in Psychology careers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a number of careers that may be available to you with a PhD in Psychology.

Common careers related to this field include industrial organizational psychologist, sociologist, social scientist, marriage and family therapist, forensic psychologist, and clinical or counseling psychologist.

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Other positions could include those in leadership or management, in academia, or in research and development. Psychology positions can exist across various industries, such as education, government, nonprofit, healthcare, and private practice.

Can I Get a PhD in Psychology Online?

Yes, it is possible to get a PhD in Psychology online. While the bulk of your workload in a PhD in Psychology program may be completed online, some programs may require you to complete an in-person internship or work placement.

Doctorate programs based in psychological study may be founded in research or practice. This distinction can influence the overall design of a program and whether or not in-person time is required, even for online programs.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Psychology Online?

doctoral program in Psychology Online

In general, a PhD that requires you to complete a dissertation can take approximately 3 to 5 years to earn, depending on the number of credit hours required.

In some cases, there may be no dissertation requirement as part of your doctoral program. In these types of programs, a doctorate in psychology may be completed in 3 years with full-time study.

Whether you enroll on a full-time or part-time basis can also influence the length of time required to complete your degree. Also, a growing number of universities even offer accelerated psychology degrees online for students needing to earn their credentials more quickly.

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

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist

While both psychologists and psychiatrists work within the realm of psychology, their individual roles are distinct and require different entry-level requirements.

  • Psychologist: A psychologist usually requires licensure in order to practice, although some positions and employers may not require it. A PhD is often the entry-level education requirement, although a master’s degree is sometimes acceptable.
  • Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and requires a medical license in order to practice. Becoming a psychiatrist requires the completion of medical school.

The scope of work—including assessment, diagnosis, and treatment—varies between these two distinct professions.

PsyD vs. PhD in Psychology, Which Should I Get?

When looking to enroll in a terminal degree program in psychology, you may have the choice between a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD in Psychology) and a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Here are some differences between the two programs:

PhD in Psychology PsyD
  • Generally takes longer to complete than PsyD programs
  • Focused more on research
  • May provide greater funding support than PsyD programs
  • Generally takes less time to complete than PhD programs
  • Geared more toward practice and practical application
  • Focused more on clinical work

The program type that’s right for you will depend on your specific career goals and interests.

Is a PhD in Psychology Worth It?

Yes, a PhD in Psychology is worth it for many professionals. Pursuing a PhD in Psychology may allow you to work in a number of different streams of the profession. For instance, you could focus your studies on child psychology, forensic psychology, educational psychology, or social psychology, among others.

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There are a number of positions in the field of psychology that are predicted to experience job growth over the next several years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions experiencing growth include psychologists (3% job growth), sociologists (4%), postsecondary teachers (9%), and marriage and family therapists (22%).

Universities Offering Online PhD 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.

California Institute of Integral Studies

California Institute of Integral Studies

The California Institute of Integral Studies offers an online program for a PhD in Integral and Transpersonal Psychology. It typically takes three years plus time for a dissertation to complete. The program is mostly online but does require residential intensives twice a year. It is structured to meet the needs of working professionals.

CIIS is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Capella University

Capella University

Capella University’s online PhD in Psychology program requires seven core courses, four specialized courses, and five elective courses.

Students must also complete a dissertation and three dissertation research seminars. The research seminars are intended to help you get an early start on your dissertation. Students get weekly assignments and classroom discussions. Online coursework is enhanced by face-to-face residencies.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Fielding Graduate University

Fielding Graduate University

Fielding Graduate University offers a PhD in Clinical Psychology. The program is accredited by the APA and includes both online and in-person components.

In addition to coursework, students are required to participate in seminars and meetings with faculty and other students in their region. They are also required to complete weeklong residential sessions and research and clinical training experiences.

Fielding Graduate University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University offers an online PhD in Cognitive Psychology and Instruction.

The program emphasizes a research-based approach to learning, and the dissertation process begins in the very first course. Among other topics, the curriculum covers cognitive science, behaviorism, social cognition, and the history and systems of psychology. Courses are 8 weeks long.

Grand Canyon University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University offers a 100% online PhD in Psychology. It requires 60 credit hours to graduate and takes an average of 3 years to complete. Courses are 8 weeks long, and there are multiple start dates throughout the year. The program emphasizes applying Biblical knowledge to human behavior.

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

Meridian University

Meridian University

Meridian University’s PhD in Psychology is a hybrid program that combines online coursework with in-person intensives. The curriculum draws on spiritual traditions and mystical philosophy in addition to teaching formal research and clinical skills. This program meets the educational requirements for an MFT license in the state of California.

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

Michigan State University

Michigan State University

Michigan State University offers hybrid doctoral programs in Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education.

They are mostly online, but students are welcome to take some classes on campus if they are able to do so. The programs are intended to be completed in five years and designed to prepare students for leadership roles in education.

Michigan State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Saybrook University

Saybrook University

Saybrook University’s online PhD in Psychology program offers students four different concentrations.

Options are Consciousness, Spirituality, and Integrative Health, Creativity Studies, Existential, Humanistic, and Transpersonal Psychology, or Psychophysiology. Saybrook University is committed to teaching students how to alleviate human suffering by helping them better understand human behavior.

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

The Chicago of Professional Psychology

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers several online PhD in Psychology programs.

Options are International Psychology, Business Psychology, Applied Behavior Analysis, Counselor Education and Supervision, and Educational Psychology and Technology. There are fully online and hybrid programs available, as well as part-time and full-time scheduling options.

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

Walden University

Walden University

Walden University’s online PhD in Psychology program is a non-clinical, non-licensure program designed to prepare students for careers in teaching, research, and consulting.

There is a fast-track option available, and students can choose from five different specializations. Options are Educational Psychology, Health Psychology, Research in Psychology, Social Psychology, and Teaching in Psychology.

Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your PhD Degree in Psychology Online

PhD Degree in Psychology Online

Getting your PhD in Psychology can enable you to obtain advanced expertise and qualifications in the field of psychology. You might consider completing your coursework online if you’re interested in the flexibility and convenience that an online program can offer.

In addition to PhD degrees in psychology, a number of universities also offer online PsyD programs, which focus more on practical applications and can often be completed in less time than a PhD.

As a doctoral student, you may have the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge related to supporting individuals and groups in different facets of psychology. You may focus your studies on psychology’s relation to personal life, work life, or education.

Completing a PhD can also equip you to explore psychology through advanced research. If you’re ready to earn your terminal degree in the lucrative field of psychology, exploring APA accredited PhD programs can be a strategic first step.

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Brenda Pyzik
WRITTEN BY
Brenda Pyzik
Brenda earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Waterloo, with a minor in legal studies. She obtained a graduate certificate in human resource management from Georgian College. Brenda’s focus is on employment, entrepreneurship, business, and training and development.