The Best Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs
| TBS Staff
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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, psychology professionals find themselves in even greater demand.
A doctorate in psychology prepares graduates for careers as licensed psychologists, research psychologists, and psychology professors. Doctoral students examine human behavior, social interactions, and mental health treatments. The degree also incorporates practical training through a supervised internship or practicum, helping students develop the skills needed for careers in psychology.
With a psychology degree, graduates can work many different psychology jobs. For example, psychologists earn a median annual salary of over $80,000 as of 2019, and a doctorate meets the requirements for most careers in this field.
Our list includes the top psychology programs offering some online coursework. It is important to note that while several doctorate in psychology programs offer online courses, there are no fully online psychology doctoral programs accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Thus, rather than ranking schools, we list these programs alphabetically to help prospective applicants find the program that best matches their needs.
This article also explores the differences between Ph.D. and Psy.D. degrees, common courses and specialization options, and careers for graduates who earn doctorates in psychology.
Featured Online Schools
The Best Doctoral Psychology Programs Available Online
Established in 1978, California Southern University is a private, for-profit institution that offers associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Distance learners can earn their doctorate in psychology online. Over the course of 66 credit hours, a doctoral project, a practicum, and an internship, students take clinically focused classes that emphasize counseling and therapy techniques. All courses can be completed online, while the practicum must be done at approved local sites. The one-year, 1,500-hour internship is optional, but helps students meet qualifications for licensure in many states.
The online PsyD program meets the educational requirements set by the California Board of Psychology. Students interested in clinical psychology are prepared to sit for licensure exams in California upon graduation. Incoming students may transfer up to 30 credits toward their degree. Full-time students can typically complete all graduation requirements in four years.
Located in Santa Barbara and established in 1974, Fielding Graduate University offers several distance learning programs in psychology, education, and organizational studies. Students can earn a online Ph.D. in psychology in six years. Degree candidates choose from concentrations in forensic psychology, health psychology, neuropsychology, parent-infant mental health, and social justice and diversity. Courses are offered online. However, completion of the degree requires attending occasional residential meetings.
Training in quantitative and qualitative methodologies prepare learners to make scholarly contributions to the field, and students must complete an original research project and produce a dissertation at the end of the program. Applicants submit a current curriculum vitae, critical-thinking writing sample, statement of purpose, and three letters of recommendation. Additionally, application requirements include a bachelor's degree, minimum 3.0 GPA, and copies of official transcripts. Transfer students may be eligible for reduced degree requirements, course credit, or waivers of coursework. In total, online learners need 179 semester credits to graduate.
MSU is a public research university with over 50,000 students. Distance learners can earn a Ph.D. in educational psychology and educational technology in a hybrid, cohort-learning format. This degree is completed in five years: during fall and spring semesters, students take one online course, and in the summer, they complete two in-person courses. Students may begin only during the summer semester of even years, so applications are due on December 1 of odd years.
Applicants must possess a master's degree, submit their GRE scores, and must have a minimum 3.5 GPA. MSU expects online Ph.D. psychology students to have strong research skills and takes into account the integrity and research requirements of applicants' master's degree programs. Graduates from master's programs that did not emphasize research or require a master's thesis may be offered admission on a provisional basis.
At Saybrook University, degree candidates can earn a Ph.D. in psychology. This is a hybrid program with synchronous courses built around scholarship in existential, humanistic, and transpersonal psychology. The majority of class requirements are completed online with periodic in-person residential conferences or intensives. Students may choose from optional specializations in consciousness, spirituality, and integrative health; creativity study; existential, humanistic, and transpersonal psychology; or psychophysiology. Those who do not declare a specialization follow a general psychology curriculum.
Full-time degree seekers should expect to spend 5-7 years completing the course sequence of 68-83 doctoral core credits or, with previous master's degree transfer credit included, 128-143 total credits. Incoming online Ph.D. psychology students can transfer up to 12 credits in the psychology discipline. Applicants should have a master's degree and 3.0 GPA or higher from their last degree-granting institution.
The online doctor of psychology program at Southern California Seminary prepares students for ministry opportunities in the local church, private practice counseling, and service in organizational or institutional settings. The school's unique blend of theology and psychology provides distance learners with the skills to counsel individuals, families, and communities in church-based and secular environments. Learners may take specific training courses for licensure preparation in sexuality, substance abuse, child/spouse abuse, or elder care. All students complete 12 credits of dissertation research. A doctoral internship, with a minimum of 500 clinical hours, is required for graduation.
All courses, except for one intensive and one lab, are completed online. By the end of the second year, online Ph.D. psychology students undergo an in-person evaluation with their professors. Poor grades or reviews can result in a student's removal from the program. Applicants must submit a reference letter from a pastor or chaplain, official college transcripts, an essay, and a master's-level writing sample.
The Chicago School offers a Ph.D. in international psychology that prepares distance learners for leadership positions in multinational organizations. Graduates of this cohort program work in government agencies, not-for-profit organizations, and international businesses. Degree seekers choose from concentrations in organization and systems or trauma services. All students must participate in two 9-day field experiences at international destinations under professor supervision. Additional doctoral degree options at the Chicago School include concentrations in general psychology, business psychology, and applied behavior analysis.
Applicants for the online Ph.D. in psychology should have three or more years of experience in the field with a master's degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Previous transcripts should show evidence of at least three courses of undergraduate or graduate coursework in psychology with a "C" grade or better. Students planning to pursue the trauma services concentration must hold a master's degree in a counseling-related field. Applicants must also submit their official GRE scores for admission. Depending on a student's previous academic record and transfer credits, full-time students can complete this degree in as few as three years.
Distance learners can pursue a doctoral degree in human and organizational psychology online at Touro University Worldwide. Students use applied psychology principles and evidence-based approaches to solve problems and explore research questions. Degree candidates complete 66 course credits and a dissertation. There is no residency, practicum, or internship required for graduation. Instead, TUW students engage in a guided dissertation research and writing process that consists of 27 credits. The convenient eight-week, accelerated courses are accessible from anywhere in the world and do not require textbooks.
Applicants for this online Ph.D. psychology program must have a master's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.4 GPA. Applications should also include an outline of careers goals, a short biography, two letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and doctoral entrance essay. The GRE is not required. Active military, veterans, and their spouses and children receive a significant tuition discount.
Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs Ranking Guidelines
We selected these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
What Is an Online Ph.D. in Psychology?
Doctoral degrees in psychology cannot be conducted completely online. However, some programs do make some coursework available to learners online, helping them complete their graduate studies from anywhere.
The typical curricula for a Ph.D. in psychology emphasizes research and prepares graduates for academic and research roles. Doctoral students take courses in research design and methods, psychology statistics, and cognitive development. Ph.D. programs also offer specialized coursework in neuroscience and affective science.
A Ph.D. in psychology builds strong research and analytical skills. In addition to coursework, each doctoral student must pass a comprehensive examination and conduct research within their specialization. The degree culminates in an original doctoral dissertation that contributes to the field of psychology. After graduation, professionals with Ph.D. degrees in psychology typically work as psychology professors or researchers.
Earning a Ph.D. in psychology typically takes 5-7 years, depending on the program and whether the doctoral student completes an internship. Applicants generally need a master's degree in psychology and a strong GPA to gain admission. Some Ph.D. programs in psychology offer fellowships and other forms of funding for doctoral students.
What Is an Online Psy.D. in Psychology?
As with the online Ph.D. in psychology, an online Psy.D. in psychology refers to a doctorate in psychology program where some but not all coursework is offered online. A Psy.D. degree trains graduates for clinical roles and licensure as psychologists. Common courses include psychology research methods, psychopharmacology, and psychological testing. Doctoral students also examine research in evidence-based practice. Online Psy.D. programs also incorporate supervised internships to strengthen clinical skills.
Within a Psy.D. program, graduate students focus on specialty areas such as counseling psychology, child psychology, or behavioral psychology. After completing coursework requirements and passing a comprehensive examination, doctoral candidates conduct clinical research in their specialization areas. Degree-seekers analyze clinical problems or examine topics based on original research, then write research-based dissertations.
Earning a Psy.D. typically takes 4-6 years for full-time students. Some programs offer accelerated or part-time enrollment options. Applicant often need a master's in psychology to gain admission to a Psy.D. program.
What's the Difference Between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in Psychology?
At the doctoral level, psychology offers Psy.D. and Ph.D. degrees. The two pathways offer different coursework and prepare graduates for different careers.
A Psy.D. emphasizes clinical training for careers in psychology, while a Ph.D. focuses on research and academic training. Licensed psychologists who work directly with patients often hold Psy.D. degrees, while psychology professors typically have Ph.D. degrees. In addition, a Ph.D. typically takes more time than a Psy.D.; while a Psy.D. can take as little as four years, a Ph.D. often requires 5-7 years.
When comparing Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs, prospective psychologists should consider their professional goals. Those seeking research or academic positions may prefer a Ph.D., while those considering careers as licensed psychologists should pursue Psy.D. degrees.
Choosing an Online Doctoral Psychology Program
When choosing a partially online doctoral program, prospective students must weigh several factors. For many, program cost, specialization options, and program length rank among the most important concerns.
Ph.D. and Psy.D. degrees prepare psychologists for different career paths, so applicants should also consider which degree aligns best with their goals. Candidates should also consider enrollment options, course delivery methods, internship options, and tuition discounts when evaluating partially online doctorates in psychology.
By examining these factors, future psychologists can ensure that they find the best fit for their unique needs and career aspirations.
Accreditation for Online Psychology Degree Programs
Prospective applicants should always research program and university accreditation when choosing a partially online doctorate in psychology. Accredited programs follow best practices for educating psychologists, and only graduates of APA-accredited programs qualify for licensure as psychologists. Applicants should also research other state licensure requirements before choosing a program.
What Else Can I Expect From a Doctoral Psychology Program?
Doctoral-level psychology students take courses in areas like counseling psychology, evidence-based practice, human development, and psychopharmacology. These courses build advanced knowledge and skills in psychology. Doctoral students often further specialize their training by choosing concentrations like clinical psych, school psychology, or developmental psychology.
After completing coursework requirements, doctoral candidates must pass examinations and meet any internship requirements. Most programs also require a research-based doctoral dissertation in the candidate's specialization.
Common Courses for an Online Doctorate in Psychology
- Child and Adolescent Therapy: In this class, psychology students strengthen their counseling and treatment skills for children and adolescents. The coursework emphasizes clinical practice and diagnostic approaches for professionals in clinical, child, counseling, and school psychology.
- Clinical Supervision and Consultation: Students practice their supervision skills and learn how to oversee less experienced workers in the field. The course also trains psychology graduates for consultation and mediation roles.
- Community Psychology and Social Justice: The course examines psychology during times of social change. Learners explore social justice in a mental health context and its impact on society more broadly.
- Evidence-Based Practice: Doctoral students examine current research in psychology to identify applications in clinical practice. The course covers topics like evaluating evidence and applying practical research.
- Intellectual and Personality Testing: Psychology students learn to administer and interpret personality assessments. The course covers the theoretical foundations of personality testing and how to perform clinical diagnoses based on those tests.
- Psychopharmacology: In this course, doctoral students learn about the human body and its interactions with drugs. The course emphasizes mental health needs, pharmacological approaches to treating mental health issues, and drug abuse and addiction.
A clinical psychology specialty emphasizes mental healthcare and research-based practice. Within clinical psychology, doctoral students specialize in demographics, like child psychology and geriatric mental health. The specialty trains learners to apply psychology research in diverse clinical settings.
Developmental psychology examines human growth and development across the lifespan. Doctoral students in this specialty conduct research on childhood development, social and emotional development, and information processing. The specialty prepares graduates for careers in research and academia.
A school psychology specialty emphasizes mental health in young learners. Doctoral students explore learning and behavior, including challenges to academic and social development. These psychologists work with children, families, and schools to help students thrive in education.
Social psychology examines individual behavior in social settings. This specialty focuses on human interactions and their impact on people's beliefs and feelings. Social psychologists can apply their skills in several settings, including workplaces.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Doctorate in Psychology Program?
No psychology doctorate program is fully online, but earning a partially online doctorate in psychology takes around five years, depending on the program. Many Ph.D. programs require at least five years to complete coursework, research, and a dissertation, and some also require an internship. A Psy.D. program typically takes 4-6 years, including internship requirements.
Some programs offer accelerated or part-time options, which can change degree timelines. Enrollees may also complete coursework faster through a self-paced, asynchronous model, though only online courses are offered asynchronously. Because the length varies, prospective doctoral students should be sure to research prospective programs' requirements and enrollment options before applying.
With a doctorate in psychology, graduates can pursue careers as psychologists and psychology professors. In these career paths, psychologists can conduct research, educate students, and provide clinical services. A psychology doctorate also prepares graduates for supervisory roles, such as healthcare executive.
Other psychology careers include school or educational psychologist, industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologist, and clinical social worker. This section explores common psychology jobs, including the earning potential, licensure requirements, and projected job growth for each career.
Postsecondary psychology teachers, also known as psychology professors, teach at the college level. They educate undergraduate and graduate students on different topics in psychology, including research, behavioral psychology, and human development. In addition to developing syllabi, psychology professors create assignments and exams to assess student learning. These professors also conduct research and publish their work.
A tenure-track psychology professor typically needs a Ph.D., though some colleges hire candidates with Psy.D. degrees to teach clinical psychology or for adjunct positions. Psychology professors may need special licensure, depending on their research and teaching areas.
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Psychologists research behavior and the decision-making process. In specializations like clinical or counseling psychology, they work with individuals and groups managing emotional or behavioral problems. Psychologists also conduct research into human development, identify organizational dynamics, and test neurological responses, often publishing their research.
Most psychologist jobs require a doctorate, though a school psychologist or I/O psychologist may hold only a master's degree. A Psy.D. prepares psychologists for clinical roles and professional licensure. A licensed psychologist typically needs a doctorate, passing scores on a national exam, and supervised professional experience. Psychologists can also pursue specialty certification.
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Medical and health services managers, also known as healthcare executives, coordinate services in hospitals, medical practices, and other healthcare organizations. They set policy for their units, analyze data on quality, and implement plans to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Healthcare executives also ensure their organizations follow laws and regulations.
With psychology training, healthcare executives can work for community health and behavioral health facilities, including inpatient treatment centers. They also need administrative training in management and budgeting, and medical and health services managers often hold graduate degrees. The career path does not require a professional license.
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Psychology Professional Organizations
Professional organizations help doctoral students expand their professional networks and prepare to transition into clinical practice, research roles, or other psychology careers. These organizations offer career resources, scholarships, and professional development support for doctoral candidates. They may also offer discounted student memberships.
APA represents over 122,000 researchers, clinicians, educators, and students in psychology. The association promotes psychology as a discipline, accredits psychology programs, and offers career resources for students. Members can visit the psychology help center for clinical support or read APA publications to stay current with the field. The association also awards scholarships and fellowships.
Since its founding in 1941, ICP has connected psychologists around the world. Members benefit from annual conferences and newsletters, mentorship opportunities, and professional development resources, such as webinars. This organization also offers travel and recognition awards for members.
AASP dates back to 1985 and represents sports and performance psychology professionals. Members work with athletes, business professionals, and military personnel to improve their physical and mental performance. The association offers professional certifications, hosts an annual conference with networking opportunities, and provides webinars and publications to help practitioners stay current in the field. AASP also offers grants and a student center.
Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Psychology Degree
Doctoral programs typically cost tens of thousands in tuition and fees, even when courses are offered partially online. Fortunately, doctoral students qualify for many forms of financial aid to pay for their degrees.
To start, students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which qualifies filers for federal student loans and work-study programs. In addition to federal loans, students can also use private loans to cover costs. Many states also support degree-seekers with grants or scholarships.
Institutional support helps many graduate students earn psychology degrees. Universities often award fellowships, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid to help recruit and retain students. Some doctoral fellowships include tuition waivers and stipends. To learn about the options at your school, check with the student assistance or finance office.
Finally, psychology degree-seekers qualify for scholarships offered by professional associations, private foundations, and private donors. For example, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology offers both scholarships and fellowships. The APA also offers scholarships and fellowships for psychology doctoral students.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, though there are no accredited psychology doctorates that are available fully online. Instead, programs offer a mix of online and in-person coursework. Psychologists who earn APA-accredited degrees partially online qualify for a professional license in most states. Some career paths, including academia and research, may not require a license.
The APA does not currently accredit any fully online Psy.D. programs. However, the APA does accredit hybrid programs. Always check local state requirements for psychologist licensure before enrolling in a psychology doctoral program to ensure that it meets specifications.
No. As of 2021, the APA — the only agency authorized to accredit psychology doctoral programs — does not accredit any fully online programs.
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