Best Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Programs 2021

| TBS Staff

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According to the American Psychological Association (APA), about 1.6 million undergraduate students take an introduction to psychology class each year, a number that reflects the overall growth in the field.

Technology developers employ psychologists to help design user-friendly devices. Corporations hire psychologists to improve workplaces and employee health, and communities turn to psychologists to improve quality of life.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for psychologists will increase 14% by 2026, faster than the average growth rate for all professions. Mental health centers, schools, hospitals, and social-service agencies consistently hire qualified psychology professionals. The BLS projects demand to be greatest for specialists with advanced degrees. After earning a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, professionals can expect ample job opportunities.

The Best Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Programs Programs

Chicago School of Professional Psychology true View School Profile Chicago, IL The Chicago School is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Based near the banks of Lake Michigan, The Chicago School has focused exclusively on graduate psychology programming since opening its doors in 1979, and the school now offers its Ph.D. program in behavioral psychology online. Focusing on applied behavioral analysis, this full-time program requires 3-5 years to complete.

Students pursuing their behavioral psychology Ph.D. take courses that cover critical analysis of research in verbal behavior and experimental analysis of behavior. Students must choose between completing a data-driven thesis or an applied project (where they prove they can work with real patients) as a capstone experience. The program also meets all of the requirements for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification: to become certified, students must submit an application and pass an exam. The Chicago School delivers most coursework asynchronously, although students must attend a 1-2-hour synchronous session each term. All applicants must already hold a master's degree in a relevant field.

Best Online Doctorate

Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

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Featured Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Programs

What To Expect from an Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Program?

Requirements to earn a behavioral psychology Ph.D. vary. While all programs cover environmental and conditioning elements of human development, schools offer different classes and course formats. Some programs are cohort-based, and others are individually paced. Degree completion time also varies by program; students generally earn a behavioral psychology Ph.D. in four to six years.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology

  • Experimental Analysis of Behavior: Students read papers and conduct research in theories of experimental psychology. The course explores escape and avoidance, behavior induced by schedules, and stimulus equivalence. Students gain an understanding of the practical applications of research while examining both classic literature and current work in the field.
  • Foundations of Graduate Study in Psychology: Designed as an introduction to an advanced psychology degree, this course helps students develop critical-thinking, analysis, research, and writing skills. The class prepares students for advanced studies, provides an overview of online learning, and explores available resources.
  • Ethics and Law in Psychology: This class covers ethics involved in the study, research, and practice of psychology. Students consider ethical issues related to working with diverse populations and the cultural implications of psychology. The course introduces students to forensic psychology and the relationship between the profession and the legal system.
  • Advanced Psychopathology: This course explores the assessment, analysis, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness. Students examine the sociocultural, biological, cognitive, and behavioral impacts of psychopathology.
  • Dissertation: Students typically take this class during their final semester. The course provides candidates with time to finalize their dissertation. Students generally begin work on their dissertation early in their studies, under the guidance of an advisor. Candidates must defend their dissertation at the conclusion of their studies.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate Degree in Behavioral Psychology?

To earn a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, students generally need several years. The time needed to graduate varies by program, and several factors impact the exact time required. Most doctoral programs consist of 60 to 75 credits. According to a 2015 study from the National Science Foundation, psychology doctoral students typically earn their Ph.D. in six to eight years after entering graduate school. Some universities, however, offer five-year, full-time programs for bachelor's in psychology degree holders pursuing a doctorate. Enrollment status also impacts degree completion time; part-time students take longer to graduate.

Program format strongly impacts degree completion time. Many schools offer behavioral psychology Ph.D. programs in a cohort format. Students in cohort programs complete degree requirements with a small group of peers. Learners take courses one at a time in a prescribed sequence. This structure provides a support network and creates opportunities for collaboration, but cohort programs typically take longer to complete. Other programs are asynchronous, allowing students to move at their own pace and base their course load on their own schedules. Students can complete individually paced programs quickly, but learners must be self-motivated and organized.

Most online behavioral psychology Ph.D. programs require a residency or field experience, which distance learners typically arrange to complete locally; extensive residency requirements may increase the time it takes to graduate. Students with transfer credit should also consider the school's transfer policy, which affects completion time and cost.

Accreditation for Online Behavioral Psychology Doctorate Degrees

When pursuing a Ph.D., behavioral psychology students should choose accredited institutions. The most common type of accreditation is regional accreditation, which six agencies in the country award. These agencies perform regular audits to ensure schools' programming meets certain standards. National accreditation is typically reserved for for-profit, vocational schools.

Behavioral psychology Ph.D. programs may also hold field-specific accreditation from organizations such as the APA or the National Association of School Psychologists. APA only recognizes programs of the highest quality and maintains a list of approved schools on its website.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) oversees the nation's accrediting agencies. The federal agency ensures the quality of the country's schools and maintains a searchable database of accredited programs. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is an association of 3,000 colleges and universities that assists the ED in overseeing accreditation. CHEA provides a database of accredited institutions.

Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology

Before pursuing an online Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, students must invest in years of education at the undergraduate level. Thankfully, students have plenty of options for financing an online behavioral psychology Ph.D. Begin by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid, including loans and work-study programs.

You should also research independent scholarships and grants. Thousands of organizations including foundations, schools, and nonprofits offer awards to students pursuing higher education. Scholarships may be based on academic merit or financial need, and many are reserved for students in specific fields, such as behavioral psychology. Fellowships are another option for doctoral students to consider. Typically, fellowships provide financial support in exchange for research or teaching work.

Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Graduates

Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Careers

Graduates of behavioral psychology Ph.D. programs can pursue a variety of careers, including roles in research facilities, social service or government agencies, and schools and hospitals. Behavioral psychology professionals study how people behave and think, manage personnel, and design and implement mental health and counseling programs.

After earning an online Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, graduates may open their own practices and provide therapy to clients. Others enter the business sector and use their understanding of human behavior to create goods and services.

true Clinical Psychologist $81,330 14%

Clinical psychologists offer mental health counseling in a clinical setting. They may run their own practice or work for a larger organization, such as a hospital. A master's in psychology is required to earn licensure, and many clinical psychologists hold doctorates.

true School Psychologist $81,330 14%

School psychologists provide counseling and therapy in K-12 or college settings. They typically work for school districts and help kids cope with the difficulties of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

true Industrial Psychologist $102,530 8%

Industrial psychologists use their understanding of human behavior to improve workplace processes, including hiring, firing, and training. They also help design products that help consumers lead healthy lives. Professionals with advanced degrees often lead departments.

true Forensic Psychologist $95,710 11%

Forensic psychologists are hired by law enforcement agencies and attorneys to help them understand human behavior as it relates to criminal justice. Behavioral specialists may assist detectives in creating suspect profiles or serve as expert witnesses.

true Rehabilitation Psychologist $95,710 11%

Rehabilitation psychologists help patients recover from trauma. They may work in veterans' hospitals, helping patients deal with PTSD, or in physical therapy centers, helping people adjust to life after major accidents.

Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Salary

Individual salaries for psychology professionals vary by experience, geographic location, and education level. As the table below demonstrates, professionals with more experience generally earn higher salaries.

Psychology Careers by Experience
Job Title Overall Median Salary Entry-Level Employees Mid-Career Employees Late-Career Employees
Psychologist $74,007 $65,000 $80,000 $98,000
Counseling Psychologist $58,625 $53,000 $64,000 $72,000
Clinical Psychologist $75,414 $69,000 $78,000 $94,000
Mental Health Therapist $42,732 $41,000 $47,000 $53,000
School Psychologist $59,416 $54,000 $60,000 $72,000

Behavioral Psychology Professional Organizations

Membership with professional organizations benefits both students and graduates of online behavioral psychology Ph.D. programs. These associations provide networking, mentoring, and career development opportunities. Many sponsor annual conferences, where members connect with established professionals in the field. Professional organizations may also host workshops, seminars, meetings, and continuing education programs. Many offer job boards, reports, and publications to help members advance their careers and their knowledge.

This nonprofit organization comprises professionals in psychology, medicine, public health, and academia. SBM hosts annual conferences and meetings, publishes journals containing research in behavioral medicine, and offers an array of continuing education resources. An international organization dedicated to advancing the science of psychology, APS keeps members informed about the latest breakthroughs, discoveries, and trends in the field. APS sponsors annual conferences, advocates for psychology, and offers a variety of career services. APA is the leading professional organization representing psychologists. The organization has 54 divisions in various psychology fields, including behavioral analysis. The organization hosts conferences, meetings, webinars, and continuing education courses. The APA website features career development resources, news and events, a psychology help center, and databases of reports and publications.

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