Getting Your Doctorate in Psychology
It is one of the few things that becomes more bewildering to scientists as they learn more about it. No, it is not outer space. No, not the ocean. It is the human mind, and — in many ways — it is just as mysterious now as it was when researchers first began studying it thousands of years ago.
Perhaps that is why the field of psychology continues to fascinate students who want to learn more about human behavior and help those struggling with their own choices and problems. By earning a doctorate in psychology, you can acquire knowledge and skills to go on to a lucrative and rewarding career in an industry that is not only growing in numbers, but also growing in value. This site will help you navigate how to become a psychologist.
A step-by-step guide to your doctorate in psychology
If you are considering a doctorate in psychology, you may be wondering where to begin. Here are five steps to take as you move forward toward becoming a psychologist.
Step 1: Ph.D vs. Psy.D in psychology
First, choose which degree is right for you.
You have two choices: a Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D (Doctor of Psychology). Your choice will likely depend on your career aspirations after graduation. If you plan a career in research (or research AND practice), a Ph.D may be the best path for you. However, if you plan a career as a practicing psychologist, a Psy.D may be the better choice.
Ph.D in Psychology
Although both the Ph.D and Psy.D programs are similar in rigor and coursework, if you choose to pursue a Ph.D in psychology, you will have a different focus while in the program. Ph.D programs are designed to educate psychologists who can understand and apply research, as well as conduct it. Here is a look at what you may expect from a Ph.D program in psychology:
- Focuses coursework on research
- Combines scientist and practitioner models
- Designed for those who may want to do research or teach as a career
- Dissertation emphasizes original research
- May take one-to-two years longer than Psy.D due to dissertation (requires that students devise, conduct, write up and defend a research study that will make an original contribution to the literature)
You may also find that Ph.D programs offer more funding choices than Psy.D programs. While many students pay for their Psy.D degrees with student loans, Ph.D students may find that many schools have faculty with research grants who can afford to hire students to work with them. Many even offer some combination of tuition and a stipend.
Psy.D in Psychology
The Psy.D degree came about in 1973, and the purpose was to create a professional degree that trains graduates for applied work — therapy. The idea was that many graduates planned to solely practice and not engage in research. Therefore, the Psy.D prepares graduates for careers as practicing psychologists. If you choose to pursue a Psy.D, you can expect the following:
- A majority of training in therapeutic techniques
- Many supervised experiences
- Practice-related knowledge and experience
- Some emphasis on research methodology
- Dissertation challenges students to find real-world clinical applications of existing knowledge
You will find a difference of opinion in the marketplace regarding the value of a Ph.D vs Psy.D in psychology. In academia, a Ph.D is preferable, but, in a clinical setting, both the Ph.D and Psy.D in psychology usually carry about the same weight.
Expect to spend five years earning your doctorate in psychology.
Step 2: Focus on accreditation
Imagine spending years earning your doctorate in psychology, only to discover, after graduation, your degree program was not accredited. Do not let that happen to you! Instead, find out if the program you are considering is accredited by the American Psychological Association’s Commission on Accreditation, or APA-CoA.
The APA-CoA is recognized by both the U.S Department of Education and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation as the national accrediting authority for professional education and training in psychology. If you are researching an online psychology degree, make sure the school is properly accredited.
Step 3: Money matters
After confirming that your preferred institution offers an accredited program, you may want to do some accounting. Ph.D programs are typically less expensive than Psy.D programs, and Psy.D students often have more loans out when they graduate.
What’s the reason for this? Many Psy.D programs are based in for profit colleges with higher than average tuition, but many Ph.D programs may waive at least part of the tuition and and often are able to provide students with monthly or quarterly stipends. Many members of the faculty in Ph.D programs also receive funding in the form of grants so that they are able to conduct research. Students who assist the faculty members with research are often paid a modest amount of money. However, some Psy.D programs are able to offer grants or other types of funding, so it is up to you to research your funding options. Some of the best psychology schools have the lowest tuition cost.
Step 4: Consider quality
After you have figured out a way to pay for school, you should thoroughly dissect the program to find out if it is a good fit for your needs. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when looking into a particular Ph.D or Psy.D program:
- What is the class size?
- What is the average graduation rate?
- How often are students able to be matched for required internships?
- Do students do well on exams, especially the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology, or EEPP? Psy.D students are more likely to have a lower EPPP exam score than Ph.D students.
- How many adjunct or part-time faculty members are employed? Too many may mean fewer opportunities for attention to be tailored to the individual student.
Step 5: Apply to the program of your choice
When you have narrowed down your list of preferred programs, it is time to get organized! One idea — make yourself a spreadsheet of your top schools and enter related information, such as the following, in other columns:
- Application deadline
- Number of recommendations and transcripts
- Where to send recommendations and transcripts
- Whether there is a separate psychology department application
- Whether you must send a writing sample
- Application fee
- Your username and password for online applications
After completing your spreadsheet, the real paperwork begins. Here are some things to consider while applying to your desired program:
- Take the GRE revised General Test
- Draft your Curriculum Vitae
- Gather the requested number of letters or recommendation
- Prepare to submit to a phone interview
- Plan to spend about $100 per school: This goes toward the application fee, sending GRE scores ($15 each), sending transcripts and mailing costs.
You earned your doctoral degree in psychology…now, what do you do?
Now that you have your doctorate of psychology degree in hand, it is time to start looking for job opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists apply their knowledge to a wide range of endeavors, including the following:
- Health and human services
However, psychologists usually choose to specialize in one particular area. The following are some of the areas that graduates might choose to seek:
- Clinical psychologists: These professionals are concerned with the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental disorders. Ph.D or Psy.D graduates are qualified to become clinical psychologists.
- Counseling psychologists: If you are a counseling psychologist, you advise people on how to deal with problems of everyday living to help improve their quality of life.
- Child psychologists: If you enjoy working with youth, this field may be right for you. Child psychologists work with children and students in early childhood and elementary and secondary schools.
- Industrial-organizational psychologists: This specialty applies psychological principles and research methods to the workplace in the interest of improving the quality of work life.
- Developmental psychologists: Developmental psychologists study the physiological, cognitive and social development that takes place throughout life.
- Forensic psychologists: The forensic psychologist job description includes using psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals understand the psychological findings of a particular case.
If you graduate with a Ph.D in psychology, other careers in academia may also be available, such as researcher, teacher or college professor.
Licensure requirements for psychologists
In addition to a Ph.D or Psy.D in psychology, counseling and clinical psychologists typically need to complete an approved and properly vetted psychological internship program and have several thousand hours of experience in a clinical setting. The applicant must successfully pass an examination. This exam is mandated in all 50 states. In most cases, the examination is standardized, with additional questions in either essay or oral format. When it is time for renewal of the psychologist’s license, Continuing Education Units will be required.
Job placement and salary for psychologists
According to the BLS, psychologists held about 170,200 jobs in 2015. Here is a list of the places most psychologists worked in 2015:
Educational institutions: Approximately 30 percent of licensed psychologists worked in positions other than teaching. The most common non-teaching positions held were in research, testing, student & staff counseling, and administrative positions.
Health care: 20 percent of psychologists held positions in the healthcare field. The most common healthcare field related positions were in mental health facilities, drug & alcohol abuse centers, and outpatient mental health offices.
Government agencies: Local and state level government agencies, such as local jails, state penitentiaries, and other law enforcement settings routinely employ licensed psychologists.
In 2016, approximately 35 percent of psychologists worked as private practitioners. Many of these private practitioners specialize in working with children. This increase has led to a large increase in the average child psychologist salary.
The BLS reports that, in May 2015, the following specialties had differences in the average psychologist salary:
Counseling, school, and clinical psychologist salary: $72,540
Industrial-organizational psychologists: $114,040
Psychologists, all other: $86,510
What does the future hold for psychologists?
Graduates who hold a Ph.D or Psy.D in psychology have every right to be optimistic about job opportunities in the future. According to the BLS, employment growth varies by specialty, but all areas are expected to continue growing in the period between 2015 and 2025:
Clinical, counseling and school psychologists: 12 percent growth
Industrial-organizational psychologists: 11 percent growth
Psychologists, all other: 14 percent growth
A doctorate in psychology is the pinnacle of educational achievement, and, with your degree in hand, you have the luxury of choice when it comes to your career. So, consider enrolling in a Ph.D or Psy.D in psychology program, and watch your passion become change your life in more ways than one.