Choosing a Doctorate Program in Psychology

Choosing PhD ProgramThe increasing need for more professionals to better understand and treat the minds and behavioral patterns of patients has led to a growing interest in psychology doctorate degrees. Many graduates go back to school to obtain a Ph.D. in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree when they wish to start a private practice, conduct research studies, or teach at a college or university.

However, before choosing a doctorate program in psychology, there are various requirements to meet and personal considerations to address.

Education Prerequisites

Before choosing a doctorate program in psychology, prospective students need to possess at least a bachelor's degree in psychology, or in another subject. Some doctorate programs do not require a graduate to have a master's degree in psychology, while others actively seek out applicants with a master's degree in psychology.

Depending on the school, a student must have completed certain courses (especially statistics) or meet other requirements before starting his or her doctorate-level course of study.

The application process for the majority of psychology doctorate programs often requests the submission of Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, several letters of recommendation, and a personal essay or statement. For some schools, interviews are also a part of the application process.

Program Coursework

A full-time student typically completes his or her doctorate studies in psychology within about five to seven years. The coursework for a doctorate program in psychology equips graduates with the knowledge and skills related to all aspects of the field, which makes it easier to obtain higher-paying positions and enjoy more opportunities for career growth. Students typically learn about human psychological development, as well as how to address the individual and group therapy progress.

Many psychology Ph.D. programs offer options to choose a concentration, which will affect a student's overall program coursework. Depending on the school, the typical coursework for a doctorate program in psychology centers on psychological development, theories and practices, and includes classes on:

  • Human development
  • Psychology and ethics
  • Research methodology and statistics
  • Diagnosing psychopathology

In addition to taking required courses, students complete psychology-related internships, conduct original research, and write a dissertation. Overall, the majority of Ph.D. courses in psychology are research-intensive, involve quantitative experimental methods, and often incorporate a higher level of understanding of computer-based analysis.

Factors to Consider

In addition to the typical concerns that come when selecting an advanced degree program in psychology (such as school curriculum, acceptance rate, cost, financial aid availability, location, and requirements related to the application process), prospective students must also choose an area of specialization when applying to a doctorate program. It is also highly recommended to select a doctorate program in psychology offered by a school that has received accreditation through the APA (American Psychological Association).

The three areas of psychology study to consider when choosing a doctorate program are:

  • Clinical psychology – programs tend to focus more on the research aspect of the field
  • Counseling psychology – programs tend to concentrate on professional practice
  • Health psychology (or cognitive psychology) – which zeroes in on how biology, psychology, behavior and social factors have an effect on health and illness

Options for Continuing Education

A Ph.D. (or Doctor of Philosophy) is one of the highest levels of degree programs a student can earn in the field of psychology, but the education of the graduate does not end with a doctorate. In order to maintain the credentials necessary to teach, conduct research, or run a private practice, graduates must take state/national exams, as well as fulfill continuing education credits to become licensed by the state to practice psychology where they reside.

To learn more about the available doctorate programs in psychology, a prospective student may consider the following options when starting a search for a course of study that fits personal career goals: