How Long Are PhD Programs in Psychology?

Graduate studies in psychology offer a broad range of topics, and psychology programs are often competitive. They usually take several years to complete. Depending on the area of interest in psychology, graduate students may choose from clinical, counseling or research programs.

Length of a Ph.D. Program in Psychology

Typical doctoral programs in psychology take 5-7 years to complete, though the length of time may vary based on the program and other factors. Most doctoral psychology programs require full-time attendance, and very few are offered online. However, some schools allow special circumstances, such as providing extensions for part-time students or accelerated studies for exceptional students. Each program offers different options, and students are encouraged to shop for the best program to suit their needs.

Ph.D. in Psychology: Program Overview

The Ph.D. is the oldest doctoral degree and the most common psychology doctorate available, although the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is increasing in popularity, says the American Psychological Association. Typically, Ph.D.s lead to careers in research, but graduates can also become practicing psychologists with this degree if they choose a clinical psychology concentration.

Graduate students in a Ph.D. program spend the majority of their time participating in research in a particular area of interest, such as behavioral neuroscience, developmental psychology or experimental psychopathology. Students often participate in teaching exercises, and a dissertation on an area of research usually completes the program requirements.

Admissions Information

While the undergraduate major is not an important factor, overall academic excellence and Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores weigh heavily on an applicant's admission prospects.

Program Length

A Ph.D. program often requires a minimum of five years after the conferral of a bachelor's degree. Most Ph.D. programs in psychology admit a limited number of candidates per year - usually fewer than 20.

Doctor of Psychology: Program Overview

The American Psychological Association distinguished the Psy.D. degree as a separate type of professional degree program in 1973. Concentrating primarily on clinical psychology, students within a Psy.D. program spend more time participating in practica and internships than students in a Ph.D. program. Most schools offering doctoral degrees in psychology tend to provide either the Ph.D. research or the Psy.D. practitioner option, though a few schools offer both.

Admissions Information

Students may find aggressive competition for admission. An undergraduate or master's degree in psychology or previous experience in the field may increase a candidate's appeal, as well as a strong academic record and GRE scores.

Program Length

Generally, Psy.D. programs take an average of 4-5 years of full-time study, and students may be more likely to find a part-time option for this degree than for the Ph.D.

Psychologist Licensing Requirements

All states require licensure to practice clinical and counseling psychology, though the requirements vary by state. Additional licensing and registration obligations may also be required for some specialties of psychology, such as forensic psychology. At a minimum, requirements for a state psychology license include the following:

  • A doctoral degree awarded from an accredited program
  • A minimum of 3,000 hours of managed experience
  • A passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)

Graduates must apply to their state's licensing authority to sit for the EPPP, administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. The timed test may only be taken for a single state, though the test score may be applied to more than one state. Separate state licensing fees apply to multi-jurisdictional practitioners, and applicants may also be subject to additional licensing requirements.

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