Doctoral Degrees in General Psychology: Overview of Options

Oct 09, 2019

Through a Ph.D. program in general psychology, students gain knowledge about the concepts of and theories behind the central areas of the field though lecture-based coursework and advanced research.

Essential Information

Doctoral-level programs in general psychology allow students to pursue their educations at an advanced level without committing to a particular specialization. Many schools will admit students to a doctoral program with a bachelor's degree, but some require a master's degree. The degrees should preferably be in psychology, but exceptions can be made if the student has completed sufficient prerequisite courses in psychology or related fields. In addition, applicants usually must submit personal letters of interest and meet minimum GPA and GRE requirements.

In these programs, students take courses in the foundations of the field. As in all Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs, this program emphasizes research. Students learn about statistics and how to collect and analyze data. While the program gives a general overview of the field of psychology, students may focus their studies in areas such as health or legal psychology. Internships will give them experience in the field. A dissertation is typically a requirement as well.

Doctor of Philosophy in General Psychology

Required coursework intends to develop students' abilities to understand, collect and analyze psychological research as well as to report findings in professional journals and meetings. Other types of skills cultivated in such programs include critical thinking, creative thinking and the ability to think from multiple perspectives. In order to graduate, students must demonstrate their research capabilities and thorough knowledge of psychology through the passing of comprehensive examinations as well as the writing and defense of their original dissertations.

Although general psychology programs are designed to provide students with broad knowledge of the discipline, focus areas are commonly offered at the doctoral level. Concentration areas include clinical, health, social, cognitive and legal psychology. It must be noted that such programs do not prepare students to practice as clinical psychologists. Internships in settings appropriate to students' personal interests may help them to progress and find their niches within psychology.

At the doctoral level, students usually customize their coursework according to their particular interests. There are numerous course options to choose from, but a few example topics include:

  • History of psychology
  • Research methods in psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Psychology of personality
  • Multicultural psychology
  • Substance abuse counseling

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of psychologists, all other, excluding industrial and organizational, clinical, counseling and school psychologists, was predicted to increase by 12% between 2018 and 2028. Those with doctoral degrees and knowledge in a specialty area of psychology, such as health psychology, can expect the best job prospects. All psychologists who work with patients or practice their specialties in individual or group settings must meet the licensing requirements of their states. The median annual salary of psychology professionals, excluding the types mentioned above, was $100,770 as of May 2018, also per the BLS (

In Ph.D. programs in general psychology, students can get a broad overview of advanced psychological concepts by taking courses in a broad range of subjects. From there, they can choose a specific topic on which to conduct in-depth thesis research.

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