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. View article »

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  • 0:00 Ph.D. in Psychology:…
  • 0:39 Length of a Ph.D.…
  • 1:22 Curriculum
  • 2:15 Admissions Information
  • 3:10 Psychologist Licensing…

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Video Transcript

Ph.D. in Psychology: Program Overview

When considering Ph.D. programs in psychology, it is important to consider program length, specialization options, graduation requirements, and admissions criteria. Graduates who plan to go into clinical practice must also learn about licensure requirements.

The Ph.D. is the oldest doctoral degree and the most common psychology doctorate available. 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.

Length of a Ph.D. Program in Psychology

Most Ph.D. programs in psychology take five to seven years to complete, though the length of time may vary based on the program and other factors. Many Ph.D. programs also offer fellowships to candidates that provide a stipend for a certain number of years, which can range from four years to the entire length of the program. Most of these 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.


Graduate students in a Ph.D. program spend the majority of their time participating in research in a particular area of interest. Possible areas of research include behavioral neuroscience, developmental psychology, experimental psychopathology, cognitive neuroscience, social/personality psychology, systems neuroscience, clinical psychology, and quantitative psychology. Students must also take advanced courses in psychology and they may be required to pass preliminary examinations based on their studies. Some schools also require Ph.D. candidates to teach undergraduate courses, which may be part of a fellowship funding package. Prior to graduation, candidates must submit and defend a research-based dissertation.

Admissions Information

The minimum requirement for admission to a Ph.D. in psychology program is a bachelor's degree. Depending on the program, students from a variety of majors may be accepted. However, there may be specialty-specific prerequisite coursework. For instance, those who plan to specialize in behavioral neuroscience may need to have completed undergraduate coursework in the biological and physical sciences. Required application materials typically include:

  • Statement of purpose
  • Letters of recommendation
  • College transcripts
  • GRE scores
  • GRE Psychology subject test scores (for some programs)

It is important to note that admissions to Ph.D. in Psychology programs are highly competitive. Most Ph.D. programs in psychology admit a limited number of candidates per year, usually fewer than 20.

Psychologist Licensing Requirements

After earning a Ph.D. in Psychology, graduates who wish to practice in the field must become licensed. 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:

  • Doctoral degree awarded from an accredited program
  • Minimum of 3,000 hours of managed experience
  • 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.

Ph.D. in Psychology programs give students the opportunity to pursue advanced courses and research in particular areas of interest for five or more years. Afterward, they may pursue jobs in academia or clinical licensure.

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