Online Schools with Psy.D. Programs: How to Choose

Offered in a low-residency online format, Doctor of Psychology programs expect students to supplement Web-based instruction and individual research with internships and additional hands-on training in their local area. Learn more about how to choose a school and what classes might be on the horizon.

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Students interested in pursuing a Doctor of Psychology degree online should consider the different award levels, program types and accreditation. Here we discuss these considerations, as well as a few schools that offer these programs.

How to Select an Online Doctor of Psychology Program

Online programs offer students the training necessary for a career in clinical psychology. Partially online Psy.D. programs are offered by 4-year colleges and universities. Students should then weigh the program type and award levels with licensure and accreditation requirements.

Award Levels

A Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is a degree that focuses on clinical practice rather than academic and case research. Since students spend less time researching and writing their dissertation, a Psy.D. can typically be earned faster than a Ph.D., sometimes in three years rather than 5-7. Graduates with a Psy.D. can find employment in family therapy clinics, hospitals and mental health clinics.

Licensure and Accreditation

Psychologists who diagnose and care for patients need to pass an exam issued by their state licensing or certifying institution. To be eligible for the exam, applicants typically need to hold a doctorate, complete an internship and accumulate 1-2 years of postdoctoral clinical work in a residency program.

The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits doctoral programs in psychology. However, it's important to note that no online Psy.D. programs were APA-accredited as of October 2015. Students who earn their Psy.D. through a non-accredited program may have to fulfill additional requirements for licensure, such as the submission of an educational record that demonstrates how their coursework was comparable to the APA's curriculum standards.

Program Type

Online programs in clinical psychology offer students the opportunity to enroll in a low-residency (hybrid) format. Hybrid programs require students to spend at least part of the time on campus and offer them more hands-on training opportunities than full online programs. It's important for Psy.D. programs to include a combination of online and on-site training, since the degree focuses on clinical experience and practice. Students in a hybrid program will be required to divide their time between online theory courses, individual research and internships or clinical practicums.

Online Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology Program Overview

Professionals with a Psy.D. generally don't work in academic or research fields. During the on-site portion of an online Psy.D. program, students undergo training in a variety of clinical settings where they gain hands-on training in patient diagnosis, consultation and psychotherapy. The Psy.D. takes from 2-3 years to complete. Students take online core courses in:

  • Social psychology
  • Historical systems of psychology
  • Cognition, emotion and motivation
  • Advanced theories of personality
  • Human development

Students may also be required to finish a dissertation on a topic in clinical or applied psychology, but the emphasis of the program is on practical experience. For this reason, clinical psychology programs typically require a large number of internship hours that may include on-site placement in women's shelters, hospitals or clinics in the student's local area. Since this is one of the most important aspects of the degree, clinical experience can even sometimes be substituted for a dissertation.

Schools With Online Doctoral Programs in Psychology

California Southern University has an online Doctor of Psychology degree program that consists of 66 credits. Students have optional practicum and internship opportunities, but must complete a doctoral project. The program takes four years to complete. This degree program can lead to licensure in the state.

The University of the Rockies offers an online Doctor of Psychology degree program that is not intended to lead to licensure. Students must complete three residencies over weekends in Denver, CO. Students are also required to write a dissertation. Online courses are typically offered in six-week formats, but include a Doctoral Capstone Seminar that is 9 weeks long.

Capella University provides an online Doctor of Psychology program with a clinical psychology specialization. This program is 145 quarter credits and consists of 10-week long courses. The program trains students for state licensure and does include in-person residencies and field work. Students also must complete comprehensive exams and final project.

Several online Doctor of Psychology degree programs are available, but students need to closely examine a program's format for any in-person requirements, such as residencies or fieldwork, as well as how the program prepares students for licensure. Students may also want to consider which award level to pursue and the accreditation of the various programs.

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