PhD in Applied Psychology: Program Summary

Applied psychology is a discipline focused on the application of psychological research to practical issues in fields such as business and industry, education, employee training and human resources, marketing and healthcare. Graduates may seek employment in consulting firms or academia.

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Essential Information

A Ph.D. in applied psychology can prepare candidates to work as consultants or to teach applied psychology at the college level. Students can expect considerable research requirements and a dissertation in addition to doctoral-level coursework. A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Applied Psychology typically takes 4-5 years to complete.


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Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Psychology

A Ph.D. program in applied psychology prepares students to become expert in the application of psychological principles and research findings to the workplace and educational settings. Research is an integral component of such programs. Individuals with Ph.D.s in Applied Psychology are qualified to work as consultants for nonprofit organizations, industries and businesses or as researchers and teachers at universities and colleges. In a typical program, candidates usually complete coursework during the first two years and devote the remaining time to studying and passing comprehensive department exams as well as researching, composing and defending their dissertations.

Applicants to Ph.D. programs in applied psychology are required to have at least a bachelor's degree. Although students need not have majored in psychology, they are expected to have completed undergraduate coursework in psychology, biology, physical sciences, statistics and laboratory training. In addition to the GRE General Test, schools may require scores on the GRE Subject Test in Psychology.

Students typically take courses in statistics and data collection, research methods and psychological measurement. They eventually select a specialized elective track that focuses on topics in applied psychology. Subjects that might be studied are:

  • Cognition and memory
  • Cross-cultural psychology
  • Gender psychology
  • Industrial and occupational psychology
  • Psychology of decisions
  • Social psychology

Career Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes most professionals working in applied psychology as industrial-occupational psychologists; psychologists who consult to businesses and schools to help them optimize work environments. Psychologists with Ph.D.s also commonly practice privately or hold academic positions. Per the BLS, the number of employed industrial-occupational psychologists was predicted to grow at 19%, which is much faster than average, from 2014 to 2024, with doctoral-level psychologists expected to have the best prospects. The BLS reported that the median annual wage for all industrial-occupational psychologists was $77,350 and that for postsecondary psychology teachers was $70,260 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov).

Continuing Education, Licensure and Certification Info

According to the BLS, all psychologists in private practice or providing patient care in an agency or institution must be licensed by the state in which they work. Licensure standards vary by state, but usually require a doctoral degree and 1-2 years of supervised work experience. Psychologists may take continuing education courses to renew their licenses, prepare for certification and advance in the field. Applied psychologists may become certified through the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology (ABOBCP), a specialty member board of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), once they have attained work experience past the doctoral degree and completed additional training requirements (www.abpp.org).

An applied psychology Ph.D. can lead to a variety of careers in industrial or organizational psychology, as well as postsecondary psychology education. Many programs offer specialized tracks in different areas of psychological research.

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