Is a PhD in Psychology Worth It?

May 22, 2018

In many situations, psychologists are required to have a doctoral degree and a license to practice. Due to the investment of time and money, aspiring psychologists should determine if they will get a good return on their investment.

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A PhD in Psychology is a terminal degree that qualifies individuals to study and evaluate behavior and to provide counseling or therapy to groups and individuals. Individuals with PhD or doctoral degrees in psychology are often involved in teaching and research at colleges and universities. Generally, it takes about six to eight years of full-time study to complete the degree program.

How Much Will I Spend to Earn a PhD in Psychology?

The amount you spend on a PhD in Psychology depends on several factors, including whether you choose a public or private university, the psychology sub-field that you select (clinical, counseling, school psychology, research, etc.), and the type of financial aid you receive. You can expect to pay for tuition, fees, supplies, food, and housing. Colleges usually offer some financial assistance to PhD students to reduce costs. PhD candidates may be paid to teach classes and conduct research. Depending on where you go to school, you might pay $10,000 or more per year for in-state tuition and $22,000 or more per year for out-of-state tuition to obtain your PhD in Psychology. According to a 2016 survey by the American Psychological Association, the average debt associated with earning a PhD in psychology is $78,000.

What Can I Do With a PhD in Psychology?

Psychology is a field with multiple career possibilities. Some of the jobs available for persons holding a PhD in Psychology include clinical psychologist, counseling psychologist, industrial-organizational psychologist and school psychologist. There are also other psychology jobs available in various organizations.

Clinical Psychologists

A clinical psychologist assesses individuals and diagnoses and treats behavioral, emotional and mental disorders. Treatment modalities used by clinical psychologists include behavior modification and psychotherapy. Clinical psychologists often work with specific populations such as children or older adults.

Counseling Psychologists

Counseling psychologists help individuals work through problems or issues that they may be experiencing. They guide individuals in developing their own solutions to problems. Counseling psychologists may provide services in areas such as marriage and family therapy, substance abuse and mental health.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

Industrial-organizational psychologists deal with issues and problems that employees may face in the workplace. They may offer counseling and help resolve conflicts. Industrial-organizational psychologists may also be involved with organizational development, employee screening, and training.

School Psychologists

School psychologists evaluate student behavior and learning issues. They also counsel students and families. School psychologists work with students, parents, and educators to develop plans to address student behavior and learning needs.

All Other Psychologists

The category of 'All Other Psychologists' covers other jobs held by PhD psychologists. Under this category are psychologists who work in hospitals, research and those who teach at colleges and universities. Psychologists working in local, state and federal government agencies are also included in this group.

How Much Will I Earn with a PhD in Psychology?

The following table lists career options and salary levels for psychologists with PhD degrees.

Job Title Median Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2016-2026)**
Clinical Psychologists $75,503 14% (for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)
Counseling Psychologists $58,220 14% (for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $87,100 (2017)** 8%
School Psychologists $59,373 14% (for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)
All Other Psychologists $97,740 (2017)** 11%

Sources: *PayScale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In determining whether getting a PhD in Psychology is worth it, some items to consider include the cost of the program and the area of psychology in which you plan to work. If you borrow money to get your PhD and earn a higher salary, over time that can offset what you may borrow through student loans.

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