PsyD Vs. PhD: Differences & Programs

Jun 07, 2020

According to the American Psychological Association, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology is generally the degree of choice for aspiring psychologists who are more interested in research. However, for those who are leaning toward clinical work and direct services, the Doctor of Psychology or PsyD may be the preferred program for earning a doctorate. We'll explore both programs as well as key factors to consider when selecting a doctoral program.

What Is the Difference Between a PhD and a PsyD Program?

If you are interested in teaching and research, conducting experiments, collecting data, analyzing data, and generating new knowledge in the field, then a PhD program will meet your needs. Not only that -- while a PhD provides rigorous preparation for work in research, it also prepares graduates to work directly with clients in applied psychology environments.

A PsyD is a degree that was designed specifically for persons interested in working directly with patients or clients. PsyD graduates may work in clinics, hospitals and other organizations to deliver services. Both the PhD and PsyD programs have some common features. The core courses in both programs are similar. Some of the core courses candidates of both programs can expect to take include: History and Systems of Psychology, Adult Psychopathology, Developmental Psychology, Psychobiology, Statistics, Ethics and Assessment. At most schools, candidates in either program are required to write a dissertation and holders of either degree will be eligible for licensure if they graduate from an American Psychological Association accredited program.

What Other Factors Should I Consider When Choosing Between a PhD and a PsyD?

Before you make your decision, consider the following factors about PhD and PsyD graduate programs: program length, cost, accreditation and your career goals.

Program Length

A PhD program can take seven years to complete, while a PsyD program can take five years. The shorter time to complete a PsyD program means that a candidate can begin working sooner than a PhD graduate.

Program Costs

Results from an American Psychological Association graduate survey indicates that in 2016, the median in-state tuition for public universities was $11,000 per year and $24,000 for out-of-state students. For private schools, the tuition was about $34,000 per year. Whether you select a PhD or PsyD, you will make a significant financial investment, however, keep in mind that programs often provide some financial aid that can reduce costs. Another consideration is that students in PhD programs may have more opportunities to engage in teaching and research and are usually paid for these duties.


Not to be confused with institutional accreditation, psychology doctoral programs can be accredited. To do so, a program must meet the standards of the American Psychological Association Commission on accreditation. Applicants should make sure that specific programs in which they will be involved are accredited. This includes doctoral programs, internships and residency programs in the same department. Prior to applying to a program, it is best to inquire about accreditation status.

Career Goals

Your career goals may change. Maybe you are more interested in the clinical side of psychology right now, but someday you might prefer to work in an academic setting as a teacher and researcher. Studying for the PhD might be the avenue to ensure that your resume will be competitive should you decide to apply for a position in academia. However, if working with people to help them solve issues is what excites you, then the PsyD program may be the perfect fit. As far as salary is concerned, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not differentiate between psychologists with PsyD or PhD degrees. According to the agency, the median salary for psychologists in May 2019 was $80,370 with the highest 10 percent earning $132,070. Additionally, the job outlook is favorable since the projected job growth for psychologists is 14 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than average.

If you are trying to determine whether you should get a PhD or PsyD, weigh your options. If you are leaning toward academia, a PhD can prepare you for that setting and clinical work. However, both degrees can lead to rewarding and well-paying careers.

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