PhD Degree in Psychology: Prerequisites and Requirements

Psychology Ph.D. degree programs prepare students to understand all aspects of psychology but since the field is extremely broad, doctoral students focus on a particular branch of psychology. Learn the projected job outlook for psychologists, as well as salary and continuing education info.

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Essential Information

There are more than thirty specializations within psychology, and doctoral degrees are offered in all of them. Some areas of specialization include clinical, school, physiological, social, and many others. A psychology doctorate is first and foremost a research degree in which students learn psychological research methodology and statistics, and must carry out independent research. Students in clinical and counseling specialties, as well as some other specialties, such as health psychology, will also study principles of psychopathology, behavior change and psychotherapy. Other specialties, such as experimental psychology and cognitive psychology, will focus exclusively on research. Courses vary considerably based on area of study, and there are few courses beyond history of psychology and statistics that are common to all.

Ph.D. in Psychology

Many doctoral degree programs in psychology require applicants to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Other Ph.D. programs require a master's degree in psychology or a related field of study. Applicants typically must have a 3.0 GPA or higher. Many programs request submission of GRE scores, a personal essay or portfolio and letters of recommendation. Interviews may also be part of the admissions process.

Students develop a solid foundation in history and methods of psychology, research methodology and statistics. In addition to courses, students complete original research and write a dissertation. Students in clinical doctoral programs may complete practica and an internship year. Some possible courses include:

  • Psychology theories and practice
  • Psychology and ethics
  • Human development
  • Diagnosing psychopathology
  • Research methodology and statistics

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

School, clinical and counseling psychologists can expect to see job growth around 20% for the years 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( These workers made a median annual wage of $70,580 in 2015.

Continuing Education Information

Private practice child and family psychologists follow APA and ASPPB state requirements for continuing education licensure. School psychologists may also need to gain certification and licensure through their state's department of education. Certification requirements vary by state.

Prospective students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology should pay particular attention to the specific field and specialization that they would like to study. Upon completing a psychology doctorate, students will be able to apply to a variety of psychology-related careers in schools, hospitals, clinics, and private practice.

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