If you're hoping to begin a career in psychological research or clinical practice, an online doctorate degree in psychology can help you get there. Psychology doctoral programs typically come in two forms: a Doctor of Psychology (Ph.D.) degree and a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree.

Students who attend a Ph.D. school for psychology typically plan to go into research or professorship, while Psy.D. students tend to go into practice as clinical psychologists or in other specialties. Both types of degree can often be earned on flexible schedules, so look into APA accredited online Psy.D. programs or online Ph.D. programs in psychology if you're hoping to continue working your current job while you earn your terminal degree.

Whether you choose to earn your doctorate degree in psychology online or on campus, the knowledge and skills you gain through academic research and study can provide a solid framework for success in the field. On this page, we list featured psychology Ph.D. programs, give you an overview of a typical degree plan and provide valuable insight into different specialized careers available to qualified professionals.

Frequently Asked Questions

A majority of doctorate plans take place on campus, but several institutions across the U.S. offer fully or partially online doctoral programs in psychology. If you're comfortable with a learning environment conducted entirely in the virtual classroom, fully online Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs can help keep your existing schedule intact.

If you're not ready to jump into distance education with both feet, some colleges and universities structure their post-graduate psychology curriculum in a hybrid format that includes both online and in-person faculty meetings and seminars.

Graduates who earn a Psy.D. typically find a job in a clinical setting working directly with patients, while those who earn a Ph.D. in psychology generally focus on research and teaching at the university level. Psy.D. plans may also contain fewer research and statistics courses and take less time to complete, while Ph.D. programs may come with larger student stipends.

The boundaries between the two main avenues of the profession aren't impermeable — professionals with a Ph.D. and the appropriate license may work in a clinical capacity and those with Psy.D. degrees may still be able to find a career in teaching and research — but the general guideline holds true in most cases.

Accreditation shows that an institution has had its programs, services and instruction reviewed by an independent regional or national authority and determined to meet or exceed an accepted standard of quality. Regional accreditation applies to the aggregate activities of a college or university and is awarded by agencies such as the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Programmatic accreditation for campus-based and online doctoral programs in psychology is provided by the American Psychological Association (APA). Visit the APA website for a directory of accredited programs or check with an advisor at your current school to ask about their accreditation status.


Doctorate in Psychology Program Overview

Most online Psy.D. or psychology Ph.D. programs contain courses that cover research methods, professional ethics, cognitive assessment, human behavior and qualitative and quantitative reasoning. Psychology Ph.D. students hoping to focus all their energy on scholarly work may be able to specialize in research and writing or psychological education.

Psychology doctoral programs generally require students to complete a certain number of field hours, which are completed under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. If you're already working in psychology while earning your doctorate, you may be able to complete your field hours at your existing job.

In order to successfully graduate with your doctorate in psychology, you'll need to complete a dissertation or capstone project. The dissertation is an in-depth research project that must be completed within a certain time frame and defended before a committee of professors and field professionals. Capstone projects, which are less common, can take many forms and typically focus on solving a specific issue in a real-world setting.

Earning an Online Doctoral Degree in Psychology

How long does an online doctoral degree program in psychology take?

In general, online doctoral programs in psychology can be completed in three to six years, but time to completion can vary quite a bit from one program to another. The type of degree you're seeking (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), the specialty you choose and the curriculum required by your program can all play a role in how long the program lasts.

Requirements to start an online doctoral degree program in psychology

Each college or university that offers online psychology doctoral programs sets its own admissions criteria, so it's important to check with the psychology department or a graduate admissions advisor to ensure that your application has all its necessary parts. Here's a short list of some common requirements:

  • Official academic transcripts
  • Official copy of your scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if a non-native English speaker

Doctoral programs typically require applicants to have a master's degree, but some Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs can accept those with just a bachelor's.

  • 1.Common Courses
    • Clinical psychologist
    • Research psychologist
    • University professor
    • Forensic psychologist
    • Neuropsychologist
  • 2. Common Careers:
    • Themes and theories of psychology
    • Research foundations
    • Experiment design
    • Advanced psychological statistics
    • Psychology and culture
    • Developmental psychopathology
    • Foundations of psychotherapy
    • Teaching of psychology

Ph.D. in Psychology Degree Timeline

Years one and two

  • Research foundation. Students often begin the online doctoral program learning about effective ways to conduct qualitative and quantitative research.
  • Clinical foundation. If your program has a clinical focus, you can also touch on the fundamentals of clinical practice in the early portion of your studies.
  • Beginning to specialize. Many psychology Ph.D. programs begin introducing students to the finer points of their chosen specialty in the first or second year of the curriculum.

Years three and four

  • Practical experience. Courses in your third and fourth year aim to help you learn to apply the academic knowledge you've gained in practical, real-world settings.
  • Begin working on dissertation. Planning is an important part of your dissertation process, and you'll begin working on that with your advisor during this stage of the process.

Years Five and Six

  • Complete dissertation. During the last two years of the program, students typically focus on completing their dissertation and defending their work to a faculty panel.
  • Complete comprehensive exam. Some students are required to complete a comprehensive exam to illustrate their deep knowledge of the field.
  • Internship. Not all programs require an internship section, but they can provide valuable hands-on experience and introduce you to the applications of psychological principles in a professional setting.

Concentrations for an Online Doctorate in Psychology Degree

Here are a few popular program concentrations that may be available to students of both types of psychology doctoral programs:

  • Clinical psychology. This specialization is for students interested in working directly with patients in clinical practice, as well as conducting research, teaching or consulting on clinical matters. Students in this specialization learn how to work with a diverse variety of patients in hospitals, mental health centers and other clinical facilities.
  • Industrial-organizational psychology. Industrial-organizational psychology focuses on using psychological principles to improve problems in the workplace. From motivating employees to understanding consumer behavior, people in this program learn theories and techniques to address common issues that that can come up within businesses and other organizations.
  • Childhood and adolescent psychology. Programs that offer this specialization focus on the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders that can arise in infancy, childhood and adolescence. Courses cover topics like developmental psychopathology, child and adolescent assessment, disruptive behavior disorders and advanced treatment strategies with children, adolescents and families.
  • Forensic psychology: Forensic psychology operates at the intersection of psychological principles and legal issues. People who choose this specialization take classes to learn about types of criminal behavior, abnormal psychology, criminal profiling and the effects of crime on its victims. Students may also study how psychology can be applied in civil cases, such as matters of divorce and child custody.
  • Psychological research. Students who choose a research concentration for their psychology Ph.D. receive substantially more education in research theory, design and methods than those who pursue a practice specialization. Subjects studied include multivariate analysis, testing and measurement, mixed-methods reasoning and advanced reasoning and analysis for qualitative and quantitative data.

Career Outlook

What Can You do with an Online Ph.D. in Psychology?

Many of the careers available to graduates with a Ph.D. in psychology may seem similar to one another, but they're filled with small but significant distinctions. Here are some details about a few of the top jobs that students may qualify for after graduation, depending on how they chose to concentrate their doctoral study:

Online Ph.D. in Psychology Certifications and Licensing

In every state, psychologists who work directly with clients must be licensed before they can practice legally. You may not need a license if your psychology career doesn't require direct client interaction, but make sure to check with your state's Board of Psychology about the career-based requirements that apply to you.

Licensing requirements differ based on the type of career and your state of residency, and may include any of the following:

There are also a range of professional certifications that can help you better demonstrate your expertise to clients. Here's a list of certifications available to graduates of psychology doctoral programs:

Certification in Clinical Neuropsychology

Offered by the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology, this credential makes it clear to clients and employers that you have the highly specialized skills needed to work effectively in this complex field.

Requirements: Applicants must hold a doctorate, complete an accredited internship program and have a state certification or license.

Exam Format: A written examination of 125 multiple-choice questions and a three-part oral examination.

How long does the certification last?: Holders conduct a self-examination each decade that chronicles the ways they have maintained competence in clinical neuropsychology.

Diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association (DAPA)

Practitioners of psychotherapy can earn this designation, which focuses on measurable skills and knowledge as well as experience and education, to provide clients with proof of their expertise.

Requirements: Candidates must be members of the American Psychotherapy Association with at least one entry-level credential, hold a master's or doctoral degree, have at least four years of professional experience and produce documentation of their practice history.

Exam Format: The DAPA credential is awarded based on practice and evidence; no exam is required.

How long does the certification last?: Retaining certification requires the completion of at least 30 continuing education credits every three years.

Certified Forensic Counselor (CFC)

If you're hoping to use your psychological skills to work with adult and juvenile criminal offenders, the National Association of Forensic Counselors (NAFC) offers an opportunity to earn this specialized credential.

Requirements: The clinical level of this certification requires at least a master's degree from an accredited psychology school, active state licensure, 270 hours of formal training and three years of supervised professional experience, along with a clean criminal record and an NAFC membership application.

Exam Format: A series of multiple-choice questions offered either online or at an approved testing site.

How long does the certification last?: No formal expiration date is listed, but holders must maintain their membership in the NAFC annually or biennially by keeping their dues current and completing at least 20 continuing education units each year.

Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology Specialty Board Certification

Provided by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), this certification can be pursued in any of four areas of emphasis: behavior therapy, behavioral-cognitive therapy, cognitive therapy and applied behavior analysis.

Requirements: A doctoral degree in psychology, completion of an accredited internship, documentation of relevant work experience and affiliation with one or more professional organizations in behavioral and cognitive psychology.

Exam Format: An oral exam conducted before a three-person examination committee.

How long does the certification last?: A self-directed review process is required once every ten years.

Associations for Doctorate in Psychology Degree Recipients

Professional organizations for psychologists can offer a range of benefits, including professional resources, expert consultation opportunities and information on the latest news and research in the field. Here's a list of some industry associations you might want to join:

Several membership levels are available in the SPSP — doctorate holders can apply for full, premier or early-career membership, while graduate students and master's degree holders have access to student and associate memberships.
A division of the American Psychological Association (APA), the SCP features numerous specialized sections and interest groups to help members tailor their experience to suit their individual needs.
Practitioners hoping to use their expertise in scientific disciplines can become members of the APS, which provides members with numerous proprietary publications and holds national and international conferences.
Psychologists who specialize in practice relevant to the criminal justice field can become NAFC members and earn a range of clinical and non-clinical certifications.