Earning a PhD in psychology can open up an incredible world of opportunity for you. But getting a PhD takes a great deal of time, effort and financial commitment, so it’s a good idea to investigate your options in order to determine whether getting a PhD in psychology is your best path.
What is a PhD in psychology and what can I use it for?
A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a highly advanced degree that is required for many jobs in psychology—particularly for jobs in research, counseling and clinical psychology. Generally speaking, getting a PhD is probably the best ticket for qualifying for most of the top jobs in psychology.
What does it take to get a PhD?
To gain a PhD, you’ll need to first get a Bachelor’s degree. Some doctoral programs also require students to get a Master’s degree before applying. A Bachelor’s degree in psychology normally takes four years of full-time study, but you can knock off some of that time by attending undergraduate summer school or by loading up on extra undergraduate credits each term. Getting a Master’s degree normally takes an additional two years.
Most PhD programs in psychology require an additional five to eight years to complete, including possible requirements for internship and/or supervised residency. So in total, you might be looking at anywhere from nine to fourteen years of schooling and training after high school before you can get an APA accredited PhD and become a licensed psychologist.
Important: Not all psychology doctoral programs lead to licensure. Make sure you have complete information and details about the program.
Besides a PhD, are there any other advanced degrees in psychology I could get?
Yes, there are two alternatives to a PhD. The PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree is a relatively new degree designed mainly for counseling psychologists who don’t plan to perform research experiments. It’s actually a better degree for counselors because it focuses on counseling courses at the expense of research courses. But it has a narrower range of application than a PhD, so you should only pursue it if you’re certain you want to be a counselor only. It probably won’t work for many university counseling jobs, because universities often require their psychologists to wear many hats, like doing some research or teaching.
But if you plan to open your own private counseling practice, a PsyD degree is highly recommended. PsyD programs are similar to PhD programs in courses, but can usually be completed sooner than PhD programs.
The other alternative for an advanced degree is to get an EdD (Doctor of Education) degree in psychology. There is little difference between getting an EdD and getting a PhD; it basically means the university you attended housed its psychology program in its College of Education rather than its College of Philosophy or its College of Psychology. The coursework might include more teaching courses, but it might not.
You can get an EdD degree even if you don’t plan to teach. But employers who aren’t looking to hire a teacher normally put more stock in a PhD degree than an EdD degree, because Colleges of Philosophy are usually more highly regarded than Colleges of Education. It should also be noted that some Colleges of Education actually award both EdD degrees and PhD degrees.
When should I decide whether to pursue a PhD?
In some ways, the sooner the better, but you don’t really need to make that decision until you’re fairly certain what career you want to go into. Once you decide that, search the web for the educational requirements for that particular job. There’s not much value in getting a PhD if the job you want doesn’t require it. In fact, some employers might be reluctant to hire you if they think you’re overqualified for the job, fearing you might get bored with the job or grow dissatisfied in the position.
What jobs could I get with just a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in psychology?
Degree requirements for particular jobs in psychology vary from state-to-state and from employer-to-employer, but generally it’s hard to get a high-paying job in psychology without an advanced degree. However, there are plenty of lower-paying jobs available with just a Bachelor’s degree, because a degree in psychology can be applied to a lot of jobs outside the field of psychology, such as in advertising, community services, sales, criminal justice, marketing, child care and many other areas.
With a Master’s degree in clinical psychology, you can find work as a psychological counselor, but only under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. A Master’s in experimental psychology is sufficient for working as a research assistant, market researcher or lab manager. A Master’s in applied psychology is adequate for some jobs in industrial-organizational psychology or forensic psychology, or for many jobs within health care services or mental health services.