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Online PhD Programs in Educational Psychology: 2024’s Best

Discover top online PhD programs in educational psychology, what they have to offer you and your career, and how best to navigate them.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Angela Myers

Last updated

Feb 13, 2024

Williams James was the first to recognize the importance of educational psychology in the 1800s. Since his landmark claims about how psychology could inform teaching and learning, many other scholars have recognized and expanded on his findings, concluding that when educators understand how psychology impacts instruction, our schools are stronger and students better prepared.

Today, many universities with education programs, such as Purdue University, offer educational psychology courses and degrees that prepare researchers to continue to explore how this field shapes specific aspects of learning, from special education to education technology.

If you want to be at the forefront of this field, helping school districts implement the latest research to improve student learning, an online PhD in educational psychology may be for you. This three to seven-year degree will prepare you with the necessary understanding of how cognitive and emotional factors influence students and teachers.

This guide can help you determine which program best suits your interests; whether you meet the admission requirements; and what you can expect after enrolling in your PhD. We’ll start by profiling the best online PhD programs in educational psychology for 2024 — keep reading to get started.

School Spotlights: Top Educational Psychology PhDs Online

When looking for the best online PhD in educational psychology, it’s important to consider multiple programs and see how they compare in terms of curriculum, affordability, and student support resources. These three online PhD programs in educational psychology stand out. Use the following profiles to help guide your search for the right online PhD in educational psychology for you.

Alliant International University

Alliant International University offers a robust online doctorate in educational psychology. Since the program is a Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD), not a Doctorate of Philosophy or Education (PhD or Ed.D.) — we’ll explore difference in greater detail below — students learn about education through the lens of different psychological frameworks. Successful applicants often have backgrounds in psychology, including a master’s or bachelor’s degree in the field.

One main benefit of the program at Alliant International University is that the curriculum is highly customizable, meaning students can explore areas of interest to them instead of sticking to a rigid curriculum. While flexible, there are some courses all students are required to take, including neuropsychology, educational leadership, psychopharmacology, and multicultural psychology. Most students complete the 50-credit program entirely online within two years. To make the program more affordable, Alliant International University offers various scholarship opportunities for doctoral candidates.

The University of Memphis Global

One of the best online PhD programs in educational psychology is housed at the University of Memphis. Hosted through their global campus, this online PhD in Educational Psychology can be completed without ever stepping foot on campus.

Compared to other online PhD programs in educational psychology, this program emphasizes personalized mentorship and provides opportunities for doctoral candidates to explore research areas of interest to them in the form of a dissertation and smaller research projects. In addition to conducting research, PhD candidates also take courses in different subdisciplines of educational psychology. This online program provides the same rigor of education as the University of Memphis’ in-person program, but with greater flexibility and convenience. To allow students to further customize the program according to their professional and personal obligations, the program offers both part-time and full-time enrollment options.

Walden University

If you’re looking for an online PhD in educational psychology that offers flexibility, convenience, and a quality curriculum, consider the program from Walden University. The focus of this program is on classic education psychology and courses explore how to apply theories from this psychology subdiscipline to testing and assessment.

Unlike other programs, that at Walden University focuses on how educational psychology relates to adult learners, making it a better program for those who want to teach or study educational psychology within higher education instead of in K-12 settings. The program also offers various learning tracks, including a fast-track option that allows students with a master’s degree in the field to waive up to five courses. At $620 a credit, the program is also more affordable than other online PhD programs in educational psychology. Walden University also offers $5,000 grants to further lower the cost.

Ed.D. vs. PhD vs PsyD: Which Degree Is Right for You?

When looking at online PhD programs in educational psychology, there are three different types you might counter:

  • PhD Programs: A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education emphasizes research. It’s often a good fit for those who want to work as researchers or in academia, according to the University of Southern California Rossier.
  • Ed.D. Programs: A Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Psychology views psychology from the lens of education, according to Liberty University. It is often the best fit for educators who want to study how psychological theories and perspectives can improve teaching and learning.
  • PsyD Programs: A Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) in Education places a heavier (and earlier) emphasis on clinical training, according to Williams James College. This program is better suited to those with a psychology background who are interested in conducting more fieldwork as a psychologist in educational settings.

When deciding which online doctorate in educational psychologyis best for you, consider your background and future aspirations. If you have a background in education and want to work in academia, a PhD is the best choice; an Ed.D. will prepare you to take on leadership roles in school districts; and a PsyD program will prepare you to work as a counselor in school settings.

Common Courses of Educational Psychology PhD Programs

While coursework is an important component of an online PhD in educational psychology, it isn’t the only one. Your dissertation, fieldwork, and specialized courses also play a pivotal role in your degree. To better understand what these programs entail – and the prerequisites necessary to gain admission in the first place – keep reading.

Dissertation Proposal & Research

In almost every PhD program, you will have to complete a dissertation. Dissertations are original research projects that can take up to three years to complete; they are designed to demonstrate your comprehension of and ability to contribute to developments in your field. After completing your dissertation, you’ll be required to defending it before a committee of educational psychology faculty. 

For a better idea of what a successful educational psychology dissertation looks like, take a look at the following examples: 

Internships & Practicums

A PhD in educational psychology prepares students for many career paths. For those interested in becoming counselors in a school setting, fieldwork or internships are required components. In an internship or practicum, doctoral candidates get hands-on experience working with students as educational psychologists. William James University, for example, requires all students to complete leadership and counseling fieldwork in a school setting.

Even in programs geared more toward curriculum development and educational leadership, students often get hands-on opportunities to practice the skills they acquire through their coursework. These opportunities include research assistantships, collaborative projects with local school districts, and internships with educational curriculum developers or organizations such as the U.S. Department of Education.

Online Collaboration

Educational psychology is often a team effort, meaning researchers and professionals work together to develop solutions to learning psychology problems. To facilitate a similar environment, almost all online PhD programs in educational psychology include online collaboration. These include virtual seminars with live discussions, online group projects, and online discussion boards outside of class. 

Since collaboration is so crucial, most online PhDs in this field are offered synchronously (at live class times) as opposed to asynchronously (with prerecorded lessons students can watch whenever is convenient to them). That means doctoral candidates in educational psychology programs should be prepared to log in to class discussions at set times.

Prerequisites and Admission Requirements

Earning a PhD in educational psychology online is a marker of your expertise in the field, so it should come as no surprise that there are several requirements to be eligible for these programs. The specific prerequisites vary from university to university but common application requirements include previous coursework at the bachelor’s or master’s level; work experience that reflects your interest in the field; an application essay on your research interests; a personal statement outlining past accomplishments and future ambitions; and letters of recommendation. 

Some programs may also require teaching licensure, though this is less common. To understand the requirements for a specific program, check out their webpage or contact the university’s admissions office.

Specialized Courses

Educational psychology covers many different facets and areas of study. No one student can cover each one in their doctorate, so schools provide students with the chance to explore the area of interest to them. Opportunities to customize your degree include your dissertation, smaller research projects, and specialized courses.

Common specialized courses include neuropsychology; cognition and learning; psychology and curriculum development; developmental psychology; and psychotherapy in school settings.

This is not an exhaustive list of specialized course topics. To discover whether a program offers electives in your area of interest, explore their course catalog or contact the program directly.