Earning Your Online PhD in Psychology

If you’re considering seeking a doctorate degree in psychology, you might be wondering how to make it happen with your busy work schedule and other responsibilities. Fortunately, the flexibility of the online PhD in psychology can enable you to pursue your academic and career goals in the psychology field while still meeting your other obligations.

Written by

PhDs.me Staff

Last updated

Mar 08, 2021

A PhD in psychology can open opportunities to research human behavior, teach at the postsecondary level, and help others through patient-facing specialties such as behavioral analysis or in-depth counseling. If you’re thinking about investigating online PhD programs in psychology, now is a great time. The state of mental health in the United States is concerning, according to Mental Health America. Youth mental health is worsening, mental illness among adults is increasing, and there is a great unmet need among both youth and adults for mental health services.

Online PhD programs in psychology provide flexibility through online or blended programs, the ability to accelerate your studies or take them slow, and the opportunity to earn your required clinical hours at a facility close to home. Whether you intend to move into clinical work or do research, the work you do helps both patients and other providers of healthcare. Before you get to that point, you’ve got to get the PhD in psychology. You might have questions, including:

Which online PhD in psychology program is right for me? Is the degree worth the time and effort? Will the required time commitment fit into my already busy schedule?

Let’s dive into the PhD in psychology to determine if online education in the field is right for you.

Best Online PhD in Psychology Programs for 2021

If you’re going to make an investment in your future with a PhD in psychology, you want to make sure your time and money goes toward a meaningful academic experience. The time you take now to do your due diligence to find the best online PhD in psychology program for your needs will pay off in dividends down the road. We’ve taken a look at some of the best programs across the nation and have chosen three to spotlight as good representatives of what schools are offering in their online PhD in psychology programs.

Northcentral University

Best Online Psychology PhD Spotlight: Northcentral University

The online Doctor of Philosophy in psychology from Northcentral University offers a wide range of options for those in the field including 20 courses in eight specialties with a completion time of approximately 41 months. The program aims for flexibility with new start dates every Monday and a classroom size of one. That means your PhD pursuit will be closely monitored by your academic advisor, but you will work quite independently. Those who need a little help in paying for school can apply for one of four Give Your All Scholarships; two are full-tuition scholarships, while two are $20,000 awards.

liberty-university

Best Online Psychology PhD Spotlight: Liberty University

Liberty University is well-known for providing high-quality online programs, and the PhD in psychology is no exception. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the school offers great flexibility with eight-week courses taken 100% online. Sixty credit hours are required, which usually take three years to complete; however, the ability to transfer in up to 50% of the credits required can change that timeline significantly. Students can expect a biblical world view as a backdrop to the strong classroom and clinical requirements. Military students will be pleased to learn that the university offers a steep discount of $300 per credit for active-duty or former military members and their spouses.

Grand Canyon

Best Online Psychology PhD Spotlight: Grand Canyon University

Online PhD programs through Grand Canyon University enable busy working professionals to take their career further with the terminal degree. Five specialties are offered, including those in industrial-organizational psychology and performance psychology. The program students choose determines how long it takes to complete. For example, 60 is the minimum number of credits required to graduate, but some programs require 100 credits. Asynchronous learning allows for maximum flexibility. To learn more, start by choosing your specialty and look at the residency and online requirements at GCU.

Benefits of the Online PhD in Psychology

If you’re looking to earn your online PhD in a psychology program, it’s likely that you’re already working full time in the field while gaining valuable experience as you work your way up the ladder. You may have other obligations, such as a growing family, that need your attention. Given that your schedule is already packed, online school makes sense. Distance learning has numerous benefits. Here are just two of them that make the online PhD in psychology appealing:

1

Career growth.
Anything less than a PhD in psychology may limit your career options significantly. You may have already found that the positions you’re striving for require a higher degree to advance. But what if you’re already working and don’t have time for school? Asynchronous learning through online programs can help alleviate that concern and get your career on the track you prefer.

2

Convenience.
It’s not just the asynchronous learning that makes life easier for those pursuing the online PhD in psychology. Some schools allow you to choose your own pace, thus earning your degree in as much time as you need (with some limits, such as a maximum number of years you can spend in the program). During busy periods in your life, you could opt for one course at a time, and take more than that during the slower periods. The convenience of online learning makes getting that PhD achievable.

Online learning can make attending school easier, but the education is just as rigorous and the requirements are just as tough. Always check with your potential school to ensure you know all the details before you enroll.

Types of Online PhDs in Psychology

When you begin researching the potential online PhD programs in psychology, you’ll find a host of differences in how the virtual learning is presented. Some schools will take a straightforward approach with all coursework online, and the internship, clinical, or residency handled at a setting approved by the school but local to you, meaning you never have to set foot on a campus. Other schools offer hybrid programs, which blend classroom time with hands-on time with your cohort.

Even programs that say they are “fully online” might have requirements that mean you spend at least a weekend or two on campus at some point. There could be other requirements that require face-to-face interaction as well, such as defending the dissertation. Here are the different types to consider:

Fully online

Students will complete all coursework online and will communicate with their professor and cohort online as well. This can include all projects, assignments, and reading requirements. Discussion groups via closed forums and chats are available 24/7, with professors often having scheduled times during which students can consult them; otherwise, most programs are asynchronous, allowing students to complete their work whenever is convenient for them, with certain deadlines in place to help ensure the class keeps moving forward.

Even though this is fully online, there will be some real-world requirements that must be met in order to make progress toward graduation. These might include internships, residency requirements, and hands-on clinical supervised training. Students might even need to present their dissertation proposal, progress, and defense at various times during their graduate school career.  

Blended/hybrid

These programs are often for those who live closer to the school and can commute to courses at times that are often convenient for those in the field, such as nights or weekends. Classes are often held rarely, perhaps only once per week, and all other assignments are expected to be completed online. The internship or residency requirement can often be completed near campus at an approved facility.

Timeline: Online PhD in Psychology

Depending on your course load and how you structure your program, how long it takes to complete the online PhD in psychology may vary. Most students finish in four or five years, though some take their time and spread out their studies to finish in six or seven years. Most schools allow for flexibility in this regard, as long as all courses and the dissertation are completed within a certain period of time, such as seven or nine years. Let’s look at a typical timeline.

Year
1

This year begins with seminars designed to orient students to the rigors of the PhD program. Students will take the core courses required of all those in the program, as well as some electives that will bolster their specialization in the later years. Students will work closely with their advisor to structure a plan toward graduation, especially if they entered a dual program that provides their master’s and PhD at the same time.

Year
2

This year focuses more on courses related to specialization. Students will develop their research program that clearly leads them to the master’s thesis, assuming this the track they have chosen; if they already have their master’s degree, they will focus strongly on the specialization courses with more electives woven in. Students might begin searching for a residency or internship as part of their hands-on requirements to complete the program.

Year
3

This is the year the master’s thesis is completed and defended, and the student often uses that to build toward the dissertation. Any final courses that need to be completed before graduation will be completed in this year. Internships and residencies will also be underway, and students will begin building up their required hours of hands-on study that will eventually lead to preparation for licensure. If there is a capstone requirement, students will begin preparing for it now.

Year
4

This year students will complete any lingering requirements, such as that class they need to complete before they can move forward into the next phase of their program, and turn their attention to the dissertation. They might also be working in an internship and residency. Capstone projects or examinations will be done this year as well.

Year
5

At this point, it’s all about the dissertation. All work will be focused on writing the dissertation and focusing on the defense process. Students will also be looking forward to publication of their dissertation. If there is a final capstone, that might also take place this year, assuming it didn’t happen in year four.

Students in the PhD in psychology program might face different course requirements and timelines than those in other schools, or even those in the same program. It all comes down to what kind of education they came into the program with and what credits or requirements are still necessary to complete. Check with your academic advisor to be sure you’re on the right track.

PhD in Psychology Online Learning Outcomes

Though each school will present a different curriculum, each program does have certain goals that must be met in order for graduates to have the experience and education necessary to move forward into a meaningful career path. These learning outcomes form the backbone of any curriculum. Learning outcomes should be the same whether you complete your program online or on campus. Here’s what to expect from the PhD program in psychology.

1

Firm grasp of ethical issues.
Students will understand the ethical requirements of their profession, from handling research to dealing directly with clients, and be prepared to uphold the ethical standards of this respected profession. They should also have a grasp of the legal basics that often go hand-in-hand with ethical issues.

2

Competency in clinical work.
Students should be capable of translating their research skills into clinical work with patients, thus providing a more fruitful experience for patients and those who work closely with those patients, from family members to social workers and other psychologists or counselors.

3

Effective communication skills.
Students will be able to convey their research findings in a variety of methods, conduct lectures and other necessities of higher education (especially if planning to teach) and write and speak with those in the field in a way that makes their position clear while being open to answering questions on their outcomes.

4

Strong research design and reporting.
Students will learn to conceptualize, design, create, implement, and analyze the results of their research projects, then use their communication skills to effectively explain what they discovered and what it means for the field and the world at large.

5

In-depth specialty knowledge.
Students will have a firm grasp of the intricacies of not only advanced psychology but their chosen specialty as well, thus becoming experts in the field in certain niches that they have chosen to pursue as deeply as possible.

Specialization in Psychology PhDs: What Should I Know About Choosing a Specialty?

The PhD in psychology program is typically designed for those who intend to work in research or teaching, though it can open doors to a wider variety of options. Specializing gives you the option of focusing strongly on one aspect of psychology that catches your interest, such as research, but that doesn’t mean you must stick within that path. You can also teach, move into clinical work, and more. Let’s take a look at the potential specializations offered through numerous PhD programs.

Research Psychology

The PhD is a research-heavy degree. This specialization goes further into that aspect and prepares you to work in research departments and laboratories.

General Psychology

If you want to leave your options open — or you want to work in higher education as a psychology professor — this is the option that will allow you to do either of those things.

Clinical Psychology

This is for those who want to work directly with patients in a clinical setting, though some of their work might overlap with those in the research side of the field.

School Psychology

Though some schools allow school psychologists to hold only a master’s degree, the PhD helps ensure you have the maximum career flexibility when it comes to working with students from pre-K through college.

Behavioral Analysis in Psychology

Those who intend to focus on the behavioral aspects of individuals and groups — whether it’s focusing on criminals, victims, special needs individuals, those who have dealt with trauma, or populations that face unique circumstances — this specialization can prepare you to work in a variety of situations.

Accreditation & Online PhDs in Psychology

When choosing the best online PhD in psychology program, you’ll want to make sure you end up with a degree that is recognized and respected. That’s why accreditation matters. The American Psychology Association Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA) is the accrediting body for graduate programs in psychology. Accreditation is a voluntary process by which a program is evaluated for quality standards set forth by the APA; this means that the degree earned through that program will prepare you for the rigors of working in the field.

Earning an accredited online PhD in psychology helps ensure employers will take your degree seriously. If you do choose to go back to school for whatever reason, that accreditation ensures your hard work will be recognized by your new school, and your time in earning it will not go to waste.

Keep in mind that the APA-CoA grants programmatic accreditation, but regional accreditation matters as well. Regional accreditation refers to the institution as a whole, not just the program. Regional accreditation speaks to the educational value you can expect from the school, as each institution must meet certain criteria that ensure it is on a par with all other schools who earn that accreditation status.

Applying to a Psychology PhD Online Program

Students who apply for a psychology PhD must go through an application process that includes a variety of components, including the typical ones you might expect, such as a minimum GPA or letters of recommendation. But many schools look for application items that are very unique to those in the psychology field, including:

Experience

Before you move into a PhD program in psychology, your school will want to know that you have some experience in the field. To that end, a resume or CV will be required along with the application materials.

Cover letter

What do you really want potential schools to notice about that resume? A cover letter is where you can point out why they should take a chance on you. Mention certain projects, the work you’ve done with certain populations, and what you’ve accomplished to implement positive change in the field of psychology or related fields.

Statement of purpose

The cover letter and resume tell them what you’ve done; now you should tell them what you plan to do. What will you do with your PhD in psychology? What is driving you to get it? Who do you want to help, and how do you want to help them? To show you’ve given this some serious thought, be as specific as you can be about your career goals.

Tuition & Fees

When it comes to paying for education, it’s vital to understand exactly what you’re paying, when you’re paying it, and what you’re getting in exchange for that hard-earned money. Tuition is self-explanatory, but keep in mind there might be fees and other costs as well.

You can save money on some things with online learning, such as the cost to commute to school every day, parking fees, and physical textbooks. On the other hand, you will probably need to keep an upgraded laptop for classwork, pay for your own broadband internet service, and the like.

Let’s take a look at a few actual tuition and fee numbers to give you an idea of what the online PhD in psychology might cost you. Keep in mind there might dissertation fees that are not included in this chart.

SchoolCost per CreditTotal CreditsSubtotal
Oregon State University$590.00150 (quarter credits)$88,500
Capella University$540–$80089$48,060–$71,200
Northcentral University$1,14860$71,530
Saybrook University$1,47083$122,010

NOTE: Sometimes the tuition number can cause sticker shock. Just remember that tuition listed on the website might not be your true cost of attendance. There are programs designed for PhD in psychology students, such as grants, tuition assistance, employer reimbursement, and much more, all meant to bring down those costs. Before writing a program off for being too expensive, contact a financial aid representative or college advisor to ask about available options. You might be surprised by what you find. In addition, take the time to review out guide to scholarship and grants to see what’s available and how to apply.

Salaries for Psychology PhDs

Earning the PhD is a requirement to move into some areas of psychology work, including work as a clinical psychologist. Payscale.com reports those holding a master’s degree in psychology make an average of around $61,000 across the nation, but those with a PhD in psychology make a leap in average salary to around $87,000. There’s no doubt pursuing a PhD in psychology offers the potential for much higher pay. PayScale reports the following salaries for professionals who have earned a PhD in psychology.

Job TitleMedian EarningsMedian Earnings
Clinical Psychologist$81,000$114,000
Chief Nursing Officer$81,000$120,000
Assistant Professor$78,000$129,000