Earning a Ph.D. in Psychology Online

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September 16, 2021

Earning a Ph.D. in psychology online provides a path for advancement in the psychology field. Many students in these programs want to practice clinically, as the Ph.D. typically serves as the required degree for clinical practice. This degree also prepares students to work as educators, teaching psychology courses at colleges and universities, as well as overseeing required supervised practice for those still fulfilling licensure requirements. Psychologists work in a range of fields and industries, including private clinical practice, inside hospitals and rehabilitation centers, and even in corporate and business office settings as organizational psychologists.

An online Ph.D. in psychology offers learners a flexible format for completing coursework without the requirement of attending classes on campus. Keep reading to learn more about the Ph.D. in psychology and what it takes to earn this degree.

What Can You Do with a Ph.D. in Psychology?

Although many psychologists work in private practices or provide services within larger healthcare facilities, these professionals work in a variety of industries and environments. Psychologists possess strong communication and mediation skills. They work closely with other people, whether in one-on-one therapeutic settings or within larger groups, so boasting exceptional people skills serves a psychologist well. Keep reading to learn about specific career paths for graduates of online Ph.D. programs in psychology.


Annual Median Salary: $77,030
Projected Growth Rate: 14%

These professionals examine various aspects of human behavior, and use what they find to help clients and patients overcome various emotional issues. A master's degree often stands as the minimum to practice within industrial or organizational settings. However, for clinical practice, psychologists must hold licensure, which requires a Ph.D. in the field.

Postsecondary Teacher

Annual Median Salary: $76,000
Projected Growth Rate: 15%

These individuals teach courses at two- and four-year universities. They may also complete specific departmental and administrative duties, such as sitting on committees and serving as department chairs.

Traits of a Successful Psychologist

Psychologists practicing clinically must possess skills in a variety of areas. These professionals often work with various types of computer software for keeping track of patient records, including accounting and scheduling programs. Psychologists must demonstrate a wide foundational knowledge of psychological concepts and counseling practice. They must also possess a strong command of the English language in order to communicate effectively with clients. Psychologists often also maintain a working knowledge of current legislation and policy regarding practice in the mental health field, as well as any public safety and security policies protecting both patients and professionals in the field.

Active Listening Psychologists must listen to their clients attentively. This involves providing their full attention to the client and asking questions to probe deeper into the conversation.
Social Perceptiveness Psychologists read their clients' body language and can respond appropriately to their reactions. They must possess the ability to perceive how others may feel based on how they behave and understand why.
Speaking In order to practice, psychologists must demonstrate strong communication and speaking skills. They often must choose their words carefully and think critically about how to effectively convey thoughts.

Salary by Experience Level

Although earning your online Ph.D. in psychology serves as one way to potentially earn more, experience rises as the primary factor for higher earnings. Psychologists generally earn more later in their career for a variety of reasons. Experience strengthens skills and warrants higher salaries for practicing psychologists. The table below outlines psychologist earnings, based on experience level.

Pay by Experience Level for Psychologists

Source: PayScale

Certifications and Licenses a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology Prepares For

Steps to Earning a Ph.D. in Psychology Online

The process to earning a Ph.D. in psychology online varies by school and program, so your distance education experience may differ from the example below. However, the list below outlines the steps most common for this degree.

Step 1
Find the Right Program for You.
Many formats exist for earning your online Ph.D. in psychology, so as you research programs, consider the most important factors to you. For example, look at whether the program exists entirely online or if a small percentage takes place on campus. Consider the program's learning management system and whether you must take proctored exams at designated locations. Also consider whether you may complete coursework asynchronously or if you must log on at certain times.
Step 2
Applications for doctoral programs often require a few more steps than undergraduate and master's programs. To apply for a Ph.D. in psychology online, you submit official academic transcripts from prior degrees. Many schools require at least two recommendation letters from professors and a detailed statement of purpose or letter of intent. You may also need to submit scores from the GRE, both the general and psychology subject tests.
Step 3
Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis.
Generally, a Ph.D. in psychology requires a formal dissertation. The dissertation includes a lengthy, formal research project that students complete during their final year of study. Many Ph.D. in psychology programs also require oral or written comprehensive examinations, either before or following the dissertation. A capstone course, which generally entails a subject-specific seminar, may also take place prior to examinations and dissertation writing. However, these requirements differ by program.
Step 4
Fellowship or Internship.
Fellowships generally involve more emphasis on research, while internships entail experience and work in the field. In psychology doctoral programs, internships often serve as a central requirement. These internships entail supervised practice in a clinical setting. This supervised practice serves as part of the requirements for eventually earning licensure to practice psychology. This internship typically occurs following the completion of the core program curriculum.

Curriculum for an Online Ph.D. in Psychology

Although classes differ, the courses below serve as examples of what you might expect to take while earning your online Ph.D. in psychology.

  1. Research Methods: A Ph.D. involves a great deal of research. This course, sometimes split into multiple courses by research type, covers qualitative and quantitative research methodologies students may use in clinical practice or during their dissertation research process. Certain specialities may emphasize more quantitative coursework than qualitative.
  2. Psychopharmacology: Although a psychiatry degree entails earning a medical license prior to practice, all psychologists must possess foundational knowledge of psychopharmacology. This course details the different types of medications used to treat cognitive and behavioral disorders, how to diagnose these disorders, and when to refer patients to psychiatry for treatment.
  3. Psychological Statistics: In conjunction with research courses, students may also take courses in statistics emphasizing specific types of statistical methods used in psychological research. Courses in psychological statistics may cover foundational statistical methods and practical applications in the psychology field. Students may also learn to read and understand statistical findings in research.
  4. Teaching of Psychology: Some graduates of online psychology Ph.D. programs go on to teach at the postsecondary level. The Ph.D. curriculum often includes courses in psychological pedagogy, emphasizing methods for teaching introductory, undergraduate, and graduate courses in various areas of psychology. These pedagogy courses may also include information on different learning outcomes and standards that instructors must meet in these courses.
  5. Lifespan Development: A course in lifespan development traces the various developmental processes that occur from birth to adulthood. This may cover both physiological and psychological development, including how brain development affects cognitive skills and behavior throughout the lifespan. Students may also cover implications for clinical practice.
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