Doctoral Degree

What goes into a Ph.D. degree?

Ph.D. study is quite different from Master's level study. It generally requires 4-6 years of work beyond the B.A. The first 2 years of a Ph.D. generally involve required coursework and a Master’s thesis or examination at the end of the second year. After that, your work revolves around working with faculty on research, writing original papers for an examination, developing your Doctoral thesis ideas, and conducting original research for the degree. You also usually teach or do research (if you’re at a state-funded or large private institution). Much of the work after the second year is individual and requires you to work independently around your own interests. Students who can’t work independently find Doctoral work difficult.

In general, the Ph.D. revolves around research and teaching. If you don’t like to do research, you will probably not like Doctoral study. On the other hand, some people who do not love research feel that developing research skills in a Doctoral program is the best way to guarantee a career of college-level teaching.

What is the difference between a Ph.D. and Psy.D. degree?

A Ph.D. and a Psy.D. are both Doctoral degrees. This means they are educational degrees beyond the Master’s level, involve original research, and require at least 4 years of study, with many students taking 6-7 years to complete their Doctorate.

The Psy.D. is a relatively new degree given to Doctoral students in clinical psychology. It is less research-oriented and more clinical, more practice-minded, than the traditional Ph.D. Professional schools which offer the Psy.D. place greater emphasis on training students for professional practice, whereas traditional programs which offer the Ph.D. place a greater emphasis on developing the psychologist as both a researcher and a practitioner.

The original Ph.D. clinical psychologists were trained under the scholar-practitioner model which stressed both rigorous original research and high-quality clinical work. In practice, most clinicians are oriented either toward research or toward practical clinical work, and most do not do both. APA recognized this and began the new Doctoral training program in clinical psychology, the Psy.D.

Many of the private professional schools in psychology offer the Psy.D. degree, while the state universities continue to offer the traditional Ph.D. Clinical psychology Ph.D. programs at state universities are among the most competitive to attend; entering classes may be from 4 to 8 students. Psy.D. programs at private institutions accept more students--perhaps 30 to 60 a year--and thus are easier to get into. State university programs are much less expensive to attend, and often offer research and teaching assistanships as part of a financial aid package. Private insitutions are much more expensive and offer less in the way of financial awards.

The Psy.D. is accepted by state licensing boards and can be a good choice for those who want to go into applied work or private practice. It is not a good choice for those who would like to do research or teach at the college or university level. For these positions, a Ph.D. is a more competitive degree.

What kinds of salaries do psychologists make?

See APA's 2003 survey on doctoral positions and salaries, ranging from faculty to researchers to administrators. View the salaries by region and position chart.

What graduate programs offer doctoral training in psychology?

See the following sites for organized information on doctoral programs in psychology across the US. For grad programs in Psychology and all related fields, see www.gradschools.com/psychologysearch or www.petersons.com/GradChannel/. For a listing of Psychology graduate programs and admission requirements, see www.sonoma.edu. For a listing of clinical and counseling programs and related career information, see www.allpsychologyschools.com.

How do I find out about Ph.D. programs?

Because Ph.D. programs are different than Master’s, you need to spend more time researching them. This is a multi-step process, and ultimately depends on your “fit” with a sponsor in the Department of the school of your choice. You must first identify your field of interest. Read some psychology journals and find some people whose work you like. Find out where they teach, and whether they have Ph.D. programs. If so, write, call, or net-surf their Department and request information. Remember that Doctoral level programs are available in Psychology Departments, Counseling Departments, Education Departments, Schools of Social Work or Social Welfare, and programs in Human Development.

When you apply to a research-oriented Ph.D. program, it’s essential that you’ve targeted someone with whom you want to work. If you do not, there’s little reason for the Psych Department to be interested in your application. It will probably get overlooked. This is especially true for state-funded and large private universities, where research and training researchers is the name of the game. Small private-school Ph.D. programs are not quite so selective as this. Usually an interest in an area of psychology will be adequate. Be sure to have a defined area of interest and have coursework, internships, and perhaps research projects, that develop it.

Clinical Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs are also different. Although you must identify your field of interest and your goals in training, you don’t always need to specify individuals you want to work with. (Although it can never hurt to do so.)

See the sites above for information on the doctoral programs available, and visit the school and program websites. You may also conduct an internet search on your particular interest area in psychology, along with the search words "doctoral" or "Ph.D." or "Psy.D." Your search will yield particular programs available in your field. Note the prerequisites of the programs you're interested in, and make sure you take the classes necessary to apply.

The APA publishes Graduate Study in Psychology, which lists over 550 graduate psychology programs throughout the United States and Canada. The book includes information on programs and degrees offered, admission requirements, degree requirements, financial aid, tuition, deadlines, and internships. A list of APA-accredited Doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology is published yearly in the American Psychologist. Call the APA Office at 202-336-5979 for more information, or check their Web site, www.apa.org.

Can I get financial support for Doctoral work?

Most large research-oriented universities offer financial packages to students in their program. This consists of fellowships, tuition waivers, and employment as a Research Assistant or Teaching Assistant for up to 20 hours per week. The stronger the research orientation, the more money is available. See the latest issue of The Insiders Guide to Doctoral Programs in APA Accredited Doctoral Programs by Mayne, Norcross & Sayette for details. Strong research programs provide financial support for almost all of their students. They provide a "full ride" (assistantship + tuition waiver) to a high percentage of their students. Practice-oriented programs provide significantly less aid. Psy.D. programs provide very little aid. They are primarily small private programs and finance themselves through the students' tuition.

The CSUC (California State Universities and Colleges) system has a forgivable loan program for women, ethnic minorities and the disabled in fields where they are underrepresented in the CSUC faculty. You must be accepted by an accredited Doctoral program to get one. Women are not underrepresented in Psychology, so a Doctoral program in Psychology would only work for ethnic minorities and the disabled. Under this program, you can borrow up to $10,000 per year up to a limit of $30,000. If you go to work for the CSUC (any campus) after completing your doctorate, the loan will be forgiven by 20% for each year of service. The loan may be in addition to any other scholarships, fellowships, grants, loans or employment. Check the Scholarship Office for other forms of aid.