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Are you thinking about earning a doctorate in psychology? Choosing to earn a Doctorate is a big commitment—and one that isn’t necessarily for everyone as it requires a significant amount of effort and time. According to a report from 2010, some students drop out for a variety of reasons—bad psychology program fit, lack of financial resources, experience time constraints, program difficulty and so on. As a prospective student considering if a doctorate program in psychology is right for you, take the following factors into account:

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PhD in Psychology vs PsyD in Psychology

Before we begin to decide whether earning a Doctorate in Psychology is worth it, we must establish the difference between the two types of doctorate degrees for psychology; the PhD and the PsyD.


The PhD degree in Psychology is the more common degree path in psychology. A Psychology PhD degree is founded in research, so the main focus of your studies will be on developing research ideas, conducting experiments, and analyzing data. 


The PsyD program is an alternative degree that focuses on the clinical and applied aspects of psychology. PsyD study revolves around preparing students for providing professional psychological services. The coursework is directed at applying established standards of practice and evidence-based services.


Whether it be a doctorate or a master's, graduating from a psychology degree program will require a significant commitment of time. Program duration varies by university, the program itself, and also the type of degree you’re pursuing, but generally takes four to eight years. PsyD degree programs usually take less time than PhD programs. For example, the PsyD in Clinical Psychology program at the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University can be completed in as few as four years, while the PhD program takes a minimum of five.


Time aside, earning a doctorate also requires a significant financial commitment. Education isn’t free, so any time you choose to pursue a degree, you’re incurring a cost. Fortunately, many PhD in Psychology programs offer a substantial amount of financial aid for their students. Financial assistance comes in many forms which include student loan programs, graduate teaching positions, tuition waivers, stipends, as well as grants for conducting research.

Even if the program you’re considering does offer a substantial amount of financial aid, it’s important to consider living expenses. Because of the intensity of a doctoral program in psychology, it’s not always possible for a graduate student to work outside of school. So even if the majority of your program costs are covered, you’ll likely be living the life of a full-time college student for the duration of your program.

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Understanding Competition & Class Size

Doctorate in Psychology programs tend to admit fewer students, which can be both a Pro and a Con. On the one hand, it means smaller class sizes and student-to-faculty ratio that allows for a more personalized learning environment with increased one-on-one guidance. On the other hand, this makes for a more selective and therefore more competitive admission process.

A competitive admissions process means it will likely be more difficult for you to get into the program of your choice. With narrower selections, it will be tempting to choose a school that may not fit your interests as well. But remember—it’s important to select a program that is right for your needs and career goals, whether it be securing a licensure or pursuing a career in a clinical practice. You can look into organizational psychology, school psychology, counseling psychology, behavioral neuroscience, and many other psychology degree programs. If you choose a school based on reputation, ranking, or financial package as your first priority, it’s likely you will end up in a program that doesn’t match your interests as well, which will make it harder to stick with and find satisfaction in your program.

Common Reasons to Pursue a Doctoral Degree in Psychology

Due to the significant time investment required to pursue a PsyD, individuals who enroll in such a program usually have well-defined career objectives and licensing goals. As a result, there are two primary motives for commencing a PsyD program.

  • To become a licensed clinical psychologist - Psychologists must hold a doctoral degree in psychology as mandated by all 50 states. There are two educational routes available for prospective clinical psychologists: a PhD or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. While both degree programs meet the licensure requirement, understand that there are substantial differences between them that should be taken into consideration.
  • To become a practicing psychologist - Students who pursue a PsyD degree usually have a distinct professional objective of becoming a clinical psychologist. 

Career and Professional Goals

With any advanced degree, it’s important to consider what your future career prospects are, and how interested you are in those careers. If you want to earn a Psychology PhD for intellectual prestige and money, we recommend that a doctorate program probably isn’t right for you. Careers in professional psychology can be lucrative, but the upfront cost is often great. If you’re considering a doctorate because you generally “like to help people,” then a doctorate program probably isn’t right for you either. There are plenty of career opportunities available where you can help people without having to earn a doctorate. And if you’re not interested in a career that doesn’t require a doctoral degree, then a doctoral program definitely isn’t right for you. Earning a doctorate can sometimes over qualify you for positions, so it’s important to discipline yourself and know your career aspirations before committing to a program.

However, if you’re interested in conducting research to further the study of psychology, working in academia, or working as a licensed psychologist, a doctorate program is probably right for you.

The Payoff: Career Prospects and Salary

Time, cost, and commitment aside, for many students, a Doctorate in Psychology is the right choice for their career goals, and for those people, a doctorate pays off after graduation, especially with licensure. With a doctoral degree, you will qualify for a greater range of jobs than those who only hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree—and you’ll be better positioned when pursuing the job you really want, too.

With a Doctorate, a variety of career opportunities are available. Depending on the degree specialty you pursue, you may be able to work in organizations as a:

  • Research psychologist
  • University professor
  • Director of community health programs
  • Clinical psychologist
  • Counseling psychologist
  • Health psychologist
  • Neuropsychologist
  • Industrial/organizational psychologist
  • Consultant

To learn more about the Doctorate in Psychology or other graduate programs available at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant,  contact an admissions counselor.

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