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Doctorate in Psychology: Is It Worth It?


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 the 2010 Council of Graduate Schools, only 65 percent of doctoral psychology students finish their degree program. The other 35 percent 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. This 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 degree 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, Alliant’s California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) PsyD in Clinical Psychology program 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. 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.

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 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 doctorate 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 doctorate 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 have a good shot of landing the job you really want, too. In an analysis of a Doctorate Employment Survey, the APA’s Center for Workforce Studies discovered that 72 percent of responding psychologists at the time secured their first choice for employment after graduate school, with 73 percent finding a job within three months of earning their doctorate.

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And it’s no surprise that working professionals in psychology jobs with the highest pay or those who own a clinical practice are held by those with a doctorate degree. For example, according to the Society for Industrial and Organization Psychology’s 2012 income and employment survey (the most recent year available), starting salary for I/O psychologists with a doctorate was $81,000— compared to just $65,000 for those with a Master’s.

With a Doctorate, a wide variety of career opportunities are available. Depending on the degree specialty you pursue, you could 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 Alliant's California School of Professional Psychology, contact an admissions counselor.


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