Industrial-Organizational Psychology Degree and Career Guide

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PhD In Industrial-Organizational Psychology

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About the PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Degree Type:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Online, classroom, and hybrid


4–5 years

Total Credits:

Around 60–70

Aid Eligible:

Yes, for accredited programs

With the industrial world becoming a more competitive place, companies are looking for new ways to better their organization at a variety of levels. From hiring personnel to organizational strategy, I/O psychologists aim to improve overall productivity and effectiveness within the workplace.

As a specialized career, I/O psychologists often hold PhDs to be competitive in the field. Whether you’re looking to learn about what a PhD in I/O psychology is, or ready to create a plan for earning your PhD, this article provides you with all the information you’ll need in one convenient place.

What Is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Like all fields of psychology, industrial-organizational psychology deals with human behavior.

The key defining factor, however, comes to light when you focus on where and in what ways. Working within a variety of industries, I/O psychologists help companies and the employees within these companies.

From overall organizational development to employee motivation, I/O psychologists can address a variety of workplace issues. Utilizing their specialized knowledge, I/O psychologists most notably oversee the hiring processes, including candidate selection, training, and placement.

Consider that the roles you take on will vary depending on the company that you work for. Factors such as how large the company is, general business practices, corporate culture, and industry type, can all impact the day-to-day tasks of an I/O psychologist.

Where do I/O psychologists work?

I/O psychologists find employment within the workplace of many different organizations. These organizations tend to get lumped together as general businesses, but as an I/O psychologist, you’ll have access to many organization types. These can include non-profits, government, academic, and even health organizations.

While there are companies that hire full-time I/O psychologists, smaller companies, that may not be able to afford the position, rely on contracting with a consultant to fill their needs. I/O psychologists working as consultants, whether with a firm or independently, have the luxury of addressing a variety of workplace issues within a variety of organizational settings.

Industrial-organizational psychology salary

Thanks to 1021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we know that I/O psychologists make a median annual wage of $139,280, with the top 10% in the field making over $210,030 for their salary. The BLS also predicts a 5.9% job growth rate through 2032, which is just slightly lower than the national average for all career fields combined.

With salary varying depending on the type of industry you work in and even the degree level you hold, it’s important to start thinking about the exact type of degree you’ll need to become a working I/O psychologist.

I/O psychology requirements

To enter the field and pursue a license, you’ll need to have a master’s in I/O psychology. While a master’s degree may be the minimum education level required, many professionals in this field continue their education by earning a PhD to be competitive.

What Is an I/O Psychology PhD Degree?

A doctorate is the highest degree you can earn in the field of I/O psychology. Many professionals seeking this degree turn to a Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, for their degree title. Varying in length, these programs can typically be completed in about 4 to 5 years.

Focusing on the research aspect of the I/O field, a PhD encourages students to deliver, collect, and interpret data as a way to generate new knowledge. This degree is also a common route for students interested in advancing their career into the realm of teaching.

PsyD vs. PhD

Differing from a PhD, but still comparable in terms of the degree level and educational requirements is a PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology.

Earning a PsyD as an I/O psychology student gives you the opportunity to focus on practical skills and theories for providing direct services to companies and individuals. While research is still a part of this degree, it’s not the overall focus, and students can work on the actual application of theory as opposed to general research.

Other industrial-organizational psychology degrees

With I/O psychology being so intertwined with general business practice, it can make sense that some students may want to earn an I/O degree with a heavy focus on business administration. That’s where a Doctor of Business Administration in I/O Psychology could work for you.

The DBA incorporates research, theory, and application, and is often geared towards professionals in managerial roles. Heavily leaning on human resources, this degree level aims to increase a student’s ability to effectively manage employees and create positive changes in the workplace.

Admission Requirements for a PhD Industrial-Organizational Psychology Program

So, what does it take to get into one of these degree programs? While the exact requirements will vary depending on the program that you join, you can expect many to have overlapping standards.

These requirements can include submitting official transcripts, essays, letters of recommendation, and conducting in-person or over-the-phone interviews. More technical requirements can include a minimum GPA and GRE scores.

Is there a GPA requirement?

Many schools require students to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 to be eligible for consideration.While that may be the minimum required, a limited number of students are accepted into these programs and you may need to have a higher GPA to be competitive.

Do you need to take the GRE?

The GRE requirement varies drastically depending upon the program you’re looking to join. While some boast of no requirement, others request applicants to have scored in the 70th percentile.

There are even programs that meet students halfway by accepting varying GRE scores depending on additional requirements (i.e. if you have an impressive work history/experience level, you may be excepted with a lower GRE score).

Can you get in without a master’s degree?

Although a master’s degree isn’t always required, those who don’t hold a master’s will need to work towards earning one within the first few years of starting their PhD program. These programs are usually considered joint degree program, allowing you to earn a master’s and PhD at the same time. On average these programs can take about 5 years to complete.

It’s recommended and often required, that if you’re applying to a PhD program with only a bachelor’s degree, it should be in the field of psychology.

How Long Does It Take to Get an I/O Psychology PhD?

Mentioned previously, the overall length of the program may vary. On average an I/O psychology PhD can take about 4 to 5 years to earn.

However, if you’re needing to earn your master’s in conjunction with your PhD, your program will take about 5 years or more to complete. Some students may take upwards of 6 to 8 years, depending on how much time they can commit to the program and what they choose to complete their dissertation on.

Accelerated programs

I/O psychology PhD programs designed specifically as ‘accelerated’ are uncommon. 3 to 4 years is typically considered an accelerated timeline for students completing their degree, with 3 years being a fast pace. Students aiming to complete their degree in 3 years will need to devote most of their time to the program requirements.

PhD programs tend to be tailored to each individual student. Often students work one-on-one with a professor to establish a timeline for their dissertation and coursework. This set up is great for all types of students, from those looking to graduate quickly to those who need a more extended schedule.

I/O Psychology PhD Curriculum

You’ll need a base knowledge of general psychology practices and theories to enter an I/O psychology PhD program, which means right off the bat you can expect your curriculum to be more complex than Psych 101.

Aside from general core classes, discussed below, your curriculum as an I/O PhD student will include courses in statistics, methodology, advanced seminars, and elective psychology courses. You’ll also spend a significant portion of your time as a student working on your dissertation.

Core classes

The course titles that you find while researching programs will vary, but in general, you can expect each I/O psychology PhD program to cover variations of the following course topics:

  • Psychometric theory
  • Data analysis
  • Research methods in I/O psychology
  • Influence, motivation, and persuasion in the workplace
  • Organizational development and leadership
  • Tests and measurements in I/O psychology

Are Industrial-Organizational Psychology Internships Required?

Not all I/O psychology PhD programs require students to complete an internship. While an internship may not be required, advisors and professors often encourage students to seek internship opportunities on their own, as they can be a great avenue for gaining practical skills and networking.

Programs that do require internships often help students connect to opportunities with companies and monitor their experience while interning. The length of an internship can vary but commonly lasts for a full semester at minimum.

Are There Online PhD Programs for I/O Psych?

There are limited PhD programs for I/O psychology available online. With PhD programs being heavily centered around one-on-one time with advisors, online programs can be difficult for students who need that face time. However, as technologies improve, and video chatting services become more reliable, online programs are becoming available.

How to Choose a PhD Program

Now that you know a lot of the basic information surrounding these programs, how do you choose an I/O psychology PhD program? This answer will vary depending on your needs, and an important question to ask yourself is, am I willing to move?

As a specialized area of psychology, programs in the I/O field are limited and may require you to relocate to attend a program that works for you. If moving is out of the question, you may want to focus your program search to online programs.

Accreditation is another factor to consider. Programs that hold an accreditation must meet standards set by a third party to ensure students are getting a high-level education. Accrediting bodies vary from state-level to national but are important if you intend to earn licensing or certification after graduation.

Financial Aid for Industrial-Organizational Psychology Majors

PhD programs are often time-consuming and make having a full-time, or even part-time job next to impossible. To help with that, many schools offer assistantships in which you work as an assistant with a professor in exchange for a stipend.

These assistantships can be extremely helpful for single students living modestly but are not guaranteed for every student who joins the program.

If your program doesn’t offer an assistantship program, or you need additional financial aid, first consider applying for the FAFSA—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—to determine your financial aid eligibility.

You may also find financial aid assistance by applying for a scholarship or grant. Some SIOP scholarships that are available for I/O majors include the following:

  • Goldstein & Schneider Scholarships–Given yearly, this scholarship awards a minority student working on their I/O psychology doctorate $3,000 of financial assistance.
  • George C. Thornton Scholarship–Awarded to a student who displays achievement in both the science and practice of I/O psychology, this scholarship is worth $3,000 and is awarded yearly.
  • Other Scholarships–4 students have the opportunity to earn one of these scholarships, ranging from $3,000-$3,500. To earn this, you must currently be an I/O psychology student and demonstrate good standing with the program.

Whether or not you’re eligible to earn a scholarship often depends on if your program is accredited. To ensure that you’ll be eligible to earn one of these scholarships, be sure to join an accredited program.

Does I/O psychology qualify for student loan forgiveness?

Currently, I/O psychology students don’t qualify for loan forgiveness. However, there may be exceptions depending on where you find employment.

Professionals who have a career within a public service organization may be eligible for loan forgiveness after working fulltime for 10 years and making 120 qualifying payments, known as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Professional Organizations for I/O Psychologists

The leading organization for I/O psychologists students and professionals is the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). From publications to internship and job opportunities, the SIOP keeps its members up-to-date and connected on everything related to I/O psychology.

An additional organization that can be useful for I/O psychologists is the American Psychological Association (APA). Although not devoted to the subfield of I/O, the APA covers all topics related to psychology and does provide resources for I/O professionals.