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PhD in General Psychology

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About the PhD in General Psychology

Degree Type:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Online, classroom, and hybrid


4–8 years

Total Credits:

Usually between 60 and 90, but varies widely

Aid Eligible:

Yes, for accredited programs

General psychologists help all types of people overcome many different mental health challenges. While it’s possible to specialize in certain patient populations or conditions, a PhD in general psychology can give you the knowledge you need to use research or treatment to impact patients across a wide range of demographics and situations.

Interested in getting an education that can help you improve the lives of those struggling with mental health concerns? Keep reading to learn about the curriculum, costs, and employment opportunities related to a PhD in general psychology.

What Is a PhD in General Psychology?

A general psychology PhD is a terminal degree, or the highest degree available, in the field. The degree focuses on developing a broad base of knowledge, strong research and critical thinking skills, and analytical expertise across many subfields of psychology.  

PsyD vs. PhD degrees

There are 2 options for earning a doctoral degree in general psychology. You can earn either a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. While both a PhD and PsyD will prepare you to work in many of the same roles, there are some key differences in program curriculum.

A PsyD program focuses more on applying existing knowledge to clinical settings and interactions with clients. In contrast, a PhD program is focused more on studying trends in the profession and producing new knowledge through research.

If your goal is to assess and treat patients with psychotherapy techniques, a PsyD may be the best choice for you. If you want to investigate psychological theory or work in academia—with or without a career in private practice—a PhD may be a better option.

Who are PhDs in psychology intended for?

PhDs in psychology are intended for students who want to work in research, academia, or administration. The degree’s emphasis on research and analysis is a good fit if you’re interested in a career as a university professor, researcher, consultant, or program director. A psychology PhD is also appropriate for private practitioners who have an interest in teaching or research since the degree meets qualifications for most state licenses and specialty certifications.

Careers with a PhD in Psychology

A PhD in general psychology can qualify you for many types of careers. This degree can lead you to positions in government agencies, corporations, universities, healthcare organizations, and private practice. While this list is by no means comprehensive, the following roles are just some of the careers you may find with a PhD.

Clinical psychologist

While a PhD emphasizes research, the degree still allows you to earn the education you need to get a psychology license and work in private practice. A clinical psychologist works with clients to help them manage challenges posed by physical, mental, or behavioral issues. Many PhD clinical psychologists maintain a private practice, while also pursuing research and/or teaching endeavors.


According to the 2022 U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), clinical psychologists earn a median annual salary of $90,130.

Other requirements

To practice independently as any kind of psychologist, you’ll have to earn a psychology license in your state. This usually requires having between 1,000 and 2,000 hours of postdoctoral supervised work experience and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), as well as any other exams required by your state. After receiving your license and meeting specific criteria, you can apply for optional specialty certification in clinical psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Continuing education will also be required to maintain an active license.

Educational psychologist

An educational psychologist focuses on identifying and studying the ways people learn and retain new information. Since education isn’t restricted to school settings, an educational psychologist can work to improve all types of learning at all stages of life. That said, they may specialize in 1 type of patient population, such as children, adults, or individuals with specific conditions.  


While the BLS doesn’t record salaries for educational psychologists specifically, the median annual salary for general psychologists is $106,420.

Other requirements       

You’ll need to complete a set number of hours of supervised work experience, pass the EPPP exam and any other test required by your state, and pursue continuing education once you have your license.

Organizational psychologist

An organizational psychologist applies psychological theories to organizations and the workplace. Professionals in this field use principles of individual, group, and organizational behavior to design and implement programs related to areas such as performance, training, and quality of work life.


According to the BLS, the median annual salary for organizational psychologists is $139,280.

Other requirements        

Along with the work experience, testing requirements, and continuing education required of all licensed psychologists, you can opt to earn certification in organizational and business consulting psychology from the ABPP specialty board.

Psychology professor

Colleges and universities typically require a PhD for psychology professors. Depending on your experience and interests, you can pursue programs that allow you to teach general or specialized psychology principles. Many psychology professors combine teaching with research to contribute new knowledge to the field.


Psychology educators at the postsecondary level earn a median annual salary of $76,920.

Other requirements

To work as a psychology professor, you’ll have to earn your teaching certification from your state’s Board of Education. This typically involves completing an approved teacher preparation program and passing required exams. Certification renewal may be required every few years depending on your state’s criteria.

Research psychologist

A PhD is the standard for conducting independent research in the field of psychology. Research psychologists typically work in universities, government health agencies, and private research organizations. They’re typically required to publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals and give presentations at psychology conferences to maintain their positions.  


While the BLS doesn’t track salaries specifically for research psychologists, you may expect to earn around the same as a psychology professor. However, salaries can vary greatly depending on the exact setting in which you work.

Other requirements

As with all other psychologists, you’ll need to meet the national and state-specific requirements for earning your license.

Admission Requirements Before Starting a PhD in General Psychology

PhD admission requirements vary by program and school. Most students begin the program with a master’s degree in psychology or an advanced degree in a closely related field. Getting into a leading PhD program can be competitive and most base their admissions on a holistic assessment of the following:

  • Academic and professional letters of recommendation
  • Academic writing samples
  • Official academic transcripts
  • 1-on-1 interview
  • Proof of internship or professional experience
  • Responses to admission essays

Do you need to take the GRE or other standardized tests?

Achieving a specific score on the GRE is a requirement for admission to many general psychology PhD programs, though some don’t require this or any other standardized test. You’ll need to check with your program of choice for specific requirements.

GRE scores for the most competitive psychology graduate programs average around 160 out of 170 on both the Verbal and Quantitative sections, and about a 5 out of 6 on Analytical Writing. Some PhD programs may also require the GRE Psychology subject test for admission. Schools that do require the GRE or another standardized test typically only accept scores received within the previous 5 years of your application date.

Can you get in without a master’s degree?

Some general psychology PhD programs accept students without a master’s, but you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree for admission. Programs that don’t require a master’s are often called dual or joint-degree programs.

They’re configured so that you earn a master’s degree after accruing a set number of credits in the PhD curriculum. These may take longer than other PsyD programs, but they can ultimately save you time and money overall as your credits are being counted toward 2 degrees simultaneously. 

Can you get in if your master’s isn’t in psychology?

Many programs allow students to enter without a master’s specifically in the field, though you’ll probably have to complete prerequisites in psychology, human development, or statistics before beginning any PhD coursework.

Can you apply credits from a master’s degree?

Some programs allow you to apply credits from a master’s degree, though it’s usually contingent on whether the credits are applicable to the program’s coursework. In addition, most schools only accept transfer credits from an institution approved by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Commission on Accreditation.      

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Psychology?

Your PhD in psychology can take between 4 and 8 years to complete, with about 4–6 years being the average. For APA accreditation, programs must provide at least 3 full-time academic years and a 1-year internship. The number of credits required for graduation varies significantly by program, with the average being between 60 and 90 semester credits or the quarter equivalent.

Your time to completion is also determined by the structure of your program, your dissertation subject, and whether you attend full- or part-time. If you’re earning a master’s degree concurrent with your PhD, you can expect your program to take at least 5 years to complete. Some programs limit the amount of time you have to finish your degree to between 7 and 8 years.

The PhD in Psychology Curriculum

The PhD in general psychology curriculum emphasizes research, teaching, and leadership in the field. The coursework is intended to provide students with the unique perspective of a scientist-practitioner. Most PhD in psychology programs require a dissertation, which count toward a set number of credits.

What courses are involved?

Common classes in general psychology PhD programs include coursework in:

  • Foundations of theory and practice of psychology
  • Qualitative analysis and design
    Advanced inferential statistics
  • Program evaluation
  • Quantitative analysis and design
  • Research theory, design, and methods
  • Teaching of psychology
  • Professional ethics, law, and psychology

Popular concentrations      

A PhD in general psychology typically allows you to take courses in a broad range of popular concentrations. Depending on the number of electives you’re allowed, you may be able to combine courses in more than 1 concentration to design an individualized program that meets your goals.

Specific concentrations vary by program, but popular options include:

  • Child and adolescent development
  • Coaching
  • Consultation
  • Organizational
  • Program evaluation and measurement
  • Teaching and instruction

Is an internship required?

Requirements vary by school, however, APA-accredited programs must include at least a 1-year full-time or 2-year part-time internship. Even if your program doesn’t require an internship, you’ll need between 1,000 and 2,000 hours of postdoctoral experience to qualify for a psychologist license in your state.

Are There Online PhD Programs in Psychology?

There are 3 different structures of programs that allow you to earn a PhD in general psychology, though keep in mind that you’ll most likely still be required to gain hands-on experience no matter the design of your program.


Online PhD programs let you complete most of your coursework online at your convenience. However, most online programs have an internship or research requirement that you’ll have to complete in person. In addition, some states require that qualifying degrees include at least 1 year in-residence.


Classroom PhD programs provide the most comprehensive experience. By attending courses onsite, you’ll be able to interact with professors and fellow students in-person. While attending school full-time isn’t an option for everyone, the experience can facilitate your participation in psychology research.


Hybrid programs combine online and onsite courses. Most hybrid courses allow you to complete courses online with the requirement to attend periodic seminars or courses on campus or at regional locations. Hybrid programs incorporate the convenience of online learning with the support of regular in-person instruction and supervision.

How to Pick a Degree Program

When selecting a general psychology PhD program, look for accreditation from the APA, the Canadian Psychological Association, or another accrediting body recognized by the ABPP. Accreditation ensures that your program meets the minimum standards of quality defined by the profession, qualifies you for state licensing applications, and meets the criteria for ABPP specialty certifications.

It’s also important to ensure that your institution is accredited by an institutional accrediting organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Attending an accredited institution is a prerequisite for applying for federal financial aid and can ensure that your credits are accepted by other accredited institutions.

Choosing a general psychology PhD program requires comparing its structure, curriculum, and cost against your professional goals and financial resources. Consider the following:

  • Does the program offer courses in the specialized areas I want?
  • Can I take classes part-time and/or online?
  • Will I have to complete a dissertation?
  • What’s the average class size?
  • How many students match with their first-choice internship?
  • What are the program’s rates for graduation and employment?
  • How do graduates perform in exams for licensure and certification?
  • Are assistantships, fellowships and/or scholarships available?

Financial Aid for Psychology PhD Students

The cost for your general psychology PhD will depend on the type of institution you attend.

While the cost can be daunting at first, keep in mind that PhD students often qualify for partial to full tuition remission through research or teaching assistantships. In addition, you may qualify for reduced student housing and other benefits while working on campus in these positions.

School-sponsored fellowships and scholarships are additional sources of income. These awards may be short- or long-term and can include additional benefits and stipends.

You also may be eligible for other kinds of financial aid. Find out whether you qualify for need-based awards by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you’re eligible for aid, you also may be able to secure a part-time job in the Federal Work-Study program.

For additional financial help, look to scholarships awarded for academic achievement or other criteria. Some places to check include:

  • Scholarships from your program or school
  • Incentive programs funded by your state
  • Private businesses and foundations
  • Local and national chapters of psychology associations
  • Community or professional organizations
  • Scholarships for nontraditional students
  • Employer tuition reimbursement
  • Military or other service scholarships
  • Federal or private student loans

Does psychology qualify for student loan forgiveness?

Your PhD in general psychology may qualify for student loan forgiveness if you have direct federal student loans, make a minimum of 120 repayments, and have a full-time position in a nonprofit organization or government agency. Other standards can require that you work in an area where there’s a shortage of psychologists. 

The U.S. government funds the following loan forgiveness programs:

You may also qualify for state loan forgiveness programs by meeting similar criteria for employment and repayment. Contact your state’s Department of Health for details about available programs.