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Earning your doctoral degree in psychology online: Complete guide

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Earning an online doctorate in psychology provides you with an in-depth exploration of specialized psychology fields. The doctoral degree builds on the foundations learned in graduate programs, and it helps you to develop the specialized skills and knowledge that you will need in your career.

Both doctor of philosophy in psychology (PhD) and doctor of psychology (PsyD) programs are available online. According to the American Psychological Association, PhD programs focus more heavily on scientific research, including statistical analysis and collecting data, while PsyD degrees focus on providing psychological services to individuals or groups.

In This Article

Who is this degree best suited for?

An online doctorate in psychology is ideal for students who want to achieve the highest level of education available in their field. Since the degree provides education in a specialized area of psychology, it’s best for students who have a focused idea of exactly what they want to pursue in their career.

A doctoral degree is a requirement for a psychology license, which allows professionals to provide psychological services in independent practice settings. According to the U.S. News & World Report, a doctoral degree can also prepare students for careers as a clinical psychologist, counseling psychologist, forensic psychologist and as a postsecondary teacher.

Is an online doctorate in psych worth it?

Earning an online doctorate in psychology expands your career options and is a necessity if you want to earn your psychology license. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2022, the median annual wage for psychologists was $85,330. The BLS also predicts the job outlook for psychologists should grow by 6.1% through 2032, indicating additional job opportunities in the field.

With a doctorate, you may be able to work as a postsecondary teacher. The BLS reports that 2022 median pay for postsecondary teachers was $76,920 per year, and the job outlook should grow by 3.6% through 2032, which is slightly faster than other careers.

These are just two potential careers that you may be able to explore with an online doctorate in psychology.

Are online doctorates respected/credible?

Your diploma from an online doctoral degree program won’t include any indication that you completed the program online. Since an online program offers the flexibility that many professionals need to balance their careers with their education, it’s becoming more common for students to pursue online doctoral programs.

According to the U.S. News & World Report, employers are also increasingly accepting of candidates who have completed their education online. Rather than discriminating against you because of an online degree, it’s more likely that your employer would confirm that you attended an accredited school, which helps to validate the quality of your education.

How much does an online doctorate in psychology cost?

According to the U.S. News & World Report, online doctoral degrees in psychology typically cost $240 to $640 per credit, with tuition totaling between $14,000 and $58,000. In addition to tuition, online students may need to pay technology fees. Some colleges and universities charge out-of-state students higher tuition, while other schools charge a flat tuition rate for students regardless of where they live.

Financial aid may help you to cover some of the costs of earning your doctoral degree.

Differences in traditional vs. online doctoral psych programs

It’s important to understand a few key differences between traditional and online doctoral psychology programs.


Traditional: Most doctoral programs require that you complete a one-year internship. Traditional programs often have established relationships with local businesses, simplifying the process of finding an internship.

Online: When attending an online program, you will need to take a more active role in finding an internship. You may need to reach out to businesses in your community to find the internship that is right for your goals. 


Traditional: When preparing your dissertation, you will often meet with your dissertation advisor in person throughout the process. At the culmination of your program, you will attend an in-person dissertation oral defense.

Online: When studying online, you will engage with your dissertation advisor remotely. Your dissertation oral defense might be in-person at the university, or you might be able to defend the dissertation virtually.

Graduate Assistantships

Traditional: Graduate assistantships can help you to pay for the costs of your doctoral program. An assistantship is a form of employment, and you may be responsible for helping students or performing research. In return, you may receive free or discounted tuition and/or monetary payments. These assistantships are competitive but can be helpful in minimizing your education costs. 

Online: Online graduate assistantships are far less common than assistantships for traditional students, and most schools don’t offer these employment opportunities to online students.

Earning your doctorate in psychology online

You will need to meet many requirements when earning your doctorate in psychology remotely.

Minimum prior education required:
While some schools require you to have a master’s in psychology to enroll in a doctoral program in psychology, many schools will accept a master’s degree in a related field or a combination of relevant education and experience. Your bachelor’s degree can be in any field. Specific requirements vary, but many schools will accept students with undergraduate degrees from international colleges, as long as the degrees are equivalent to a master’s degree in the United States.
Technology required:
At a minimum, you should have a computer or tablet less than five years old, as well as a reliable, high-speed internet connection. You will probably also need a webcam and software like Microsoft Office. Requirements vary by program, so double-check the specifics of the program that you’re considering.
Number of required credits to complete:
The U.S. News & World Report notes that online doctoral programs in psychology are typically 60 to 90 credits.
How long does it take:
Doctoral programs can vary in length. Some take five to six years to complete, while others can be completed in four years of full-time study. Online programs often offer you the flexibility to choose your own pacing.
Real-world or virtual internships / practicums / volunteering:
Many doctoral programs require you to complete a one-year internship. You will also likely need to complete a doctoral thesis, and you may have to travel to campus to defend your thesis.

What you can expect from the school as a virtual student

As a virtual student, you will have access to a web portal that you’ll use to view your classes. Check to confirm that the web portal is available 24 hours a day to give you maximum flexibility. Additionally, you’ll have access to tools like a student dashboard, web conferencing software, eBooks and the school’s online learning resource center. You will often receive discounted or free digital access to publications that you can use for research, as well as access to the school’s online community of staff, students and alumni.  

What you’ll study

As you earn your online doctorate in psychology, you will study topics including the history of psychology, psychology systems and the factors that impact human behavior. Your program is also likely to focus on psychology ethics and psychotherapy, including the methods and strategies used to treat patients. You may also take courses focused on research and statistics.

Are doctoral-level psych courses suited/adaptable for online learning?

Many doctoral-level psychology courses can be successfully adapted for online learning. Your program is likely to consist of a combination of lecture- and video-based courses. Online courses likely have fewer group discussions and projects than traditional courses, but it’s common for online courses to still have a group collaboration element.

Online psychology classes you’ll likely take

Psychology of Leadership

Explore organizational psychology history and theories that examine the link between psychology and leadership. Gain a better understanding of human behavior and strategies that can be used to make more effective leaders.

Adult Psychopathology and Treatment

Learn about the diagnosis of adult psychopathological disorders, how to create a treatment plan, how to evaluate outcomes, and ethical issues surrounding the treatment process.

Applied Research

Learn about research study design methods, including quantitative and qualitative methodologies, and learn how to apply these approaches to your thesis topic.


Explore the use and interpretation of statistics, basic statistical concepts, and how to apply statistics to your work in psychology.

How to choose a school that’s right for you

When choosing a school, consider what’s most important for you in a program. Think about the specialization that you want to pursue, as well as other factors like whether you can complete the entire degree online or if you may have to travel to campus to defend your dissertation.

It’s also important to choose a school that is accredited, which helps confirm that you’re receiving a quality, rigorous education. Consider the program’s graduation and retention rates, too. Low rates might indicate potential challenges, like lack of support, that could be a barrier to your success.

It’s important to choose a school that is accredited, which helps confirm that you’re receiving a quality, rigorous education.

What can you do with an online doctorate in psych?

An online doctorate in psychology is a terminal degree that helps to prepare you for several different career options. You might choose to become licensed and pursue a career as a psychologist in a private practice setting. A doctoral degree may also help you to get a job teaching in a postsecondary setting. You might also pursue different careers, like working as a forensic psychologist or industrial-organizational psychologist.

Popular concentrations you can choose from

Depending on your career goals, you might choose to pursue a doctoral program that allows you to concentrate in one of these popular specializations:

General psychology

A general psychology degree provides you with a broad base of knowledge across multiple psychology subfields. You will also develop strong research, critical thinking and analytical skills.

Addictions & substance abuse

An addictions and substance abuse specialization studies substance abuse and related disorders from psychological, socio-cultural-political and other perspectives. The specialization focuses on assessment, diagnostics and treatment plan development. 

Developmental psychology

Developmental psychology studies growth and change across the human lifespan. This specialization focuses on how people adapt and develop in different life stages, including how we can support people to achieve their full potential.


A gerontology specialization focuses on applying clinical psychology to the older adult population.

Health psychology

Health psychology examines behavioral, cognitive and emotional factors that affect health and wellness. It also focuses on understanding how people cope with and recover from illness.

✍ Research/experimental psychology

A research/experimental psychology specialization focuses on how to design experimental research methods and use those methods to study human behavior.

Quantitative and measurement psychology

Quantitative and measurement psychology is based on statistical analysis of psychological data. It focuses on how to measure psychological data to derive reliable results.

Employment settings this career may take you

Since your doctoral degree in psychology can help you to qualify for many different types of jobs, you could potentially work in a variety of employment settings:

  • Private practice
  • Ambulatory healthcare services
  • Government
  • Hospitals
  • Elementary and secondary schools
  • Postsecondary schools
  • Businesses and offices

State requirements for licensure and certification

The American Psychological Association explains that if you plan to pursue state licensure for psychology, most states require you to have a doctoral degree in psychology. Additionally, may states require you to have at least 2,000 internship hours and 2,000 postdoctoral supervised hours. Choosing a doctoral program with a significant internship requirement can help you to meet these licensing requirements.

The journey to earning a doctorate degree in psych

In addition to earning your doctorate degree in psychology online, you can earn your undergraduate degrees, master’s degree, and more online, too.

Degrees below a doctoral level in psychology


An online associate degree in psychology takes about two years to complete. However, many universities offer accelerated or fast-track online programs that can help you to earn the degree in less time. According to the U.S. News & World Report, an associate degree can help you to qualify for a job as a life, physical, and social science technician or an occupational therapy assistant is also an option with an associate degree.


An online bachelor’s degree in psychology takes about four years to complete full-time, but accelerated programs are available, too. With a bachelor’s, you could work as a human resources specialist or a market research analyst.   


Earning your master’s degree in psychology online takes about two years, but self-paced programs may allow you to complete the degree sooner. With a master’s degree, you may be able to work as a school psychologist or an industrial-organizational psychologist.  

Specialist degree & graduate certificates

Specialist degrees and graduate certificates can help you to develop specialized skills and knowledge to further support your career. The duration of these programs varies, but many programs take about a year to complete.

Related doctoral-level degrees

Doctorate in counseling

While counseling and psychology are closely linked, a doctorate in counseling focuses more on how to work with psychologically stable patients seeking help with stressors like emotional duress and social anxieties. Professionals with a doctorate in counseling often work in educational settings, while professionals with a doctorate in psychology may work in many different settings, including private practice. 

Doctorate in human services

A doctorate in human services focuses on skills you will need to support individuals who are facing hardships. Psychology plays a role in such a career, but a human services degree focuses on many elements, including decision-making, ethical considerations, and applying for financial funding.

Doctorate in social work

A doctorate in social work prepares you to lead in an organization or academic setting and includes a focus on advanced social work practice. When studying social work, you will learn how to help patients in a larger social context, while a doctorate in psychology focuses more on helping the individual.

Professional associations to join along the way

Joining professional associations can help you to stay informed of new research, important industry news, and more.

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology works to “advance the science, teaching and application of personality and social psychology.” The SPSP provides educational events, publication of research, mentoring and science funding.

The Association for Psychological Science unites researchers, practitioners, teachers and students from around the world. The APS hosts meetings and events, maintains a database of journals and more.

The American Psychological Association is a United States organization that promotes the “advancement, communication, and application of psychological science and knowledge to benefit society and improve lives.” The APA maintains resources for students, teachers and psychologists; hosts webinar series, releases news items and more.

Ready to get started?

If you’re ready to earn your online doctorate in psychology, then it’s time to start looking for a program that’s the right fit for your professional goals, including your desired specialization. We have a collection of sponsored schools that can help you to start your search. You can filter the search results to show online doctoral degrees in psychology to narrow down your options.

Checklist: Things you’ll need when applying

When you find the programs that you’re interested in, be sure to take some time to review each program’s requirements. While specific requirements can vary, you will usually have to submit:

  • An application essay and fee
  • Official transcripts from any secondary schools that you’ve attended
  • Multiple letters of recommendation from your master’s degree teachers and professionals
  • Test scores like GRE scores, though some schools don’t require any standardized test results

Published: May 26, 2023

paige cerulli

Written and reported by:

Paige Cerulli

Contributing Writer