Best Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs

Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.ASO Rankings Team
Updated April 12, 2024
Edited by
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Curious about human behavior, group dynamics, and abnormal psychology? A psychology degree sheds light on our social and emotional world. But if you want to become a psychologist, you’ll need a doctorate.

An online Ph.D. in psychology can prepare you for careers in counseling psychology, clinical psychology, school psychology, and other specialties. And an online learning format makes it easier to reach your educational goals. Learn how to choose a program and launch your career as a psychologist.

Why Get an Online Ph.D. in Psychology?

  • An online Ph.D. in psychology can qualify you for the title of psychologist in various specializations.
  • Many psychology careers boast high median salaries.
  • You can get a Ph.D. in psychology online from a great school, even if you live far away.
  • Some institutions charge online learners in-state tuition rates, regardless of where they live.
  • Asynchronous coursework makes it easy to schedule coursework around professional and personal responsibilities.

Did You Know?

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Does Accreditation Matter for Online Ph.D. Programs in Psychology?

Accreditation matters when earning an online doctoral degree in psychology. That’s because you’ll have a better chance at landing an internship during your doctoral program if you attend an accredited program.

What’s more, states require psychologists to graduate from an accredited program to apply for licensure.

Here’s how college accreditation works: Independent accrediting agencies evaluate colleges and universities. They research student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and academic standards.

Programs within a university can also apply for accreditation from specialized agencies dedicated to the field. You can look up accreditation for a school or program.

When researching Ph.D. programs in psychology, look for programs accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). These programs meet the highest standards for training psychologists.

While APA does not accredit online-only programs, it does accredit hybrid programs and Ph.D. programs with some online coursework. APA’s accredited program database provides more information on accredited doctoral programs in psychology.

Top Online Doctoral Degree in Psychology Programs

Best Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs

Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale

  • Location-markerFort Lauderdale, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$19,808
  • Out-of-state$19,808
  • Retention Rate60%
  • Acceptance Rate97%
  • Students Enrolled20,330
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment48%
  • AccreditationYes
Best Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs

Liberty University

  • Location-markerLynchburg, VA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$14,791
  • Out-of-state$14,791
  • Retention Rate81%
  • Acceptance Rate50%
  • Students Enrolled93,349
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment93%
  • AccreditationYes
Best Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs

Saybrook University

  • Location-markerPasadena, CA
  • 4 year
  • Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$0
  • Out-of-state$0
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled785
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment100%
  • AccreditationYes
Best Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles

  • Location-markerLos Angeles, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$11,160
  • Out-of-state$11,160
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate24%
  • Students Enrolled3,131
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment90%
  • AccreditationYes

How Much Does an Online Ph.D. in Psychology Cost?

An online doctorate in psychology generally costs anywhere from $50,000-$200,000.

Ultimately, how much you spend on your degree will depend on factors such as:

  • Whether you pursue a Ph.D. in psychology (which usually lasts 4-7 years) or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) (which takes roughly 4-6 years)
  • Whether you qualify for any in-state tuition discounts
  • Whether you attend a public or private institution
  • How much financial aid you get

Be sure to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — with this, you can qualify for federal grants and loans. You could also qualify for institutional scholarships.

If possible, try to prioritize fully funded doctoral psychology programs.

In addition to tuition and required fees, you’ll need to budget for a good-quality laptop, reliable internet access, and any extra technology or distance-learner fees.

You’ll also need to pay for your state license and exam fees once you complete your program.

How Much Can You Make With an Online Psychology Ph.D.?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earn a median salary of $92,740 per year. The highest-paid psychologists work in government agencies and hospitals.

Your specialization can affect how much you earn. For example, industrial-organizational psychologists earn a median annual salary of over $147,000, whereas child psychologists earn a much lower median salary, closer to $60,000.

Your location can also impact your earning potential as a psychologist. BLS data shows that Oregon and California offer some of the highest average salaries for psychologists.

Popular Online Ph.D. in Psychology Jobs
JobMedian Annual SalaryJob Growth Rate (2021-2031)
Industrial-Organizational Psychologist$147,4206%
Neuropsychologist$105,0005% (all other psychologists)
Health Psychologist$83,0005% (all other psychologists)
Clinical Psychologist$96,10011%
Counseling Psychologist$96,10011%
School Psychologist$84,9401%
Forensic Psychologist$79,0005% (all other psychologists)
Child Psychologist$73,0001% (all other psychologists)

Sources: BLS, Payscale

How to Become a Psychologist: 6-Step Guide

Becoming a psychologist requires years of graduate-level education and postdoctoral training. Here are the steps you’ll need to take to start your career as a psychologist.

Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree

Your journey toward a career in psychology begins with a bachelor’s degree. You’ll need a bachelor’s to apply to graduate programs in psychology.

A psychology degree offers a strong foundation for graduate-level study. You can also choose a specialized degree like industrial-organizational psychology or opt for a degree in a related mental health field such as social work.

Many majors — including in the humanities, the social sciences, education, and human services — can prepare you for psychology careers.

Step 2: Choose a Specialization

What kind of psychologist do you want to become? Are you interested in counseling roles or positions in education? Are you drawn to research topics or clinical practice?

Choosing a specialization early can help you find the best program to reach your goals.

Common psychology specializations include:

Step 3: Compare Online Doctoral Degrees in Psychology

Next, research online doctoral programs. Some psychologists move straight from a bachelor’s degree into a doctoral program, whereas others earn a master’s in psychology to strengthen their skills before applying to an online psychology Ph.D. program.

When researching graduate psychology programs, make sure to check the university’s accreditation status and the program’s accreditation.

As you compare programs, check whether they offer a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. Both degrees are doctorates in psychology, but a Ph.D. emphasizes research while a Psy.D. emphasizes practice.

You can earn a psychologist license and qualify for most roles with either degree. That said, a Ph.D. generally leads to academic and research roles, whereas a Psy.D. leads to clinical roles.

Consider as well your budget for a doctorate. Costs will vary depending on the program. Look into fellowships, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid to lower costs.

Step 4: Earn a Doctorate in Psychology

Earning your doctorate in psychology takes a minimum of four years for a Psy.D. and up to seven years for a Ph.D.

During that time, you’ll take psychology courses and work closely with your faculty advisor to develop a dissertation project. You’ll also conduct research and gain clinical skills.

At the end of your online psychology Ph.D., you’ll defend your dissertation. Psy.D. programs may not require dissertation defense, but you will have to write one.

Common Courses in a Ph.D. in Psychology Online Program

  • Advanced Qualitative Analysis
  • Behavioral Assessment
  • Clinical Practicum
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Ethics and Legal Issues
  • Multivariate Statistics
  • Psychobiology
  • Psychopathology
  • Survey Construction and Administration

Step 5: Fulfill Supervised Training Requirements

Before receiving your psychologist license, you’ll need to meet supervised training requirements.

Each state sets its own requirements, which you can meet during your doctorate or after graduating. For example, Washington state requires 3,300 hours of supervised experience, with the option to complete up to 1,500 hours after graduation.

Many psychologists complete this requirement as part of their doctoral program. Programs incorporate practicums, internships, and other supervised training opportunities. In some states, you can also meet supervised experience requirements through a postdoc or postgraduate internship.

Check the licensing requirements in your state for more information.

Step 6: Apply for Licensure

The final step to becoming a psychologist is to apply for a state license.

In many states, the Board of Psychology issues these licenses. Typically, you’ll need a doctorate in psychology from an accredited program, supervised experience, and passing scores on a licensure exam.

Aspiring psychologists in all states must take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). You may have to take additional exams, depending on what state you live in. For example, most states require a state jurisprudence exam, which tests applicants on their knowledge of state laws applicable to psychology practice.

Exam and licensure costs vary by state. In New York, you’ll pay $294 for your initial license, while in Pennsylvania it costs $105 for an initial license and $300 to renew your license.

Q&A With a Real Psychologist and a Psychology Student

Q: Why did you decide to pursue a career in psychology?

“I have always had a strong passion for helping others, and this drive led me to this field. It was after working as a behavior specialist doing in-home behavioral therapy that solidified my decision to pursue a career in psychology.”
 — Natalia Ramirez, Clinical Psychology Psy.D. Student, William James College
“I wanted to ease people’s suffering and make sure there were supports in place for those who needed them. Moreover, I had negative experiences with the mental health system as an adolescent, and I wanted to ensure that those experiences weren’t repeated for other people.”
 — Melissa Donadio, Psy.D., University of Hartford

Q: In your opinion, what is the value of earning a doctorate in psychology?

“You are in a position to help individuals and our larger society. Along with providing direct treatment, you have credentials that allow you to advocate for systematic changes. You can advocate in a variety of ways, such as through assessments, creating community-based programs, and activism in legal arenas.”
 — Melissa D.
“If I chose to do a master’s program, I don’t believe I would have had as many opportunities, and master’s-level clinicians tend to not make as much as doctorate-level clinicians/providers.”
 — Natalia R.

Q: Why did you choose to earn a Psy.D. instead of a Ph.D. in psychology?

“I chose a Psy.D. program as opposed to a Ph.D. as my program really emphasizes putting what we learn in classes to practice in our practicum sites. I also did not want to attend a program so heavily focused on research.”
 — Natalia R.
“I didn’t just look at program types, but also at the faculty I wanted to work with. Both types of programs can offer similar training experiences, but having the right mentor whose research or interests aligns with yours is a key part of a successful graduate school experience.”
 — Melissa D.

Q: What is something that surprised you about your psychology program or the field of psychology?

“How much we don’t know! While the field is improving on its ability to replicate research and evaluate treatment effectiveness, we don’t fully understand how and why individuals react, or don’t react, to popular interventions.”
 — Melissa D.
“As a trainee, I was shocked to see what goes into being a great practitioner and having only a fraction of the work put in get rewarded. This is a selfless job and career, and the needs of those we help must always be a priority.”
 — Natalia R.

Q: What is your biggest piece of advice to those who want to become psychologists?

“Listen to the people who come to you for assistance and be mindful of social and political influences on mental wellness. Many individuals will not benefit from standardized interventions, particularly those from historically oppressed communities. We need to listen when people tell us what is, or is not, working for them and be open to other ways of healing.”
 — Melissa D.
“Impostor syndrome is REAL! There will be many times in your training that you feel like you don’t belong or that you’re not as good as those around you, but this is not true! You belong in this field and are just as good as anyone around you — just don’t forget the reasons why you’re here!”
 — Natalia R.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Ph.D. Programs in Psychology

question-mark-circleWhat can I do with an online Ph.D. in psychology?

An online Ph.D. in psychology from an accredited program meets the requirements for a psychologist license. That means you can work in roles such as counseling psychologist, school psychologist, or clinical psychologist.

With a doctorate in psychology, you can also pursue academic and research careers. Most universities require a doctorate for tenure-track professor jobs.

Before applying to online psychology programs, check the program’s accreditation status. Only accredited programs meet the requirements psychology licensure and employment.

question-mark-circleIs an online doctoral degree in psychology credible?

Yes, an accredited online doctoral degree in psychology meets the same high standards as those of traditional degrees. Accreditation agencies regularly review programs to ensure they follow the best practices for training psychologists.

Employers also respect online degrees from accredited institutions. Many online universities issue the same diplomas to online and in-person students, indicating that the delivery method does not impact the quality of the degree.

question-mark-circleHow long does it take to earn a Ph.D. in psychology?

Earning a Ph.D. in psychology generally takes 5-7 years. During that time, psychology doctoral students complete coursework, attend practicums and internships, and conduct research. Doctoral programs also require a dissertation, which doctoral candidates must defend to earn their Ph.D.

Psychologists can practice with a Psy.D. as well. This doctoral degree emphasizes practice and typically requires 4-6 years. During a Psy.D. program, you’ll complete coursework, write your dissertation, and gain hands-on experience through supervised practicums and internships.

question-mark-circleWhat is the main difference between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in psychology?

A Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in psychology are both doctoral degrees; however, the Psy.D. emphasizes practice and prepares graduates for careers in clinical settings, whereas the Ph.D. focuses on research and typically leads to roles in academia or research.

You can become a psychologist with a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. — both degrees meet the requirements for a psychologist license. If you’re interested in academic career paths, a Ph.D. makes the most sense, while a Psy.D. makes more sense if you want to work in a clinical capacity.

question-mark-circleCan psychologists specialize?

Yes, psychologists can specialize. At the graduate level, psychology students typically choose a specialty, such as clinical psychology, school psychology, or counseling psychology.

Other popular specializations include educational psychology, health psychology, behavioral psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology.

After choosing a specialty, you’ll take focused courses and complete hands-on training in clinical settings related to that specialty. Choosing a specialty early on can help you find the right doctoral program for you.

All rankings and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by the ASO Rankings Team.

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