To officially call yourself a psychologist, most states require you to have doctoral degree in psychology. In most cases, students who have bachelor's degrees can apply directly to doctoral programs. While it's not always necessary to have a bachelor's degree in psychology, it can give you a foot in the door. Some students may benefit from first completing master's degrees in psychology before applying to doctoral programs, especially if they haven't demonstrated strong undergraduate academic achievement.
Doctoral programs in psychology are competitive, and schools usually only admit a handful of doctoral candidates each year. Students with bachelor's degrees who display outstanding undergraduate achievement usually do not need to obtain a master's degree -- they can apply directly to Ph.D. programs. Students who are denied admission to doctoral programs based on insufficient undergraduate academic achievement during their bachelor's programs may wish to consider first earning a master's degree in psychology. Master's degree programs are somewhat less competitive and can be a stepping stone to doctoral study. A master's degree in psychology can strengthen your training in psychological treatments, disorders and evaluation but also focuses on research and statistics. Most Ph.D. programs in psychology place a high emphasis on statistics and research. Achieving high marks in a master's degree program shows that you've obtained the skills needed for doctoral study.
Ph.D. programs in psychology usually require students to choose an area of specialization on their graduate school application. You may have different prerequisite coursework requirements based on your area of specialization. For example, students who specialize in areas like behavioral neuroscience may be required to have completed undergraduate coursework in biology and life sciences, while those who specialize in clinical psychology may be required to take the Graduate Record Examination subject test in psychology and to have completed a psychology undergraduate major. It's important to note that not all Ph.D. programs require the GRE subject test in psychology, but they usually require candidates to take the general GRE test. Many schools also ask applicants to complete personal statements and submit letters of recommendation.
Coursework and Internship
The coursework for a Ph.D. in psychology can usually be completed in around four years. If you specialize in clinical or counseling psychology, you will need an additional year of study to complete a supervised clinical internship. Coursework varies based on your area of specialization but usually includes advanced research and statistical analysis, advanced coursework in specific areas of psychology, such as abnormal or developmental psychology, biopsychology, psychotherapy, evaluation, assessment and electives of your choice.
Once you've completed required coursework and, if necessary, your internship, you will then begin working on your doctoral dissertation. Students choose a dissertation topic related to their specialization and area of interest. Your doctoral proposal will need to be approved by a committee before you can begin research. Doctoral candidates are assigned a faculty member who helps guide them through this process. Once completed, you'll need to defend your dissertation in front of a faculty panel to be eligible for graduation.
- Hanover College: Department of Psychology: Master's Degree Before PhD: Help or Hindrance?
- UCLA Department of Psychology: Preparing for Admission to the Graduate Program
- The University of Texas at Austin: Graduate School Planning: Degrees and Areas of Psychology: Graduate Program in Psychology
- Department of Psychology at Illinois State University: Dissertation Procedures
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.