Psychology is a diverse and many-faceted field that has grown exponentially in recent decades. Most broadly speaking, psychology is a social science dealing with questions of our behavior and the inner workings of our minds.
Humans have sought answers to psychological questions for all of written history. But it wasn’t until relatively recently that many schools of professional psychological thought began to flourish and offered opportunities for more people to apply psychological understanding in many new and exciting ways.
The three major applications of psychology include psychological research, clinical psychology, and counseling psychology. Though a host of related fields expand opportunities for psychologists even more.
By employment numbers, educational and career counseling positions are some of the most common jobs related to psychology. Applied behavioral analysis is a form of applied psychology that is often used as support for behavioral modification and special education (most particularly in working with those with autism spectrum disorder). Meanwhile, organizational and industrial psychology applies psychological principles and investigation methods to business and human resources problems.
The rate of expansion of opportunity in psychology and counseling jobs is quite astounding. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 14% increase in psychology job openings is expected within the next decade. And the fact that there any many additional psychology jobs doesn’t mean they’re underpaid. Below are national averages for salaries of common psychology professions:
- Industrial and Organizational Psychologists: $102,530
- Clinical Psychologists: $77,030
- Substance Abuse Counselors: $43,300
- School and Career Counselors: $55,410
- Psychology Professor (Research): $113,306
In short, there are more opportunities to apply a honed understanding of psychology than ever before. And with the explosive growth of online education, the options for where you can advance your knowledge in psychology have never been so wide and varied.
For this year’s ranking of the best online doctoral programs in psychology, there were more options than ever. And we hope that our ranking reflects the many theoretical and applied paths that one can pursue in the field of psychology.
Our ranking looked at close to 30 fully online or hybrid doctoral programs related to psychology. We looked a wide range of metrics for each program we considered, and then plotted the relative values of each metric onto a 300 point scale with the highest values being ranked more highly.
The three multi-part variables we considered included the following:
- Affordability (33.3%): the out-of-state tuition per credit rate hour, percentage of students receiving financial aid, average percentage of financial aid met, as well as funding opportunities available to doctoral students.
- Academic Support (33.3%): a measure of a number of quality indicators as to the quality of support in the program including special support measures for servicemembers, working professionals, a commitment to diversity in the student body, and academic supports in place.
- Academic quality (33.3%): a measure of the academic quality including admissions standards, programmatic accreditation, student-to-faculty ratios, and research quality at the university.
The University of the Cumberlands offers a blended Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program that requires once a month travel for the academic portion of the program, then a clinical internship at the university’s northern Kentucky location. This is to say that while almost all of the coursework for the degree may be completed online, some trips to Williamsburg, Kentucky are required. The entirety of the program requires 73 credit hours for completion and helps to prepare students with both academic and clinical experience in psychology. We’ve ranked the University of the Cumberland’s Psy.D. program as #1 in this year’s ranking due to affordability, class sizes and support, as well as the academic quality of the university. For students that don’t mind some in-person requirements, Cumberland’s program can be a great match.
Oregon State University presently offers a hybrid doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) program in counseling. All coursework is offered online, except for two required trips Wilsonville, Oregon each term. Though largely online, this Ph.D. program is highly collaborative. Additionally, applicants are required to hold a master’s in counseling or a closely related discipline. Depending on the program that students have already completed, credit will transfer in towards the doctoral program. The program is CACREP-accredited, one of the gold standard forms of accreditation for counseling programs. We placed this program close to the top of our ranking due to a quality score in all metrics considered, including financial metrics, quality of academics, and student support measures.
Currently, Adams State University offers a hybrid Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Counselor Education and Supervision. All coursework is offered entirely online in this program except for once yearly one-week summer trips to Adams State University’s campus. The program is CACREP accredited, which is the gold standard for counseling education programs. This program is well suited for those looking to achieve leadership roles or promote scholastic inquiry through school counseling roles. Though online, students will join a cohort of others seeking the degree at the same time and work through required courses together. As a Ph.D. program, some of the central aims of the degree are to prepare students to a level at which they could teach at the university level, as well as to create an environment in which students can contribute original research to their field of study. A dissertation is required for this program.
Our fourth-ranked program for online doctorates in psychology is Hampton University’s Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Counselor Education and Supervision. This program aims to prepare school counselors for leadership and administration positions, as well as to prepare candidates to further research in the counseling field. We placed this program close to the top of our ranking due to relative affordability, student support measures, and academic quality at the university. Each course in the degree requires a full semester (16 weeks) for completion, with the entire degree requiring 3.5 years for completion.
The Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Community Care and Supervision offered by Liberty University is a fully online program offering a number of tracks. Students may specialize in a wide range of professional cognates, with optional coursework in clinically supervised work (used to obtain licensure as a clinical therapist). Specializations within the degree currently include Pastoral Care and Counseling, Traumatology, and Marriage and Family Counseling. Liberty University is known for a great deal of flexibility, and this is expressed through 8 start dates a year, and accelerated 8-week courses throughout the program. Additional benefits for first-line responders as well as servicemembers include additional support as well as lowered tuition rates.
Loyola University Chicago currently offers a fully online doctor of education (Ed.D.) degree in school psychology. We ranked this degree program close to the top of our ranking due to the academic prestige and support services offered by Loyola University Chicago, as well as the relatively affordable program price tag (particularly for a private program). This program is primarily for practicing school psychologists who would like to advance their knowledge of the field further. Spring and Fall semester courses are offered in a distance learning (online) format, while summer courses are available online with some in-person meet-ups, or fully in-person at the Water Tower Campus of Loyola University Chicago. Students of the program may obtain the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) designations in the state of Illinois (or states with similar licensing standards).
We’ve chosen the University of West Georgia’s fully online doctor of education (Ed.D.) in Professional Counseling and Supervision for our ranking due to the academic quality of UWG, the relative affordability of the program, as well as support measures for students at the university. This fully online program begins every summer with a cohort of 12 students. Students with an educational specialist (Ed.S.) designation in counseling will be able to pursue an accelerated track that may be completed in as little as two years including a dissertation. The program is meant for students with past graduate-level experience in counseling and who are working full-time as counselors. Two courses are presented per term and are meant to build professional knowledge that can be applied immediately in professional settings.
Currently, Southern California Seminary offers an online and in-person Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. Though all courses are online, two intensives are required for graduation including advanced therapeutic interventions and psychological testing lab. We’ve placed this degree program in our ranking due to the affordability of the program as well as student support measures at the university. The degree is unique in that it is a doctor of psychology that is fully online and also that the program blends theology and psychology. This is a great academic backdrop for those that want to practice psychology in ministry settings, or that want to work in one of the many counseling roles that integrate a Christian-worldview into practice (marriage counseling, counseling at religious schools, and so forth).
Currently, two psychology-related doctoral programs are offered in almost entirely online formats from Amridge University: the Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy program, and the Ph.D. in Professional Counseling program. Both courses of study may be completed in 4-years with full-time study or spread out over a longer period of time for part-time study. A small selection of intensive courses must be taken in person, though a vast majority of the degree may be taken in a fully online format. As Ph.D. programs, these are research-centered degrees. This means that recipients of the degree should be prepared to teach at the university level. Furthermore, students in the program should be able to craft dissertations that further knowledge in their field of study and can be successfully defended before graduation. For students looking to move into research or counseling careers with a Christian foundation, Amridge has some great options for online learning.
Currently, two fully online doctoral degree programs related to psychology are offered by Argosy University. A doctor of education (Ed.D.) degree in counseling psychology, as well as an Ed.D. in pastoral community counseling, are both offered entirely online. We’ve rated Argosy’s programs close to the top of our list because of their relatively low tuition per credit hour rates, as well as student support metrics including low student-to-faculty ratios. Both programs require students to hold prior graduate degrees (Master’s or Educational Specialist degrees) in counseling or psychology from regional or nationally accredited schools for admission.
Endicott College offers a unique online degree in their Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program in Applied Behavioral Analysis. Applied Behavioral Analysis is a branch of applied psychology often used in behavioral therapy (most notably with children and adults on the Autism spectrum). Endicott’s Institute of Behavioral Studies has been at the forefront of research into applied behavioral analysis for over a decade. All courses for the degree are offered simultaneously in-person for those living in the Boston area, or entirely online. Admissions are restricted to those holding a master’s degree in applied behavioral analysis or the equivalent. It is recommended that applicants be certificants of the applied behavioral analysis board. We’ve chosen Endicott’s program for our ranking due to its unique focus, relatively affordable tuition per credit hour rate, as well as the academic and research reputation of Endicott’s Institute of behavioral studies.
Currently, Alaska Pacific University offers an almost entirely online doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) degree in counseling psychology. All courses are offered synchronously in the evenings online. Every six weeks, students must attend in-person “intensives.” The program is designed for those already holding master’s in psychology, counseling, or related disciplines and working full-time. Upon completion of the program, students should be ready to achieve licensure as a counseling psychologist in the state of Alaska; though many states share licensing requirements, meaning the degree is likely good preparation for licensure in other states as well. The focus of the program is on psychology from a developmental perspective. We’ve placed this program in our ranking due to affordable tuition per credit hour rates, good student support measures at the university, and the reputation of the university for quality online and blended learning.
Two doctoral-level psychology programs are currently offered by Fielding Graduate University in primarily online formats. Both the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in clinical psychology as well as media psychology offer synchronous and asynchronous online offerings, as well as matching in-person courses. All courses are designed for working professionals and provide a great deal of flexibility so that students can juggle their continuing studies with other responsibilities. We’ve placed Fielding Graduate University’s offering highly due to these programs affordable tuition per credit hour rates as well as quality student support measures. Both courses of study have aims to help underrepresented demographics achieve the status of scholar-practitioner psychologists, as well as to provide a background of academic programming in social justice initiatives for students.
The hybrid doctor of philosophy (Ph.D) in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology offered by Michigan State University places highly in our ranking as it is a great opportunity to attend one of the best psychology and education graduate schools in the nation from wherever you live. The course of study is a rigorous five-year program that includes online courses in the fall and spring semesters, and in-person courses during the summer. Graduates of the program should be prepared to assume leadership positions in K-12 schools, higher education, research, or business settings. As a Ph.D. degree, two primary objectives of the program are to prepare students to teach at the university level as well as to create an environment in which doctoral candidates can pursue original research that pushes their field of study forward. As a Ph.D. program, dissertations are required. We’ve placed Michigan State University highly in our ranking due to academic support measures as well as the academic and research quality in psychology disciplines at the university.
The blended doctorate of psychology (Psy.D.) in educational counseling offered by Felician University is placed in this year’s ranking due to its relative affordability as well as the quality of student support measures at the university. Though blended, and requiring in-person courses alongside online courses each semester, the location of Felician University 12 miles from New York City ensure that for many courses can be accessible even if not entirely online. Some unique aspects of the program include students working a variety of mental health care settings, the university’s Franciscan spiritual and ethical beliefs, and the social justice focus of the program. Currently, 88 credit hours are required for graduation, which is expected to take 4-5 years for completion. The course of study particularly promotes the importance of multicultural psychology.
Regent University’s fully online doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) in clinical psychology places in our ranking due to student outcome measures as well as the relative affordability of the program. Fourth-year interns in the program matched with internship locations 100% of the time from 2016 and 2018. And 95% of graduates of the program quickly found employment in psychology positions. Training in the program is adapted to clinical psychology licensing standards in whatever state the student resides. As a Psy.D. degree, programming includes research-based learning as well as applied psychology knowledge geared toward the practice of clinical psychology. Students are eligible for admission into the program with just a bachelor’s-level degree from a regionally accredited university. For students already holding a master’s degree in a related discipline, some of the program may transfer in as credit.
The University of North Florida has built off of their renowned nursing school to offer a particularly unique online doctorate in psychology. Currently, a post-MSN degree, this Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree focuses on Psych-Mental Health. The only program of its type in our ranking, this program places in our ranking due to student support measures as well as the academic reputation of the University of North Florida’s nursing school. Courses are available fully online for this program, though students are required to make an on-campus visit once a semester. The program may be completed in as little as 6 semesters, with students taking between 2 and 4 courses per semester.
Saybrook University’s fully online Ph.D. in psychology is a unique program that is one of only a few humanistic psychology doctoral programs offered online in the nation. Students in the program may choose from four specializations within the doctoral program including Consciousness, Spirituality, and Integrative Health, creativity studies, Existential, Humanistic, and Transpersonal Psychology, or psychophysiology. In the event you don’t know, humanistic psychology focuses on the myriad ways in which mental health and our overall health are integrally connected. Many paths within humanistic psychology pursue integrative health strategies. As a Ph.D. program, two primary objectives of the program are to (1) prepare students to be able to teach at the university level, and (2) to foster an environment in which students can help to create original research within their field of study.
As one may expect from a graduate university focusing on psychology, the Chicago School offers a wide range of fully online Ph.D. programs in psychology. Those that meet the criteria for our ranking include Ph.D. programs in international psychology, applied behavioral analysis, and business psychology. Within those disciplines, additional specializations are also available. Most of the Ph.D. psychology programs offered at the Chicago School are also available in hybrid formats for those that live close to one of the campuses of the school. We placed the Chicago School offerings in our ranking due to their high level of flexibility and the academic reputation of the school’s psychology offerings.
Governors State University offers a largely online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program in counselor education and supervision that we are happy to include in our 2019 ranking of online psych doctorates. This degree is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, the highest form of programmatic accreditation for graduate counseling degrees. Degree offerings are delivered in the evenings and are built to accommodate the busy work or life schedules of fully employed or otherwise engaged adult students. As a doctor of education (Ed.D.) degree, students will perform some research, though will also greatly focus on practical aspects of counseling knowledge that may be immediately applied to their workplace. Successful doctoral candidates will find a degree that supports leadership positions or enhanced acumen in counseling positions within K-12 schools, universities, and businesses.
Online Doctorate of Psychology FAQs
Can I get a PhD in psychology online?
If the above ranking isn’t proof enough, yes, you can most certainly gain a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology online. In fact, a higher number of Ph.D. programs in psychology are available fully online than any other type of doctoral program in psychology.
Why is this? Because Ph.D. degrees are research doctorates. This means that the central aims of Ph.D. programs are to prepare students to teach at the university level and to contribute original research to their field of study. As opposed to other doctoral types that often require in-person training of applied skills (in the case of applied doctorates), a larger portion of Ph.D.’s occur on your own time researching for your dissertation. This means that of the types of doctoral degree types, Ph.D.’s may be the best suited to fully online study.
Just looking at the ranking above, there are highly regarded online Ph.D.’s in a number of psychology fields. Two listings above focus on humanistic or transpersonal psychology, a field that focuses on the many connections between our mental health and broader health. At least one option above focuses on organizational and industrial psychology, the most lucrative field of psychology on average. A number of programs above focus on clinical psychology as well, the field of study one should endeavor upon if one wants to see patients in a clinical setting.
Do APA Accredited Online PhD Psychology Programs Exist?
When you’re looking for a university to attend, there are a few forms of accreditation you should be aware of. Regional accreditation is the “gold standard” of accreditation for universities as a whole. If a university is regionally accredited, your credits should transfer to most other regional universities and the university has proven that they meet high standards in a wide range of measures.
On top of regional accreditation, individual programs or schools within a university may be programmatically accredited. Programmatic accreditation looks only at a single type of program — for example nursing or business — and offers a judgment on whether or not that department in the university or individual program is “up to snuff.”
In doctoral psychology and counseling programs, there are two “gold standards” for program accreditation. These accreditations include the American Psychological Association accreditation for programs in psychology and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accreditation for counseling programs.
Over the years, the APA has struggled with how to evaluate online psychology programs. Many online programs that started to obtain accreditation from the APA were later put on probation. One exception is Fielding Graduate University (located in our ranking above), the first university to gain full accreditation from the APA for a largely online program.
CACREP accreditation for counseling degrees is more understanding of online degrees, and many of the above doctoral programs in counseling are CACREP accredited.
So the short answer is that, yes, there is a handful of APA approved psychology programs that are fully online. A caveat to this is that if you are looking at counseling programs instead of a degree with psychology in the title, you should be looking for the CACREP accreditation. And many fully online programs hold CACREP accreditation.
What is the difference between a Ph.D. and Psy.D.?
At the doctoral level, there are many types of degrees you can gain. This is because doctoral study is often so heavily specialized, that a unique degree is needed to mark what your degree entailed. A random sampling of doctoral degree types includes doctor of engineering (D.Eng.) degrees, doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) degree, doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees, and many others.
The primary distinction between types of doctoral degrees is that some are research doctorates and some are professional doctorates. In a research doctorate program, some of the primary aims of the course of study are to prepare students to teach at the university level as well as to create original and valuable research in the field in which they study. A central component of a research doctorate is often a dissertation. A dissertation is a several-hundred-page document of original research that a doctoral candidate “defends” in front of a panel of experts before graduation.
In a professional doctorate, students also do plenty of research, but the primary goal is not to prepare future researchers, but rather experts of applied knowledge within their field of study. Professional doctorates are still terminal degrees in a field, but they place greater emphasis on preparing doctoral candidates for a job outside of academia.
The distinction between a professional doctorate and a research doctorate is at the heart of the difference between a Ph.D. and Psy.D. degree. Ph.D.’s in psychology are research degrees that require dissertations and prepare the next generation of researchers in academia (if the recipient chooses to follow that path). Psy.D.’s are professional doctorates that tend to focus more on on-the-job skills. For this reason, Psy.D. degrees often focus on one career route in psychology such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or school psychology.
How Much Does a Psy.D. Program Cost?
Though there has been a recent backlash to the decades-long rise in higher education costs, higher education in America can be quite expensive. With this said, education is almost always a good investment, particularly in a field that can be applied like psychology. Education costs are also some of the most variable of other major purchases. Some degree programs cost a few thousand dollars per semester, while others cost a few tens of thousands of dollars a semester.
Generally speaking, doctoral programs are more expensive than undergraduate programs. This is likely due to the higher level of expertise the university has to supply — through instructors — for students at the doctoral level, the lower number of students to split the program cost in doctoral programs, and the cost of entities like research centers.
With that said, doctoral candidates have several unique ways to offset costs. In in-person or hybrid programs, many doctoral students will receive a student financial aid package that includes a teaching assistant position. In exchange for helping to teach some lower level classes, teaching assistants get most or all of their tuition offset. Additionally, research grants can help to support individual portions of a students course of study.
To answer specifically, among the online doctoral programs listed in our ranking above, tuition per credit hour ranged from $431 to $1,449. This shows the dramatic range of prices for study at the doctoral level. It also shows that if you shop around you can often find a program that is no more expensive than many undergraduate programs.
Is a Psy.D. a Doctor?
Used as part of an academic title, “doctor” means the someone that has achieved the highest level of study in a given discipline. In this sense nurses with a degree in Doctors of Nursing Practice are just as much doctors as archeologists that have Ph.D.’s in Archeology. There are two doctoral-level degrees given to psychologists: doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) degrees, and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology. Recipients of both degrees are doctors in the sense that a DNP or a D.Eng. or a DBA are doctors.
If you’re wondering whether those with Psy.D. degrees are considered medical doctors, the answer is no. Medical doctors hold Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degrees.
For the purposes of becoming a clinical psychologist, counseling psychologist, or educational psychologist, all state licensure boards accept two degree types: Ph.D.’s in psychology or Psy.D. degrees.
One aspect of this that can be a little confusing is that clinical psychologists often work in medical settings, and they have a doctorate degree. So — yes– they are doctors of psychology, and –yes– they can work in medical settings. But Psy.D. recipients are not medical doctors that hold an M.D. degree.