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    PhD vs. PsyD: Everything You Need to Know

    By Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Posted: July 1st, 2024
    PhD vs. PsyD: Everything You Need to Know

    If you are interested in pursuing a higher education in psychology, you may have discovered the 2 primary doctoral-level options are a PhD or a PsyD graduate program. However, this may leave you with more questions than answers. What is a PhD? What is a PsyD? What is the difference between both programs? Keep reading to learn more about everything you need to know about PhD vs PsyD!

    What is a PhD? 

    A PhD program is a doctorate of philosophy in a psychology field such as clinical psychology. PhD programs have a strong emphasis on research and are ideal for students who want to pursue careers in academia and research. 

    Typically, PhD programs lead to careers such as licensed psychologists, psychology professors, or psychology researchers. 

    Related: Top fully funded PhD programs

    What is a PsyD? 

    A PsyD program is a doctorate of psychology. PsyD programs have a strong emphasis on practical skills and clinical training including providing psychotherapy and psychological assessments. 

    Typically, PsyD programs will lead to a career as a clinical psychologist. 

    Also see: Top psychology scholarships

    PhD vs PsyD

    What are the differences between a PhD and a PsyD? 

    Program length

    PhD programs typically take between 5 and 8 years to complete. PsyD programs typically take 4 to 6 years to complete. 

    Courses and training 

    PhD programs typically focus their programs on participating in research. PsyD programs typically focus on training in practical settings. 

    Doctoral project

    Typically, both PhD and PsyD programs require students to complete and defend a dissertation or equivalent doctorate project.  

    Related: Everything you need to know about a doctorate degree 

    Career options 

    PhD programs typically prepare students to become psychologists in academic settings such as a psychology professor. PsyD programs typically prepare students to become various types of psychologists such as clinical psychologists or forensic psychologists. However, those with a PhD and a PsyD can pursue many of the same career opportunities. 

    Which program should I pursue? 

    Ultimately, which program you should pursue depends on what you want to attain from the program itself. If you are interested in research and pursuing a teaching career, a PhD program may be the best fit for you. If you are interested in learning more about various therapies and implementing them in real-life settings, a PsyD program may be the best fit for you.

    Ultimately, both a PhD and PsyD program will grant you the opportunity to pursue psychologist roles in various settings. Therefore, be sure you are researching which programs have characteristics you want in a graduate program. 

    Also see: PhD vs Doctorate: Everything you need to know

    When debating what program to choose, consider the following criteria: 

    Time spent in school

    The time you spend in the classroom is valuable! Most PhD and PsyD programs are extremely time consuming and require a hefty amount of your time outside of the classroom as well. Therefore, look into programs that may combine master’s and doctorate degrees in order to reduce the amount of time you spend obtaining your degree. 

    Academic concentration

    Psychology is a unique field in that there are many different and unique subfields that one can pursue. Therefore, it is important to research any niche fields you may be interested in! This will help you narrow down what graduate program is the best fit for you and your career aspirations. 


    Selecting an accredited program is extremely important. An accredited program ensures that your program is recognized by organizations for licensure. 

    Program duration

    The length of a program is important to consider as PhD and PsyD programs can vary significantly in length, Ultimately, select a program that 


    The arguably most important factor to consider when selecting a PhD or PsyD program is the cost of the program. If a program is sending you into unpayable debt then it is most likely not the program for you! Try to look into scholarships, fellowships, assistantships or even companies that will pay for your graduate education to minimize the cost of your education! 

    Also see: Assistantships vs fellowships; what’s the difference? 

    Are there other graduate programs in psychology besides a PhD or PsyD? 

    In addition to a PhD or a PsyD, you can also obtain a Doctor of Education (EdD) in psychology. An EdD degree is less common than a PhD or PsyD and is used for specialized training in the educational and developmental fields. A common example of a career pursued by a student obtaining an EdD would be a school psychologist. 

    Frequently asked questions about PhD vs. PsyD

    Do both PhD and PsyD graduates need to be licensed to practice psychology?

    Yes! Licensure requirements typically include completing a doctoral degree, supervised clinical hours and passing a licensing exam. Becoming licensed allows you to become a practicing psychologist. 

    Can I switch from a PhD program to a PsyD program if I already started?

    No. Each type of program has different admissions requirements making it very difficult to switch back and forth between the two programs despite having similar content. However, if you are in that situation try reaching out to your university staff to determine if there is any chance you could switch. Ultimately, you should try to make sure you are 100% certain that the graduate program you select is the one for you!

    Is a PhD or PsyD program more expensive?

    A PsyD program is typically less expensive than a PhD psychology program. However, typically there is more funding available for PhD programs resulting in PsyD programs having higher levels of student debt.

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