There are two main options for students pursuing a doctorate in psychology: a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) or PhD (Doctor of Philosophy). Although we do not discuss it at length here, there is also a third psychology doctorate degree, called an EdD degree, or a Doctor of Education in Psychology. This doctorate program typically attracts a smaller number of students as the doctorate is granted through the education department and is for individuals who are certain that their goal is to pursue a career in psychology education and teaching.
So, what is the difference between the PsyD and PhD in psychology? Many people assume that one psychology doctorate degree must be better than the other. Fortunately, they are both valuable degrees and both can lead to fulfilling careers. Which one you choose will depend on what you want to accomplish personally and professionally.
Evaluate Your Career Goals
It’s not uncommon for psychology students who are applying to PhD programs to get stuck in the rut of thinking near-term. They become so obsessed with getting into a grad school that they fail to consider the long-term consequences of their decision. Determining which psychology program to attend or which degree to pursue (PhD or PsyD) should be a function of your long-term career goals.
The PhD in psychology is designed to help students prepare for careers in research, teaching, and academia. The PsyD, on the other hand, is designed to help students acquire the clinical skills and training required for a successful career as a psychology practitioner. There are a few PsyD programs that offers research opportunities, but even these programs typically do not offer enough research training or experience to prepare students for careers focused exclusively on research.
Before entering a doctorate program in psychology, you need to make sure that the degree you pursue is in line with your career aspirations. If you’re set on working in research or psychology education, then a PhD in psychology is the degree you should earn. If you’re certain you want to become psychology practitioner, then you’re probably better off earning a PsyD. In the rare case that you just really don’t know what area of psychology you want to work in, but you’re sure you want to work in psychology, then it becomes a good idea to apply to both PsyD and PhD programs.
Is The Doctorate Program Accredited?
One of the best ways to determine the quality of a doctorate psychology program is to find out whether or not it’s regionally accredited and/or accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). To find out if a psychology program is regionally accredited you can visit the accreditation page on this site and then select the accreditation association/agency for the region where the school is located. You can find out if a psychology program is accredited by the APA by visiting http://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/programs/index.aspx.
Earning your doctorate degree from an accredited institution will improve your ability to find a good internship, increase your marketability following graduation, and qualify you to apply for a psychology license. Ultimately, accreditation is important because it ensures that psychology programs meet or exceed quality standards for the industry and that you’re going to learn what you need to know to become a successful psychologist. During your evaluation of doctorate programs you may come across schools that are in the accreditation process. If you’re considering a program that’s in the process of obtaining accreditation, you need to find out where they are in the process and when full accreditation status will be achieved.
Other Things To Look For
As we already mentioned, the first thing you want to look for when evaluating psychology grad programs is whether or not the focus of the program is in line with your long-term career goals. You also need to explore a number of other factors including (1) a program’s track record, (2) what type of experience the program provides, and (3) how much the program will cost.
- Track Record
If you want to know how good a psychology program really is, ask students who’ve been through it. Contact current students and ask them how there experience with the program has been thus far. Also reach out professionals who’ve graduated from the program and find out their experience and opinion. What is the program’s placement rate for recent graduates? What types of positions do their graduates hold? And which organizations and companies do their graduates work for? Taking a look at programs track record is a sure-fire way of discovering how good a program really is. As they say, “the proof is in the pudding.”
After you’ve determined whether you’re going to pursue a PhD in psychology or PsyD you need to find out what type of experience a program offers. If you’re going to pursue a PhD, you’ll want to find out how much research experience the program provides. If you’re going to pursue a PsyD, you’ll want to find out how much clinical experience the program provides. Experience is an important aspect of any good doctorate program in psychology.
Since both a PhD and PsyD lead to a doctorate degree in psychology, you might think that they’d cost about the same – but they don’t. In fact, most PhD programs are far less expensive than PsyD programs. Why is this? Well, many PsyD programs are run by for-profit schools that charge tuition. Most PhD programs don’t charge tuition and many even provide their students with a stipend. The difference in cost between the two programs is rooted in the mechanics of each program operates. PsyD programs are financed directly by student tuition and fees. Conversely, PhD programs are financed by grants used to pay for research to be performed. And as PhD programs are research driven, the costs of research including student stipends are often covered by the grants.
When determining the quality of a psychology program there several factors to consider and questions you should ask.
- What is the student-to-faculty ratio? Knowing how many students there are for every faculty member can provide a lot of insight into how much clinical supervision and quality education you’ll receive. In our opinion, a class size of 10 to 20 is optimal.
- On average what percentage of students are placed in good internships each year? Getting a good internship will greatly improve your chances of landing a good job after graduation AND an internship is required for licensing in most states.
- What is the graduate rate? A good program will have a relatively high graduation rate.
- How well have students performed on industry tests, such as the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP)?
- What is the turnover in faculty? A good program will be able to retain good faculty.
- Are classes taught by full-time professors or part-time/adjunct faculty?
- When was the program established? New programs are not going to have the same track record as more established programs – and consequently are a bit riskier.
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