Average Cost of Doctorate Degree in Psychology

Last Updated on December 14, 2022 by

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Like purchasing a car or home, you have a choice when it comes to how much to spend on your graduate school education.

There are many affordable options for returning to school, and a wide array of clinical psychology programs that will allow you to complete your graduate education at a price and pace that is comfortable for you.

The following tuition costs to obtain a psychology degree summarize the findings of the 2016 edition of the Graduate Study in Psychology, performed by the American Psychological Association.

How Much Does Clinical Psychology School Cost?

A career as a clinical psychologist enables you to help individuals who are suffering from mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Through counseling and other therapeutic techniques, you play a vital role in the recovery of someone who is dealing with these crippling and debilitating issues. The road towards becoming a clinical psychologist is a long one and you are certainly concerned about how much it is going to cost you.

This is a very valid concern especially since a bachelor’s degree is just the start of the journey. You will have to go to postgraduate school and get your doctoral degree in clinical psychology so that you can be qualified to get your license and practice the profession.

Despite this reality, you can still lower your overall cost if you attend a public school and qualify for in-state tuition discounts. Getting scholarships and grants would also be another way of going to college and then to postgraduate clinical psychology school without incurring too much student debt.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $60,000 annually. This calculation includes tuition and fees, room and board and books and supplies. At the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, the cost of in-state tuition is $26,586 while for out-of-state students it is $40,968 while at the University of Kansas, the cost is cheaper at $18,709 for in-state students and $33,475 for out-of-state students. At the University of Houston, the cost for in-state students is $18,513 while the out-of-state students, it is $27,009 annually.

Although private universities charge the same tuition for all students, this does not make them automatically more expensive as far as a bachelor’s degree in psychology is concerned. Ashford University is also popular for its psychology degree.

Northcentral University has one of the most affordable programs as far as private schools go at $8,808 annually. One of the top psychology programs is offered by Yale University. The yearly cost is $60,900.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, the next step towards becoming a clinical psychologist is a doctoral degree. If you are obtaining your PhD in clinical psychology in the top psychology schools in the country, the tuition cost can range anywhere from $7,000 to more than $40,000 annually. Doctoral degree programs usually take anywhere from four to five years to complete.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the tuition cost for a graduate degree in clinical psychology is $7,834 for in-state students and $23,924 for out-of-state students. The fees and books cost $1,855 and $1,182, respectively.

One of the top programs is offered by the University of California-Los Angeles with a tuition cost of $11,220. The annual cost of fees for this program is $1,346 while that of books is $1,521. At Yale University, the yearly cost of tuition is $35,500. It does not charge other fees but the cost for books is $3,300.

While you are obtaining your graduate degree, it’s important to also factor in the cost of housing, food and your other personal expenses. This could probably range anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 a year depending on the state where you live and how well you are able to budget your money.

Getting student loans is always an option for you to fund your graduate degree. However, plan this carefully beforehand since this is something that you will have to pay off as soon as you start working. Research shows that around a third of doctoral students have $75,000 in debt when they graduate so see to it that you know what you are getting into before you apply for a loan.

Cost Vs Reward Of A Psychologist Education

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the psychology degree continues to stand as one of the most popular majors for undergraduate and graduate school students. The overall field of psychology leads to a multitude of careers that allow individuals to explore various interests that include law enforcement, counseling, sports, and of course, clinical practice. Studying psychology also leads to many potentially lucrative career paths with the potential of enjoying autotomy with self-employment, such as establishing a private practice.

Psychology is also a field that allows people to make a significant impact on the lives of people who come from all walks of life. However, with the possibility of juggling repayment of student loans and dealing with work-related stress, students must address whether the personal rewards and benefits associated with pursuing a psychology career are worth the financial cost and additional hardships that may follow. The following information will highlight points to address when analyzing the total cost versus the rewards of earning a psychology degree:

The Average Cost of a Psychology Degree

The total costs related to a graduate degree program in psychology varies greatly, and is dependent on several factors which vary on a case-by-case basis, such as the type of school attended (private versus public); location (including the cost of living); specialized majors; level of financial assistance; and intended career goals.

Masters In Clinical Psychology Entry Requirements – College Learners

The prestige of a graduate school also figures into the cost of education, as institutions with a better reputation generally carry a higher ‘sticker price’ for tuition. For example, the leading graduate psychology programs in the nation, as ranked by the U.S. News & World Report in 2013, range in annual tuition costs from $10,000+ (residents) to $35,000 (non-residents) for public schools; and roughly $40,000+ for private institutions.

Factors that can affect the overall cost and ROI of a psychology degree include:

Type of Degree

The kind of psychology degree that a student pursues can have a profound effect on the overall cost of education, as shown by data released by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies. For example, those who pursue a PsyD will generally face higher tuition costs and debt than a PhD-prepared psychologist. While some jobs are obtainable with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, the higher-paying opportunities and the positions that involve treating patients require a doctorate degree.

Area of Expertise

With psychology being such a wide-ranging field, not all psychology degrees are equal when it comes to the expected income of various specialties within the field.

Sports psychologists typically earn $45,000 and $80,000, while those who work directly with professional athletes often take home six figures. Students with an interest in the law may pursue a career as a forensic psychologist, where some jobs are available with a master’s degree, but the majority of employment opportunities require a doctorate degree in clinical, counseling, or forensic psychology in order to make an average salary of $59,440.

Other high-paying psychology careers include counseling psychologist ($72,540 per year); engineering psychologist ($79,818 per year); neuropsychologist ($90,460 per year); and organizational-industrial psychologists ($97,820 per year), where the top five percent of members belonging to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology earn in excess of $250,000 a year. Those with a master’s degree generally start around $40,000, where a doctorate degree increases yearly income to $55,000.

Location: The state and community in which a psychologist is ultimately employed plays a part in the salary-to-debt ratio experienced by graduates. The American Psychological Association reports that independent practitioners living in the mid-Atlantic and Southwest regions of the United States earn some of the largest paychecks in the ballpark of $90,000.

In the end, the total cost of a psychology education is one that begins with the tuition and fees associated with a chosen college or university; increases with the number of years spent learning and training; may decrease depending on the type of financial assistance received (student loans versus scholarships and grants); and generally continues to increase during the repayment phase of loans when compounded interest is taken into account.

Cheapest Online Master's Degree In Psychology – College Learners

Accumulated School Loan Debt

“Many graduates in psychology face an even bigger issue, which is having the ability to pay off their student loans,” says Dr. David Stephens, dean of the School of Professional Psychology at the University of the Rockies. “It is quite common for students to incur significant debt in their graduate training in psychology, and being able to pay that off can be a great challenge.”

In 2009, the median debt amongst psychology doctorates was $70,000. PhD students encountered an average debt of $50,000, while PsyD graduates owed a median of $120,000. Furthermore, twenty-five percent of PsyD graduates owed more than $160,000 in debt.

According to the APA, debt levels for psychology graduates continue to escalate with fewer options for relief. For example, since 2012, federally subsidized Stafford loans are no longer an option for graduate students, which means interest accumulates from the moment a loan is accepted. Although repayment does not begin while a student is still in school, their debt continues to rise even before they’ve completed their studies and have entered the workforce.

The Time Commitment for a Psychology Degree & Career

The general time commitment associated with obtaining a psychology degree depends on an individual’s specific career goals, and which area of study he or she plans on pursuing.

All entry-level positions within the psychology field require the completion of a bachelor’s degree (which takes at least four years to complete). For some of the more specialized fields, a master’s degree will suffice, as seen in the industrial-organizational psychologist or the licensed sports psychologist who completes 2 to 3 years of graduate school to earn a degree. Criminal and forensic psychologists can also find employment with 2 to 3 years of graduate school, although a doctoral degree is recommended to qualify for higher-paying job opportunities.

Depending on a chosen field, an internship is also a requirement which adds time. For example, many school psychologist positions require an advanced degree; however, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some may get hired with a master’s degree. The Ed.S. degree is a specialist degree that school psychologists may pursue, which involves 1,200 internship hours under supervision and at least 60 hours of education and psychology coursework.

The longest educational path is one that leads to the title of licensed psychologist and involves the completion of a doctorate-level education. For example, an aspiring licensed clinical psychologist continues their training with 4 to 7 years of study at the graduate level to earn either a Ph.D. (which concentrates more on research) or a Psy.D. (typically more for those with aspirations to open a private practice and/or perform clinical work).

Additional career options that require more years of a graduate-level education include:

  • Health psychologist: 4 to 5 years
  • Social psychologist: 5 to 7 years
  • Child psychologist: 5 to 7 years

Most licensed psychologists spend roughly 12 years in higher education.

Additionally, the more time spent in school, the higher the potential income a graduate may earn. According to the American Psychological Association, independent practitioners holding a master’s degree earned a median salary of $47,000, while professionals with a doctorate-level education made nearly double – around $87,015.

For psychologists with aspirations to establish a private practice, more time is generally needed to gain the necessary experience and interaction with patients which make self-employment a viable career choice. It takes a few years to build up a client base; often fueled by the referrals of satisfied patients. Practitioners with early success and a good reputation may be able to establish a private practice within five years.

According to The Princeton Review, many psychologists working at a university or hospital may start devoting their attention to a full-time practice, or shift into hospital administration, ongoing research, or conducting clinical tests after ten years in the field [1].

Hardships Associated with a Psychology Degree & Career

In addition to financial concerns and the years of training it takes to qualify for high-paying and specialty job positions, future psychologists must also acknowledge the following factors that can pose an issue while pursuing this particular career path:

A Rigorous Grad School Experience

In addition to juggling internships and studying, most exams on the graduate school-level have been known to require up to weeks of review. Psychology majors are often warned to adopt a high level of organization, and view graduate school beyond attending classes and taking tests, and to instead, approach it more as if it were a full-time job.

“Had I been aware of how stressful it would be to try and study while in a full time internship, I would have started much earlier and studied all along the way,” Elizabeth Short is quoted as saying in a piece titled ‘What I Wish I Knew in Grad School: Current and Former Students Share 16 Tips.’

Psychology students spend their days and weekends reading, doing assignments, studying, completing practicums, working on projects, and participating in group work.

Job Search and Security

“I think there are several hardships faced by psychology graduates,” says Dr. Stephens. “Finding a job can be difficult, depending in large measure on your geographic area and where you want to live.”

Job security is also an issue for some psychologists. For example, those with an interest in obtaining and maintaining a teaching position also face a low level of job security without tenure, and must strongly compete with their peers to reach this distinction from other employees who work in the same college or university setting.


From professional isolation to worries over mounting caseloads, the nature of work that a psychologist does places every professional at risk for occupational stress, emotional distress, and in some cases, impairment. This potential vulnerability is what prompted the Board of Professional Affairs’ Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance (ACCA) to focus on the prevention of professional distress and impairment by lending support to state and provincial psychology association programming, as well as research and develop preventive strategies to protect psychologists.

The emotional aspect of psychology work is intense and many professionals are at risk from suffering what some in the industry refer to as ‘compassion fatigue.’

According to Bruce Ecker, the Director of the Concentration in Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology’s child and family clinical training program, one of the first hardships that a new graduate faces is that it is “sometimes troubling to share the pain of our patients.”

“A hardship that is faced by all who are involved in providing psychotherapeutic services is the emotional drain associated with hearing the life difficulties and tragedies encountered by many of one’s clients,” adds Stephens. “Managing that stress and taking care of oneself emotionally is a challenge, and can rise to the level of being a hardship if it is not acknowledged and addressed.”

Private practice also has its own set of unique obstacles to overcome which can cause stress, such as getting established as a new resource within a community; finding time to market, advertise and promote the business; and growing a profitable roster of patients and clients.


Being On-Call

While some psychologists enjoy a more flexible work schedule (depending on their area of expertise and employment circumstances), others are tasked to deal with client issues that may arise at any time of day or night. It is not uncommon for evening sessions or emergency consultation to take place beyond normal business hours.

Changes in Healthcare

Psychologists often feel increased demands and pressure related to the ever-changing rules, regulations and restrictions associated with the healthcare system in the U.S. For example, managed care has made direct clinical work a challenge for some to make a living within the profession.

“[Psychologists] need to be flexible in meeting the needs of a changing healthcare infrastructure, which sometimes creates stress,” says Ecker.

For example, reimbursement rates for clinicians are projected to remain on a downward slide, which prompts many mental health professionals to drop out of certain insurance networks. The seasoned psychologist who has already built a reputation and has established a business with private pay clients will do much better, while new psychologists may continue to face difficulties serving clients with low reimbursement rates.

Escalating costs associated with running a private practice and the pressure to meet government regulations are also predicted to sway psychologists to join large group practices which allows new graduates and inexperienced psychologists who have not built a name for themselves to share the costs of running a business with others – making it possible for them to earn an income that meets their financial needs.

Billing Issues

From the time it takes to process claims to making sure insurance companies send payment, both salaried and self-employed psychologists face billing issues. Hours are spent sifting through paperwork and dealing with the unpleasantness of submitting overdue bills to collections. Insurance company headaches are especially felt by those in private practice.

Rewards and Benefits of a Psychology Degree & Career

Psychology is an extremely broad field where students encounter a wide-ranging selection of specialties to consider focusing their studies on – from creating workplace violence prevention tools as an industrial-organizational psychologist to improving airline safety as an aviation psychologist – a student can easily find a rewarding career path to pursue that accommodates their interests. Other rewards and benefits associated with a psychology career include:

A Profound Learning Experience

Ecker refers to the psychology profession as ‘a lifelong career that is gratifying, as it enables me to help others.” He continues, “A psychology degree is also enriching, as it allows one to learn continuously and be creative.”

In addition to learning while on the job, many psychologists are required to fulfill continuing education requirements in order to maintain their license which are dependent on the requirements set by the state in which they practice in. For example, the California Board of Psychology requires professionals to complete 36 hours of continuing education for every biennial renewal period, including one course in spousal or partner abuse assessment; detection and intervention strategies; and 4 hours related to laws and ethics.

“Further, a psychology career fosters our own self-exploration, as it calls on us to know ourselves better,” says Ecker.

Constant Variety

“Another reward is that my job is always interesting, since every patient and every day is different,” says Ecker.

Within each area of psychology, professionals enjoy endless diversity in clients, patients, cases and challenges which represent various cultures, backgrounds and dilemmas. Depending on a psychologist’s area of expertise, his or her work settings may also change on a routine basis.

The Ability to Help Others

“I think the largest reward is the opportunity to better understand and help people resolve their life and relationship difficulties,” says Dr. Stephens. “Issues of mental health and mental illness are so critical to daily functioning, happiness and success, and so having the opportunity to help individuals improve in these areas is rewarding beyond measure.”

A psychologist is in the unique position to not only help clients on an individual basis, but to also touch the lives of families, groups, and larger populations of people.

“It is common for psychologists to view their work as a type of calling or mission, and I fit in that category,” says Dr. Stephens.  “Psychological difficulties in all their forms can be so devastating and debilitating that I feel like I am contributing not only to individual and family well-being in my work, but am also having a positive effect on the community and on future generations.”

Experience Equates to Higher Pay

“In terms of earning potential, psychology degrees can lead to a lucrative career,” says Ecker.

Although starting salaries for new psychology graduates in clinical work and research are generally between $45,000 and $55,000 in the U.S., years of experience significantly increases a professional’s income within this field – depending on geographic location and area of expertise. Time allows a psychologist to get acquainted with their peers, serve the area as a licensed professional, acknowledge the needs of a community, and make a good impression on current and potential patients/clients.

According to Psych Central, many psychologists experience increases in income ranging from $65,000 to $90,000 after 5-10 years in the field with a ten to twenty-five percent difference for professionals living in regions where the cost of living is elevated, such as New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. The average clinical psychologist managing a prosperous private practice can earn between $90,000 and $150,000 after 10 to 20 years past graduation.

Be Your Own Boss

The psychology field is appealing to many because of the entrepreneurial aspect of the profession, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly one-third of all psychologists are self-employed. In addition to opening their own private practice, psychologists can become self-employed as a consultant, write books, teach, and develop programs for healthcare entities and businesses.

Rewarding Work

Psychologists play an active role in improving the quality of their patient’s lives. In addition to experiencing the gratification that comes with working directly with people to help solve their problems, psychologists often get a chance to see the gradual change in patients and the positive results of their work.

Flexible Work Schedule

For the most part, psychologists employed in hospital-, government-, school-  and clinic settings typically work a 9-to-5 work schedule which allows them to enjoy personal pursuits and family activities in the evening. Those in private practice enjoy a higher level of flexibility with the ability to set their own hours; spend more time with family and friends; as well as take time off for vacations with fewer restrictions– all of which helps create a work-life balance that can lower the risk of burnout and stress.

Options for Offsetting Psychology Education Hardships

A challenging curriculum and the issue of locating enough financial aid to fund an education are some of the obstacles that await a psychology student. Therefore, individuals interested in taking a more active approach towards minimizing debt and adequately preparing for a career as s psychologist may do the following:

Narrow Down Job Interests

Since psychology is such a broad field, it is important to narrow down areas of interest and assess long-term career goals early on, which makes it easier for a student to stay motivated and on track when completing a psychology degree program. Job-shadowing and internships are also good ways to target potential job interests.

Borrow Less

Avoid taking out the maximum amount allowed on student loans as a way to soften the burden of student debt after graduation. Students who budget their finances and make a conscious effort to reduce immediate expenses, such as eliminating cable television or finding a cheaper cell phone plan, generally reap the benefits in the long term.

Research Free Aid Before Settling on Loans

In addition to receiving student loans from the government to help pay for a psychology degree program, obtaining a scholarship, fellowship or grant are the most desirable options because these forms of financial assistance do not require repayment. Students who research all of their possibilities and satisfy specific eligibility requirements can increase the ROI of their degree and lessen the debt owed upon graduation. Additional ways to fund an education include applying for assistantships, on-campus teaching opportunities, and programs with an annual stipend.

Cost Vs Reward of a Psychology Degree

When asked if a psychology degree is worth the cost, Dr. Stephens answered ‘yes.’

“I know a number of colleagues who disagree with this conclusion, but I believe the rewards far outweigh the costs,” he says. “In fact, I have been supportive of my daughter’s decision to enroll in a clinical psychology doctoral program, in large measure because of my own positive experiences in the field.”

“In my opinion, obtaining a psychology degree is absolutely worth the cost,” says Ecker. “The benefits are many; a career that is gratifying, interesting, lucrative, and promotes wellness.”

“The primary costs, better termed investments, are time in study and the cost of tuition,” he adds “These are well worth the benefits.”

Existing research suggests that psychologists are relatively happy with their careers. A study conducted by Patricia A. Rupert, associate professor of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago (which was featured in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice), revealed that the most satisfied professionals had reached an adequate work-life balance and had positive work experiences. Those less satisfied cited their work environment (such as feeling less in control) and a poor work-life balance as contributing to their level of dissatisfaction with the profession.

The field in which a psychologist works also plays a role in overall career satisfaction. For example, school psychologists have consistently shown high levels of job satisfaction. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of School Psychologists, respondents felt satisfaction in the social service aspect of their jobs, as well as the independence, job security, compensation, working conditions, and values associated with the career field. In fact, U.S. News & Work Report ranked school psychologist as #17 out of 100 Best Jobs; #6 in Best STEM Jobs, and #1 as the Best Social Services Job, citing above average upward mobility and flexibility related to the profession.

“I would absolutely become a psychologist again,” says Ecker, a licensed clinical and educational psychologist. “This career has been very rewarding, allowing me to help others and know myself while providing a respectable income.”

Earning a psychology degree opens the doors to a wide range of career possibilities, many of which lead to high levels of job satisfaction and decent salaries. Many psychologists enjoy a flexible schedule, and are able to attain a gratifying work-life balance. The psychology field also provides plenty of interesting and rewarding aspects which create a mentally stimulating work environment for professionals.

For some (especially in the clinical psychologist field), the long hours, extensive paperwork, and the hassle of dealing with insurance companies are some of the leading causes of burnout related to mental health careers. Psychologists are also at a higher risk to face work-related stress stemming from the emotions and challenges associated with treating the different types of patients they may come in contact with – from abuse victims to the severely depressed.

As one of the most sought-after degrees on both the undergraduate and graduate level of study, psychology is a field that displays waves of competition amongst new graduates, which vary according to specialty, experience level, and geographic location. Fortunately, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the hiring of psychologists to rise 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, with increased job opportunities awaiting the professionals that possess a doctoral degree in an applied specialty, or who have become a specialist related to the field of school psychology.

“Pursuing a graduate degree and career in psychology definitely requires a strong commitment, and includes a number of challenges and hardships, so carefully consider the pros and cons before enrolling in graduate school,” says Dr. Stephens. “If you choose to pursue psychology as a career, you will be embarking on an amazing career and journey that will enrich not only your life but the lives of many others.”

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