How Long Does It Take To Get A Phd In Psychology Masters

Doctoral Degree (7-8 years)

According to the National Science Foundation, graduates typically earn their research psychology PhD degrees 7 to 8 years after starting their graduate program. Clinical psychology programs have different requirements and time to complete may vary.

Licensure requirements vary, but all states require that psychologists complete doctoral-level work in order to obtain a license for practice. You may choose to earn a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), depending on whether you want a career in practice (PsyD) or in research (PhD), or some combination of the two. The PsyD is a professional degree and focuses more on practice and clinical work. The PhD places more emphasis on experimental methods and research. For both PsyD and PhD degrees, employment settings to explore include schools and colleges, health care systems, government, and social service agencies.

A general psychology PhD is a terminal degree, or the highest degree available, in the field. The degree focuses on developing a broad base of knowledge, strong research and critical thinking skills, and analytical expertise across many subfields of psychology.  

PsyD vs. PhD degrees

There are 2 options for earning a doctoral degree in general psychology. You can earn either a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. While both a PhD and PsyD will prepare you to work in many of the same roles, there are some key differences in program curriculum.

A PsyD program focuses more on applying existing knowledge to clinical settings and interactions with clients. In contrast, a PhD program is focused more on studying trends in the profession and producing new knowledge through research.

If your goal is to assess and treat patients with psychotherapy techniques, a PsyD may be the best choice for you. If you want to investigate psychological theory or work in academia—with or without a career in private practice—a PhD may be a better option.

Who are PhDs in psychology intended for?

PhDs in psychology are intended for students who want to work in research, academia, or administration. The degree’s emphasis on research and analysis is a good fit if you’re interested in a career as a university professor, researcher, consultant, or program director. A psychology PhD is also appropriate for private practitioners who have an interest in teaching or research since the degree meets qualifications for most state licenses and specialty certifications.

Careers with a PhD in Psychology

A PhD in general psychology can qualify you for many types of careers. This degree can lead you to positions in government agencies, corporations, universities, healthcare organizations, and private practice. While this list is by no means comprehensive, the following roles are just some of the careers you may find with a PhD.

Clinical psychologist

While a PhD emphasizes research, the degree still allows you to earn the education you need to get a psychology license and work in private practice. A clinical psychologist works with clients to help them manage challenges posed by physical, mental, or behavioral issues. Many PhD clinical psychologists maintain a private practice, while also pursuing research and/or teaching endeavors.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), clinical psychologists earn an average annual salary of $87,450.

Other requirements

To practice independently as any kind of psychologist, you’ll have to earn a psychology license in your state. This usually requires having between 1,000 and 2,000 hours of postdoctoral supervised work experience and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), as well as any other exams required by your state. After receiving your license and meeting specific criteria, you can apply for optional specialty certification in clinical psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Continuing education will also be required to maintain an active license.

Educational psychologist

An educational psychologist focuses on identifying and studying the ways people learn and retain new information. Since education isn’t restricted to school settings, an educational psychologist can work to improve all types of learning at all stages of life. That said, they may specialize in 1 type of patient population, such as children, adults, or individuals with specific conditions.  


While the BLS doesn’t record salaries for educational psychologists specifically, the average annual salary for general psychologists is $$98,230.

Other requirements       

You’ll need to complete a set number of hours of supervised work experience, pass the EPPP exam and any other test required by your state, and pursue continuing education once you have your license.

Organizational psychologist

An organizational psychologist applies psychological theories to organizations and the workplace. Professionals in this field use principles of individual, group, and organizational behavior to design and implement programs related to areas such as performance, training, and quality of work life.


According to the BLS, the average annual salary for organizational psychologists is $111,150, however, the data is rather limited.

Other requirements        

Along with the work experience, testing requirements, and continuing education required of all licensed psychologists, you can opt to earn certification in organizational and business consulting psychology from the ABPP specialty board.

Psychology professor

Colleges and universities typically require a PhD for psychology professors. Depending on your experience and interests, you can pursue programs that allow you to teach general or specialized psychology principles. Many psychology professors combine teaching with research to contribute new knowledge to the field.


Psychology educators at the postsecondary level earn an average annual salary of $80,720.

Other requirements

To work as a psychology professor, you’ll have to earn your teaching certification from your state’s Board of Education. This typically involves completing an approved teacher preparation program and passing required exams. Certification renewal may be required every few years depending on your state’s criteria.

Research psychologist

A PhD is the standard for conducting independent research in the field of psychology. Research psychologists typically work in universities, government health agencies, and private research organizations. They’re typically required to publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals and give presentations at psychology conferences to maintain their positions.  


While the BLS doesn’t track salaries specifically for research psychologists, you may expect to earn around the same as a psychology professor. However, salaries can vary greatly depending on the exact setting in which you work.

Other requirements

As with all other psychologists, you’ll need to meet the national and state-specific requirements for earning your license.

Admission Requirements Before Starting a PhD in General Psychology

PhD admission requirements vary by program and school. Most students begin the program with a master’s degree in psychology or an advanced degree in a closely related field. Getting into a leading PhD program can be competitive and most base their admissions on a holistic assessment of the following:

  • Academic and professional letters of recommendation
  • Academic writing samples
  • Official academic transcripts
  • 1-on-1 interview
  • Proof of internship or professional experience
  • Responses to admission essays

Initial Work Experience

To be granted a license to practice psychology, most prospective psychologists must have pre-or post-doctoral supervised experience (typically 1-2 years of professional experience). The specific requirements, including the number of clinical hours varies by state.  Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists

This work is the final step in a long journey that can lead to a career as a licensed psychologist working with diverse populations in a variety of work settings.