PhD Vs. PsyD: Program Comparison

A woman earning her PhD in Psychology online

If you’re interested in working at the highest level in the field of psychology, there are two degree options that you should consider. These are the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology degree and the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. Before deciding on which doctorate-level degree to pursue, it’s important to examine all the aspects of both degrees. 

What Is a PhD?

Earning a PhD is a long and rigorous process, but it can also be very rewarding. Because the PhD was originally intended to prepare students for the world of teaching, this degree is focused on research and statistics. It is a competitive program that requires a lot of commitment from students, but there are several benefits to a PhD in psychology.

A PhD program will prepare students to work in a variety of clinical settings as well as in a variety of research-related and academic fields. These include positions in clinical practice, scientific research, forensic psychology, patient care and teaching. If you decide that you want to pursue a different career than you originally intended, a PhD will open up more career options moving forward.

While pursuing a PhD in psychology, each student must complete an internship accredited by the American Psychology Association (APA) that lasts at least one year. On top of this, each student will need to write and defend a dissertation, which can take multiple years of commitment to accomplish.

It’s also possible to specialize in different areas with a PhD. Many colleges offer specific PhD programs that are tailored to specific interests and skillsets — for example, a PhD in Psychology with an Emphasis in Integrating Technology, Learning and Psychology or a PhD in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance Psychology. You can also often choose whether you’d rather focus more on qualitative or quantitative research in your program.

What Is a PsyD?

A PsyD degree program is an alternative option to a PhD in psychology for students who want a more direct path to practicing clinical psychology and working directly with patients. A PsyD program gives graduates the skills they need to practice psychology in a variety of settings, yet focuses more on the clinical aspect of psychology.

As with a PhD, if you are earning a PsyD degree you will need to complete an internship accredited by the APA that lasts at least one year. This will give you the opportunity to explore what client-focused work you want to pursue after you complete the PsyD program.

Graduates with a PsyD often pursue careers as counselors or social workers, as these fields enable professionals to work directly with patients. In PsyD courses, you’ll be able to apply knowledge directly to psychology practice in individual and group settings, preparing you specifically for these fields.

Similarities Between a PhD and a PsyD

Both a PhD and a PsyD are great degree options for students looking to further their education in psychology or professionals looking to advance in their field. While there are distinct differences, there are also similarities.

A PhD degree and a PsyD degree are both doctorate-level degrees that require you to have a master’s degree — ideally in psychology — when you apply. You will also need to have a high GPA, submit strong letters of recommendation and perform well on any entrance interviews. Because both degrees are terminal degrees, you must make yourself a competitive candidate, no matter which of the two degrees you choose.*

During either degree program, you will also have to complete a dissertation or a dissertation-like project. Although PhD programs typically take a little longer, both programs can vary in length depending on each students’ other priorities — such as a job or a family.

Difference Between a PhD and a PsyD

Anyone trying to decide between a PhD and a PsyD should understand several differences between the two types of doctorate degrees. The courses for each degree program vary; although both are geared toward psychology, each degree prepares you for different careers and specific areas of psychology.

If you want to pursue a career that involves research or teaching, you will likely want to pursue a PhD. On the other hand, if you want to apply your psychology training in a more client-focused way, a PsyD can provide you with advanced knowledge that can help you to apply yourself to that field.

Additionally, it’s important to look at cost and financial aid differences between PhDs and PsyDs. While earning a PhD, your tuition may be waived and you may receive stipends in exchange for assisting with research or teaching. This means that it’s possible to graduate with your PhD without any debt. In a PsyD program, it’s less common to find the same financial aid.*

Are you ready to take the next step in your academic career? If so, the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University offers a variety of online PhD programs in general psychology that can help you reach your career goals. Click the Request Info button at the top of the page to learn more about your degree options at GCU.


*Retrieved from All Psychology Schools, PsyD vs PhD: What's the Difference? in April 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.


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