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What are the main differences between a PsyD and a PhD in psychology? What do schools look at in terms of qualifications for acceptance?

I am a senior undergrad student getting ready to graduate with a B.S. in social sciences this December. I am interested in pursuing a higher degree in psychology, but would like to know the main differences between the PsyD and the PhD. I have heard the main differences are that research experience is necessary to be accepted into PhD programs and that PsyD programs are a little bit shorter in terms of years to complete. Are there any other major differences between the programs? How do I know which one is right for me? What are schools looking for in candidates applying to these programs and what can I do to increase my chances of acceptance besides a high GPA and decent GRE scores? Thank you so much!
#phd #psyd #gradschoolprograms #july #doctorate-degree


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Christine’s Answer

Your question is a very common one for those who are thinking of a career in psychology. I wanted to add a bit to the response that was given. It is true that the Ph.D. is a more research-based degree compared to a Psy.D. degree. Many Ph.D. programs also often offer assistantship dollars for students' involvement in research and teaching and, such assistantships, can come with tuition waivers as well. You are correct that prior research experience is a big plus to have on your application. Given your constraints, I have a couple of suggestions for you. First, you might consider contacting the psychology (or a related department such as sociology, public health, or social work) department at a larger university or hosptial where research is being conducted within the department. You could inqure as to whether they are in need of any research assistants and, if so, there might be a volunteer experience for you. I agree that it might be difficult to find opportunities given COVID, however, you may be able to do some, if not all, of the work at home. Additionally, there are often paid research assistant positions at hospitals (including VA hospitals), research centers, or within university departments. Some students who have more limited research experiences opt to take a year off after graduating with their undergraduate degree in order to strengthen their application by obtaining a research assistant position. You are correct that good G.R.E. scores as well as high grades are a plus. At the same time, strong letters of recommendation as well as an excellent personal statement also enhances one's application. Schools also look to see the nature of your volunteer experience. You should have someone within the field (e.g., one of your professors) look over your materials prior to sending them off.

One last piece of advice, whether you decide to obtain a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., make sure that your program is accredited by the American Psychological Association. If you do not complete an accredited doctoral program, you may have difficulty ultimately getting a license. Good luck!

This was super helpful. Thank you so much for your time. I have definitely been told to be sure my program is APA accredited- I actually cannot understand why someone would not attend a program that has those affiliations. Your advice is really sound. I have contacted universities near me, but covid has literally shut everything down. That is a great idea about contacting hospitals and research centers. Do you have any idea as to how to get ahold of someone who might know which direction to point me in? For instance, would I contact the HR department of a hospital? Thank you so much! Allison S.

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Carolyn’s Answer

Hi Allison,


This was too long to put in the comment box so I'm just answering again! But I read the other answer to this question as well and I think that you should definitely keep calling around and researching on the internet for research assistant positions. Maybe try typing in the search "online research assistant" and see what comes up and also keep calling around to find somewhere. I have a feeling someone out there has a lot of work to do on their research and is in desperate need of some help so just keep trying. As for the question of whether to apply to both programs, I'd say go for it. My advisor told me to look apply to all the programs, of course only APA accredited ones, to have options. If multiple places accept you then that is awesome and you have options. If only one accepts you, you will be glad you applied to more than one because that one might not have been at the top of your list and you would have had to wait to apply next year. Another option that my professor suggested would be to apply to master's programs as well and then after you complete it you will have a better chance of getting into the program and it might be only a year longer. So to summarize, I would recommend first calling everywhere you can and searching online for research assistant positions and I'm sure there will be something out there. Then I would recommend working on your applications now and collecting references now and then applying to any school that you might consider for both Ph.D. and Psy.D. as well as masters programs. If you don't get accepted to a Ph.D. or Psy.D. program and you do get accepted for the master's program, then I would recommend going that route and then get your Ph.D. after completing your master's. Hopefully that information helped! Good luck with everything!

Hi and thank you so much for your feedback on my question! I cannot tell you how difficult it has been trying to locate a research opportunity. I have tried typing in virtual research assistants, but I retrieve mostly information on research journalism and the like. After seeing your answer, I will definitely be applying to any and all programs as they will all get me to where I want to be professionally. I just truly worry I won’t even be considered for candidacy in a PhD program without the research experience, so that it why I am trying to tackle that now. Thank you so much again! Allison S.

No problem I wish you all the luck! Carolyn Kunkel

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Carolyn’s Answer

Hi Allison,

I just graduated with a B.S. in psychology at Penn State and I did a lot of research on the PsyD and Ph.D. programs when I was deciding what to do following graduation. There are a few differences between the two programs but the most important thing to note is that they both get you to generally the same place after graduating. A Ph.D. is more research-based while a PsyD is more clinical-based. If you want to do research in the field after you graduate then a Ph.D. is the way to go. If you want to go the clinical route and become a clinical psychologist then a PsyD might be a better route. However, you can also become a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. as well. The big difference between the two is the price and competitiveness of the programs. PsyD's are very expensive compared to Ph.D.'s and they are much harder programs to get into. Also, in the psychology world, it seems like Ph.D.'s are the more respectable degrees to have among other psychologists but essentially they both get you to where you need to go in the same way. I would recommend talking to your academic advisor about it and going from there because they might have more information to offer you but from what I heard, it doesn't really matter which one you get but the Ph.D. might be the less expensive route to take.

Hi thank you so much for this incredibly helpful response! I am definitely really interested in conducting research, therefore am really interested in the PhD program, however, due to COVID-19 all research internships near me have been halted making it nearly impossible to gain any research experience. I have heard prior research experience is absolutely necessary to get into PhD programs, so I am wondering how else I can get the experience I need right now. Unfortunately my school does not offer research opportunities to students which is a major drawback for me. Do you think it is possible to apply to both types of programs to heighten my chances for acceptance? Thank you so much for your time. Allison S.

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