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PsyD vs PhD: Which One Is Right For You?

To continue your psychology studies, you'll have a significant choice to make: PsyD vs PhD. Here are the pros and cons of each.

Oct 24, 2016
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✨ 5-second summary

  • PhD programs focus on research and academia, while PsyD programs are designed for those interested in clinical practice.
  • PhD programs often come with lower tuition and more opportunities for funding, leading to fewer loans compared to PsyD programs.
  • PsyD students may enter the workforce sooner, potentially seeing a quicker return on their investment.

While many students use their undergraduate psychology degrees as a launching point to a breadth and depth of careers, others opt to pursue advanced degrees in the field.

But before you can continue your psychology studies, you have a significant choice to make: PsyD vs PhD. Let’s take a closer look at these two academic pathways.

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PhD in Clinical Psychology

A PhD in Clinical Psychology is a Doctorate of Philosophy of Clinical Psychology. The title alone offers valuable insight into the nature of this course of study.

Accounting for the vast majority of all doctoral degrees in the field -- approximately 75 percent -- PhD programs in clinical psychology are very much like all other PhD programs in that they focus heavily on research, tests and measurements, and theoretical advancement. Because of this, a PhD in Clinical Psychology is viewed as a solid foundation for graduates seeking careers in either academia or administration.

The PhD also represents an appealing option for aspiring psychology graduate students for whom finances are a concern. Not only are PhD programs typically less expensive than their Psy.D. alternatives, but they’re also more likely to be affiliated with universities which offer funding. As a result, PhD students typically graduate with fewer loans than PsyD students.

PsyD in Clinical Psychology

While the PhD is best suited for research-driven students, the PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology, is a strong fit for students interested in pursuing clinical practice.

While programs do offer a research component, the typical PsyD degree aims to deliver the practice-based knowledge required for face-to-face work with clients in the field. These professional degree programs also typically include training for state licensure exams, thereby increasing the readiness of students to work as practitioners in the field.

This isn’t to say, however, that PsyD students aren’t qualified to take on administrative positions. They are and regularly do, according to former associate executive director of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students Carol Williams-Nickelson, PsyD.

And while PsyD students may pay more for their degrees than PhD students, they’re also more likely to enter the workforce sooner. (While the classroom portion of both degrees is similar, the dissertation portion of the PhD is more rigorous and usually takes longer.) This means they’ll see a faster ROI (return on investment) on their tuition dollars and will be able to start paying those loans back sooner.

PsyD in Psychology and PhD in Psychology

PsyD vs PhD: which one is right for you?

PhD or PsyD? Here are some factors you should consider when you're making a PsyD vs PhD comparison.

Your career direction

While factors ranging from budget to competitiveness (PhD programs are generally harder to get into than PsyD programs) certainly factor into the picture, the overarching concern pertains to your career direction. Are you more interested in academia or clinical practice?

While it’s not impossible to pursue a career in academia with a PsyD, experts agree that the PhD comes out on top when it comes to positioning grads for careers in research, higher education and administration.

And while PsyD and PhD programs are viewed equally in the clinical practice sphere, most would argue that the PsyD more immediately prepares grads for clinical work. Then again, research also suggests that PhD students are more likely to be accepted to their preferred internship programs than PsyD graduates.

Consider many PhD and PsyD programs

Not sure which direction you’d rather go yet? Many students end up in this position, and opt to let the degree pick them by considering a variety of PhD and PsyD programs. This allows them to get a better understanding of the experiences offered by each individual program as opposed to generalizing them based on degree alone. After all, the quality of a program is not ultimately determined by whether it confers a PhD or a PsyD, but is instead a reflection of its unique curriculum and offerings.

Accreditation

Which brings us to one last consideration: Accreditation. Perhaps even more paramount than the choice between a PhD or PsyD is the importance of selecting a program accredited by the American Psychological Association. In short, there’s no better guarantee on your investment. As Williams-Nickelson told PsychCentral, “Accreditation standards set a reasonable quality bar for graduate psychology education.”

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