Selecting a psychology degree program - the Ph.D, Ed.D, Psy.D and Ed.S

Reference & EducationCollege & University

  • Author Psych Central
  • Published June 23, 2017
  • Word count 775

A doctoral level degree in psychology or related fields is considered a prerequisite in order to obtain state licensing and work in many psychology fields. The time it takes to earn a doctorate depends on a number of factors including the field of psychology you pursue, your specialty, and even the school awarding the degree. Depending on the program and requirements specific to individual universities, the time investment runs anywhere from four to seven years, though many programs are beginning to offer "accelerated" tracks, allowing students to increase their course loads each semester and attend classes during the summer months. In these instances some students are able to complete their degree in as little as two and a half years (usually this refers to Ed.S degree programs that have credit requirements equivalent to doctoral training.)

Some specialties, such as licensed clinical psychology and clinical mental health, also require the completion of a two to four year supervised residency program following completion of the degree program.

Before selecting a doctoral program make sure you’ve considered all your options. A Ph.D in psychology (Doctor of Philosophy) is not the only doctoral degree you can pursue. You can also earn an Ed.D (Doctor of Education) or a Psy.D (Doctor of Psychology) or an Ed.S (Educational Specialist) which, when offered by schools that require a doctoral level number of credits, is considered to be a degree equivalent to the Psy.D.

So, which one should you choose?

Ph.D, Ed.D, Psy.D/Ed.S

Each of these degrees will prepare you for a career in psychology, but it’s important to understand the benefits and limitations of each.

A Ph.D in psychology (clinical psychology, clinical mental health, or otherwise named equivalent program) known as a Doctorate in Philosophy, is the degree that's been around the longest and that most people are familiar with. This degree places an educational emphasis on research. Clinicians completing Ph.D programs are well prepared for careers in a variety of psychology-related fields and settings. These graduates often work in research positions or teach at colleges, but they're also prepared to be practitioners at hospitals, mental health institutions, and consultants for government agencies.

An Ed.D qualifies those working in this field similarly to the Ph.D, but places its emphasis on education-related fields such as school psychology.

The Psy.D, and its equivalency degree the Ed.S, are usually degrees earned in programs of study that are traditionally more practitioner focused. While these graduates are also prepared to teach and perform research, they more often are involved in direct patient care where mental health services are provided.

One of the main distinctions between the Psy.D/Ed.S degrees and their Ph.D/Ed.D counterparts is the requirement of a written dissertation. Not all Psy.D and Ed.S programs require one, but most Ph.D and Ed.D tracks do.

How Long Does It Take to Earn Doctoral Level Degrees in Psychology?

As discussed previously, how long it takes to earn a doctorate in psychology depends on several factors, including the field of psychology you pursue, your specialty, your previous education, and even the specific program or college located within the university you select. If you want to get through your doctorate as quickly as possible then the key is to start early in your educational career. Make sure you take all the prerequisite courses while completing your bachelor’s and/or master’s degree. And consider programs that offer Psy.D/Ed.S degrees that can be awarded without the requirement of a dissertation.

Time to Complete a Ph.D in psychology (or related area)

On average, it can take four to seven years to complete a Ph.D program in this area. Graduates may also be required to complete a supervised internship program to qualify for state licensing.

Time to Complete a Psy.D/Ed.S

A Psy.D, and the equivalent Ed.S degrees, usually take less time to complete than a Ph.D. These degree programs range from 4 to 6 years. A two to four year residency is also common.

Time To Complete an Ed.D

In some programs, an Ed.D can be completed in less time than it takes to complete the Psy.D or Ph.D. It can take anywhere from three to six years to graduate with this degree. However, obtaining a master’s degree initially is often a prerequisite for acceptance into many Ed.D programs. Most Ph.D and Psy.D programs will accept applicants holding a bachelor’s degree in psychology or related fields.

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