The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the granddaddy of all graduate level degrees - the highest and most prestigious degree the world over. PhDs in Psychology are offered in a variety of specialized fields of study with wide ranges in their area of focus and career intents. Mental health fields include PhD's in clinical or counseling psychology. Applied PhD's include Industrial/Organizational, Human Factors Engineering, Sports Performance and Forensic among others. Research Psychology PhD's are offered in almost every subfield such as social psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology and experimental psychology. The level of empirical research required during a program varies by field of study. However, in all cases you will be required to present a dissertation involving some type of original research. With a PhD in Psychology, all career paths in Psychology are open to you.
Learn more about the Psychology PhD. Degree
The Doctorate of Psychology Degree (PsyD.) is a relatively new offering, geared for those who are more interested in the practice of psychology and will have less emphasis on research and more focus on applied topics. The degree was born as an alternative to the traditional PhD and is very attractive to those whose career interests are limited to applied practice of the profession. A PsyD degree will allow you to work and practice in almost all mental health fields and there is at least one new PsyD program specializing in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
Learn more about the PsyD Degree
The Doctor of Education (EdD) degree is a doctoral degree awarded by a department of education. Given this fact many programs are focused on education and related areas. However, there are programs such as counseling psychology EdD's, that will be very similar to PhD programs. EdD programs tend to have a more practitioner-oriented focus but still provide strong grounding in research and theory, particularly in applied research. With an EdD you can still be eligible for licensure as a psychologist if your program is APA accredited. In a sense this degree can be viewed as a kind of mix of the PsyD and educational psychology PhD.
Typical prerequisites and admissions criteria for graduate programs in psychology.
Although graduate programs in psychology vary widely in focus, typically the minimum criteria to apply are similar. An undergraduate major in psychology will be favored, but not always required. However, several core courses in psychology will usually be required. The required courses will usually include research methods and statistics courses along with some upper level elective courses.
Most programs will require a minimum score on the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), although there are some that may not. Most programs will also require a “personal statement.” This is a paper outlining why you are interested in the program, why you are a good fit based on your experience and what you want to get out of the program in terms of career. These, of course, would be the minimum admission criteria. Most programs will look favorably on expanded experience in psychology such as research or work in a psychologically related setting, particularly areas closely related to the program you are applying to. For more competitive programs these extra areas of experience will, essentially, be required to actually gain admission along with a strong academic record.
For more information on becoming a good candidate for admission to graduate school please read our section on "How to get into graduate school."
In addition to the great information provided on this site another good resource is the APA (American Psychological Association) publication "Graduate Study in Psychology" which you can buy at better bookstores or find at your local library.