Aging Americans turn to psychologists for help with mental and physical changes. War veterans and others who suffered trauma seek help with PTSD and related disorders. Moreover, a deeper understanding of the connection between mental health and learning has cultivated an increased need for school psychologists.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that clinical, counseling, and school psychology professionals should grow by 14% -- twice the national average occupational growth rate -- between 2016 and 2026. Candidates with doctoral degrees from accredited schools can expect to find many opportunities on the job market, especially in clinical and counseling positions and school, elder, and rehabilitation psychology.

Psy.D. vs. Ph.D. in Psychology: What's the Difference?

Students can earn two types of doctorate in psychology degrees: a doctor of philosophy in psychology (Ph.D.) or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.). The Ph.D. focuses more on research and requires a dissertation and comprehensive exam for graduation. The Psy.D. centers on clinical practice, and the program focuses on practical work experience and exams.

As a general rule, Ph.D. graduates remain in academia as researchers or professors, while Psy.D. graduates tend to gravitate toward careers where they work directly with patients in clinical, counseling, school, or health services settings.

What to Expect in an Online Psychology Doctoral Program

Programs vary, but most online doctoral experiences include courses taught via livestream and videoconferencing, which students attend on their own schedules. However, the American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation does not accredit fully online doctoral programs, so students at accredited schools must complete hands-on fieldwork, internships, or residencies.

Admission Requirements for a Psychology Doctoral Program

Applicants to psychology doctoral programs must possess an undergraduate degree, preferably in psychology. Many schools also require a master's degree. Psychology doctoral programs feature a competitive admission process, and applicants with both undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology enjoy an advantage.

Applicants to psychology doctoral programs must possess an undergraduate degree, preferably in psychology.

Common admission requirements include: an online application; transcripts; a resume or CV; a statement of purpose; three letters of recommendation from teachers, professors, or community professionals; and test scores from the GRE, MAT, or a similar exam. Some schools require the GRE psychology subject test. Most programs do not require work experience or portfolios, but many seek applicants with a minimum 3.0 GPA. International students or those with non-U.S. degrees must submit test scores demonstrating proficiency in English, such as the TOEFL.

Sample Courses for an Online Doctorate in Psychology

Doctoral programs provide students with the foundation for scholarship and research in psychology. They also receive training to work in the field and publish their work. Courses provide a thorough understanding of psychological principles, specialty areas, and behavior assessments and intervention methodologies.

In addition to greater employment options and higher income potential, a doctorate provides an advantage when it comes to state licensing. Master's graduates may obtain licensure as clinical counselors, but not as psychologists. A doctorate, on the other hand, qualifies graduates to become licensed psychologists.

Biological Foundations of Human Behavior

In this course, students learn about how biological systems affect human behavior and development and explore the biological vs. environmental (or nature vs. nurture) question. Topics may include genetic influences, brain functions, and anatomy and the nervous system. This class often uses clinical cases to aid understanding.

Cognitive Development

This course introduces students to different theories explaining cognitive and language development, and it reviews the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Using real-life examples, students explore how communication and cognitive skills, such as attention, memory, and problem-solving, develop during various stages of childhood.

Development Psychology

Students in this course study human development across a lifetime, including physical, cognitive, emotional, linguistic, spiritual, and social changes. The class surveys theoretical approaches to lifespan development, such as psychodynamic and constructivist, and explores the historical and current arguments within the field.

Neuroscience

This class introduces students to the fundamentals of neuroscience, providing an overview of biophysics, developmental neuroscience, histology, and neuroanatomy. Students learn about the structure of the brain and its subsystems and ion channels' function in the neuronal membrane. They also use basic mathematical techniques to analyze neural systems.

Research Theory and Methods

This class provides instruction on how to properly conduct psychological research. Topics may include knowledge gathering, statistical techniques, understanding tables and graphs, analyzing data, and using library resources. Students often conduct their own projects to practice their research skills and engage in critical thinking.

Online Doctorate in Psychology Completion Time

Online doctorate in psychology programs generally comprise 60-90 credits, which students can complete in 4-7 years. Exact program length depends on factors such as: whether a student studies full or part time, whether the student pursues a Ph.D. or a Psy.D, and whether the program uses individually paced or cohort learning. Cohort learning follows a more structured, deadline-oriented format.

Most online doctorate programs require in-person fieldwork or internships at a laboratory or hospital, which can add to the length of an online degree. The time needed to research and write a dissertation can also affect how long it takes to graduate.

Individually-paced online learning allows students to attend lectures and take exams on their own schedules. Cohort learning follows a set class schedule of online lectures and exam times, and students stay with the same group of people for the duration of their program.

Internship and Research Requirements for a Psychology Doctoral Degree

Accredited online doctorate programs require fieldwork, along with either clinical hours or an in-person internship. Since hands-on experience is critical for those pursuing advanced degrees in psychology, most programs -- accredited or not -- provide various options for obtaining it.

These options may include a practicum, or a supervised field experience that allows students to observe working professionals; a clinical or internship, which provides hands-on training in a work setting; and an academic residency, which consists of face-to-face interaction with professors and classmates. The latter also provides opportunities for feedback, networking, and practicing skills.

Some programs offer virtual residencies through social networking technology.

Some programs offer virtual residencies through social networking technology. They also work with students to organize simulated labs or virtual communities to meet clinical hour or internship requirements.

Most programs require a dissertation. Students begin researching their topic by year four or five, and also start preparing for oral examinations and to defend the contribution of their research to their field of expertise.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Psychology Graduates

Online psychology graduates may work directly with patients as clinical and counseling psychologists or behavioral psychologists, or help advance knowledge of the methodologies used in their field as academic and research psychologists. Those who work directly with patients should demonstrate cultural competency, empathy, ethical decision-making, and observation skills. Those who pursue research and teaching careers must be effective scholars and communicators with excellent reading and writing skills.

To learn more about career options, visit Learn Psychology's website.

Clinical psychologist

Often in consultation with other health professionals, clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders -- both short-term and chronic. They are trained in a variety of approaches to help patients. Some clinical psychologists focus on children, the elderly, or a particular specialty area.

Median Annual Salary: $76,872

Counseling psychologists

Counseling psychologists focus on helping patients understand and manage problems -- such as anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, and depression -- at home or work or in their communities. These psychologists include marriage counselors, family therapists, substance-abuse counselors, mental health counselors, and social workers.

Median Annual Salary: $54,455

Forensic psychologists

These professionals employ psychological principles to assist judges, attorneys, and other legal and criminal justice professionals in understanding the psychological aspects of their cases. They usually specialize in family, civil, or criminal cases, and often testify in court as expert witnesses. They may also evaluate people charged with crimes for mental illness and screen law enforcement applicants.

Median Annual Salary: $65,694

Industrial-organizational psychologists

Industrial-organizational professionals apply psychological principles and research methods to problems in the workplace, such as productivity, morale, and working styles. They may also help executives, managers, and training and development specialists with policy planning, job-candidate screening, corporate training, and organizational development.

Median Annual Salary: $97,260

School psychologists

Focused on education and developmental disorders, school psychologists help students with learning issues and behavioral problems. They may also design and implement performance plans, evaluate performances, counsel students and families, and consult with other school staff with suggestions for improvements in teaching, learning, and administrative strategies.

Median Annual Salary: $60,139