Best Online Doctorate Degrees in Psychology: Guide to Online Programs for 2023

Best Online Doctorate Degrees in Psychology: Guide to Online Programs for 2023
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Psychology is a dynamic and diverse field, exploring the depths of human behavior with its many subfields crossing multiple disciplines. Professionals use a range of specialized techniques to unpack the complexities within the individual’s mind. From extremely abstract and mathematical to empirical and experimental, there are a variety of approaches. Typically, psychologists collaborate with specialists from other fields. Today, professionals who cannot take a leave from work to further their education tend to look for the best online doctorate degrees in psychology.

If you want to be at the forefront of research and practice, you should only consider applying to the most prestigious schools. And if you choose to pursue your education online, there are numerous respected colleges that provide great instruction.

If you’re looking for the best online degrees in Psychology, this article will not only list the institutions and the details about their offerings, but it also discusses other factors you should consider before enrolling in an online program. These include online degree acceptance and tuition ROI, among other things. Thus, you will have a better idea of what is in store for you when signing up for an online doctorate degree in psychology.

Is an online doctorate degree as good as a regular doctorate degree?

Yes, in theory, and especially when it is the online version of a well-established degree program to start with. This is because both online and face-to-face students share the same faculty, requirements, and level of difficulty to complete the program. The rule of thumb, of course, is the more reputable the program and its faculty, the better quality the education that it will provide.

However, as psychologists would know, there are many other factors that can affect cognition and learning outcomes. About that, online students also have their concerns.

A survey found that 25% of students have concerns in balancing it with work, family, and other household obligations (BestColleges, 2021). A good 15% have concerns about the quality of instruction and academic support. Also, 14% have concerns about adapting to a remote learning environment and 11% have concerns about the use of technology in classes.

Mostly, it’s about uncertainty. In this regard, the crucial uncertain variable among these programs is the design factors of online education.

Skulmoski & Xu (2021) argued that educators strive to reduce the amount of extraneous cognitive load in their course delivery. This means they minimize the time that students spend on irrelevant activities. This is in order to “leave sufficient cognitive resources for the actual learning to take place.” Published in the Educational Psychology Review, the researchers reported in their article “Understanding Cognitive Load in Digital and Online Learning: a New Perspective on Extraneous Cognitive Load” that there are design factors that may “induce extraneous task-irrelevant load…while still promoting motivation and learning.” These include interactive media and immersion elements. So, no strict demarcation lines could seem to be drawn between those which are useful and which are not yet.

However, current testing methods do not seem to lend a complete view yet. The researchers added that “some types of positive effects of digital learning can only be detected using a suitable assessment method.” Thus, total distrust of online learning technology and techniques is totally unfounded. But because online learning is relatively new and very alien to those without prior experience, it is normal to have a lot of concerns with not just the quality of education but also the perception of it by others.

In the same survey cited, 11% have concerns about the perception of online education and courses by employers.

Will employers take my degree seriously?

Typically, yes. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many HR leaders recognize online degrees and credentials. In fact, 71% of HR leaders have hired candidates with online-earned credentials or degrees personally (Gallagaher, 2018). Also, 64% believe that because continuous lifelong learning is now a requirement, companies are going to demand candidates to have higher levels of education and have more credentials. Moreover, 52% believe that the most advanced degrees will be completed online in the future.

Of course, this is not the sentiment across the board, especially in education.

In 2012, Adams and Cortese found employers—in their case schools and principals—perceive online courses as “not presenting sufficient opportunity” for education students to hone crucial important skills. They shared their results in their article “The acceptability of online degrees: Principals and hiring practices in secondary schools” published in Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education.

Also, in 2020, a similar study found that online degree graduates in accounting have a hard time looking for an entry-level job in Kansas (Engel, 2020). Employers in the area simply do not find them as attractive as those that earned their degrees traditionally.

So, it is really best to look into your local employment options and see whether an online degree is good and acceptable to them. Also, the rule of thumb, again, is that the more reputable the school or program, the more your degree will be recognized. That said, it will not hurt to check.

leading concerns of online students in the U.S., 2020

What to Expect from an Online Doctorate Program in Psychology

There are two main types of distance learning options: fully online and hybrid. The former is you take all your classes and submit all your requirements online. The latter, on the other hand, will require some in-person attendance to classes or other activities like residencies. Some of the top online doctorate degree programs in psychology are this way.

Also, there are two kinds of online class delivery throughout a course. One is synchronous, meaning you attend a live class with other students. The other is asynchronous or you get access to a video or audio lecture. Of course, you would get access to course materials such as notes, presentation deck, and relevant papers.

Moreover, expect to be using a learning management system (LMS) platform to manage your classes, submissions, and communication with teachers and peers. Also, expect to use other digital tools, especially when working with your mentor on your dissertation. This will entail you communicating through email, video chat applications, and maybe even collaborating on an online word processor. This could be a challenging setup, especially for those that are not used to using online tools. However, many platforms are very intuitive to use and if you know how to use social media, then you can easily get them to work right off the bat.

Also, for your doctoral work, you must also choose an area of specialization. This is important, as psychology as a field has many. Also, select occupations in the field have faster than average growth. Here are some of the common specializations available.

economic reasons for choosing an online program in 2020

Common Specializations

Clinical Psychology. This is the study of the continuing comprehensive mental and behavioral health care for individuals and families (American Psychological Association, 2008). Like other specializations, it is also marked with the use of knowledge and skills outside the field of psychology.

Cognitive Psychology. This is the study of the human mental processes, including perception, memory, language, and learning, among many things. The area also embraces interdisciplinary approaches, ranging from evolutionary biology and neuroscience to anthropology and behavioral economics.

Developmental Psychology. This area follows how people change and grow throughout the stages of their lives. Applications range from counseling and intervention to childhood development and education.

School Psychology. This primarily concerns the development of children in educational settings. School psychologists both study the causes and effects of various internal and external processes in development. Also, they develop procedures to optimize developmental goals.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology. This area of study focuses on the relationship of people within their workplaces. Organizational psychologists also develop frameworks and programs to increase productivity and create performance measures for desired objects of studies for different business processes.

Source: BLS, 2020

Best Online Doctorate Degree Programs in Psychology

In 2021, BestColleges released its ranking of the Best Doctorate Programs in Psychology. The methodology is based on the following ranking factors: Academics (50%), Affordability (25%), and Online Programming (25%). Each is composed of other variables, including admissions rate, average net price, and percentage of enrolled students taking online courses.

Best Online Doctorate Program in Psychology

InstitutionProgram NameLocationStatusTuitionCreditsLengthFormatInstruction StyleMinimum GPA
Kaiser UniversityPh.D. in PsychologyFort Lauderdale, FloridaPrivate$26,38060 to 783-4 yearsOnline with two residencesAsynchronous and Synchronous2.7
Liberty UniversityPh.D. in PsychologyLynchburg, VirginiaPrivate$595 per credit603 yearsHybridAsynchronous and Synchronous3
Michigan State UniversityPh.D. in Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special EducationEast Lansing, MichiganPublic$819 to $1,577 per credit665 yearsHybridAsynchronous and SynchronousN/A
Saybrook UniversityPh.D. in PsychologyPasadena, CaliforniaPrivate$1,275 to $1,470 per credit66 to 825-6 yearsOnline Asynchronous and Synchronous3
Touro University WorldwideDoctor of Psychology in Human and Organizational PsychologyLos Alamitos, CaliforniaPrivate$700 per credit663 yearsOnline Asynchronous and Synchronous3.4
Source: BestColleges, 2021

Things to Look for in an Online Doctorate Program in Psychology

Firstly, one needs to make sure of the availability of accredited programs in your location. This is very important for two reasons. One, employers and other institutions only recognize degree programs from accredited institutions. Two, in-state and out-of-state tuition can vary. But generally, out-of-state tuition costs more. So, you need to consider these aspects in order to find the most affordable quality program that suits your academic and career goals and also your budget.

Secondly, take into account the available program types and the specializations that they offer. Some online PsyD programs offer a more general scope with more academic and research freedom. Others offer highly specialized programs that focus on certain areas in psychology. Normally, the program names give them away. But, you can also check the curriculums of each program to see the available courses—especially the electives—that they offer.

Moreover, it is also best to choose a program with faculty members of good reputation in your specialization of interest. This is in order to help you align our research and career interests with the mentorship possibilities. You can easily check on this by visiting a program’s website and then by browsing through the available faculty. Usually, faculty members will be featured together with their publications, associations, and accolades.

Thirdly, double-check whether your target programs are offered in a fully online or hybrid format. The latter, as you already know, would require students to be present in person for lectures. Also, some fully online degree programs in psychology also require students to complete internships or residencies. These will take time (and, of course, more resources) to accomplish over those without. So, it is prudent to bring these into consideration before creating schedule and budget conflicts with your other important commitments.

Lastly, you should also look into the quality of available student services. These, of course, include the usual package of getting your library access and the usual student support services. But, you should also look into the quality and richness of your school’s network connections. You would want to enroll in a school with good working relationships with other educational institutions, government agencies, and businesses in order to get easily connected with them for both research and career opportunities.

Factors That Affect Online Doctorate Program in Psychology Costs

Generally, the best online doctorate programs in psychology are less expensive than their face-to-face counterparts. In fact, it is one of the cheapest online Ph.D. programs. This is for several reasons. These involve both the supply-side and the demand-side.

Firstly, because schools use fewer resources in rolling out online degree programs, they can offer them cheaper. Online students use less-to-no school resources save for, maybe, the utilized servers for storage and online course delivery.

Secondly, the faculty load is also lighter. This is especially true for online degree courses in psychology that are lecture-heavy. Faculty can record live lectures or create video presentations for each class and use these for several semesters. The same goes for learning assessment materials.

Thirdly, online students do not have to spend on accommodation, transportation, and other personal expenses that come with traditional education. Sure, there are technological requirements for online students, but these are, more or less, the normal requirements for success in modern education. Not having a laptop and a good internet connection will have many students struggling. This can even be said about most of us just going about our everyday life.

These reasons make online education less expensive for schools and students alike. Affordability, at least for students, is the most important factor for choosing a school for an online program at 51%.

How do I get an online doctorate program in psychology?

The requirements for getting into the best online doctorate programs in psychology are the same as its traditional counterpart, especially if it is from the same program in the same university. This goes for the usual admission requirements, such as a minimum GPA. The tuition for the online route, again, would usually be cheaper.

General Requirements

  • Master’s Degree (field can be different)
  • Bachelor’s Degree (if without Master’s Degree, may require additional coursework and thesis)
  • Minimum GPA (varies)
  • Testing Requirements (many schools waived this because of the pandemic)

Admission Requirements

  • Recommendation Letter(s)
  • Application and Processing Fees
  • Statement of Purpose
  • CV/Resume
  • TOEFL/IELTS for International Students

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

Online students must have a good working PC and a fast reliable internet connection. This might be enough for asynchronous classes. However, teachers of online courses in psychology might choose live synchronous lectures. Also, there are those who like to elicit student reactions to gauge engagement. So, for this, many online students invest in other accessories such as a PC camera and, at the least, a good headset with a microphone. Moreover, there are other software tools that can be useful to online students. These include tools for note-taking, scheduling, and citation tools.

Is an online doctorate degree in psychology worth it?

The growth of psychologist occupations is as fast as the average for all occupations at 3% (BLS, 2021). So, there is some degree of career safety there. Also, with increasing concern for mental health and overall well-being, the field of psychology is getting more public attention.

Moreover, the pay can be really good. In fact, a doctorate in psychology seems to have a good tuition ROI.

In the academic year of 2017-2018, the average graduate tuition cost and required fees were $18,947 (NCES, 2021). The tuition for the best online doctorate programs in psychology listed in a previous section can cost anywhere from $25,380 to $120,540, with an average of about $66,580.

The median annual wages of psychologists was $81,040 as of May 2021. The median annual wage for those employed in government, non-organizational, and non-counseling occupations was $103,850. With proper financial management and career goal setting, psychologists can easily pay off their tuition debts or get back the money that they invested.

Is an online doctorate degree in psychology worth it? For many, it is worth the investment. Besides, it is among the shortest doctoral programs online that you can take.



  1. Adams, J., Lee, S., & Cortese, J. (2012). The acceptability of online degrees: Principals and hiring practices in secondary schools. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 12(4), 408-422. LearTechLib.
  2. American Psychological Association. (2008). Clinical psychology. APA.
  3. BestColleges. (2020, December 18). Methodology of our school rankings. Retrieved August 16, 2021, from
  4. BestColleges. (2021). Online education trends report.
  5. BestColleges. (2021, July 30). Online doctorate in psychology programs of 2021. Retrieved August 16, 2021, from
  6. Engel, C. J. (2016). The acceptability of online degrees for obtaining entry-level employment in the accounting profession. Northcentral University. Springer.
  7. Gallagher, S. R. (2018). Educational credentials come of age. Center for Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy. Northeastern University.
  8. National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Average graduate tuition and required fees in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by control of institution and percentile of charges: 1989-90 through 2017-18. Retrieved August 16, 2021, from NCES.
  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, April 9). Psychologists: Occupational outlook handbook. BLS. Retrieved August 16, 2021, from BLS.
  10. Skulmowski, A., & Xu, K. M. (2021). Understanding Cognitive Load in Digital and Online Learning: a New Perspective on Extraneous Cognitive Load. Educational Psychology Review, 1-26. IGBR.

Newsletter & Conference Alerts uses the information to contact you about our relevant content. For more information, check out our Privacy Policy.