Earning a Ph.D. in Psychology is essential if you want to become a professor and/or conduct research in the field. The study of human behavior, cognition, emotions, and mental illness is a fascinating one that attracts a large number of students, making psychology one of the most popular majors at colleges all across the country. Of course, that also means that there is a horde of students applying to advanced programs each year, and getting into a top psychology master’s or Ph.D. program can be unnervingly competitive.
But if you’re after one of the top schools, this list is a great place to start.
Top 10 Doctoral Programs in Psychology
||Brigham Young University Provo
||Georgia Institute of Technology
||Stony Brook University
||Stony Brook, NY
||University of California Berkeley
||University of California Davis
||University of California Irvine
||University of California Los Angeles
||Los Angeles, CA
In order to determine our selection of the best Ph.D. psychology programs, we first gathered a list of all the universities in the nation that provide a doctoral degree in psychology and then immediately eliminated any school with an acceptance rate above 50%. But selectivity wasn’t our only consideration. From that point, we scored the contenders based on four factors:
Carnegie Classification (Weighted 30%): As research is such an important aspect of any Ph.D. program, we included this classification as part of our ranking. Carnegie ranks universities based on their activity level and contribution to research across all fields. This is known as their “basic” classification and is divided between standard doctoral/research schools, those with “high” activity, and those with “very high” activity. More active schools received more points.
Faculty Citations (Weighted 25%): Another major consideration for many graduate school applicants is the quality of the faculty at various institutions. In fact, some students may choose to attend a particular university because of one specific professor’s research. In order to capture this value, we ranked schools based on the number of faculty from the institutions that are included on Thomas Reuter’s 2014 list of “highly cited” researchers. The report includes the top 1% of the most productive scholars and researchers in each respective field (in this case, psychology and psychiatry) and represents “some of the world’s leading scientific minds.”
Specialization Options (Weighted 30%): Many students also make their decision based on the breadth and depth of the curriculum at each school. In other words, a university that offers a multitude of concentration options – in Cognitive Science, Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Behavioral Science, for example – will look more appealing than a school that only offers a General Psychology Ph.D. As such, we gave schools more points for offering more fields of study.
Tuition (Weighted 15%): Lastly, we made tuition costs a minor factor in the ranking. Unfortunately, many of America’s best schools are so expensive that they are out of reach for the average student. And while a lot of colleges try to defray the cost of attendance by offering stipends, teaching assistantships, and/or tuition waivers, not everyone can “bank” on that possibility. In order to identify the best Ph.D. in psychology programs that are also financially accessible, we gave more points to schools with lower annual costs. We found all graduate-level tuition information on College Navigator, a government-run education data website.
Ultimately, we weighted and tallied the points and gave each school a total score out of 200. You probably already know that there is no such thing as a “perfect” school (ex. one with a stellar reputation and resources but also extremely low cost) which is why no university received a perfect score. Nonetheless, these 25 colleges are the best of the best when it comes to providing an enviable education for a practical price.
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Accredited Online College Programs
Brigham Young University Provo
Brigham Young University is perhaps best known for its extremely low cost and association with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but its academic reputation precedes it as well. Its accredited doctoral program in psychology is a non-clinical program (it does NOT lead to clinical licensure and the ability to practice psychotherapy) but nonetheless offers a rich experience to curious students. Specializations in Applied Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience, and Health Psychology encourage students to make cross-disciplinary connections as they attempt to answer yet unanswered questions in the field.
As an Ivy League school with a long history of excellence in academics, Cornell University boasts one of the best PhD programs in psychology available. Although its tuition is somewhat higher than many schools, Cornell excels in many other arenas. It is a "very high activity" research university, according to the Carnegie Foundation, and is home to many esteemed professors. Plenty of top faculty members are available to take you through the intricacies of professional research, and you'll have the option to study Social and Personality Psychology; Behavioral and Evolutionary Neuroscience; or Perception, Cognition, and Development. High-tech on-campus facilities – including electrophysiological, chemistry, and histological labs – provide all the resources you could possibly need to support your most creative ideas.
Duke University has a doctoral program in psychology, accredited by the APA, that takes an expansive look at the field of human behavior. Graduate students – who have the option to major in Developmental, Social, or Clinical Psychology; Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience; or Systems and Integrative Neuroscience – easily secure postdoctoral positions in academia, research, business, clinical practice, or other industries. This top research university also boasts five "highly cited" professors in the field, according to Reuters. Duke's biggest psychology bigwigs include Avshalom Caspi (a top epidemiologist and genetics researcher) and Terrie Moffitt, a pioneering clinical psychologist who specializes in antisocial behavior – and who frequently collaborates with Dr. Caspi.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Despite being primarily an academic center for the natural sciences and technology fields, Georgia Tech nonetheless excels in a variety of other disciplines as well. One such area is psychology, where GT has built an entire school for undergraduates and graduates who are interested in the human brain. Concentrations at the doctoral level include Quantitative, Engineering, and Industrial/Organizational Psychology, as well as Cognition and Brain Science and Cognitive Aging. It takes approximately three years to complete the requirements for a master's degree, although Georgia Tech does not offer a terminal degree at this level. Instead, all students are expected to continue to their PhD – a journey that typically requires at least five years of full-time study.
Getting into Harvard is never easy, and the university's PhD program in psychology is no exception. Students must have an "academic record in distinction" and although an undergraduate degree in psychology is preferred, the admissions committee encourages applicants to demonstrate "a breadth of training in biology, computer sciences, mathematics, philosophy, physics, or the social sciences" as well. Those who make the cut enjoy access to some of the world's most distinguished professors, including the highly cited David R. Williams, Joseph Biederman, Mahzarin Banaji, and Ronald C. Kessler. Harvard graduates students in psychology also benefit from some unique special programs, including joint degrees (both JD/PhD and MD/PhD options) and the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences – an interdisciplinary initiative that supports research collaboration between various life science disciplines and academic groups.
Four essential areas of study compose the accredited PhD program in psychology at Stony Brook: Cognitive Science, Clinical Psychology, Integrative Neuroscience, and Social and Health Psychology. But no matter which of these specialties you choose, you'll be subjected to rigorous training and will get to work early assisting professors in labs. SBU also encourages cross-disciplinary research, and many graduate students enjoy working on project that span a multiplicity of interests. As such, it's no surprise that graduates don't just work as professors or clinical researchers, but also in medical centers and in various business and government organizations.
University of California Berkeley
The psychology program at the University of California Berkeley is enriching, to say the least. The department's main objective is to offer students a breadth of experience that will help them "retain perspective" in the field but also a depth of understanding that will support active scholarly research. All students take challenging courses, attend seminars, and conduct independent projects under the supervision of esteemed faculty members, who organize themselves into six distinct areas of concentration: Clinical Science, Developmental Psychology, Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience, Social-Personality Psychology, and Cognition. Many students also venture outside the department to sample courses from other fields in the hopes of garnering a more complete academic experience – even at this advanced level.
University of California Davis
The University of California Davis' Psy.D. program in psychology is open about its strengths, citing its superior flexibility, active collaboration within the student community, and "interdisciplinary approaches to scholarship" as the department's biggest draws. Faculty members have numerous affiliations with local institutes – from the California Regional Primate Research Center to the Early Childhood Laboratory – and regularly bring visiting scholars to campus, ensuring that students always have access to the very best minds in the field. In addition to five standard areas of emphasis (Biological; Social Personality; Developmental; Neuroscience/Quantitative; and Perception, Cognition, and Cognitive Psychology) UC Davis students also have the unique opportunity to declare an interdisciplinary specialty of their own design, such as Feminist Theory, Biotechnology, or Native American Studies.
University of California Irvine
For students who have a particularly strong interest in the intricacies of social behavior, UC Irvine might be the way to go. The department offers four concentrations – Affective Science and Developmental, Health, and Social/Personality Psychology – and allows students to choose both primary and secondary emphases in their research. 25 full-time professors are available to serve as mentors for a graduate cohort that averages about 70 students, meaning you'll receive plenty of individual attention and the chance to work one-on-one or in intimate groups as you pursue your degree. Uniquely, UCI has also established itself as a strong interdisciplinary unit, and doctorate in psychology students can alternatively opt for a concentration in Psychology and Law, thus paving the way for a career in forensics.
University of California Los Angeles
Students at the University of California Los Angeles enter straight into a PhD program (there is no terminal master's option) and can choose between emphases in Behavioral Neuroscience or Social, Quantitative, Developmental, Cognitive, Clinical, Learning and Behavior, or Clinical Psychology. The program requires all students to go through extensive training in research – a task made easier through the school's many interdisciplinary research units, including the Brain Research Institute, the Fernald Child Study Center, and the Neuropsychiatric Institute. UCLA's gargantuan library collection and numerous relationships with nearby clinics and hospitals further strengthen the appeal of this top doctorate in psychology.
University of California San Diego
If size is what you're after, the University of California at San Diego is worth considering. Since the late 1960s, the Department of Psychology has awarded nearly 370 PhDs and currently hosts more than 60 graduate students in the discipline. The university itself is rather young, but it has quickly grown into a "very high activity" research institution that draws some of the brightest minds – students and faculty alike. In fact, three psychology professors at UCSD make Reuter's list of the "highly cited"; Hagop Akiskal, Kristin Cadenhead, and Murray Stein (these professors are all officially part of the university's Department of Psychiatry, but depending on your specialty you might still enjoy research opportunities with them!).
University of California Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA
The University of California Santa Barbara, or UCSB, is unquestionably one of the best PhD programs in psychology. The "very high research activity" institution has a top-ranked psychology department that features four primary specializations: Social Psychology; Developmental and Evolutionary Psychology; Neuroscience and Behavior; and Cognition, Perception, and Cognitive Neuroscience. The program finds an equitable balance between size and stature; the large department supports a full range of classes, seminars, and research options, but the 70 or so graduate students who are admitted have access to nearly 30 experienced faculty members – ensuring a close-knit community of supportive peers and a not-so-overwhelming academic experience.
University of Central Florida
More than simply offering various concentrations in psychology, the University of Central Florida offers three distinct doctoral programs in psychology accredited by the APA. Degrees in Clinical Psychology, Applied Experimental/Human Factors Psychology, and Industrial/Organizational Psychology take a hands-on, practical approach to the study of human behavior. Graduates are attracted to UCF for the opportunity to apply theory to the goals of improving the workplace, designing better products, and enhancing consumers' everyday experiences. Graduate-level research supports these topics and more, and on-campus clinics such as the Psychophysiology of Mental Illness Laboratory, the Understanding Children and Family Laboratory, and the Substance Use Research Group.
University of Connecticut
Even before making this list, the University of Connecticut had plenty to brag about when it comes to psychology. The school is one of the top public universities in the nation and its Department of Psychology typically places in the top 10 for U.S. grant funding. What's more, its doctorate in psychology is ranked in the top 30 nationwide out of all public schools, according to the National Research Council. This "very high research activity" university maintains its reputable status by tempting students with a wide range of emphasis options, including Neuroscience; Language and Cognition; Behavioral Neuroscience; Industrial and Organizational Psychology; and Developmental, Clinical, Social, and even Ecological Psychology.
The Department of Psychology at the University of Florida is composed of numerous moving parts – to the benefit of graduate students. The first step is to choose between tracks in Counseling Psychology or General Psychology, the latter of which includes specializations in Neurobehavioral and Cognitive Sciences, Behavioral Analysis, Developmental Psychology, and Social Psychology. And as far as affordability goes, UF does plenty to lift up its students; first-years generally receive full tuition waivers and stipends, and most students receive additional funding for five years of study! It's also worth mentioning that Counseling Psychology students follow an accredited program that can help them earn licensure in the state.
University of Maryland-College Park
College Park, MD
This APA-accredited program invites graduate-level learners to study under some of the best minds in psychology (including James Gold and Robert Buchanan, both highly cited professors in psychiatry). Specialty areas include Cognitive and Neural Systems; Counseling; Clinical and Developmental Psychology; and Social, Decision, and Organizational Science. The latter option, which is a less common among the typical selection of psychological specialties, invites students to explore how individuals make decisions, process information about themselves and others, and manage relationships in a variety of contexts. A very high level research university, UMD supports on-campus clinics in both Clinical and Counseling subspecialties, where students can conduct research and offer low-cost counseling to local adults in need.
Doctoral students at the University of Memphis have their choice between psychology programs in Clinical, Experimental, and School Psychology. Within these programs, graduate-level learners at U of M can pursue research specialties in Psychotherapy Research, Child and Family Studies, Clinical Health or Cognitive Psychology, or Behavioral Neuroscience. Speaking of research, the university also promotes several interdisciplinary opportunities on campus, and students can seek collaborations with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Methodist/Le Bonheur Healthcare, or the local public schools. Graduate students also enjoy four years of assistantship funding, designated office space, travel funds for visits to conferences, and access to more than 30 full-time, experienced faculty members.
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL
At the University of Miami, psychology students organize them into three primary areas of interest, based on their interests and the population with which they most wish to work: Adult, Children, and Health. Within each of these tracks, students can choose between the clinical or non-clinical track, opting for sub-emphases in areas like Developmental Psychology or Behavioral Neuroscience (non-clinical) or Child/Family or Pediatric Health (clinical). The University of Miami is also unique in its unparalleled support of students; 80% are women and 30% are minorities, and all receive assistance in the
University of Michigan Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan is a top school in myriad disciplines, and it has one of the best PhD programs in psychology in the region. If you can brave the cold winters of Ann Arbor, U of M is deserving of a closer look! It might be one of the more expensive schools in this selection, but the department does plenty to justify this extra cost. Six focused areas of in the field – Biopsychology, Social Psychology, Clinical Science, Developmental Psychology, Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience, and Personality and Social Contexts – form the basis of Michigan's degree plan. Top researchers and professors (including Patricia Berglund, a "highly cited" research associate who focuses on data analysis) are on hand to help graduate students get the most of their time on campus.
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Travel to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) for a chance to study with some of the most passionate psychology students in the country. Minnesota's program is intentionally broad and looks to couple big picture knowledge with advanced training in targeted disciplines. As such, students can choose between concentrations that range from Biological Psychopathology to Quantitative/Psychometric Methods. The school also offers a program in Educational Psychology, which is available through the College of Education & Human Development. Eager students also jump at two training opportunities in clinical and counseling psychology (both required) and complete a yearlong internship at an accredited site in the city. Those who make it through this accredited PhD program in psychology reap the rewards by earning licensure status as either a clinical or counseling psychologist.
The University of New Mexico's graduate program in psychology is both diverse and comprehensive, offering students a wide range of specialties and research interests. Graduate students can concentrate in Evolution, Health, Clinical, Developmental, or Cognitive Psychology and choose between emphases in Health and Quantitative Psychology (optional). As far as research goes, eminent professors are active in fields such as cross-cultural and community psychology, psychotherapy, and neuropathology, and are available to guide students on their way to an impactful dissertation. UNM has a "very high research activity" classification from Carnegie and is home to the "highly cited" professor Mauricio Tohen. Dr. Tohen holds MBA, MPH, and MD degrees, and PhDs in Epidemiology and Psychology!
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
It can be easy to see research as a passive field, full of "thinkers" more than "doers," but UNC encourages its psychology students to be "active contributors" to the areas they love most. Students can specialize in Social Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience, or Cognitive, Clinical, Developmental, or Quantitative Psychology. The program is selective, to say the least; applicants must have at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and demonstrate substantial talent to qualify for acceptance to the University of North Carolina. Once admitted to this doctorate in psychology program, students can dive right into course offerings that explore cognitive neuroscience, social development, the human memory, and more.
University of Texas at Austin
Courses in Clinical Psychopharmacology, Functional Neuroanatomy, Learning and Memory, and Behavioral Neuroendicronology from the basis of the PhD program in Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. UT Austin stands apart for the wealth of "areas of study" on offer, which include eight different specializations: Perception, Brain, and Behavior; Cognitive Science; Developmental Psychology; Clinical Psychology; Behavioral Neuroscience; Social and Personality Psychology; Cognitive Neuroscience; and Individual Differences and Evolutionary Psychology. What's more, the university provides a fascinating track in Neuroimaging, which focuses on the cutting-edge methods of brain imaging and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) that make many psychological studies possible.
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia offers not four, not five, but seven different areas of specialization for curious psychology students: Social, Clinical, Community, Cognitive, Developmental, and Quantitative Psychology, as well as Sensory and Systems Neuroscience. Although students must officially apply to one of the seven concentrations, UVA offers significant flexibility for members of the graduate program to explore multiple areas of interest and even combine specialties. Applicants to top psychology PhD programs often consider the faculty with whom they will be working, and at UVA Brian Nosek is a top draw. A "highly cited" researcher in psychology, Dr. Nosek is an expert in social cognition and behavior – and he gets impressively high ratings as an instructor as well!
As an institution, Yale University stands out for its rigorous academics and impressive commitment to quality teachings. Its accredited doctoral program in psychology upholds these traditional standards by offering top-notch learning opportunities to graduate learners in five essential areas – Neuroscience or Social/Personality, Cognitive, Developmental, or Clinical Psychology. The "very high activity" research institution challenges students to secure both a broad and deep understanding of their specialty and to "shop around" to find the perfect advisor for their interests. Currently, one of the most active researchers on campus is Dr. Tyrone Cannon, a professor who specializes in "disturbances of perception, belief, motivation, and emotional processing in people with mental illness."
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