Top 25 Doctoral Programs in Psychology

| Staff

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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

Rank School Location
1 Brigham Young University Provo Provo, UT
2 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
3 Duke University Durham, NC
4 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA
5 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
6 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY
7 University of California Berkeley Berkeley, CA
8 University of California Davis Davis, CA
9 University of California Irvine Irvine, CA
10 University of California Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA

Methodology

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
    Location

    Provo, UT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  • Cornell University
    Location

    Ithaca, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Location

    Durham, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Location

    Atlanta, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  • Harvard University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  • Stony Brook University
    Location

    Stony Brook, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Location

    Berkeley, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Location

    Davis, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

Sources:
Inside Higher Ed
Carnegie Classifications
Highly Sighted
College Navigator
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