5 Key Courses to Prepare for a Psychology Ph.D. Program

Staff picture
Updated August 4, 2020

Psychology Ph.D. Courses

  • Statistics
  • Experimental Methods
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Personality Psychology

If a psychology Ph.D. is your plan, now is the time to think about the key courses you might need to have under your belt to make the best possible impression moving on with your future career. Those who study psychology at the graduate level need to have a certain academic background to prepare them for further studies. Most doctoral programs have particular requirements and prerequisites that are expected. Here are 5 key courses in areas psychology students should be proficient with before moving on to a Ph.D..

Resource: Top 25 Doctoral Programs in Psychology

1. Statistics

Having a strong background in this branch of mathematics allows you to better interpret the results of research you'll encounter at the graduate level and likely throughout your career. In many cases you will be conducting your own research, and assessing and presenting the results. The ability to organize, understand, and perform analysis of information is essential in doing or using research. Statistics courses in the computer age will cover such topics as machine learning, probability, aggregation, randomization, and algorithms.

2. Experimental Methods

Since the majority of psychology Ph.D. programs focus in large part on research, applicants are expected to have familiarity with experimental methods and the capability of designing their own research. Some psychology Ph.D. programs will be focused more on professional practice, but if research is going to play a big part in your academic and professional career, you will definitely need a solid background in planning and performing research as well as evaluating it. Key course features may include control of variables, measurement, and cause and effect relationships in laboratory, field, and natural experiments.

3. Abnormal Psychology

This is a given, especially in psychology Ph.D. programs geared more toward a professional practice. Even for those who don't plan to pursue a career in mental health treatment, courses leading to familiarity with abnormal behavior, disorders, and options for treatment create a broader understanding of human psychology. Courses are designed to examine theories and research behind psychopathology from an introductory to a deep or even specialized area of study. This can include the frequency of abnormal behaviors, classification and symptoms of various disorders, causes, and methods of treatment.

4. Developmental Psychology

Courses in child development, or developmental psychology, help to prepare students for careers in clinical psychology, school psychologists, and related areas. Studying that development provides psychologists deeper insights into how childhood experiences grow to become adult traits and affect people over their lifetimes. These key psychology courses help provide answers on the changes that children undergo, and how psychologists can study the behavioral and cognitive effects that result.

5. Personality Psychology

Psychologists should be familiar with the influences that affect personality development and both short and long-term behaviors. Personality psychology courses involve the study of exceptional as well as normal personality, and the various aspects that define who we are, such as morality, education, biology, and many more factors. Long-standing theories regarding personality development have come into question by those seeking more defined and specific processes.

Applicants should consult the American Psychological Association (APA) doctoral guidelines as they prepare for the advanced studies. Even students who have completed all the required coursework must still go on to pass comprehensive exams and write and defend a dissertation before earning a Ph.D.. In most instances those going on to clinical psychology must also complete a 1-year internship before going on to professional practice. While curriculum is dependent on chosen career paths, key courses in a psychology PhD program must still cover all the basic skills professionals must have.

Latest Posts