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How Do I Get a Doctor of Psychology Degree?

Someone seeking a doctorate in psychology might specialize in counseling.
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  • Written By: Maggie Worth
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 30 June 2014
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You will need to meet a number of prerequisites before being admitted to a doctor of psychology program. These include educational requirements such as prior degree study and exam scores as well as personal requirements, which may include submission of references and a personal interview. Once you have gained admittance to the program, you need to pass all required course work and exams. In most cases, you also have to write and defend your dissertation in order to earn a doctor of psychology degree.

Doctoral-level study is generally restricted to those who have earned master's degrees, and master's study is generally restricted to those who have earned bachelor's degrees. So, the first step in earning your doctor of psychology is to earn a bachelor's degree, which involves a combination of general education courses and field-specific study. You might choose to earn this in psychology or in another field entirely. Do be aware, however, that some master's programs give preference to candidates with BAs or BSs in psychology. Most doctoral programs require your master's to be in psychology, though some accept fields such as social work.

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As you are completing your master's-level course work, you should begin considering which doctor of psychology program is best for you. This can mean evaluating programs at many universities, researching the professors with whom you'll be working, and listing each program's entrance requirements. Most doctoral programs ask you to submit references from professors and professional contacts, so you should begin cultivating those relationships early. Internships and work experience can also help you gain entrance to your doctor of psychology degree of choice, so you might want to look for those opportunities as well. Remember that, in many places, you can become a licensed counselor with a master's degree, so you may be able to work full time while earning your doctorate.

Once you are admitted to a doctor of psychology program, you may need to declare a track. This might include educational psychology, counseling, clinical psychology, or any of several other specialties. Not all programs offer specializations, and some offer only one, so you'll want to research this before you choose a school.

As with other degree programs, completion of a doctoral degree requires you to take and pass all required course work. It is not unusual for at least some of these classes to be offered online. Unlike other degrees, you must complete a doctoral dissertation, which is a sizable paper based on research and individual study, in order to earn a doctorate. You must usually defend this dissertation in front of a committee, meaning that they ask you questions about your research and conclusions. It is important to note that a doctor of psychology (PsyD) is different than a doctor of philosophy (PhD) in psychology.

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