How Long is a Ph.D. Program in Psychology?

A Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology is a degree program designed for students who want to work on the professional level and assist real patients. Prior to enrolling in Ph.D. programs, students often want to know how long it will take to earn a degree. The basic program will consist of several components, including a dissertation, courses and an internship. Students may need to demonstrate proficiency working with others and with teaching undergrads too. Before applying to a doctoral program, students should look at what they must do and how long it will take to complete the program.

Related resource: Ranking Top 25 Best Doctoral Programs in Psychology

Required Classes

Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology are just a few of the required courses that undergrads usually take. When students reach the doctoral level, colleges assume that they already have experience in and knowledge of those topics. Some programs may have concentrations available and ask that students take classes from one of those fields in addition to any required courses. They will also need to take research courses and other classes that help them earn credit for their dissertations. Most colleges provide prospective students with a list of courses that they will need to take before beginning a doctoral program and the classes in that program too.


To earn a Ph.D., psychology majors must also do some fieldwork. This can include both a residency and an internship. Most programs require that students first do an internship. They may spend as many as 500 hours in the field and work in positions that require direct supervision and those that have no supervision. The residency is a more intensive type of fieldwork that allows students to have one on one contact with patients and to work with little to no supervision. It can take up to a full year or more after finishing their classes for students to complete their residencies.

On-Campus Work

Most psychology doctoral programs include some on-campus work too. Students enroll in these programs because they either want to work in research positions, with patients or in schools. Colleges usually only hire full-time professors who have their doctoral degrees. During the program, students will work as teaching assistants and spend some time teaching students in introductory and lower level classes. They may proctor exams, hold office hours to meet with students and create assignments too. According to an article in Psychology Today, these positions often provide students with the funding they need to pay for their doctoral programs.


Though graduate schools often offer thesis and non-thesis tracks, most doctoral programs require that students do a dissertation. This is a type of major research project that allows students to select their own topics and complete a paper worthy of publishing. Many schools will actually keep dissertation papers on file and allow future students to read through those papers later. The dissertation usually takes a few years to finish because students take research classes and then do their own work. With all parts included, an average psychology doctoral program will take at least five years to finish.

It can take up to seven years for a student to finish a doctoral program in psychology. The length of time depends on factors such as how many classes they need to take, but students usually spend five to seven years working on a Ph.D. in Psychology.