How to Become a Doctor of Psychology

Updated July 20, 2017

It takes 5 to 7 years after a bachelor's degree to complete a doctorate (PhD) in psychology. Clinical or counselling doctorates also require an additional year's internship. Graduate students in psychology study the behaviour of people and animals, both normal and abnormal. The most common doctorate of psychology is clinical, but there are many other fields such as social, cognitive, developmental, counselling, engineering, health, sensation and perception and comparative (animal) psychology.

Get a bachelor's degree with a GPA (Grade Point Average) that meets the requirement for admission to the universities of your choice, usually 3.5 or above. Take research methods and statistics early in your undergraduate training, and find a professor who will let you gain research experience with her prior to graduation. Complete the courses required for admission to the universities to which you will apply.

Select the field of psychology in which you wish to get your doctorate, and find websites and catalogues for universities offering training in that field. Apply to a number of universities.

Ask professors who know your work to send letters recommending your admission to these universities.

Take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) in your junior year, and take it again if your score is not high enough for admission. A minimum of 500 points on each section is typical for graduate admission, but many universities require a higher score.

Take the required courses in the core fields of psychology (for example, social psychology, developmental psychology, and sensation and perception) and statistics in your first year of graduate training.

Take seminar courses and develop an interest in an area you would like to research. Ask a faculty member to mentor you in this research area.

Develop a Master's research project with your mentoring faculty member. Collect data and write your Master's thesis in your second or third year of graduate study.

Take seminar courses to prepare you for comprehensive exam. Take your comprehensive exam.

Invite 5 to 7 faculty members to be on your committee for your doctoral dissertation, and ask their advice in designing your original research.

Collect your data, analyse it and write your dissertation.

Defend your dissertation to your doctoral committee.

Apply to internship sites if you are in clinical or counselling psychology, and complete a year's internship.


Take a preparation course for the GRE if your score is not high enough. Apply to both universities to which you are sure you will be admitted, as well as to universities that are very difficult to get into. Attend conferences as an undergraduate and present papers with your professors. Check with advanced graduate students to determine which professors are good mentors. Invite professors who can help with your research to be on your committee.

Things You'll Need

  • Bachelor's degree
  • Required undergraduate courses
  • Letters of reference
  • GRE (Graduate Record Exam)
  • Doctoral level courses
  • Master's thesis
  • Doctoral dissertation
  • Comprehensive exam
  • Internship (for clinical and counselling psychology)
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About the Author

Linda Foley has been writing about psychology and the justice system since 1974. Her articles have been published in the "Journal of Forensic Psychology," "Trial Lawyer" and the "Journal of Social Behavior and Personality." Foley holds a Doctor of Philosophy in social psychology from the University of Florida.