Best Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology Programs 2021

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The practice of clinical psychology focuses on mental and behavioral healthcare for patients of all ages and backgrounds addressing a broad scope of mental health issues, including severe pathopsychology. Clinical psychologists might provide treatment, consulting, training, supervision, or conduct research.

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Earning a Ph.D. in clinical psychology prepares graduates for clinical careers, private practice, and research and educational roles. Clinical psychology programs provide rigorous training in specific practice areas, such as neuropsychology or developmental psychology, or in a specific population focus, such as children or the elderly. Depending on program requirements, completing a doctorate in clinical psychology may take up to seven years, including coursework, clinical practicums, and dissertation research.

The time and effort required to earn a doctorate generally leads to a rewarding career with meaningful work and lucrative pay. A professional with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology can anticipate a promising job outlook from 2019-29. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual salary of $80,370 for all psychologists, including those with a doctorate. The top 10% in the profession make well over six figures.

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  1. The University of Texas at Austin
    Location

    Austin, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    UT Austin offers a Ph.D. in clinical psychology for students looking to pursue careers in research and teaching. This particular degree follows a clinical science training model to prepare graduates for professional practice.

    Most learners enter the program with bachelor's degrees, and they can earn master's degrees during the Ph.D. program. The degree requires at least four years of study, clinical practicum requirements, a doctoral dissertation, and a one-year internship.

    Some degree-seekers complete their pre-clinical research requirements at the university's Magnetic Imaging Research Center, although students can choose from various clinical sites. The program integrates a mentorship system into its admissions process and curriculum. Faculty select applicants with similar research interests for mentorships and may choose one or more students for admittance each year.

    The university offers doctoral candidates fellowships, along with research and teaching assistantships, which provide funding for students' degrees. Doctoral financial awards include tuition waivers and a $24,000 annual stipend.

    Courses Include

    • Functional neuroanatomy
    • Clinical psychopharmacology
    • Multivariate pattern analysis of neuroimaging data
    • Evolutionary psychology
    • Social neuroscience

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $4,464/credit for in-state students; $8,847 for out-of-state students; the university waives tuition costs for students who make satisfactory progress in the program
    • Credits Required: Varies, depending on a student's independent research and dissertation
    • Accreditation: American Psychological Association and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System
  2. University of California-San Diego
    Location

    La Jolla, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    UC San Diego offers a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in conjunction with San Diego State University. This five-year program requires each student to complete a full-time internship in their final year, with many doctoral candidates dedicating six years to this degree.

    The program offers two concentrations: child and adolescent psychology and quantitative methods. Although the required courses change depending on the area of emphasis, degree-seekers must all complete the same clinical and research requirements.

    According to the university's suggested timeline, each enrollee establishes a guidance committee during their first year. Next, they complete a second-year project, with the option to apply for a master of science degree. Degree-seekers take two comprehensive exams in clinical skills and their emphasis area in their third year before defending their dissertations during their fifth year.

    UC San Diego offers each doctoral student a minimum $23,000 annual stipend, and the program covers all doctoral students' tuition and fees.

    Courses Include

    • Clinical intervention
    • Mind, brain, and behavior
    • Multivariate statistics
    • Cultural psychology
    • Personality and social

    Unique Features

    • Cost: Tuition is covered by the university
    • Credits Required: Varies, depending on a student's independent research and dissertation
    • Accreditation: American Psychological Association
  3. University of Virginia-Main Campus
    Location

    Charlottesville, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    UVA describes its psychology Ph.D. program as following the clinical scientist model of training and emphasizes the title "scientist." As such, the curriculum focuses on research and evidence-based clinical skills that students incorporate into professional practice.

    The university created a five-year curriculum, but the majority of students graduate in 6-6.5 years. They must complete pre-dissertation research during their first year, clinical practicum experiences in years 2-4, a comprehensive exam in their third year, and a clinical psychology internship during their last year.

    Degree-seekers can also opt for a quantitative psychology concentration if they complete at least 18 credits of quantitative research methods courses. All students admitted to the program receive a financial aid support package, which includes a minimum $24,000 yearly stipend, full tuition coverage, and healthcare coverage. Financial aid renews for at least five years.

    Courses Include

    • Diversity issues in clinical psychology
    • Cognitive assessment
    • Behavioral, emotional, and social assessment of children
    • Family therapy: theories and techniques
    • Multivariate statistics

    Unique Features

    • Cost: School offers full tuition coverage
    • Credits Required: 72
    • Accreditation: American Psychological Association and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System
  4. Brigham Young University-Provo
    Location

    Provo, UT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    BYU has offered an accredited clinical psychology doctoral program since 1971. Students can enroll in the five-year program, which includes four years of coursework and research, followed by a one-year, full-time internship.

    Enrollees take didactic courses for three weekday afternoons, allowing them to dedicate two full weekdays to research and clinical work. Learners begin their skills training during the first year at BYU's Comprehensive Clinic. After that, students participate in clerkships and internships in the Provo area.

    Doctoral candidates must pass three comprehensive exams during their first three years. Each enrollee completes a master's thesis and doctoral dissertation throughout the program. Students may also choose between three optional areas of study: child, adolescent, and family psychology; neuropsychology; and clinical health.

    Degree-seekers can apply for partial tuition assistance for the first four years of the program. All first-year and second-year students participate in teaching and research assistantships, which provide $12,000 stipends for the academic year. Students may apply for other opportunities, like teaching opportunities and externships, to help fund their studies.

    About 80% of graduates work in clinical settings. Other graduates work in academic settings.

    Courses Include

    • Social-cultural bases behavior
    • Cultural diversity and gender issues
    • Data analysis in psychological research
    • Mindfulness and psychotherapy
    • Psychopathy

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $442/credit for Latter-day Saint students; $844/credit for non-Latter-day Saint students
    • Credits Required: 109
    • Accreditation: American Psychology Association
  5. Northwestern University
    Location

    Evanston, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Northwestern offers a clinical Ph.D. program with five emphasis areas: behavioral medicine or health psychology, clinical adult psychology, clinical child psychology, clinical neuropsychology, or forensic psychology.

    This clinical psychology program includes clinical and research requirements. Students begin their clinical practicum experiences the summer after their first year by working at a children's hospital. In subsequent years, they can complete their training at sites across the Chicago area, including a VA center and clinics for depression and anxiety. During their final year, each doctoral student completes a 12-month clinical internship.

    To fulfill the degree's research components, each enrollee works alongside faculty, completes an empirical study during their second and third years, and defends their dissertation in the fourth year.

    The university provides each doctoral student with a research assistant scholarship that includes a 100% tuition remission and a 12-month stipend. Exact stipend awards vary, but the minimum stipend for the 2021-2022 academic year is $34,176.

    Northwestern also facilitates a joint JD/Ph.D. program for students to simultaneously pursue law degrees while earning their doctorates. Doctoral candidates may also supplement their degrees with a certified behavioral sleep medicine program.

    Courses Include

    • Behavioral neuroscience
    • Cognitive and affective psychology
    • Life-span developmental psychology
    • Acceptance and commitment therapy
    • Dialectical behavior therapy

    Unique Features

    • Cost: None; tuition is covered by a tuition waiver
    • Credits Required: Varies, depending on a student's independent research and dissertation
    • Accreditation: American Psychological Association and Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System
  6. University of Rochester
    Location

    Rochester, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At the University of Rochester, students can enroll in a clinical psychology doctoral program that offers research opportunities in developmental psychopathology, adolescence, relationships, and quantitative methods. Graduates find employment in academia, research, and professional practice.

    The curriculum for this doctorate in clinical psychology includes MA-to-Ph.D. training, allowing graduates to earn master's and doctoral degrees. The 90-credit curriculum includes 14 core courses, and learners dedicate one-third of their credits to research. Students carry out a two-year research project at the beginning of the program and must pass a comprehensive exam in their third year.

    Doctoral candidates complete pre-internship supervised practicum experiences at the campus family and counseling centers. Before graduating, each enrollee also participates in at least 1,750 clock hours of a practical internship.

    All doctoral candidates receive a full-tuition scholarship and research or teaching assistantships, including a $24,000 stipend for nine months, during their first five years of study. Students may also apply for minority fellowships for additional financial aid.

    Courses Include

    • Evidence-based child psychotherapy
    • Neurobiological foundations
    • Ethical issues in clinical psychology
    • Theoretical and empirical foundations of psychotherapy
    • Affective foundations

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $31,112/year; however students receive a tuition waiver for five years
    • Credits Required: 90
    • Accreditation: American Psychological Association
  7. Auburn University
    Location

    Auburn, AL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Auburn's clinical psychology doctoral degree trains students in scientific research, clinical practice, and teaching. The curriculum focuses on the cognitive-behavioral perspective of psychology.

    Enrollees begin with core courses before building on foundational knowledge with statistics, research, and elective courses. Each student works on a master's thesis during their first and second years and must pass a general doctoral exam during their third or fourth year. Learners participate in research throughout the program, but years 4-6 focus specifically on their doctoral dissertations.

    Degree-seekers also participate in clinical training. The university facilitates several practicum opportunities, including supervised experiences at Student Counseling Services, a veteran's clinic, and the regional hospital.

    Auburn offers all students assistantships, which include a tuition waiver and compensate students with a stipend. Doctoral candidates may keep this stipend until their final internship year.

    Courses Include

    • Biological psychology
    • Structural equation modeling for applied researchers
    • Psychological trauma
    • Learning and conditioning
    • Assessment of cognitive abilities and achievement

    Unique Features

    • Cost: Students receive a tuition waiver
    • Credits Required: 71
    • Accreditation: American Psychological Association
  8. Stony Brook University
    Location

    Stony Brook, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Stony Brook established its doctoral program in clinical psychology in 1966 as one of the first in the U.S. to embrace "the behavioral tradition in clinical psychology." The degree trains students as clinical scientists and clinicians who focus their practice on evidence-based research.

    Degree-seekers must complete an empirical study and oral presentation during their second year; a meta-analysis, empirical paper, or grant proposal in the third year; and a doctoral dissertation. Each student must defend their dissertation to a committee of four faculty members to graduate.

    All doctoral candidates participate in year-long internships during their fifth or sixth years. They prepare for this clinical experience with at least 160 hours of supervised clinical practice and externships.

    Stony Brook offers many research and clinical facilities within the psychology department. Students can carry out supervised work at the Krasner Psychological Center, the Anxiety Disorders Clinic, and the University Marital Therapy Clinic.

    Courses Include

    • Analysis of variance and experimental design
    • Assessment: personality testing, intellectual/cognitive testing, and child-parent assessment
    • Psychopathology: externalizing and psychotic disorders
    • Human diversity issues in psychology
    • Methods of intervention: treatment of internalizing disorders

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $11,310/year for in-state students; $23,100/year for out-of-state students
    • Credits Required: 98
    • Accreditation: American Psychological Association
  9. Columbia University in the City of New York
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students enrolled in Columbia's clinical psychology Ph.D. program engage with a scientist-practitioner curriculum that prioritizes both research and clinical work.

    The doctorate in clinical psychology program requires an original piece of empirical research during the second year of study and a passing grade on a research methods certification exam in the third year. Each enrollee also completes a clinical case presentation and research presentation during the third year, a full-time internship during their last year of study, and a doctoral dissertation.

    The clinical training at Columbia involves cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, and family therapy. During their first year, doctoral candidates work with clients as staff members at an in-house clinic. Degree-seekers can take advantage of a few optional opportunities, including group therapy and additional training in neuropsychology.

    The university offers four years of funding, including a tuition waiver and a $25,000 yearly stipend. Doctoral students often work as graduate teaching or research assistants during their time at Columbia.

    Courses Include

    • Cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal therapies
    • Clinical work with diverse populations
    • Psychotherapy with children
    • Brain and behavior I: communication in the nervous system
    • Cognition, emotion, and culture

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $1,700/credit; however, the university funds students studies through four years
    • Credits Required: 95
    • Accreditation: American Psychological Association
  10. San Diego State University
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    SDSU joined forces with the University of California San Diego to offer a joint clinical psychology doctoral program. Doctoral candidates can choose between two emphasis areas: child and adolescent psychology and quantitative methods. The program integrates research and practice in training for both pathways.

    Students can complete the program in 5-6 years, which includes a one-year internship. The curriculum includes a second-year internship, doctoral dissertation, independent research, and two comprehensive exams. Degree-seekers take the first comprehensive exam covering clinical skills after their third year, along with a second comprehensive exam in behavioral medicine, experimental psychopathology, or neuropsychology before their internship.

    The university covers tuition and fees for all students enrolled in this program. In addition, all doctoral candidates receive a minimum stipend of $23,000 per year. Students who need an extra semester to defend their thesis must cover this time with their own funds.

    Courses Include

    • Clinical intervention
    • Mind, brain, and behavior
    • Multivariate statistics
    • Cultural psychology
    • Personality and social

    Unique Features

    • Cost: Tuition is covered by the university
    • Credits Required: Varies, depending on a student's independent research and dissertation
    • Accreditation: American Psychological Association

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Applying to a Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology

Some students apply to psychology Ph.D. programs after completing their master’s degree, although most applicants enter immediately after receiving a BA or BS in psychology, earning their master’s degree while progressing through their doctorate. Students with an undergraduate degree in a field other than psychology may apply but may need to complete prerequisite coursework in statistics, research methods, and core psychology areas.

The top clinical psychology programs adhere to competitive admissions criteria, but specific requirements vary by school. Some schools do not require GRE scores, but all programs look for applicants with high GPAs, 3.0 or above, and strong extracurricular records.

Applicants must forward official transcripts from previous degree programs and submit letters of recommendation. Most applications require a personal statement describing career goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where do clinical psychologists work?

    Clinical psychologists most often work directly with patients in clinical settings, in hospitals, private practices, mental health clinics, and rehabilitation facilities. They also pursue research and teaching roles in higher education or consulting roles in government agencies. Depending on their specialties, clinical psychologists might find employment in criminal justice, the military, and other industries.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    The APA Commission on Accreditation serves as the only accrediting authority for clinical doctoral programs. Accreditation ensures that clinical psychology programs meet established academic standards and that students qualify for federal financial aid. Graduating from an APA accredited program bolsters postsecondary internship and employment opportunities.

  • What's the difference between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology?

    The doctor of psychology, or Psy.D., focuses on direct clinical practice, while the doctor of philosophy in psychology, or Ph.D., features a heavier emphasis on research. Ph.D. programs typically require more time to complete than Psy.D. programs. While both degrees require several hours of clinical experience, students in Ph.D. programs also complete both a master’s thesis and a dissertation.

  • What can I do with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology?

    Clinical psychologists find fulfilling careers working directly with patients or conducting research. Those working with patients in healthcare facilities diagnose and treat emotional, behavioral, and mental health conditions. Research-focused clinical psychologists pursue careers in a variety of settings, conducting studies on mental health disorders, developing new treatments, serving as consultants, and holding faculty positions in postsecondary institutions.

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