Doctorate in applied psychology

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Introduction to applied psychology

Doctorate programs in applied psychology invite students to explore the practical applications of psychological theories. Applied psychologists use the research findings of standard psychologists to solve real-world problems in a variety of areas.

When looking for creative solutions for industrial organizations, learning, health, or wellbeing, you are likely to find an applied psychologist leading the way. Professionals in this field go on to work in clinical, instructional, forensic, and industrial-organizational psychology. Applied psychology also plays a role in schools, sports, and communities.

The field of applied psychology is about making life easier. If you like solving practical problems and are driven to find solutions to improve mental health and wellbeing, this degree could serve you well. Doctoral programs equip students with robust skills in research and statistics that prepare them to implement solutions that improve the lives of individuals, organizations, and societies.

A doctorate in applied psychology prepares you to work immediately in the field. The majority of programs are offered as a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.). Graduates of Ph.D. programs are often found in organizations fulfilling consultancy roles. Less commonly, you can find doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) programs in applied clinical psychology. Graduates of Psy.D. programs work predominantly in clinical settings.

About a doctorate in applied psychology

Program lengths for a doctorate in applied psychology programs vary. It is possible to complete a dual master’s and Ph.D. program, increasing the time required to complete the necessary coursework. Part- or full-time study also impacts program lengths, and most students complete their studies within 3 to 7 years.

Although a doctorate in applied psychology usually has a strong focus on research, programs almost always include hands-on projects and internships. This is critical in this field, as applied psychology focuses on introducing solutions to the real world.

puzzle Requirements

To earn a place in a doctoral program, you need to provide your official bachelor’s degree transcripts. You should also provide master’s degree transcripts if your preferred program is not a dual degree. Most programs ask for you Graduate Records Examination (GRE) scores.

Many programs stipulate that you have taken at least 5 undergraduate courses in psychology. If you have a master’s degree in psychology from an accredited institution, you can usually apply credits to your doctorate degree.

Most admissions departments also require a resume, statement of intent, and letters of recommendation. If English is not your first language, you need to provide evidence of proficiency via your Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores.

Degree flexibility

Online doctoral programs in applied psychology are rare. The research focus and practical nature of the program make it best suited to in-person study. However, some hybrid options can be found.

Some programs offer part-time study, allowing students to work while completing their degree. Many students opt to work at the university in graduate assistantship positions. These postings allow students to take on research or teaching roles that contribute to their experience while helping cover tuition and study costs.

A degree in applied psychology offers flexibility in your career choices. This degree can be applied to a variety of industries. Along with some experience, you can use a doctorate in applied psychology in marketing, engineering, design, law, and medicine.

newspaper Accreditation

The American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA) is the primary accrediting body for the field of psychology. Choosing a program at an accredited school shows that a college has met certain standards. Most schools require that transfer credits come from an accredited program, and employers prefer degrees earned from accredited schools. You can also check for information regarding regional accreditation bodies for your preferred program or school.


A Ph.D. in applied psychology generally involves a combination of research methodology, core courses, and electives. A significant portion of the program involves research culminating in a dissertation. Many programs include supervised internships or apprenticeships. They often take place at college research facilities. Common coursework in applied psychology doctorate programs includes:

Fundamentals of prevention science

This course shows students how to analyze risks and existing dysfunctions to prevent problems. It looks at impact assessments, cost-benefit analysis, and evidence-based policy development.

Advanced quantitative methods

To prepare students to be successful in research, this course looks at the frequently used methodologies in psychology. Students gain an understanding of various approaches from the numerical analysis of polls to manipulating existing data via computational techniques.

Organizational psychology

As organizations are one of the most common workplaces for applied psychologists, students in this course learn how to provide direction in this industry. Students learn via case studies, analyzing real-world scenarios and developing strategies for changes in policies and leadership.

Advanced applied cognitive psychology

This course focuses on mental processes, including theories and applications relevant to decision-making, attention, and language. Theoretical papers and case studies are used to examine various approaches.

Applied developmental psychology

This module examines the learning process across the human lifespan. Students review the existing systems, structures, and interventions that have a significant impact on development.


Ph.D. programs in applied psychology often include a program concentration such as applied developmental psychology, applied social psychology, or applied industrial-organizational psychology. There are further specializations within these already narrowed fields, including the following:

Applied cognitive psychology

This field focuses on memory, judgment, and decision-making skills. Applied cognitive psychology can be used in a wide variety of settings including witness reliability training, creating study strategies, and addressing trauma through language.

Community and applied psychology

This concentration looks at individual, family, and community interactions. It includes finding ways to create positive changes in areas like conflict resolution in diverse communities.

Health psychology

The goal of health psychology is to understand how behavioral, psychological, and cultural factors impact health. Health psychologists use this information to inform policies that help promote health.

Gender and diversity in organizations

Within an organization-industrial psychology lens, this concentration finds new ways to approach and resolve discrimination in the workplace.

Legal and forensic psychology

Psychologists in this field seek to understand the underlying factors that lead to criminal behavior. These professionals often work in legal capacity devising strategies to improve the reliability of witness testimony.

What you can do with a doctorate in applied psychology

This role is found in companies and government organizations. Research consultants analyze data on business problems and present solutions based on that data.

This role usually requires a state license to practice, especially if you work with witnesses. You could work in a court, correctional facility, or with a government agency establishing criminal profiles, reviewing statements and behaviors, or making recommendations for sentencing.

Consulting psychologists are hired by businesses, non-profits, and government organizations for specific projects. You may help develop policies or advise on service development, marketing, or organizational change.

This role is usually based in companies or government organizations and focuses on workforce development and human interactions. Tasks can involve interviews, research design, and advising on recruitment and policies.

Continuing education

As a terminal degree, most graduates go on to work after completing a doctorate in applied psychology. It is not common to continue education beyond this point, but there are post-doctoral positions available, which involve further research at academic institutions.

The majority of degree holders take regular professional development courses in different educational settings. Professional development is often required to apply for state licensure. Many also attend conferences to gain insight into current theories and applications of psychology.

International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP)

The IAAP is an international association that aims to promote the science and practice of applied psychology. You can find the IAAP leading initiatives in collaboration with organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

American Psychological Association Office of Applied Psychology

This branch of the APA focuses on the use of psychology and research in addressing real-world problems. It acts as an advocate for those in the field and runs conferences and initiatives to share findings and establish best practices.