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Master’s vs Doctorate in Psychology

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Updated: March 20, 2024, Reading time: 8 minutes

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A career in psychology is indeed fascinating. It allows you to explore the human mind and make a real difference in people’s lives. However, many often get confused about whether to pursue a PhD in Psychology or stop at a master’s degree. This decision is important, as it can greatly impact career opportunities in research.

In this article, we will discuss master’s vs doctorate in Psychology in detail, along with their similarity and key differences. It will assist you in making an informed decision about your future. 

Understanding the Basics: Master’s vs Doctorate in Psychology

Both master’s and doctorate degrees open a lot of career opportunities for you. Employment in master-level occupations is expected to increase by 17% by 2032, which is a good sign. At the same time, employment for doctoral-level occupations is projected to grow by about 13 percent. 

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However, both degrees differ in definition, duration, and coursework. Let’s first have a general overview of master’s and doctorate in psychology:

What Is a Master’s in Psychology?

A Master’s in Psychology is a graduate-level degree that focuses on providing training in various areas of psychology, such as clinical, counseling, social, cognitive, and developmental. It’s a two-year degree program that involves students in coursework, research, and sometimes practical experiences like internships. 

The two types of master’s degree in psychology are:

Master’s of Arts (Ma) in Psychology

The Master of Arts in Psychology covers the theoretical and applied aspects of the degree. It’s more oriented toward promoting personal growth and creating a positive community environment. In addition, the Master of Arts in Psychology improves analytical skills, enabling you to better understand human behavior and address social issues. 

The following are the areas covered in an MA in Psychology program:

Master’s of Science (MS) in Psychology

A Master of Science in Psychology focuses on the research and scientific aspects of the degree. This program covers diverse topics such as math, data, statistics, and the application of scientific methods of experimentation to psychological theory. 

Choosing an MS in Psychology program means you’ll engage in rigorous research projects and statistical analysis to contribute to the advancement of psychological knowledge. The following are the topics covered in MS psychology:

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What Is a Doctorate in Psychology?

It’s the highest academic degree one can earn in the field of psychology. The degree can take anywhere between four and seven years to complete. Students are engaged in advanced coursework, intensive research, clinical training (if applicable), and the completion of a dissertation. 

The two types of Doctorates in Psychology are:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology

A PhD in psychology is research-oriented and focuses on advancing theoretical knowledge in the field. Students pursuing a PhD in Psychology come across various programs, such as clinical, counseling, or school psychology programs. 

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Compared to a PhD in Psychology, PsyD focuses on applying psychological principles in clinical practice. In this degree type, you get to learn about various mental illnesses, along with their treatment options and assessment practices. 

Master’s vs. Doctorate in Psychology: A Detailed Comparison

Both these careers are rewarding. However, they differ from each other in various aspects. Let’s see how:

Depth of Course 

Let’s look at the depth of each degree course and what you can expect to learn in these programs.

Master’s in Psychology 

The Master’s of Psychology offers you solid foundational knowledge in psychological theories and methods. You can expect to learn about the core principles and concepts of the chosen field – cognitive psychology, social psychology, and developmental psychology. 

In addition, the master’s program further polishes the skills and knowledge you earned during graduation through internships, research, and fieldwork.

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Doctorate in Psychology 

A doctorate degree, on the other hand, offers an extensive and specialized curriculum. It goes beyond the foundational knowledge of the master’s program and requires you to immerse yourself in advanced theories and research methodologies. 

In addition, you are required to enhance your analytical and research skills. This coursework aims to prepare you for your professional career, be it clinical practice or academia. 

Career Opportunities

Here’s an overview of the career opportunities you come across when opting for a master’s and doctorate degree:

Master’s in Psychology 

The Master’s in Psychology may offer you the foundational knowledge, yet there are various careers you can pursue with this degree. These are:

Doctorate in Psychology 

It also opens up doors for various opportunities. Some of these are:

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Program Duration

The following points give you an overview of the time it takes to complete a master’s or doctorate degree in Psychology:

Master’s in Psychology

The Master’s in Psychology will take around one to three years to complete. However, the duration may vary depending on the school you are attending and the mode of learning. For instance, if you are completing your Master’s via long-distance or online learning, the degree may take a little longer to complete. 

Doctorate in Psychology 

In contrast, a Doctorate degree takes around four to seven years, depending upon the type of degree, PhD or PsyD, you are pursuing. To complete this degree, PhD students can expect to spend around five to seven years of rigorous research and extensive coursework. In case you are pursuing a PsyD, it takes four to six years to complete. 

Degree Cost 

The cost of the degree is one of the most important factors you should consider when exploring your options. Although the cost may vary depending on your location and school, here’s a general overview:

Master’s in Psychology

The cost for a Master’s in Psychology in the US may vary depending upon the institution, learning mode, and duration of the degree. Nonetheless, the typical cost ranges from $54,000 to $73,000

Doctorate in Psychology 

Just like the master’s degree, the cost of a Doctorate in Psychology can also be influenced by the type of program and university. However, in the US, you can expect to pay anywhere around $133,340 for your degree.

Expected Salary 

When finding the right career path, you should also consider the expected salary once you complete your degree. Let’s look at anticipated salaries for both Master’s and Doctorate holders in the field.

Master’s in Psychology

If you are considering a Master’s in Psychology as your ultimate career path, you can expect a salary of over $67,697 annually

Doctorate in Psychology 

Professionals with a PhD in Psychology degree can expect an average salary of $114,879 per year

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Which One Is Better?

Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Both these programs have their own merits, requirements, and outcomes. It depends on your career goals, interests, financial considerations, and circumstances. 

To give you an idea, a master’s level program is suitable if you want to gain solid foundational knowledge about psychology. It helps you touch starting fields like counseling, mental health therapy, and psychology. However, a doctorate degree is perfect if you want a deeper level of specialization, advanced training, and broader career opportunities. 

It requires a longer study commitment, along with providing you with exciting career opportunities like a psychotherapist, family psychologist, and addiction counselor. Remember, a master’s degree can enter you into the psychology field. However, you may need a doctorate degree to take your career to the next level. 


Is a PhD Degree Harder Than a Master’s in Psychology?

It depends on your interest. However, many people find a PhD a little tough due to the extensive research work it requires. PhD candidates are also required to submit a dissertation that demands significant investment of time, effort, and critical thinking skills. In addition, it takes longer to complete than a master’s degree. 

What Degree Is Higher Than a PhD in Psychology?

The Doctor of Science (DSc) is a higher degree than a PhD. It’s earned around 6 to 8 years after the post-PhD and awarded to those with exceptional knowledge and skills in their field, complemented by some innovative research. 

Which Doctorate in Psychology Career Pays the Most?

Although most of the career opportunities you get after a Doctorate in Psychology are high-paying, some pay you a little higher. These include clinical psychology, psychiatry, and industrial-organizational psychology. 


The choice of which career path to choose depends upon you. The master’s program helps you grasp psychological concepts and methods. On the other hand, a doctorate program involves extensive research and work on advanced psychological methodologies and theories. 

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.