The goal of educational psychologists is to research how people learn, understand the factors that influence our learning, and apply the best assessment practices in order to promote positive learning outcomes. Educational psychology is not limited to children; the field also studies learning processes and behaviors common to adults. Practitioners may use psychometrics, for example, as a tool to assess learning and diagnose disabilities or mental disorders that make learning at any age difficult.
In a doctorate educational psychology program, students apply the theories they learned in master's and bachelor's degrees. Students also learn how to conduct research in order to uncover key issues in the educational field. They acquire skills in psychometrics and research design, and gain expertise in educational policy. In addition, they receive training to determine how current learning programs serve students in school, and to identify steps that can be taken to improve them.
Why a Ph.D.?
With a doctorate degree in educational psychology, a student has more options professionally than they would otherwise, and can choose which direction to go within the general field. Those who have earned the Ph.D. in Educational Psychology may pursue a career in higher-education, for example, as a college or university professor. Psy.D. graduates often want to work in cutting-edge research clinics. Still other doctors of educational psychology will opt for occupations in related field such as school psychology, social work, public policy or even medicine.
Inside an Educational Psychology Ph.D. Program
Students who attend doctoral programs in educational psychology spend more time on research than on course work (with the exception of the aforementioned comprehensive programs). Students typically need to complete the departmental course list before moving on to specialized classes. However, doctorate students must also take some advanced courses, such as ‘Behavioral Techniques in Education Settings,’ ‘Social and Motivational Development in Education,’ and ‘Identification and Evaluation of Gifted Students.’
At the beginning of the program, graduate students are immersed in theory and assessment skills courses. As they advance they may choose to focus their studies on a concentration like school-based research design, program development, and evaluation, or developmental psychopathology. Many doctorate in educational psychology programs allow students to focus on areas such as school psychology, educational policy analysis, and quantitative methods in educational psychological research.
In most cases, doctoral students are expected to complete projects such as a dissertation and/or doctoral level internship. Students usually complete the Psy.D. and Ph.D in educational psychology programs within three to four years. Students in a comprehensive program can expect to be in the program for roughly seven years.
What’s Next for Educational Psychology Ph.D. Holders?
Those who earn a doctorate in educational psychology are likely to find many employment opportunities, including postsecondary education; according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, postsecondary teachers earn a median salary of $70,790. Clinical, counseling, and school psychology is another field that is popular with educational psychology Ph.D. holders; the BLS reports that school psychologists earned a median salary of $70,700 in 2014. On the other hand, some doctoral graduates may continue their education even further by earning a post-doctoral specialization certificate.