Category: Student Article

Selecting a Doctoral Program: Ph.D. versus Psy.D.

David Van Engen, Psy.D.
Student Perspective Article

I recently sat on some informational panels for the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP) at the University of St. Thomas. Among the usual questions regarding pathways to a doctoral degree, a couple questions recurred between groups:

1) “What’s the difference between a Ph.D. and Psy.D.?”

2)“I’ve heard that a Psy.D. is not as ‘good’ as a Ph.D. program.” (Myth)

3) “Is selecting a Psy.D. over a Ph.D. program going to harm my future job or credentialing prospects? (Short answer: No)

I remember agonizing over the same questions back in 2015 when was in the process of researching and applying for psychology graduate programs. At the time, it felt like selecting any pathway into mental health would send me hurtling down an irrevocable route that would close off all the others and limit my future prospects. Now in 2022, having recently completed my Psy.D. (my program included an MA along the way), it turned out that those fears were never realized and the things that caused the most stress didn’t matter at all. I would like to reflect on those questions again, attempt to dispel some misconceptions, and hopefully make the program selection process a little less ambiguous for anyone interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology.

Ph.D. versus Psy.D. What’s the difference? Put simply, the difference between degree types comes down to training emphasis. The majority of Psy.D. programs are centered on the scientist/practitioner model, which prioritizes learning and practicing clinical skillsets with the end goal of clinical practice. Ph.D. programs historically emphasizes theory and methodological learning pertaining to research and academic pursuits; however, clinical skills are still taught. Over the last decade, the differences between the two types of degree have and continue to narrow due partly to competency-based APA accreditation requirements for training programs. The curriculum for both degrees meet the requirements for licensure as a psychologist. However, it is important to examine each doctoral program as the differences between them may be considerable in terms of quality (e.g., student-to-full-time faculty ratio, labs, availability of practicum options, resources, etcetera).

It is important to note one significant difference between program types. Since Psy.D. programs are relatively younger, there is some disparity when it comes to the availability of tuition remission, assistance, grants, and scholarships. While this gap is narrowing, Ph.D. programs may have more opportunities for tuition remission via teaching opportunities at the college or in the community. For example, I was accepted to a graduate program in Boston that offered up to 98% tuition remission. I wound up going with a Psy.D. program in Minnesota that offered no tuition remission but did offer some graduate assistant positions to defray some costs. At the time of this writing, I am aware of initiatives within graduate programs across the U.S. and the APA to provide greater opportunities for tuition assistance.

Myths about the Psy.D. Contrary to what you may have heard, the Psy.D. is not a “lesser” degree, nor is it a barrier to securing practicum/internship/postdoc placement or employment upon graduation. While some bias has historically existed, it is not based on empirical evidence and reflects prejudicial attitudes that thankfully have eroded over time. During your journey you may still encounter some of this bias but you may rest assured that those individuals do not represent the evolving and increasingly diverse field of psychology.

A useful historic comparison would be the attitudes surrounding the incredibly outdated MD (medical doctor) versus DO (doctor of osteopathy) debate. Again, the key difference is more philosophical than practical. Generally speaking, osteopathic programs are more holistic in their conceptualization of patients, pathology, and the mind. Both pathways will produce a highly trained, licensed physician who is held to the same standards of medical care in order to obtain licensure. During my former medical career, I worked in the emergency center with physicians of both backgrounds and the type of degree did not matter a whit. Also, I’ve had multiple surgeries over the years provided by both MDs and DOs and my internal organs couldn’t tell the difference. Just like these professionals, the comparison of Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs comes down to how the quality of education, supervision, and practica opportunities prepare doctoral-level professionals to enter the field.

Licensure. Students that successfully complete a Ph.D. or Psy.D. doctoral program and internship accredited by the APA can take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) as an entry-level licensed psychologist. Concerns and known issues surrounding non-APA-accredited programs and internships are not a topic that I can speak to adequately here but will address in a future article.

Career Prospects. Examining the modern workforce, psychologists with a Psy.D. can be found working alongside their Ph.D. colleagues with total parity. Specific settings that were initially synonymous with the Ph.D. such as the VA, academia, research, or neuropsychology no longer take the type of degree into consideration and instead focus on relevant experiences such as practica, internship/postdoc, research, and program evaluation. This is a significant change from when I first started graduate school in 2015.

Final Thoughts. Ultimately, graduate school is a lengthy process of learning, practicing new skills, failing (sometimes spectacularly), and self-reflection. Those 5-6 years are going to challenge and change you. At the end, the aspects of psychology that initially drew you toward this field may continue to inspire or they may disillusion you. You may find yourself in a vastly different setting than you first envisioned… and that’s okay. In fact, it’s one of the saving graces of this profession. It is not hyperbole to say that there are nearly limitless ways to practice psychology and retain your values (e.g., work/life balance, family, sanity, minimal criminal record). In fact, I would argue that the type of degree (Ph.D./PsyD) will have considerably less bearing on your future than the quality of training, clinical experiences, and supervision that you picked up along the way. When evaluating which program is right for you, deemphasize the degree and attend to the qualities of the program (e.g., philosophy, resources, diversity, faculty, rates of graduation). The importance of the goodness of fit (i.e., how well the program aligns with your values) cannot be overemphasized.

Finding Balance in an Unbalanced World

By Dante Williams, M. A.

Sometimes it is so easy to become distracted or lose sight of what our goals are as graduate students. In today’s world we are thrown into a whirlwind of uncertainties not knowing when COVID-19 will be ending or when our society will open up and return to “normal”. In the midst of this, we as therapists and local psychological scientists are forced to put on a face of calmness, balance, and optimism. However, many of us are not okay, in fact we are concerned just like our clients but we can’t express to them how scared we might be or embrace the uncertainties of the world we are living. On top of this, we have school work and papers due for our classes and deadlines too which might further increase our anxiety and stress. I am not a perfect person, but I do have some ways to mitigate stress and have a feeling of accomplishment during these trying times. 

Do not be afraid to ask for assistance

This was a huge one for me to start doing. I have a challenge with being vulnerable and asking for help when I need it, so for me to tell someone that I need their assistance is a pretty big deal. There is no shame in asking for assistance or telling someone that we need them. The strongest thing we can do is practice humility and proactively seek out help when needed. 

Take breaks when needed 

The race is not given to the swift or the strong to he/ she that endures till the end. This is a motto that I go by when I feel the need to rush or overextend myself. It is so important that we pace ourselves, most of us reading this article are overachievers and we want to strive to be the best, but we need to be sure that we stop and breathe every once and a while.  

Communicate to your professors if you are having difficulties staying up with course work

Again, this was a hard concept for me to grasp and be ok with. I am not a person who likes to give excuses, but at the same time realize that there is only so much we can do, and certain things are out of our control. No one wants COVID- 19 to be around but it is here and it is causing serious issues in our lives. So if you are getting behind, advocate for yourself and most professors will be flexible and not be too harsh with you in terms of deadlines. 

Stay connected to your peers and support system as much as possible 

This is so important since it can be difficult to physically see our peers and friends. Utilize zoom conference call, google meetups, or other video conferencing systems to stay connected. Believe me if you do this you will feel better and mitigate the feeling of isolation. 

Find an outlet that brings you joy 

Lastly, do something that makes you happy and you feel give you hope for a better tomorrow. If you have hobbies that can be done at home do them and do them frequently. As terrible the situation, we find ourselves in there is some positivity that we can be excited about. We now have time to think and be mindful of what we are doing and the direction we are going in our lives. 

Dante has well over a decade of successful experiences as a Manager and Human Resources professional. He has a passion to help people strive to obtain their goals. Dante received his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Metro State University and later earned his Master’s degree from Saint Mary’s University. He is currently is in pursuit of his doctorate degree in Psychology at the University of St. Thomas. With his training and vision, he desires to help people become the best version of themselves. He also has recently started a podcast called “Better You Today!” where he discusses topics in mental health and tips to help people live happy and productive lives.

Don’t Panic

By David Van Engen

…or if it’s too late, read this.

It’s funny. Whenever someone tell you to not panic, it’s probably already too late. As college students, it’s safe to say that we live in a near-constant state of anxiety. Often, we like to tell others that we thrive in this environment, and sometimes we do. Much of the time, our brains are filled with a colorful marching band of stress that loves to parade around in our heads at 2 am. Student loans? Check. Procrastination? Massive check. An international COVID-19 pandemic?


Deep breath. Whew.

Okay. This sucks. A lot. All online classes? Depending on your school’s format, this can be a dramatic adjustment. Seeing everyone’s pets is pretty cool but Zoom fatigue is real. Once the joy of being able to wear sweatpants wears off, it’s easy to let a lot of things slide. Like showers. You didn’t think it was possible, but you can bring procrastination to a whole new level.

Undergrad students have found themselves moving back home after student housing closed abruptly. A lot of graduate students are either in practicum or getting ready to apply for next year. Doctoral students are scrambling to figure out how the heck this pandemic will affect their prospects at scoring or holding onto their internship or postdoc site.

This is a lot of adjustment, a lot of stress. Why sugar coat it?

It would be easy to write a fluff piece on practicing mindfulness or self care and those things are definitely helpful. But you know what? This is hard. You have a dozen unanswered questions. Things seem pretty damned uncertain and everyone is regrouping. It’s easy to turn inward and do everything imaginable to not think about it. But you are all future therapists. We know in our bones that avoidance can only take us so far.

So here’s your chance to let some of that out. Tell us about your experiences. Your anxiety. Your questions. Tell us what’s working for you as you try to cope. Tell us what doesn’t. This blog is for all of us. Share your experiences, read about your fellow classmates, and maybe things will seem a little more manageable. The MPA Student Division will also feature guest writers to talk about topical issues like financial aid, ethical dilemmas, or how to make your life easier. But ultimately, we want to hear from you.

Click here for details on how to contribute an article.

Being a Student of Color (SOC) in the age of COVID-19

By David Van Engen

Dirty looks from strangers while out in public. Muttered, derogatory comments in passing. Being followed around stores by managers and staff. As a Korean American, I’ve lived with this kind of behavior from others for my entire life. Overt, covert microaggressions. Outright, racist b*******, if we’re being totally honest. This is during the best of times. The outbreak of COVID-19 has seen a significant increase in harassment and hate crimes directed against Asian Americans and immigrants. Discrimination directed against minorities in the U.S. during times of crisis is nothing new; in fact, it’s an American tradition.

In addition to the regular stressors faced by college students, being a person of color in the U.S. brings additional challenges. Whether that comes from feeling out of place in a largely heterogeneous campus or awkwardly painful classroom discussions on diversity, it’s a lot to hold. When COVID-19 was brought to the world’s attention in late 2019, I distinctly remember thinking to myself that if the virus came to America, it would be Asian’s turn to be the focus of misguided discrimination. As time passed and the contagion spread around the globe, I experienced a growing unease that my initial thought was coming true. This feeling stayed with me, in the pit of my stomach as the number of cases began to rise in Europe, on cruise ships, and eventually the U.S. After that I couldn’t stay off the news. I was continually scanning for stories of racial discrimination, hate crimes, and targeting by politicians. This took a hefty toll on my overall sense of well-being. I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling like this but I certainly felt isolated.

In March, I was on a walk with my wife and we encountered an older woman lying on the sidewalk who had fallen and [to my medically-trained eye] had clearly broken her collarbone. I offered assistance to help stabilize her for transport to the hospital but was flatly rejected by her partner. I told her I had emergency medical training. Her partner told me to leave them alone. She wouldn’t say why, she just glared at me. Eventually, the woman on the sidewalk who was in pain said “oh let him help me already.” So I did (despite being irate). We stabilized the shoulder in an improvised sling and sent her off to get medical treatment. As we walked away, my wife said “so that’s what you’ve been talking about, isn’t it?” This incident stayed with me, doing little to help my growing frustration. Later that week, I was at the grocery and received racist comments from people in the aisles.

So I decided to stay inside as much as possible. Screw it.

But that didn’t make things better. In fact, it got worse. My consumption of the news increased as did my preoccupation. This cycle continued for a couple of weeks. My wife noticed, as did my friends. Trying to break my funk, I attended an online meeting of my graduate program’s Student’s of Color, Multiracial and Indigenous peoples group (SOCMI). There, students talked about their COVID-19-related experiences, fears, and uncertainties. It was wonderful and for the first time in months, I didn’t feel alone as a SOC. I felt like myself again. Upon reflection it struck me how quickly one can turn inward and allow anxiety to influence behaviors.

So if you’re a SOC, this blog entry is for you. You are not alone. If you’re not an SOC, this is also for you. Be supportive. Advocate for yourself and for your fellows. Be mindful of safety. Talk to each other. Form support groups, attend digital happy hours and game nights. But most importantly, be cheerfully defiant. Otherwise the bigots win.

Screw them. We aren’t going anywhere.

The APA offers some insight into the psychology of bias-motivated actions and hate crimes as well as tips on fighting them here.

If you’ve been the victim of a hate crime or discriminatory acts, go here.