Once considered a soft science hardly worthy of academic attention, psychology has grown to become one of the most important scholarly fields. As regular people continue to take their mental health more seriously, the demand increases to help us understand the functions of the brain.
That said, it is true that we still know surprisingly little about the relationship between our brains and our moods, personalities, and behaviors. But that’s good news for scholars, as it leaves plenty of space to learn and grow.
Of course, you can only do this learning and growing in the right academic setting. A good doctorate program needs to have an accomplished faculty to guide you on your journey, resources and connections to help you perform experiments, and a strong student community to encourage you on your way.
Every one of the schools on the list offers all those aspects.
Following the rankings provided by the National Research Council, this list covers the best psychology Ph.D. programs in the United States. This information will give you everything you need to find the right school and begin increasing our understanding of our minds and moods.
Here are the best doctorate in psychology programs in the US.
8 (Tie). Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
At the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Ph.D. in psychology offered by Carnegie Mellon University encompasses every aspect of the discipline.
The department collaborates with programs across the University, such as the Center for Brain Imaging, the Social and Decision Sciences Department, the Neuroscience Institute, and the Pittsburgh Science Learning Center.
This wide experience equips students with a well-rounded understanding of psychology. To that end, the program focuses students along one of three areas of research.
The cognitive science track explores the science of thinking, perceiving, and acting, in terms of biology and action. Working alongside the University’s Children’s School, the developmental psychology track studies the relationship between maturation and cognitive processes. The social, personality, and health psychology track examines the connections between interpersonal relationships and thinking.
8 (Tie). UCSD (San Diego, CA)
Since the program’s founding in 1965, the department of psychology at the University of California at San Diego has awarded 426 PhDs.
Today, the school shows no signs of slowing down, continuing to train the next generation of psychology professionals.
UCSD builds its reputation with an emphasis on research and intellectual exploration, especially experimental psychology.
That focus drives the program’s lead research initiative, the Center for Brain and Cognition. The center devotes itself to understanding psychiatric and neurological conditions, including anorexia, childhood autism, strokes, and more.
Experts from the Center, from the department, and throughout academia share their findings with students via regular colloquia. These meetings give students access to cutting-edge research, inspiring their scholarly work.
With this basis in place, students leave the program well-prepared to continue these conversations with their own findings.
8 (Tie). University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Like every other program on this list, the psychology Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania trains students to pursue their research agendas.
But U Penn offers provides clinical training for students who plan to take their studies in a more practical direction.
Approved by the American Psychiatric Association, the clinical program prepares students for careers in clinical psychology.
Students learn how to assess, diagnose, and prescribe therapies to psychological patients, learning how to think like scientists as well as clinicians. Through research and hands-on training, students use empirically supported treatments to improve their patients’ mental well-being.
The school’s research initiative is constructed around the various agendas of its faculty members. Subjects include brain, cognitive, and decision science as well as clinical, positive, and social psychology.
Students approach these issues under the direction of professors such as David Brainard. In addition to directing U Penn’s Vision Research Center, Professor Brainard studies human vision, visual neuroscience, and computational modeling of visual processing.
7. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN)
In the Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, students can choose from a wide range of specialization areas.
In addition to standard fields such as social psychology, cognitive and brain science, and behavior genetics, students can also study clinical science, industrial/organizational psychology, and counseling psychology.
Thanks to that diverse set of specializations, experts from U Minnesota – Twin Cities have more opportunities to do work in the community.
Associate professor Moin Syed presents, in 2021, a symposium on Data, Rigor, and Reproducibility in Light of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. His talk will cover the psychological response to reproducibility, diversity, and inference.
The range of approaches also helps faculty win support for their research agendas. In January 2021, associate professor Scott Vrieze earned a $500,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. The award will aid professor Vrieze’s work to examine large-scale genetic datasets of multi-ethnic groups.
6. Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
Harvard University is one of the most respected schools in the world, so it’s no surprise that their psychology Ph.D. program would show up on this list. But the school isn’t showing up just because of its reputation. Rather, it has earned its high billing thanks to its stellar teaching and research.
Faculty in Harvard’s Cognition, Brain, and Behavior (CBB) group includes professors such as Steven Pinker.
Pinker has authored several books, including How the Mind Works and The Sense of Style, and regularly writes for high-profile outlets such as the New York Times and Time Magazine.
Time listed professor Pinker as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” and he was listed on Foreign Policy’s list of “100 Global Thinkers.”
Faculty in Harvard’s Clinical Science group include professor Katie A. McLaughlin. Professor McLaughlin is an award-winning psychologist whose work has been funded by some of the world’s most influential organizations, including the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the Charles H. Hood Foundation.
2 (Tie). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, IL)
The nine research program areas as part of the Ph.D. degree offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign give students plenty of choices when it comes to directing their education.
Of special note is the school’s program in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, which has long been considered the best in the nation. Thanks to the school’s innovative work, students gain the skills needed to examine pressing issues such as social networks, gender & leadership, and vocational interests.
With this training, students go on to enjoy employment in corporations and government organizations and research institutions.
The Clinical-Community psychology program applies clinical science principles to subjects such as interpersonal relations, behavioral attitudes, public health, and more. The program puts a priority and practical experience, encouraging students to put their backgrounds into conversation with their scholarly activities.
To this end, the program encourages students to advance new research methods and to bridge the gap between scientific inquiry and practical application.
2 (Tie). UCLA (Los Angeles, CA)
The second University of California school on the list, UCLA edges out its sister in San Diego thanks to its important research programs and clinics.
Operated by the Department of Psychology, the Fernald Child Study Center investigates childhood behavior disorders. Past studies at the Center have addressed a variety of child psychotherapy issues, including social behavior and intervention strategies.
The Center features several resources to support research, including recording capabilities, classroom spaces, and a fully appointed playground.
A clinical program devoted to examining one of the nation’s most pressing concerns, UCLA’s Minority Mental Health Training Program brings together social psychologists from across academia.
The program strives to both draw attention to mental health concerns affecting American minorities and applies its findings with training and education courses. Students working with the program have ample research opportunities as they work within this rising and essential field.
2 (Tie). Yale University (New Haven, CT)
The top Ivy League school on this list, Yale University’s Department of Psychology distinguishes itself with a student-first Ph.D. program that supports students’ research interests. Enrolling only 15 new students each year, the small class sizes within Yale’s Ph.D. program allow for closer collaboration between faculty and students, letting each student choose their home lab.
Graduates from Yale have gone on to land careers and postgraduate studies in tier-one research institutions, as well as influential think tanks, non-profits, and governmental organizations.
The center of Yale’s program is its accomplished faculty. Faculty members include Steve Chang, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. Professor Chang’s work has been published in major outlets in the field, including The American Journal of Primatology, Trends in Cognitive Science, and National Neuroscience.
In 2020 alone, Professor Jutta Joormann published twelve articles in top journals, such as The International Journal of Psychophysiology, Molecular Psychiatry, The Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Professor Joormann’s work in attention, memory, and individual differences in cognitive control in depression continues to define the field.
2 (Tie). University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
In the Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, students not only gain the training they’ll need for their future careers. They also have the opportunity to participate in research that truly changes the world.
In 2021, a team of clinician-researchers from the U of M received an $11.7 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke to establish a research center devoted to studying Parkinson’s disease.
Under the direction of faculty member Roger Albin, the school will use the money to create the Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research. Working within the Udall Center, students will collaborate with faculty members to be on the cutting edge of Parkinson’s research.
That winning tradition continues with assistant professor Craig Rodriguez-Seijas. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies awarded professor Rodriguez-Seijas the Michael J. Kozak Critical Inquiry and Analytical Thinking Award for his recent research.
1. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
How does Stanford University beat out other schools to earn the top spot on this list? It perhaps comes down to research.
That research includes a recent study funded by the National Institute of Health, through which Stanford faculty discovered the way children’s brain regions operate while acquiring new skills. Using cutting-edge technology, researchers compared MRIs on 30 children to track the development of brain functions.
Research at Stanford has been recognized by observers, as indicated by assistant professor Steven O. Roberts, who received a biennial award from the Society for Research in Child Development. The SRCD recognized professor Roberts for his work on children’s developing understanding of social groups.
But Stanford doesn’t simply leave its research achievements to faculty. From their first semester, all students in the Ph.D. program are expected to begin their research work.