Earning an Online Doctorate in Organizational Psychology

The American Psychological Association notes that industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology ranks among the fastest-growing professions in the United States, with a projected growth rate of 53% between 2012 and 2022. As such, enrollment trends show a strong uptick in this specialized field, with doctoral education offering learners an effective way to advance their careers and stand out in the job market.

Earning a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology online appeals to students with bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology. Completing a terminal degree grants access to upper-tier jobs and opens up new career paths, such as postsecondary teaching. This guide provides a detailed overview of doctoral study paths in this field and covers other essentials, including salary information, job growth potential, how to earn and pay for this degree, and valuable external professional development resources.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Doctorate in Organizational Psychology?

Many learners who enroll in online Ph.D. programs in industrial and organizational psychology already hold advanced degrees but want to pursue a valuable specialization in the interests of advancing their career prospects. These learning opportunities attract working professionals who want to qualify for higher-paying positions with greater responsibility. A doctoral degree also offers an appealing alternative to professional certifications, which deliver value but often possess narrower applicability in the job market.

Why Get a Doctorate in Organizational Psychology?

Pursuing Specialization

Of all degree levels, Ph.D. programs offer learners the most depth in terms of specialized study opportunities. Beyond popular, in-demand specializations like human resources and school psychology, industrial and organizational psychology Ph.D. programs afford learners the opportunity to concentrate their studies in niche areas like sports psychology and healthcare management. Such credentials can prove helpful on the job market, as relatively few job candidates will hold them.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Professionals with advanced degrees have advantages when it comes to earning promotions for higher-level, higher-paying positions. A terminal Ph.D. degree maximizes your educational qualifications, giving you access to jobs requiring highly specialized learning backgrounds. Earning a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology online also allows you to maintain your employment.

Online Learning Technology

The educational technologies universities use in their online programs typically represent the latest in state-of-the-art telecommunication platforms. Given the large size and multinational presence of many industrial and organizational psychology employers, gaining experience with these platforms broadens your appeal and can help further differentiate you from job competitors.

Prerequisites for Online Organizational Psychology Programs

Online Ph.D. programs in industrial and organizational psychology include extensive prerequisites. While specifics vary by school, expect to encounter most or all of the following application requirements:

  • Work Experience: While not all schools require students to hold relevant work experience, many may request professional references and resumes or CVs as part of the application process for an online Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology. These requirements imply that candidates with direct field experience may enjoy advantages in the evaluation process.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Schools require organizational psychology doctoral candidates to submit GRE test scores. Required minimum scores vary among institutions, but most universities favor applicants who scored at or above the 50th percentile level. GRE results remain valid for five years; however, the GRE Psychology Test underwent a major revision in September 2017, so you may need to take the test again if your most recent score precedes this date.
  • Coursework: Some Ph.D. programs accept applicants with bachelor's degrees in psychology, but most prefer candidates with master's degrees in general psychology or a specialized branch of the discipline. Admissions officials generally prefer candidates who hold master's degrees in industrial or organizational psychology. The average GPA cutoff level sits at approximately 3.0, but programs may offer GPA exemption waivers in some circumstances.
  • Recommendations: Schools typically request at least one or two letters of recommendation from qualified individuals who can affirm your skills, attributes, and qualifications. You can source these letters from working professionals in the field or from professors if your work experience is limited.
  • Essays: Ph.D. candidates typically must submit essays or personal statements with their applications. Schools may ask for five or more double-spaced pages that explain your career objectives, research interests, and personal background in detail.
  • Interviews: No general rule applies to admissions interviews. Some schools use them, while others do not. In certain limited circumstances, interviews serve as a supplementary means of evaluating candidates with similar profiles as they compete for the final spots in a program. You should direct any questions about these requirements to the school's psychology department or admissions office.
  • International Students: If you live outside the United States, your transcripts may need to be evaluated by an international certification agency to ensure they meet American standards. If English is not your mother tongue, schools may request TOEFL scores or other documentation supporting your language proficiency.

How Much Can I Make with a Doctorate in Organizational Psychology?

Industrial and organizational psychologists earn an average annual salary of about $72,000; however, many factors influence salary potential, including education and previous work experience. While on-the-job training improves your soft skills and demonstrates your ability to put theory into practice, many employers place high value on the hard skills you learn through formal education. Industrial and organizational psychology professionals play important roles in evaluating job candidates and employee performance, drawing heavily on their academic training in doing so. Students with advanced academic credentials and specialized training can significantly improve their earning potential.

Traditional Careers for Organizational Psychology Doctoral Degree Graduates

Career Stats Description

Industrial Organizational Psychologist

Median Pay: $102,530

Job Growth: 14%

Industrial and organizational psychologists apply the theoretical principles of human and group psychology to workplaces. They take part in policy development, interview job candidates, conduct employee performance reviews, manage human resources, and guide organizational management.

Ideal for: Perceptive, detail-oriented individuals who enjoy helping others unlock their potentials.

Human Resources Manager

Median Pay: $110,120

Job Growth: 9%

Human resources directors lead personnel administration, create and implement employee policies and codes of conduct, interview job candidates, evaluate employees, track and manage supplemental compensation programs, and liaise with management on behalf of frontline staff members.

Ideal for: Ethical individuals with strong leadership, organizational, and communications skills.

Senior Consultant

Median Pay: $87,205

Job Growth: N/A

Senior organizational development consultants work as freelance contractors or with professional services firms. They audit and evaluate client's business operations, noting inefficiencies and areas for improvement in the interests of boosting profitability.

Ideal for: Analytical, detail-oriented individuals with strong business acumen.

Training and Development Director

Median Pay: $94,774

Job Growth: N/A

Training and development directors work to improve the performance and capabilities of a company's employees. They design, lead, and refine professional development programs and initiatives intended to build and update critical skill sets.

Ideal for: Process-oriented individuals with backgrounds in teaching and education.

Nontraditional Careers for Organizational Psychology Doctoral Degree Graduates

Career Stats Description

College or University Professor

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

College and university professors design and teach postsecondary classes. They also perform research and publish studies. Industrial and organizational psychology professors hold a Ph.D. or master's degree and relevant professional experience.

Ideal for: Subject-matter experts who enjoy working with curious learners and emerging professionals.

School Counselor

Median Pay: $55,410

Job Growth: 13%

School counselors guide students into future educational career paths, helping them discover and cultivate their personal strengths, aptitudes, and interests. They also help students build stronger academic skills and social networks. Some states require licensure for this profession.

Ideal for: Individuals who enjoy working with and mentoring youth.

Survey Researcher

Median Pay: $54,270

Job Growth: 2%

Survey researchers with industrial and organizational psychology backgrounds draw on their extensive knowledge to design and distribute surveys. They also extract insights into survey results. Many survey researchers work with government agencies, though private sector businesses also employ them for market research purposes.

Ideal for: Individuals with strong problem-solving, statistical, and quantitative analysis skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Projections Central, 2017-2018

Paying for a Doctorate in Organizational Psychology Online

Pursuing a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology online can save you money in several ways. First, some schools offer discounted tuition rates to students in fully online programs. Additionally, many programs offer accelerated study timelines that let students complete their degrees faster, which delivers further cost advantages. Though most schools offering expedited degree-completion options charge tuition on a per-credit basis, you can still benefit by graduating and entering the workforce sooner.

Remember, too, that many government agencies, businesses, and philanthropic organizations offer scholarship, grant, and financial aid packages specific to industrial and organizational psychology majors.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Given the costs of pursuing a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology online, students commonly seek supplemental sources of financial aid, such as grants and scholarships. Consider applying for these five subject-specific options:

What to Expect from an Online Doctorate in Organizational Psychology Program

Full-time doctoral students typically complete their online Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology in about 3-4 years. Beyond core coursework, students engage in activities like residencies, practicums, and internships. This research-intensive field also requires candidates to complete doctoral dissertation projects to become eligible for graduation. Though some programs use structures that allow students to complete all requirements exclusively online, most involve some in-person components at a research or field placement setting. You should keep this in mind as you evaluate your options.

Major Milestones

  1. Residency

    Some online programs require students to travel to campus for brief orientation residencies at the outset of each semester. Usually, these residencies last no more than one week.

  2. Core coursework

    Most online doctoral programs in industrial and organizational psychology concentrate on core coursework in the initial years of the program. These courses deliver the research and knowledge frameworks that allow students to meet dissertation requirements.

  3. Practicum

    Practicum or field work placements require on-site participation in a real-life work setting, where students gain important professional insights in an observational capacity. Schools often arrange placements through partnerships with local companies.

  4. Internship

    As an alternative or supplement to field work practicums, some programs ask students to undertake internships. These full-time, hands-on experiences typically mirror a working professional's actual schedule. Students often complete internships during the summer months between the pre-dissertation years of the program.

  5. Graduate portfolio

    Optional in some programs and required in others, the graduate portfolio serves as an ongoing record of student achievement. Students add materials such as reading lists, essays, research papers, book reviews, grant applications, and dissertation proposals to their portfolios as they progress through the program.

  6. Dissertation defense

    The dissertation represents a major, professional-level research project subject to thorough review by multiple faculty members in an event known as the dissertation defense. Defending the dissertation usually serves as the final hurdle for students before graduation.


The exact specifics of core coursework vary from school to school, but most doctoral programs in industrial and organizational psychology include the following topics in their course requirements:

Principles of industrial and organizational psychology

This course provides a methodological framework for understanding how psychological principles like leadership, followership, and hierarchy affect organizational function. Learners explore topics from both individual and group perspectives.

Ethics and standards of practice

Given the high value of ethical conduct, transparency, and sustainability in professional settings, students learn how to properly apply their skills and knowledge while adhering to legal codes and prevailing organizational policy standards.

Organizational development

Applying psychological modeling principles to subjects and case studies at the individual, group, and systems levels, students explore effective organizational design, development, intervention, and amelioration strategies.

Adaptive leadership

In the real world, organizations function as dynamic entities undergoing constant change. This course provides aspiring leaders with the tools to provide strong leadership during periods of profound change when organizational morale tends to fall.

Adult development

This course provides students with theoretical and practical frameworks for applying major psychological development models to adult subjects. In addition to the work of major psychologists, students also explore how issues like gender and culture impact individual function within an organizational framework.

Requirements to Practice

Unlike many other branches of psychology, industrial and organizational psychologists do not require licensure to pursue most professional and research activities. In general, I-O specialists only require licenses if they provide professional services under the title of "psychologist." In actual practice, most I-O psychologists work under different titles in human resources departments and executive roles.

With that in mind, consider the following qualifications, requirements, and certifications that can boost your employability:

  • Psychologist licensure: If you elect to position yourself as a "psychologist" in the professional world, you will need a practitioner's license. State boards issue these licenses, which hold limited transferability to other jurisdictions.
  • Professional in human resources/Senior professional in human resources: Given that many I-O psychologists work in human resources, Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) certifications can be useful. The PHR/SPHR designations, which you can earn by taking a standardized written examination at an HRCI testing center, offer particular value.
  • Work experience: Senior positions in the I-O field typically require significant professional experience. At minimum, you should accrue two to three years of operational experience before trying to advance into management or executive roles.
  • Board certified specialist in organizational and business consulting: This certification, offered by the American Board of Professional Psychology, includes both a written and oral examination. Completing a Ph.D. fulfills the educational requirements to apply for this certification.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Industrial and organizational psychology organizations enrich the academic and professional lives of members in many important ways. Beyond conferences and networking events, they offer ongoing learning and career development opportunities, helping members stay current with the latest research in the field. Many such professional organizations also offer career support services, including job boards and listings for teaching positions. Consider making these five organizations part of your ongoing professional development program:

  • Academy of Management: With a history dating back to 1936, AOM ranks as one of the most venerable management-oriented professional organizations in the world. Geared toward academics and researchers, AOM appeals to business-oriented students and practitioners through various placement, networking, and community services.
  • Emotional Intelligence Consortium: Though narrower and more selective in its focus, EIC offers a world-class collection of research, information, and professional development resources to individuals interested in how emotional intelligence translates into economic productivity.
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics Society: With approximately 4,500 active members, HFES offers a membership directory, career center, and expert consultancy resources to participants. Students can apply for low-cost affiliate memberships.
  • Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Widely considered the world's preeminent industrial and organizational psychology association, SIOP offers comprehensive professional and career development resources along with webinars, research publications, grants and scholarships, and much more. The SIOP also warmly welcomes student members.
  • Society of Psychologists in Management: SPIM focuses on forging interpersonal connections between members while exploring new ways of applying cutting-edge research to practice. The society also maintains a journal and hosts a well-regarded annual conference.

Students and recent graduates of online industrial and organizational psychology Ph.D. programs may also find value in these resources:

  • American Psychological Association: APA represents the largest psychology organization in the United States, with more than 115,000 members. American psychologists widely consider it the definitive source on research, education, and professional standards.
  • Center for Creative Leadership: This innovative professional organization offers professional development, networking, educational, and career resources to individuals pursuing careers in various leadership-oriented specializations. It also offers special programs for women and diverse and underserved communities.
  • Human Resource Certification Institute: Given that many industrial and organizational psychology specialists go on to work in human resources, HRCI offers several valuable professional certifications and universally recognized training programs.
  • Journal of Applied Psychology: This academic journal features many articles relevant to industrial and organizational psychology. It holds particular value for educators and research-oriented professionals.
  • Society of Human Resource Management: SHRM provides extensive resources to human resources professionals, including online and onsite training programs, certifications, leadership development programs, and global events.