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How Do I Earn a Neuropsychology PhD?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 July 2014
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There are several different ways to earn a neuropsychology PhD or to pursue other educational paths that provide necessary training in this field. Getting needed training begins with thoughtful selection of an undergraduate major. No matter the training type, most people will also participate in supervised internships, in addition to examination and certification, before being eligible for a majority of jobs.

There is a difference between a psychology and neuropsychology PhD. Though the two areas are related, the shortest path to working as a neuropsychologist is typically to get a degree specifically in neuropsychology. Some psychology PhD programs have a neuropsychology focus, but this in not quite the same and may not be as well received professionally. An alternate exists for people who already have a PhD in psychology. There are several post-doctoral programs in neuropsychology that are of shorter duration than a neuropsychology PhD and are considered just as important in preparing for work in the field.

For the average neuropsychology PhD, at minimum, people will require an undergraduate degree that doesn’t necessarily have to be in psychology. Some people choose pre-med majors, or one of the life sciences, such as biology. Psychology is, of course, a good undergraduate degree choice also, but students choosing it might want to consider taking some biology and anatomy courses since understanding of the brain’s structure and function is necessary to neuropsychologists, and this is studied in greater depth at the doctoral or post-doctoral level.

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There are some programs that favor students who enter with a master’s degree, but this isn’t always the case. There are a few masters’ programs that emphasize neuropsychology, though people usually need to get a doctorate in order to work in the field in most positions. If a neuropsychology PhD does require a master’s degree first, it is usually in topics like psychology and a master’s specifically in neuropsychology wouldn’t necessarily be a requirement.

Each school sets its own standards, but typical requirements for application include strong grades, good letters of recommendation and a well-written personal statement. Many schools require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general and subject scores that show high aptitude for the subject matter. Students applying to schools in a country that speaks a language not their own might need to take language proficiency tests, too.

Once accepted to a program, it takes about four to seven years to earn a neuropsychology PhD, and studies will include coursework, research, possibly internships, and presentation of a dissertation. This last part can take some time to complete and it is reviewed by faculty members and accepted only if it meets certain quality standards. With the PhD, students may still need to participate in internships or take examinations for licensing, and many students also join professional associations that guarantee their studies and practice meet minimum standards. Membership in these associations may help in obtaining work.

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