Welcome to the Educational Psychology Doctoral Degree Program at Penn State

Doctoral programs for all students are developed individually by the student working together with a faculty adviser and doctoral committee. Beyond meeting the requirements of The Graduate School, a program is expected to reflect a student's background and career interests. The major steps in a doctoral program include:

  1. A candidacy examination after about one year of course work
  2. Appointment of the doctoral committee
  3. Program planning meeting with the doctoral committee
  4. Comprehensive examinations after course work has been completed
  5. A dissertation proposal meeting
  6. The final oral defense of the dissertation

Students who enter the doctoral program with a master's degree can begin the doctoral program directly if the master's degree was in Educational Psychology or a closely related area and included a thesis. If the master's degree was not in Educational Psychology or a closely related area, the student may be required to take basic course work at the master's level and/or complete a thesis. Any student who has not completed a thesis in Educational Psychology or a closely related area will be required to complete the equivalent of a pre-dissertation research exercise.

The orientation of the doctoral program in Educational Psychology at Penn State is toward the preparation of college or university teachers, researchers in educational research units, program evaluators or specialists in educational development settings such as state boards of education. Those students who are interested in becoming school counselors or student personnel specialists should apply to the program in Counselor Education, 125 CEDAR Building. Students interested in working with exceptional children should apply to the Special Education, 125 CEDAR Building.

Areas of Specialization

This area of study encompasses applications of cognitive psychology to education, instruction, and school learning. Preparation is for teaching and research in colleges and universities, public schools, state departments of education and industrial, military, and other educational and training settings. Courses of study are oriented toward developing a foundation in psychological theories and principles related to cognition, thinking and higher mental processes. Depending on the student's interest, preparation will include related courses on developmental processes, social processes or other areas of studies, including instructional systems. Although the primary emphasis is on cognitive studies, there are opportunities for including a behavioral emphasis by planning a program around specific courses in other departments of the University. In planning an individual program the student enjoys an excellent working relationship with other departments of Penn State, in which course work, research experience, and teaching experience related to his/her planned program of study may be pursued.

The student's program of study will typically include foundation course work in Educational Psychology linked with additional study in the Departments of Psychology, Human Development and Family Studies, and/or Curriculum and Instruction. Participation in activities and symposia sponsored by various centers on campus is advised for all students in the program. A minor in a related area of specialization is typically a part of the student's planning with his/her adviser and committee. Graduates have taken positions in universities, colleges, schools of medicine, state boards of education, industrial training settings, public school research units, and regional educational research laboratories.

The faculty in Educational Psychology also offers a specialization in research methodology with an emphasis in educational and psychological measurement focusing on test design, instrument construction, scale analysis, and measurement theory. Persons working in this area typically have strong interests in supporting areas of statistics, research design, and mathematics to succeed in this field but students need to use math without fearing its applications.

Postgraduate employment for measurement specialists has been in testing organizations (e.g., Educational Testing Service, American College Testing program, and Psychological Corporation); certification testing agencies (e.g., National Board of Medical Examiners, American Nurses Association); state education agency testing program units (constructing, administering, and interpreting data); and, more traditionally, as professors in institutions of higher education offering courses and researching in measurement and methodology applications.

Concentration can be in areas like learning and instruction across the lifespan, measurement, motivation, program evaluation, and instructional psychology, with an introduction to doing research in the area of concentration. All credits are minimum numbers unless otherwise noted.


  1. Core Courses - 12 credits
    • EDPSY 406 - Applied Statistical Inference for the Behavioral Sciences
    • EDPSY 421 - Learning Processes in Relation to Educational Practices
    • EDPSY 450 – (PSY) Principles of Measurement
    • EDPSY 475 - Introduction to Educational Research
    • These courses may be completed as part of the student's Master’s degree. Students who receive Master’s degrees at other universities or in other programs may have other courses approved in place of these in consultation with his/her advisor and the Professor-in-Charge.
  2. Required Courses - 5 credits
    • EDPSY 575 – Professional Development Seminar
    • EDPSY 524 – Advanced Learning Theories
  3.   Foundational Requirement 9 credits Three courses spread across the following two foundational areas, with at least one course per area:
    • Historical and philosophical foundations
  4.   Empirical Research Requirement 3 credits
    • EDPSY 506, 507, or equivalent
  5.   Advanced Courses in Learning and Measurement 6 credits
    • At least one advance course in learning (e.g., 500 level)
    • And one advanced course in measurement (e.g., EDPSY 554, 555, 550, or similar)
    • Courses taken to fulfill other requirements cannot be counted for this requirement also. EDPSY 506 and 507 do not fulfill the advance measurement requirement.
  6.   Areas of Concentration
    Not specified - these credits are typically at a 500-level. Areas of concentration and the courses required are developed in coordination with the adviser and doctoral committee.


Along with course work, students must complete additional examination and assignment requirements to earn the Ph.D. These requirements, roughly in the order that they should be accomplished, are listed below.

  1. Research Practicum I (RPI)
    Completed in the first year during Professional Development Seminar
  2. Candidacy Examination
    Typically taken during the first semester of the second year
  3. Research Practicum II (RPII)
    Student must complete RPII sometime after the Candidacy Exam but before the Comprehensive Exam. Thesis work may be substituted for this activity. Students who do not require a thesis may take up to 3 credit hours of Independent Study when completing this work.
  4. Form Doctoral Committee
    This committee should be formed soon after the Candidacy Exam in preparation for the Program Planning Meeting.The student must notify the Program Secretary as soon as this committee is formed.
  5. Doctoral Program Planning Meeting
    Soon after the Candidacy Exam and completion of the Thesis requirement, the student meets with the Committee to plan coursework and professional development activities.
  6. Dissemination Activity
    Student must complete the dissemination activity sometime after the Candidacy exam but before the Comprehensive Exam.
  7. Comprehensive Examination
    The student should complete the Comprehensive exam in preparation for the dissertation proposal. The student must notify the Program Secretary as soon as this meeting is scheduled.
  8. Dissertation
    a. Proposal Defense
    b. Final Defense - The student must notify the Program Secretary as soon as this meeting is scheduled.