How to Get a PhD or PsyD in Conflict Resolution

Conflict is a fact of life; resolving it is a professional skill. The academic discipline of conflict resolution has grown steadily since the 1980s as an effective alternative to resolving disputes. Families, companies, communities, and even nations rely on trained mediation experts to broker amicable settlements, avoiding more confrontational venues such as civil court.

A PhD in Social Science with a specialization in Conflict Resolution is the highest qualification in the field of alternative dispute resolution. These doctoral degrees open doors to high-level careers in academic scholarship and professional mediation. Completing them can seem like a daunting process; most take from four to seven years to complete, depending on your pace.

A Guide to the PhD and PsyD in Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is a relatively new social science discipline drawing on insights from psychology, law, sociology, political science, and public administration. Many university programs classify conflict resolution as a sub-discipline of peace and conflict studies, which explores conflict in contexts ranging from interpersonal disputes to international diplomacy.

Within the broader scope of peace and conflict studies, the field of conflict resolution and mediation focuses on disputes among individuals or communities. The emphasis is on conflict as a psychological and sociological phenomenon rather than a political science issue. In this context, conflict resolution and mediation serves as an alternative to legal remedies. Conflict resolution and mediation experts apply “alternative dispute resolution” techniques to family disputes, labor negotiations, consumer fraud settlements, community issues, and gang rivalries. As one conflict resolution professional describes it, “Mediation is where disputing parties attempt to reach a mutually acceptable resolution with the assistance of an independent, objective facilitator.” In contrast to the legal system, conflict resolution focuses on helping antagonists identify common ground and apply that mutual understanding to create positive change. offers more information on the field of conflict resolution and mediation in its online Guide to Majors.

Choosing between the PhD and PsyD in Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution and mediation features two doctoral degree options: the Doctor of Philosophy and the Doctor of Psychology. The PhD and PsyD in conflict resolution are broadly similar in academic rigor and requirements. The distinction between them emerges at the dissertation stage. While the PhD requires candidates to develop original research advancing scholarship in the field, the PsyD stipulates the application of existing theory to a real-world problem.

  • The PhD‘s emphasis on the development of new approaches to conflict resolution puts it in the tradition of academic social science doctorates. These degree programs prepare students for academic careers as scholars and professors.
  • The PsyD is the professional practice doctorate, designed for aspiring or mid-career professionals who want to upgrade their conflict resolution skills.’s Online PhD Degrees and Doctoral Programs resource offers a general introduction to the PhD and explains the differences among doctoral programs.

Conflict Resolution and Mediation Specializations

Within the PhD and PsyD programs you’ll find an array of specializations. These areas of concentration generally reflect either a specific context or function in dispute resolution.

The following specializations allow you to focus on a particular application of mediation strategies:

  • Family mediation
  • Organizational and school conflict
  • Community and urban mediation
  • Civil and commercial mediation (or “alternative dispute resolution”)
  • Healthcare conflict resolution
  • Labor relations

You’ll also find specializations that take on a particular issue or function within dispute resolution:

Crisis management Cultural and ethnic issues Communication Public policy Conflict transformation Litigation and conflict management

Within these standard areas you’ll find considerable variation from program to program.

Career Track

Most doctoral graduates go on to a career either as a university professor or a dispute mediator. Here’s a look at career opportunities available with a PhD or PsyD in Conflict Resolution and Mediation.

  • The academic career path focuses on research and teaching roles. A PhD in Conflict Resolution and Mediation qualifies you to work as an advanced practitioner, serving as a university professor, academic researcher, or theoretician.
  • The professional track generally leads to a career as a dispute mediator. Dispute mediators specialize in a particular area of conflict resolution, such as family, divorce, labor union, corporate, consumer advocacy, or school mediation. You can also apply your conflict resolution skills as a:
  • Corporate trainer
  • Business or public-sector consultant
  • Senior researcher at a private foundation or think tank
  • School conflict resolution expert
  • Family or couples counselor (additional training required)’s Career Pathways resource can help you explore your career options. Check out the site’s career planning and assessment tools.

How to Apply for PhD and PsyD Programs in Conflict Resolution

Your academic interests and career goals can help you navigate the process of selecting an appropriate doctoral program, submitting an application, and preparing for graduate study.

How to Choose a Doctoral Program

The Global Directory of Conflict Resolution Programs lists 450 conflict resolution programs. An increasing number of these programs offer doctoral degrees. Which program is right for you?

The following four steps will help you find the perfect fit between your academic interests and the available PhD programs in conflict resolution and mediation. You’ll also find links to online resources to facilitate the research process. For an overview of the college application process, check out’s The Insider’s College Guide for Working Adults.

Step One: Develop a List of Accredited Programs

Goal: Identify accredited PhD and PsyD programs in conflict resolution and mediation.

Begin your research by accessing directories of conflict resolution and mediation programs and making a list of PhD and PsyD programs. Include only accredited colleges and universities on your list. Accreditation by an independent evaluation agency offers a baseline measure of academic quality, ensuring the value of your degree. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of approved accreditation agencies.


  • The Peace and Justice Studies Association publishes a comprehensive annotated guide to conflict resolution programs, the Global Directory of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution Programs.
  • features a searchable database of online PhD and PsyD degrees in conflict resolution and mediation. You can browse a comprehensive list of’s list of university partners and educate yourself about the accreditation process.

Step Two: Online or Campus Format?

Goal: Decide on a delivery format and narrow down your list of accredited PhD and PsyD programs in conflict resolution to reflect your preferences.

Online education technology has made distance learning a viable option, even at the doctoral level. While many professional doctorates have gravitated toward online delivery, most academic PhD programs still require campus residency and/or full-time study. The right option for you depends on your learning style, career goals, and circumstances.

The online format relies on multimedia communications technology, including Internet discussion boards, to create a virtual classroom. The most obvious benefit of this format is convenience: students work at their own pace, accessing education resources via their personal computer. Online programs are ideal for adults balancing work and family commitments.

Online PhD and PsyD degrees in conflict resolution tend to favor the professional career track. Not only do these programs offer networking opportunities with other working professionals, but they also take advantage of the synergy between academic scholarship and work obligations. PsyD students often apply conflict resolution theory directly in their jobs, developing their scholarly research as they deepen their professional experience.

Campus education remains the preferred format for students with academic career ambitions. Aspiring professors and researchers gain valuable hands-on experience through on-campus resources such as teaching and research assistantships, faculty mentorship, conferences and local events, and research facilities. Many online PhD programs in conflict resolution make up for the attenuated nature of the program by requiring periods of temporary residency.


  • Once you’ve determined which format best suits your circumstances and goals, narrow your list of programs accordingly. allows you to search for either Online Degree Programs or Campus Education options. If you’ve decided on a campus program, use the Campus Degrees by Location feature to find a program near you.

Step Three: Explore Academic Programs

Goal: Compare academic programs and identify potential faculty mentors in your chosen academic specialization.

The crux of the school selection process is the academic program. At the doctoral level, each program bears unique characteristics and different approaches to the discipline. Since the emphasis of the PhD and PsyD program is on original scholarship rather than course requirements, academic research plays the primary role in shaping the department’s character.

Faculty research should also play a major part in your academic program selection. The PhD in Conflict Resolution and Mediation (and to some extent, the professional PsyD) emphasizes faculty mentorship and research collaboration. By aligning your interests with faculty research specialties, you’re laying the foundation for a strong professional relationship with a mentor–and you can expect the program’s resources and programs to support your research interests.

Other factors to take into account when researching academic conflict resolution programs include:

  • Program specializations
  • Curriculum and course requirements
  • Special programs (research institutes, journals, conflict resolution and mediation clinics, etc.)
  • Partnerships with other academic departments (for example, the law school)
  • Industry relationships (internships, professional associations)


  • facilitates your fact-finding mission by connecting you with schools that meet your academic program criteria. Fill out an online form indicating your preferences, and the system automatically puts you in touch with a representative or admissions counselor from each matching institution. You can save time by discussing available academic programs directly with the school representative.
  • Academic Journalscan help you identify faculty and research trends in your field of interest. Take your program research a step further by contacting leading scholars whose research piques your interest. The researcher may not be available as a mentor, but she or he can direct you to leading programs and colleagues working in the same area.
    • Some journals in conflict resolution and mediation include:
    • Peace and Conflict Studies
    • Journal of Conflict Resolution
    • International Journal of Conflict Management
    • Conflict Resolution Quarterly
  • Program Web sites offer detailed information to complement your discussion with an academic advisor or faculty member. You’ll find course descriptions and reading lists, links to faculty publications and curriculum vitae, descriptions of program resources and requirements, and more.

Step Four: Evaluate Program Quality

Goal: Examine program quality and select four to six programs with admissions profiles that match your academic record.

Admissions. The challenge at this final stage of the school selection process is to balance program quality with your own competitiveness as an applicant. Plan to assemble a list of schools whose admissions standards reflect your own undergraduate record. Most schools take into account undergraduate GPA and test scores in admissions, and publish the average statistics of admitted applicants each year. Use this information to assess your likelihood of gaining admission to a program.

In addition to admissions selectivity, consider the following indicators of program quality as you weigh your options:

  • Reputation
  • Graduation Rate
  • Job Placement Statistics
  • Career Support Resources
  • Student Body Profile


  • Rankings. Rankings offer an easy way to determine the reputation and relative quality of different graduate conflict resolution programs. The major rankings for PhD programs in psychology are:
    • U.S. News and World Report. The most well-known ranking polls the academic community and weighs other data points to determine the quality and reputation of the nation’s psychology graduate schools.
    • The National Research Council releases its ranking less frequently, but the exhaustive program evaluations make this a reputable resource for comparing psychology doctoral programs.
    • The Center for Measuring University Performance ranks top American research universities.
  • School Data. Program statistics offer an important complement to school rankings. Since rankings consider psychology graduate schools as a whole, program data can help you fill in the details. Build a granular picture of a program’s quality by taking into account job placement data (how many graduates got jobs? What were their starting salaries? Did most go on to academic or professional careers?) You can also glean demographic information about the graduate student community, including the proportion of women, minorities, or working professionals.

Preparing for a PhD or PsyD Program in Conflict Resolution

Completing an application for a PhD or PsyD in Conflict Resolution is a relatively straightforward process. Though each school will have its own application instructions, you can expect to encounter the following requirements:


  • A bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology. If your undergraduate degree is in another field, you may have to take prerequisite courses in psychology
  • Work experience can be an asset in some professional doctorate admissions, but is not required for the academic PhD
  • GRE and TOEFL (for non-native speakers of English)

Application Materials

  • Faculty or professional recommendation letters
  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • Test scores
  • Personal statement

Financial Aid

Lining up educational funding is an important step in your graduate school preparation. Doctoral students typically cover their costs through the following sources:

  • Teaching and research assistantships
  • Stipends and tuition waivers
  • Scholarships and research grants
  • Federal loans

You’ll find more information to help you prepare for your graduate education in’s Education Resources Guide. The guide offers information on test preparation, financial aid, study tools, and more.

Joining the Academic Community

The PhD or PsyD in Conflict Resolution and Mediation is more than a career training program. You’re joining an academic community of scholars who share your interests and passion for learning. Planning your education now can help you make the most of the academic experience and lay the foundation for an intellectually invigorating future.


  • Association for Conflict Resolution, Conflict Resolution Education at Colleges and Universities
  • The Center for Measuring University Performance
  • Conflict Resolution Education Connection, Conflict Management in Higher Education Report, by Brian Polkinghorn
  • Hampshire College, Graduate Education Guide: Mediation and Conflict Resolution
  • National Research Council, Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs
  • Nova Southeastern University, PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution
  • Peace and Justice Studies Association, Global Directory of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution Programs
  • University of the Rockies, Doctor of Psychology, Mediation and Conflict Resolution Specialization
  • U.S. Department of Education, Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
  • U.S. News and World Report, Best Graduate Schools in Psychology
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