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Developmental Psychologist Education and Training Program Overviews

Developmental psychology programs prepare aspiring psychologists to work with children and families. Programs focus on issues involving child development and family relationships. Programs are available at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Essential Information

Developmental psychologists are experts in the cognitive, behavioral and personal development of people throughout their lifespans. Although many developmental psychology jobs require candidates to have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and licensure, students can begin their training as developmental psychologists with a bachelor's or master's degree. Both 4-year bachelor's and 2-year master's programs include hands-on clinical experiences, research opportunities and lecture-based courses. However, master's programs can often be tailored more to a student's particular interests. Five-year doctoral programs are the most research-intensive of all these programs.

Bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma; master's and doctoral degree programs require a bachelor's degree (typically in psychology). Some developmental psychology courses and programs are available online.


Bachelor's Degree in Developmental Psychology

Many undergraduate programs in developmental psychology are Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) programs, but Bachelor of General Studies (B.G.S.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) programs are also available. Some programs may have basic prerequisites in psychology. Programs specializing in working with children may require applicants to demonstrate past experience in this area and provide references. Students in these programs design and evaluate social programs in addition to developing counseling skills through practical experience. To become competent in developmental psychology research, students learn research methods and statistics. Developmental psychology courses include:

  • Infancy and early childhood development
  • Child development
  • Adolescent development
  • Family dynamics
  • Psychology of aging
  • Testimony of children

Master's Degree in Developmental Psychology

In a Master of Arts in Developmental Psychology program, students explore theories, methods and research in human development. In addition, students may be asked to submit letters of recommendation. Students in these programs have the opportunity to customize coursework toward particular fields of interest, such as deviant behavior or creativity. Most programs focus on infancy through adolescence. To finish the program, students must perform empirical research or fieldwork to complete a thesis or special project. To prepare for this, many graduate-level classes focus on research skills. Students take several statistics courses in areas such as variance analysis. Additional master's developmental psychology courses include:

  • Psychosocial development
  • Cognitive development
  • Development of memory
  • Language development
  • Gifted and talented children
  • Development of personality

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Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology

Students examine developmental neuroscience, social development, cognitive development, and the effect of family on childhood development. A Ph.D. can be completed in five years without a prior master's degree. Students who have completed a master's degree program may be able to apply some credits towards the Ph.D. A Doctor of Philosophy in Developmental Psychology culminates in an empirical research dissertation. To assist and improve student research, many courses teach doctoral students about measurements, probability and statistics, and experimental design. Additional coursework is determined largely by a student's area of interest. Examples of doctoral developmental psychology courses include:

  • Psychology of thinking
  • Spatial thinking
  • Neuro-cognitive processing
  • Cross-cultural developmental psychology
  • Child and family policy

Popular Career Options

A bachelor's degree doesn't qualify one for private practice as a psychologist. However, graduates of a bachelor's degree in developmental psychology may find jobs in child and family programs. Some common job titles are:

  • Child care provider
  • Family service worker
  • Family relations consultant
  • Parenting educator
  • Adolescent development specialist

Continuing Education Information

Some programs prepare students to earn a Certificate of Family Life Education (CFLE) from the National Council of Family Relations. Two years of experience in the field is required for the full certification. Graduates with a bachelor's degree in developmental psychology can proceed to a master's degree or receive specialized developmental psychology education through a doctorate program.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Graduates with master's degrees may be employed by laboratories, community services programs, biomedical companies, education agencies and child care facilities. They may work as research assistants to doctorate-holding developmental psychologists. Some government positions are open to those with a master's degree.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, wws.bls.gov), clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned median annual salaries of $70,580 in May 2015. The BLS also expected a job growth of 19% for all psychologists in the years 2014 through 2024.

While bachelor's and master's degree programs provide a solid foundation in psychology through clinical experiences, research opportunities and lectures, many desirable jobs require individuals to have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Graduates generally work in laboratories, community services, medicine, and education.


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