Developmental Psychology Degree Program Information

Developmental psychology programs focus on the cognitive, emotional and social development of individuals, especially children and adolescents. Bachelor's degree programs provide foundational knowledge, but graduate studies offer more specialized and theoretical study of the field.

Essential Information

Students in developmental psychology programs study human development across the lifespan, often with emphasis on childhood and adolescence. These programs cover psychological theories behind issues such as language development, emotional development and family dynamics. A degree in developmental psychology can equip students to work in various capacities with children and families.

It is likely that courses will involve research projects and internships, a thesis or dissertation at the varying levels of study. For admission, students would be required to have a high school diploma or associate's degree for bachelor's study, a bachelor's degree for master's study and some research experience for doctorate study.


Bachelor of Science in Developmental Psychology

Bachelor's degree programs in this field train students to understand the general psychological principles underlying the cognitive, social and personal development of children and youths. Depending on the institution, developmental psychology programs may only admit undergraduate students who have a minimum GPA and have completed basic coursework in the natural and life sciences, English and sociology.

Students can receive instruction in areas such as family dynamics, language acquisition, psychological measurement, research methods and statistics. Some programs require students to complete an internship in a developmental setting. Students may also be required to complete a senior research project in a special topic. Leading up to these projects, coursework may include:

  • Adolescent psychology
  • Cognitive development
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Dynamics of families
  • Language development
  • Psychology of aging

Master of Arts in Developmental Psychology

Master's degree programs generally aim to refine students' abilities as researchers of psychological phenomena. Programs of study at this level may focus on topics in the development of atypical populations, social functioning development and independent field research. Some programs offer multiple concentration tracks in areas such as developmental psychology's use in educational settings, as well as its applications in serving at-risk youth populations.

Most programs require students to complete applied research practicums and a master's thesis or special research project. In preparation for completing these projects, coursework in an M.A. program usually focuses on further developing students' knowledge of methodological, statistical and theoretical approaches to psychology. Common topics include:

  • Behavioral neuroscience
  • Creative development
  • Emotional development
  • Psychosocial development
  • Theories of psychological measurement

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Doctor of Philosophy in Developmental Psychology

Ph.D. programs in developmental psychology prepare students to become university faculty, research associates and clinical specialists. In addition to the required accredited bachelor's degree, experience in independent research projects may also be beneficial for applicants. Ph.D. programs emphasize giving students breadth in areas such as measurement techniques, biological bases of psychology, cognitive behavior and cultural influences.

These programs may focus in particular on the relationships between children and their teachers, educational applications of psychology, academic competence of at-risk populations, instructional strategies and identity development. Doctoral students must typically compose and defend a dissertation and also pass departmental qualifying exams. Some programs also require Ph.D. students to complete teaching practicums. In preparation for the qualifying exams and dissertation, course topics may include:

  • Cognitive development and education
  • Familial influence on children
  • Human learning
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Psychometric theory

Popular Career Options

With a B.S. in Developmental Psychology, students are qualified for entry-level positions in child care, mental care, education and social work. Possible titles include:

  • Family services worker
  • Family relations consultant
  • Parenting educator
  • Volunteer coordinator

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists in general can expect to see 19% growth in total employment from 2014-2024. The specific growth rate depends in part on specialties. The BLS notes that demand is expected for specialties involving the aging population. Psychologists with doctoral degrees in developmental psychology may work in clinical practices or educational settings. In May 2015, the BLS stated that the median annual wage for all such clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $72,580.

Licensure and Certification Info

All psychologists who independently provide care to patients or work in clinical practice must be licensed by the U.S. states in which they work. Though licensure requirements vary by state, they typically require psychologists to have a doctoral degree, 1-2 years of professional experience and to have completed an internship. In most states, psychologists must pass an examination for licensure. Certification in specific areas of clinical psychology is available through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), which offers over a dozen certifications in specific areas of the field.

Developmental psychology studies are available to students in the form of bachelor's, master's and doctorate degree programs. With a bachelor's or master's degree, students can work as a family services worker or parenting educator, while a doctoral degree typically prepares graduates to become professors or psychologists (with licensure and an examination).


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