Developmental and Child Psychology Graduate Programs

Developmental Psychology Graduate Programs, sometimes referred to as Child Psychology Graduate Programs, explore the ways humans learn, mature and adapt through their lifespan. Students may debate key concepts such as ‘nature versus nurture’ to understand how identities are formed.

Overview of Developmental Psychology Graduate Programs

Interested students may find Developmental Psychology Graduate Programs at the Masters and Doctorate levels, in addition to graduate certificates. Individuals who want to pursue a career in developmental psychology typically need a doctoral degree and licensure.i

Developmental Psychology degree requirements could stack compulsory coursework with fieldwork. Some programs may provide room for students to choose an area of emphasis that might anchor independent research projects.

What Does Developmental Psychology Focus On?

The main focus of most Developmental Psychology Graduate programs is the scientific study of human growth. Developmental psychologists investigate all kinds of changes from infancy to old age with an eye to help people reach their potential. Therefore, the findings of developmental psychology could be informative vis a vis how people learn and interact.

Within this broad context, some students might want to specifically explore patterns of growth and behavior in children and adolescents. Others may be keen on the aging process and the problems that older adults contend with.

What Does a Developmental Psychologist Study?

Graduate developmental and child psychology students learn about the physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality and emotional facets of the growth processes.

Students also learn related research methods to test and assess these concepts. Research could highlight child and adolescent behavior therapy as well as the psychology of aging.ii At each stage of life, various influences might be predominant.

Developmental psych in infancy explores the research and theory in early perceptual, cognitive, and social/emotional development. Special attention is given to the interaction of biological and environmental factors in early life.

Developmental psych in childhood highlights children's cognition, perception, representation, language, affect, personality, and sexuality. Attention is paid to the family structure and school as they influence these aspects of childhood.

Developmental psych in adolescence discusses theories of personality and social development processes in these years.

Developmental psychopathology usually explores the complex issues of emotional and behavioral disorders and classification systems for infants, children and adolescents. Literature about assessment, diagnosis and treatment may be discussed.

Applied behavior analysis is a set of skills used in the assessment and treatment of persons with a variety of behavioral problems and developmental delays, such as autism spectrum disorders.

Applied Developmental Psychology focuses on how knowledge and research in human development could be used to help solve real-world problems. For instance, it might investigate why a baby hasn’t learned to walk at 15 months and whether it is a developmental delay or a deeper health issue.

Students who pursue a graduate developmental psychology degree might also study to grasp how individuals learn math, morals, language skills, creativity and spirituality.

DID YOU KNOW?

Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget are some 20th-century developmental psychologists.

What Is the Difference Between Child and Developmental Psychology?

While the terms ‘developmental psychology’ and ‘child psychology’ may be used interchangeably, there are some differences to learn about. Future students could also refer to an individual school curriculum to see whether the program aligns with their career goals.

In developmental psychology, the physical and cognitive changes that take place from infancy onward are carefully examined. Essentially every stage is explored to find links in terms of how and why reactions are experienced. For instance, social interactions could be systemically detailed so that developmental psychologists connect the dots between all the elements of a person’s life cycle.

By comparison, students who specifically pursue a child psychology degree may study a variety of different elements that affect youth, all of which are recognized as inter-related.

For instance, child psychology might address hereditary issues and growth size when it comes to physical development. As regards the cognitive development, the focus could be on the perceptions formed, based on memories, language and thought processes. On the socio-emotional development side, communication and emotional skills could take the spotlight to draw conclusions about reactions.

Masters in Developmental Psychology Programs

Masters in Developmental Psychology programs prepare students to apply basic theories of human growth and development into a variety of environments, from child care and education to social service and mental health, and from policy-making and analysis to health care and even the arts.

An average Master of Science (MS) in Developmental Psychology could take a full-time student two-years to complete. In their curriculum, students generally need to complete a series of compulsory classes along with electives, and/or an optional area of emphasis.

A supervised internship is usually required to help students integrate theory with real time practice. Internships could also enable students to acquire valuable professional approaches to work with, or on behalf of, children and families.

Applicants to MS in Developmental Psychology programs generally need a Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Some programs may require participants to have at least one year of practical experience in a supervised environment. Letters of recommendation, an essay and transcripts are usually expected to accompany an application form. See each school’s list or admission requirements for more details.

MS in Child and Adolescent Development

A Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Development could cover theories and research in the field along with topics such and abnormal psychology, behavior analysis, and health. Students could also learn about stereotypes, socialization and culture-appropriate social roles.

Through their studies, students could learn to develop their own practical approaches to real world challenges faced by these age groups in their schools, communities and families. Bullying, sexuality, body image and childhood obesity are some examples.See below for sample courses.

  • Lifespan Development
  • Human Prenatal Development
  • Child Psychology
  • Adolescent Psychology

MS in Professional Counseling

A Master of Science in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders program is structured for students who want to pursue licensure and a subsequent career as a professional counselor.

This type of MS program addresses how to identify and assess childhood and adolescence disorders. Coursework therefore typically covers both human growth, and counseling theories and techniques—for instance, how to counsel victims fo child abuse, crisis and trauma.

This might include issues related to developmental delays, child-parent relationships, and school and family life. Also, courses will cover some of the disorders specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

MS in Child Development 

A Master of Science in Child Development typically encompasses psychosocial growth in infancy and childhood to adolescence and adulthood. Major topics include physical changes as well as the progress of cognition, language and play.

MS students could also learn various methods to screen and assess infants, toddlers, preschoolers and children with developmental delays or disabilities.

Some MS in Child Development programs may enable students to tailor their studies through a concentration.

  • Administration: Explore the ways to plan and implement systems that carry out an organizations mission. Or, combine expertise in working with infants with organizational methods in a dual Infancy/Administration major
  • Child’s Life: Study to learn how to advocate for children and families
  • Children’s Law and Policy: Study to understand how the law impacts children and families and how to advocate for children
  • Children with Special Needs: Work to gain expertise in how to interact with young children who are either developmentally delayed or have disabilities
  • Infancy: Study to prepare to work with infants and families in the context of their community, with an option to apply for an early intervention credential

PhD in Developmental Psychology Programs

A PhD in Developmental Psychology is a research science and terminal degree. PhD programs in developmental psych therefore broadly emphasize research methods, scholarship, and teaching.

Most PhD programs in developmental psychology provide students with the opportunity to develop both breadth and depth of knowledge. Multiple courses could enable students to apply the latest theories and research on child development, abnormal psychology, behavior analysis, and health issues that affect children and adolescents.

Students could also learn to fuse developmental psychology theory and research. Areas that are often discussed include cognitive, neurological, emotional, physical, social, and cultural aspects of human development. For instance, a course in gender roles could provide a backdrop for how to design ethical and gender sensitive policies.

PhD candidates also explore many of today’s relevant issues. Among them, the effects of the digital age and critical issues faced by populations such as children, the LGBTQ community, and the elderly. In fact, some programs may provide learners with the opportunity to pursue an area of emphasis.

Child and Adolescent Development emphasis: A focus in Child and Adolescent Development emphasis delves into the theories and research associated with ages from conception through puberty. Learners might address the physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and moral development in infants, children, and adolescents and how those changes might relate to families, society, education, social services, and health care.

Adulthood and Aging emphasis: A focus in Adulthood and Aging typically explores the theories and research associated with adulthood and aging. Students investigate the physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and moral development in adulthood and how those changes might relate to family, career/work society, social services, and health care.

Life-span emphasis: A life-span emphasis generally covers the theories and research associated with growth from conception through later adulthood. Students focus on physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and moral development from conception through older adulthood and how these changes relate to families, career/work society, education, social services, and health care.

The other coursework in a PhD program could be largely related to a student’s dissertation. Common topics include the following types of courses.

  • Writing skills (grants, funding, research papers)
  • Multivariate and advanced statistics
  • Qualitative reasoning and analysis
  • Experiment design and measurements

Ultimately, students tap into their expanded knowledge to research and write their dissertation. The dissertation represents original research that contributes some new insight to support the healthy growth of children, youth, families and so on.

Students in some PhD in Developmental Psychology programs may roll a Masters thesis and Masters degree into the doctorate degree. Or students might enter with an earned Masters in Developmental Psychology degree.

Applicants may also need a strong GPA or GRE score. Moreover, applicants may be encouraged to describe how their interests coincide with the interest of particular faculty member/members they wish to work with.

The time it takes to complete a PhD in Developmental Psychology could range from 4 to 7 years, but is a variable. Some influences might include a prior education, whether you attend part time or full time, and how long it takes to conclude the dissertation.

Graduate Certificates in Developmental Psychology

A Graduate Certificate in Developmental Psychology typically offers a shorter curriculum than a full degree. In some schools, students may have the option to transfer courses towards a Masters in Psychology program. Non-degree seekers may take the courses to expand their knowledge and expertise.

Usually, because curriculums could cover fewer courses (nine credits for example), a certificate might address a singular topic in some depth. For example, a certificate in Child and Adolescent Psychology might discuss issues that professionals may face with children and related disorders.

Curriculums could include major themes such as psychopathology and crisis intervention. Students might therefore study to learn the key definitions of mental illness and classification of psychological phenomena (DSM) as well as how to respond to trauma.

A survey of the up-to-date research, evidence-based practices, and national organizations could enable students to develop a deeper grasp of effective support and intervention methods.

Where Does a Developmental Psychologist Work?

Developmental psychologists pursue careers in academia, government agencies, health care facilities, schools and private practice.iii Based on BLS data (May 2016), the average annual salary for developmental psychologists was $95,710.iv

Choose a Developmental Psychology Degree

There are two main formats available for Developmental and Child Psychology Graduate Programs: on-campus and online. Use these filters, the degree level, or a location preference to find sponsored schools with Developmental Psychology Degrees. Then, easily apply with the on-page form.  Get your perfect program match for free!


[i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-4 | [ii] nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/cipdetail.aspx?y=55&cipid=88056 | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-3 | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-5

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