Child Psychology Degree and Career Guide
Child psychology is a specialty that applies research and scientific knowledge to the care of young adults, children, toddlers, and infants. Child psychologists have specialized knowledge of child development, the unique psychological needs of children, and the social contexts that contribute to the mental and emotional well-being of children. The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes clinical child and adolescent psychology as a specialty for professional psychologists. Child psychologists should not be confused with developmental psychologists, who often lead research studies on children’s behaviors and emotions.
To become a clinical child psychologist, individuals typically earn an undergraduate degree in psychology before specializing in child psychology in graduate school. Practitioners may have a master’s degree, an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree, a Doctor of Education (EdD), a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). A doctoral-level degree is required to become a licensed clinical child psychologist in all states, as is an internship and postdoctoral practical experience supervised by an experienced professional. Certified child psychologists can work in children’s hospitals, mental health institutions, juvenile correctional systems, schools, research settings, and private practice.
- There are 80 not-for-profit colleges and universities with clinical child psychology or developmental and child psychology programs.1
- 4 schools offer a certificate in child psychology.1
- 1 school offers an associate degree in child psychology.1
- 32 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in child psychology.1
- 50 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in child psychology.1
Table of Contents
- Child Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework
- Top-Ranked Child Psychology Degree Programs
- Best Value Schools With On-Campus Child Psychology Programs
- Select Child Psychology Degree Programs
- Child Psychologist Career Information
- Becoming a Child Psychologist
- Job Description
- Salary and Job Outlook
- Additional Resources
- Frequently Asked Questions
Degree Requirements and Coursework
Acceptance into a master’s degree program in child psychology typically requires a background in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in any field. Some doctoral programs require a master’s degree in psychology, but many accept students with an undergraduate degree in psychology only. These programs also typically require a minimum GPA of 3.0. Many programs also consider personal recommendations, coursework, and practical experience. Because child psychology is a specialty within psychology, further specializations (or concentrations, specialties, or emphases) are not typically offered. Some programs also require GRE scores.
Graduate programs in child psychology typically focus on cognitive development, the development of language and learning, social development, neuroscience, and the psychobiology of development. A full-time master’s program takes one to three years to complete, while a doctoral program takes between four and six years of full-time study. Graduate students also focus on both research and/or clinical practice. Examples of possible courses include:
- Adolescent and Young Adult Development
- Child Development
- Design and Analysis for Developmental Research
- Multicultural and Diversity Issues in Psychology
- Professional Issues in Clinical Child Psychology
- Psychology and the Legal System
- Psychopathology in Children
- Psychotherapy with Families
- Social and Emotional Assessment
Top-Ranked Child Psychology Degree Programs
US News & World Report’s Best Doctoral Developmental Psychology Programs 2022
- University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (#1)
- University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (#2)
- University of California-Berkeley (#3)
- Harvard University (#4 tie)
- Stanford University (#4 tie)
- University of California-Los Angeles (#6 tie)
- University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign (#6 tie)
- University of Wisconsin-Madison (#8)
- University of California-Davis (#9)2
Best Value Schools With On-Campus Clinical Child Psychology Programs
The table below represents the best-value colleges and universities that offer on-campus, graduate-level clinical child psychology programs. We researched only not-for-profit schools that offer these programs to come up with our best value list below. Of the not-for-profit options, we included only schools with undergraduate graduation rates of 50% or higher and an undergraduate net price of less than $25,000 per year. A high graduation rate is usually an indicator of a school’s success, while a low net price is important as you consider the potential value of your education. In addition, we have included each school’s US News & World Report rankings, the percentage of faculty with tenure, and the graduate degrees offered.
|US News National Rank4
|% Tenured Faculty5
|University of Washington-Seattle Campus
|MA Applied Child & Adolescent Psychology: Prevention & Treatment;
PhD Clinical Psychology: Child Track
|Montclair State University
|MA Clinical Psychology: Child/Adolescent Psychology;
PhD in Clinical Psychology: Clinical Child Psychology
|University of Kansas
|PhD Clinical Child Psychology
|M.Ed. Child Studies;
M.Ed. Quantitative Methods
|Chestnut Hill College
|MS Clinical and Counseling Psychology:
Child & Adolescent Therapy;
MS Clinical and Counseling Psychology:
Child & Adolescent Therapy/Autism Spectrum Disorders
Select Child Psychology Degree Programs
Traditional Master’s Programs
Chestnut Hill College offers a Child & Adolescent Therapy concentration in its Master of Science (MS) in Clinical and Counseling Psychology degree program. Students learn about developmental issues and potential psychological problems in children and adolescents, as well as interventions involving individuals and families and play therapy. Graduates are qualified to become licensed in Pennsylvania (and many other states) as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and may work in treatment centers, hospitals, and schools. At least 15 credits are required for the Child & Adolescent Therapy concentration, including Assessment & Treatment of Children & Adolescents, Play Therapy, A Systemic Approach to the Problems of Adolescents, Intro to the Assessment & Treatment of Psychological Trauma, and one elective.
The University of Washington’s Department of Professional and Continuing Education offers a Master of Arts (MA) in Applied Child and Adolescent Psychology: Prevention and Treatment. Graduates are prepared to provide mental health services to all ages of children. Students attending full-time can complete the MA in 15 months, while part-time students can finish in two years. A total of 53 credits are required, including 42 credits of coursework and 11 credits of a clinical practicum through which students gain real-world experience in their communities at settings such as mental health agencies, group practices, nonprofits, and educational service districts. Courses include Principles of Assessment & Behavior Change; Conceptual Foundations of Developmental Psychopathology: Risk & Protective Factors; Multicultural Issues in Counseling Settings: Children, Adolescents, & Families; and Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Youth & Adolescents. A capstone project, consisting of a final paper and a poster-style presentation, is required to help students integrate their classroom learning with their practicum experience.
Traditional Doctoral Programs
At Montclair State University, students can earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Clinical Psychology with advanced, specialized training in clinical child psychology. The clinical child psychology emphasis prepares graduates to assess and treat children and adolescents while considering the role of family and social influences. PhD students must earn 86 credits, which includes core and elective coursework as well as supervised clinical practica. Clinical child psychology students must take four elective courses in that area. Students will also be required to pass a comprehensive examination and defend a second-year project and dissertation. In addition, they must complete a full-time predoctoral internship over one year. At least six semesters of practicum must be completed before the predoctoral internship. To be considered for the program, applicants should submit an online application, transcripts, a curriculum vitae, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a scholarly writing sample. GRE General and Psychology Subject Test scores are optional.
The University of Alabama’s (UA) Department of Psychology offers a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Clinical Psychology with a Clinical Child Psychology subarea designed to prepare graduates for careers as scientists and scientist-practitioners. The clinical child subarea focuses on teaching students how to conduct research to improve the assessment of children and adolescents as well as enhance interventions for them. Practicing clinical child psychologists and pediatricians will train students as adjunct faculty alongside the core faculty to provide students with real-world perspectives. In addition, students will complete practica in settings such as the UA Psychology Clinic and the UA Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic, as well as a year-long clinical internship. Some students may be interested in an optional specialization in Child and Adolescent Forensic Psychology, which they can fulfill by taking five credit hours of coursework and a specialized practicum in the area.
The Clinical Child Psychology Program (CCPP) at the University of Kansas (KU) is a clinical scientist (historically scientist-practitioner) model Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program emphasizing working with children, adolescents, and their families. Students take courses in child psychopathology; behavior and family therapy; assessment and intervention; and ethical or legal issues. A 30-hour master’s degree is included in the PhD program and requires at least six hours of thesis coursework and an empirically-based master’s thesis related to child psychology. Full-time students can complete the program in four years of study followed by an approved one-year doctoral clinical internship. Admission to the program is highly competitive and applicants must have a minimum of 15 credit hours in psychology, including research methodology and statistics. Experience in psychology research and working with children is highly recommended.
The University of Minnesota’s (UMN) Institute of Child Development offers a doctoral degree program with specialized training in developmental psychopathology and clinical science. The program takes six years to complete, including an internship, and is focused on both research and clinical science with APA-accredited clinical training. Graduates typically find work in higher education, research or non-profit settings, children’s hospitals, elementary schools, medical schools, or outpatient clinics. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Admission requirements include three letters of recommendation, a curriculum vitae (CV), a personal statement, a diversity statement, and unofficial transcripts.
Online and Hybrid Programs
The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Global offers a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology with a concentration in Child Psychology that can be completed in an online format. The BA program teaches graduates to understand the development and treatment options for children with developmental differences such as autism. The program places an equal emphasis on theory and applied practice, and teaches graduates to understand techniques in statistics related to their behavioral science research. A minimum of 120 credits are required to graduate, which include 42 credits of general education requirements, 48 credits of psychology core requirements, and 12 credits of concentration requirements. Child psychology-specific coursework includes classes such as Child Development, Pediatric Neuropsychology, Applied Behavioral Analysis, and Preferred Behavior Enhancement. To be considered for the program, applicants must either have a high school diploma/GED or 12 or more transferable college credits with a minimum GPA of 2.0. Transcripts must be included with the application.
The Master of Science (MS) in Psychology at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an online concentration in Child and Adolescent Psychology. The flexible online program has no set class meeting times and offers instruction from professionals who work in the field focusing on research methods, learning theory, ethical practice, social psychology, cognitive psychology, and other topics important to child development. While the degree does not lead to licensure, it does prepare graduates to continue their education or work in fields such as education, social services, and healthcare. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field plus prior coursework in introductory psychology, social science statistics, and social science research methods. GRE/GMAT scores are not required.
Child Psychologist Career Information
How to Become a Child Psychologist
To become licensed as a child psychologist, a doctoral degree in psychology is required in all states. Candidates must also complete supervised postdoctoral experience in their field and pass the exams required by your state board of psychology. In general, to become a child psychologist, you will need to:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology or a related field.
- Earn an accredited EdD, PsyD, or PhD in Psychology with a specialization in Child Psychology.
- Complete the supervised clinical experience required by your state.
- Pass your state’s required exam(s), including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
- Apply for and receive a child psychologist license from your state psychology board.
- Begin practicing as a child psychologist.
- Complete required continuing education to keep your license current.
Earning a degree in child psychology provides graduates with a variety of employment opportunities. A child psychologist may work in schools, hospitals, the justice system, academia and research, or mental health care facilities. Those in clinical practice work with infants to teenagers and should also be able to work effectively with the families of children. Only licensed clinical child psychologists have access to the full range of treatment interventions and can diagnose and treat their patients. Helpful characteristics include being approachable, compassionate, communicative, patient, decisive, and confident. They should also be prepared to work with children with intellectual disabilities and behavioral issues.
With a doctoral degree in child psychology, graduates can pursue many jobs including becoming licensed clinical child psychologists. Those with a master’s degree may hold support roles in similar settings. Some of the jobs available for graduates of child psychology programs include:
- Academic researcher
- Child mental health liaison
- Clinical child psychologist*
- Family therapist
- Juvenile offender counselor
- School counselor
- School psychologist*
*A doctoral degree is required for this job title.
Salary and Job Outlook
Projections for growth in the fields of psychology and child psychology are positive. Job growth for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is projected to be 10.4% from 2020 to 2030.5 All other psychologists, according to Projections Central, are projected to grow by just 2%.5 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2021, the average annual salary for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is $87,450.6
- APA’s Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice (Division 37): Committed to the application of psychology to advocate for children and their families, advancing research, education, and training in the field.
- American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP): Certifies professional psychologists in a variety of specialties, including clinical child psychology.
- Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (SCCAP), Division 53 of the APA: Promotes advancement, research, and professionalism in the field, while offering its members informational resources, student benefits, a forum, and a professional journal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a doctorate degree to be a child psychologist?
Yes. To be a licensed clinical psychologist, a doctoral degree is required.8 Also required, depending on state licensure requirements, are at least a one-year full-time, or two-year part-time, internship and postdoctoral supervised practical experience. With a bachelor’s or master’s degree in child psychology, an individual has opportunities to work alongside certified clinicians.
Should I attend a traditional or online child psychology program?
For a doctoral degree in child psychology on-campus study is typically required. However, for master’s programs, online degrees can be a good option. This option gives students the flexibility to work while earning their degree. The most important factor to consider is that the school holds regional or national accreditation.
How long will it take for me to get a child psychology degree?
The length of the program depends on the degree. Most master’s programs take one or two years to complete full-time. Doctoral programs usually take between five and seven years to complete.
Can I earn a master’s degree in child psychology?
It is possible to earn a master’s degree in child psychology. With a master’s-level degree, an individual may assist a certified psychologist or work in research. To be a certified clinical child psychologist, however, requires a doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by the APA or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA).
Can I be a child psychologist with a bachelor’s degree?
No. To become a clinical child psychologist, all 50 states require you to have at least a doctoral degree. A bachelor’s degree is often the minimum requirement for admission into doctoral programs, so it can be a good start. A bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely-related subject is the best option if you plan to further your education. A bachelor’s degree may qualify you for entry-level positions in the industry.
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. US News & World Report Best Developmental Psychology Programs 2022: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/developmental-psychology-rankings
3. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
4. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
5. Projections Central Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193033.htm