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Child Psychology Degree Career Guide

The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes several areas of specialty for professional psychologists. One of those is clinical child psychology, sometimes referred to as developmental psychology, which is often simply called child psychology.1 According to the APA, child psychology is a specialty that applies research and scientific knowledge to the care of young adults, children, toddlers, and infants. These professionals have specialized knowledge of child development, the unique psychological needs of children, and how social contexts affect the mental and emotional well-being of children.

To work as 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, a PsyD, or a PhD. A doctoral-level degree is required to become a certified child psychologist, 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.

Degree Requirements and Coursework

To be accepted into a master’s degree program in child psychology typically requires a basic background in general 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 minimum GPAs (3.0 is common) and acceptable scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Many programs also consider personal recommendations, coursework, and practical experience.

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 master’s program takes between two and three years to complete, while a doctoral program may take between four and six years. Graduate students also focus on both research and clinical practice. An example of coursework includes:

  • 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

Profiles of Child Psychology Programs

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 requires a doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by the APA or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA).

Master’s Programs

University of Kansas: The Clinical Child Psychology Program at the University of Kansas focuses on conferring doctoral degrees, but also offers a master’s track. The requirements for a student earning a master’s degree include taking a minimum of 24 credit hours of non-thesis coursework. The coursework is similar to what a doctoral student takes, but the overall number of credit hours required is less. Courses include core study in psychopathology, social development, cultural diversity, and cognitive development, as well as advanced study in these topics and others including practical clinical methods, research methods, behavioral interventions, and behavioral assessments. Master’s students must also take at least six hours of thesis coursework and produce a thesis that is based on empirical research related to child psychology. The university’s program has been inducted into the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science and is dedicated to research-based clinical practice. Admission to the program is highly competitive and applicants need to have a minimum of 15 credit hours in psychology, including research methodology and statistics. Experience in psychology research and working with children is not required but is recommended.

University of Virginia: The University of Wisconsin offers a Master of Education degree in educational psychology and applied developmental science. It is a special area of focus for anyone interested in child and developmental psychology. This degree prepares students to help children in social and educational contexts. Admission requirements include a 3.0 minimum undergraduate GPA and a statement of professional goals. The degree requires a minimum of 32 credit hours focused on the study of developmental science and education science, including a three- to six-credit hour internship. The internship is a practical experience, which may include working on a research project with faculty members, evaluating summer educational programs, studying interventions to motivate students to succeed, or working for a school board, among many other varied opportunities.

Doctorate Programs

University of Minnesota: The doctoral program for child psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development has been ranked number one in developmental psychology programs by US News & World Report.2 The focus of the program is on research rather than clinical practice. Students contribute to the body of work on researching human development and are prepared to continue that work after graduation. Coursework includes the study of developmental psychology, child development, and research methods. Most graduates of the program find academic and research positions. To be admitted to the program students must submit GRE scores, three letters of recommendation from academic professionals who can attest to research experience and scholarship, and a written statement of professional interests and goals along with an application to the program.

University of California Berkeley: The University of California Berkeley’s doctoral degree program for child psychology is housed within the Graduate School of Education because of its focus on school psychology. The program was first established in 1965 and readies students for careers in public and private schools, in mental health clinics, at universities, and in other educational settings. Students in the school psychology program complete classroom work and also spend a minimum of one day per week in educational and clinical settings. A full-time internship is completed during the fourth year. Admission to the program is competitive. Between 65 and 70 candidates apply each year, and only 10 are accepted. Applicants should have a minimum GPA of 3.50 and minimum GRE scores of 1100 to 1200 in the old scoring system and 200 to 300 in the new scoring system. Applicants must also have a statement of purpose and professional goals prepared for consideration.

University of Michigan: The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan offers a postdoctoral course of study for those who already hold a doctoral degree that focuses on child clinical psychology. The program was the first of its kind to be accredited by the APA and is designed to give psychologists specialized training in preparation for careers and for leadership roles in educational and clinical settings. Postdoctoral students receive advanced training in areas such as treating adolescents in a family setting, evaluating and treating children, working in a clinical setting with children, and designing and conducting empirical research. They also focus on specialized and research-based treatment methods for children and how to implement them in both clinical and educational settings. To be accepted to the program students must already have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and must submit a detailed description of work experience in any specialty areas as well as three letters of recommendation and full transcripts from the graduate institution.

Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University: The MS in psychology at Southern New Hampshire University offers an option for an online concentration in child and adolescent development psychology. Southern New Hampshire University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC). The program offers instruction from professionals who work in the field and affordable tuition rates. Topics of study include research methods, learning theory, ethical practice, social psychology, cognitive psychology, and other topics important to working with children. Admission to the program requires a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a degree in another subject with prior psychology coursework completed, which should include introductory psychology, social science statistics, and social science research methods. A GRE score is not required.

Child Psychology Job Description

Earning a degree in child psychology provides graduates with a variety of opportunities for employment. A child psychologist may work in schools, in hospitals, as a part of the court system, in academic and research settings, or in mental health care facilities. They work with young people ranging in age from infant to teenager and also must work effectively with the families of children. Child psychologists must know their specialty well, including diagnosis and treatment methods, and also should be approachable, compassionate, patient, and good listeners.

What Jobs Can You Get with This Degree?

With a doctoral degree in child psychology, graduates are able to pursue a number of different jobs and can become licensed child psychologists. Those with a master’s degree only may play a more support-based role in similar settings. Some of the jobs available for child psychologists include:

  • Academic researcher
  • Child mental health liaison
  • Clinical child psychologist in a hospital
  • Family therapist
  • Juvenile offender counselor
  • School counseling psychologist
  • School psychologist
  • School counseling psychologist

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Do I need a doctorate degree to be a child psychologist?

Answer: Yes. To be a certified clinical psychologist, a doctoral degree is required.3 Also required are a one-year full-time, or two-year part-time, internship and post-doctoral supervised practical experience. With a bachelor’s or master’s degree in child psychology, an individual has opportunities to work alongside certified clinicians.

Question: Should I attend a traditional or online child psychology program?

Answer: 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 and earn a degree at the same time. The most important factor is that the school be accredited.

Question: How long will it take for me to get a child psychology degree?

Answer: The length of the program depends on the degree. Most master’s programs take two to three years to complete. Doctoral programs take a minimum of four years, but often closer to five or six years to complete.

Child Psychology Salary and Job Outlook

Projections for growth in the field of psychology and child psychology are positive. Jobs growth for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is projected at the same rate as psychologists overall through 2026, with both estimated at 14%.4 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a clinical, counseling or school psychologist is $81,330, with the top 10% of earners in the field making over $123,920 per year.5

Additional Resources

References:
1. American Psychological Association (APA), Recognized Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology: https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/recognized.aspx
2. US News & World Report, Best Graduate Schools, Developmental Psychology: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/developmental-psychology-rankings
3. American Board of Professional Psychology: https://legacy.abpp.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3382
4. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm