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Child Psychology Degree and 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 and 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.1 These professionals 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.

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, an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree, 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.

Quick Facts

  • There are 79 colleges and universities with child psychology programs.2
  • 3 schools offer a certificate in child psychology.2
  • 1 school offers an associate’s degree in child psychology.2
  • 35 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in child psychology.2
  • 48 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in child psychology.2

For not-for-profit colleges and universities.

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 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. Because child psychology is itself a specialty within psychology, further specializations (or concentrations, specialties, or emphases) are not typically offered.

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 one to two years to complete full time, while a doctoral program may take between four and six years of full-time study. Graduate students also focus on both research and clinical practice. Examples of possible coursework 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 2017

  • University of Minnesota–Twin Cities (#1)
  • University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (#2)
  • Stanford University (#3)
  • Harvard University (#4)
  • Pennsylvania State University–University Park (#5 tie)
  • University of California–Berkeley (#5 tie)3

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 types of programs to come up with our best value list below. Of the not-for-profit options, we included only those 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.

SchoolGraduate Degree(s)US News National Rank4Grad Rate2% Tenured Faculty5Net Price2
University of Washington-Seattle CampusMA Applied Child & Adolescent Psychology: Prevention & Treatment;
PhD Clinical Psychology: Child Track
#59 tie84%51%$9,443
Montclair State UniversityMA Clinical Psychology: Child/Adolescent Psychology;
PhD in Clinical Psychology: Clinical Child Psychology
#169 tie65%23%$15,224
University of KansasPhD Clinical Child Psychology#129 tie63%48%$18,365
Vanderbilt UniversityM.Ed. Child Studies;
M.Ed. Quantitative Methods
#14 tie92%39%$23,295
Chestnut Hill CollegeMS Clinical and Counseling Psychology:
Child & Adolescent Therapy;
MS Clinical and Counseling Psychology:
Child & Adolescent Therapy/Autism Spectrum Disorders
NR55%9%$23,863

Select Child Psychology Degree Programs

Traditional Master’s Programs

Chestnut Hill College

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 environments such as 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.

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia’s Curry School’s Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy Department (EDLF) offers a Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree in Educational Psychology and Applied Developmental Science (EP-ADS). It is a special area of focus for students interested in child and developmental psychology that prepares graduates 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.

Traditional Doctoral Programs

University of California Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley’s PhD program in Developmental Psychology is one of six training units offered and has an interdisciplinary approach to the study of how organisms develop throughout the lifespan, including the study of cognition and linguistics as well as social, emotional, and neural processes. The PhD program can be completed in five to six years of full-time study and a master’s degree is not required for admission. In fact, students who have a master’s degree will not be able to enter the program with advanced standing and will begin with the same status as bachelor’s degree-holders. Students may work with professors from multiple areas of the department and collaborate with professors in other departments including Business, Education, Neuroscience, Public Health, and more. Students are admitted in the fall semester only, and admission to the program is competitive, with requirements among the most stringent of the specialization areas. Applicants to the Developmental Psychology program should have a minimum GPA of 3.7 and minimum GRE scores of 165 verbal, 166 quantitative, and 5 in analytical writing. . Applicants must also submit a statement of purpose and professional goals for consideration.

University of Kansas

The Clinical Child Psychology program at the University of Kansas (KU) is a science-practitioner model Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program emphasizing working with children and adolescents as well as their families. Courses include core study in Biological Foundations of Psychopathology, Social Development, Diversity Issues in Clinical Psychology, and Cognitive Development, as well as clinical psychology specialty skills courses such as Fundamentals of Assessment and Intervention with Children; Achievement and Intellectual Assessment in Clinical Child Psychology; Therapeutic Interventions with Children; and Professional and Ethical Problems in Clinical Psychology. A master’s degree is included in the PhD program and requires at least six hours of thesis coursework and 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 (ACPS) 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 Michigan

The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan (Michigan) offers a postdoctoral training program for those who already hold a doctoral degree that focuses on Clinical Child 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.

University of Minnesota

The doctoral program in child psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development has been highly-ranked among developmental psychology programs by US News & World Report. Students can choose between two specializations: Developmental Science or Developmental Psychopathology and Clinical Science. The Developmental Science track takes five years of full-time study to complete and focuses on research across the human lifespan. Graduates typically find academic and research positions at colleges and universities, nonprofits, or education publishing and assessment corporations. The Developmental Psychopathology and Clinical Science track 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 at children’s hospitals, elementary schools, medical schools, and outpatient clinics. 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.

Online and Hybrid Programs

Brandman University

Brandman University offers a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology with a concentration in Child Psychology that can be completed in a hybrid or online format. The BA program teaches graduates to understand the development and treatment options for children with disabilities such as autism. The program places an equal emphasis on theory and applied practice, and teaches graduates techniques in statistics that can help them in their research. A minimum of 120 semester units are required to graduate, which include 42 credits of general requirements, 48 credits of psychology core requirements, and 15 credits of concentration requirements. Child psychology-specific coursework includes classes such as Psychology of Learning, Pediatric Neuropsychology, Applied Behavioral Analysis, and Preferred Behavior Enhancement. To be considered for the program, applicants should have a minimum of a 2.0 GPA as well as the completion of 12 or more credits before applying (which may be transferred from another school).

Southern New Hampshire University

The Master of Science (MS) in Psychology at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an option for 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 with a focus on research methods, learning theory, ethical practice, social psychology, cognitive psychology, and other topics important to working with children. 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 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. GRE/GMAT scores are not required.

Child Psychologist Career Information

How to Become a Child Psychologist

In order to become licensed as a child psychologist, a doctoral degree in psychology is required in all states. In addition to earning a doctoral degree, candidates must earn supervised postdoctoral experience in their field as well as pass the exams required by your state board of psychology. In general, to become a child psychologist, you will need to:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology or a related field.
  2. Earn an accredited EdD, PsyD, or PhD in Psychology with a specialization in Child Psychology.
  3. Complete the supervised clinical experience required by your state.
  4. Pass your state’s required exam(s), including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
  5. Apply for and receive a child psychologist license from your state psychology board.
  6. Begin practicing as a child psychologist.
  7. Complete required continuing education in order to keep your license current.

Job Description

Earning a degree in child psychology provides graduates with a variety of opportunities for employment. A child psychologist may work in schools, hospitals, the justice system, academic and research settings, or mental health care facilities. Those in clinical practice work with young people ranging in age from infant to teenager 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 are able to diagnose and treat their patients. Helpful characteristics include being approachable, compassionate, patient, and good listeners.

With a doctoral degree in child psychology, graduates are able to pursue a number of different jobs and can become licensed clinical child psychologists. Those with a master’s degree may play a more support-based role 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 usually required for this job title.

Salary and Job Outlook

Projections for growth in the field of psychology and child psychology are positive. Job growth for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is projected to be higher than the “all other” psychologists category through 2028, with the former estimated at 14.7% and the latter projected at 11.5%.6 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is $87,450, with the top 10% of earners in the field making $132,670 or more per year.7

Additional Resources

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 and earn a degree at the same time. 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 take a minimum of four years, but often closer to five or six 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, you need a minimum of a doctoral degree in all 50 states. A bachelor’s degree is often the minimum requirement for admission into doctoral programs, so that can be a good start. A bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely-related subject is the best option if your plan is to further your education. You may be qualified for entry-level positions in the industry with a bachelor’s degree.

References:
1. American Psychological Association, Clinical Child Psychology: https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/child-clinical
2. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
3. US News & World Report Best Developmental Psychology Programs 2017: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/developmental-psychology-rankings
4. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
5. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
6. Projections Central Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/projections/longterm
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm
8. American Board of Professional Psychology Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology: https://abpp.org/Applicant-Information/Specialty-Boards/Clinical-Child-and-Adolescent-Psychology.aspx