How to Become a Developmental Psychologist


Updated February 27, 2024 · 5 Min Read

Developmental psychology explores how the human mind changes at every stage of life. Could a career in developmental psychology be right for you? is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Are you fascinated by how the human mind evolves throughout the course of a person's life? Do you envision a career helping people reach their full potential? If so, you may want to consider a developmental psychology career.

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What Is Developmental Psychology?

Developmental psychology is the study of human growth and development throughout the stages of life — from childhood through old age. This encompasses physical, cognitive, emotional, and intellectual changes caused by biology, culture, family, and other environmental factors.

Developmental Psychology Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) measures psychologist salaries by averaging earnings from different specialties, such as clinical, counseling, forensic, and developmental psychologists. Therefore, it's difficult to measure how much developmental psychologists make compared to other types of psychologists.

However, the BLS posts median salaries among psychologists by setting. Psychologists that work for the government earn the highest median salaries, making $100,360 annually. Psychologists who work for hospitals make the next highest, at $90,640. Elementary and secondary school psychologists earn $77,560. These figures are based on 2020 data.

Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
$46,270 $82,180 $137,590 8%
Source: BLS

How Do I Become a Developmental Psychologist

The amount of time it takes to become a developmental psychologist varies depending on each state's licensing requirements. Typically, it takes 8-12 years to complete the required education to gain licensure.

In addition to completing the necessary education, candidates must also clock a specific amount of supervised clinical hours, which also varies by state. They also have to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Education for Developmental Psychologists

The first step toward becoming a developmental psychologist is to earn a bachelor's degree. Most students major in psychology, although some study biology or the social sciences.

Many master's and doctoral programs require a certain Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score to apply. You can take the GRE during or after your undergraduate studies, as your test results are valid for five years.

The next step involves pursuing a master's degree in psychology and choosing a specialization, such as social psychology, educational psychology, and adolescent behavior.

After completing their master's degree, students can start applying for doctoral programs. There are two types of doctorates: the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology and the doctor of psychology (Psy.D.). The Ph.D. suits learners pursuing a career in academia or research. The Psy.D. prepares psychologists for clinical practice.

Psychology doctoral programs take 4-7 years to complete. In addition to coursework, students participate in internships to gain experience in their area of interest. Many psychology programs also require a capstone or thesis to graduate.

After graduation, students should apply for psychology postdoctoral fellowships or "postdocs." These experiences help students fulfill the supervised hours necessary to apply for licensure. Postdocs are paid positions that typically last 1-2 years.

Licensure for Developmental Psychologists

After completing these steps, students can pursue licensure in psychology. This requires a passing score on the EPPP, a 225-question exam administered by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). It covers assessment and diagnosis, ethical and professional issues, and research methods and statistics.

Depending on the state, licensure candidates must also have a certain amount of supervised experience. The requirement can range from 1,500-4,000 hours, but it generally falls in the 1,500-2,000 range.

Some states offer license reciprocity, which allows psychologists to get licensure in a new state more easily after they've been licensed in another state.

Once a candidate has licensure, they must maintain it by completing a certain amount of continuing education, usually about 10-25 hours every year.

Some states also require candidates to pass a jurisprudence exam in addition to the EPPP, which is administered by state boards. This exam can be written, oral, or both. It covers the laws relating to the practice of psychology in that specific jurisdiction.

Board Certification for Developmental Psychologists

You don't need to earn board certification to practice as a psychologist. However, some psychologists choose to earn a certification in one of the 15 specialty areas offered by the ABPP. Board certification requires extra training, experience, and usually an exam.

There is no certification specific to developmental psychology. However, the ABPP offers certification in clinical child and adolescent psychology, as well as geropsychology, which may be of interest to aspiring developmental psychologists interested in those age groups.

PreProfessional Experience for Developmental Psychologists

As previously mentioned, each state has different preprofessional requirements to qualify for psychology licensure. This can include a combination of internship, practicum, and postdoc experiences. For example, a state may require 300 supervised practicum hours and 1,500 supervised internship hours.

Other specifications can include an experience time limit, such as six months or one year, and that professionals work a set number of hours with patients. Many jurisdictions also often require preprofessional experiences to be accredited by the American Psychological Association.

These details vary by state, so check with your licensing board to determine the exact requirements. Knowing these details early in your educational career can help you plan for the future and avoid surprises.

It is also a good idea to check neighboring states' licensing requirements. If they offer license reciprocity, you may be able to get licensure to practice across state lines without retaking the EPPP.

Frequently Asked Questions About Developmental Psychologists

Where do developmental psychologists work?

Developmental psychologists can find employment in academia, conducting research and/or teaching, or in clinical settings working with patients. However, some professionals also find work for government agencies, schools, or private organizations.

How much do developmental psychologists make?

Psychologists, including developmental psychologists, made a median salary of $82,180 in 2020, according to the BLS.

Do I need to be a licensed psychologist to become a researcher in developmental psychology?

Professionals not planning to work directly with patients at any point in their careers may not necessarily need psychology licensure. However, clinical research, which involves clinical trials, does require licensure.

What Does a Developmental Psychologist Do?

Developmental psychologists study how people change at different life stages. Some specialize in gerontology, infancy, or sociological factors affecting development.

Developmental psychologists work in two main areas: academia or clinical settings. In academia, developmental psychologists conduct research centered around understanding biological, cognitive, social, and other factors related to human development. Many researchers also teach classes at the university level.

In clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities, developmental psychologists work with doctors to treat psychological and physical health issues that emerge during different stages of development.

Developmental psychologists can also work for government entities, such as the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, military, or for local police departments. They may also find employment in primary schools as school psychologists.

Skills and Competencies

Depending on the environment, different skills and competencies will be more central to your role. For example, research positions require great attention to detail, a high level of literacy in math and technology, and strong analytical skills.

While these attributes are beneficial in many settings, those working in clinical settings need strong people skills, empathy, and the ability to communicate effectively.

Teaching requires another skill set. Those who plan to become professors or lecturers need strong organizational skills, a sense of leadership, and patience.

Developmental Psychology Resources and Professional Organizations

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