A developmental psychology degree prepares students to work as psychologists who help people with developmental disorders across the lifespan. This guide covers important information for prospective developmental psychologists, including professional duties, degree options, and licensure requirements.
What is Developmental Psychology?
Developmental psychology examines how people change and grow throughout the lifespan. Developmental psychologists focus on different aspects of human development, including biological, cognitive, social, and emotional processes.
Centuries before developmental psychology became an official field, philosophers proposed theories similar to what scientists research today. It wasn’t until the late 1800s, though, that developmental psychology became considered a scientific field. Today, developmental psychology informs many aspects of peoples’ lives, including theories on parenting styles.
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How to Become a Developmental Psychologist
The process of becoming a developmental psychologist involves many years of schooling and supervised work experience, in addition to a license to practice. Although not required to find a job, certification makes candidates more competitive in the job market.
Developmental psychologists typically need a Ph.D. in psychology. Some doctoral programs allow students to enroll in a joint master’s-Ph.D. program. Although individuals with only a bachelor’s or master’s degree cannot become licensed psychologists, they can find related jobs, such as counselor and social worker.
Developmental psychology programs usually require students to complete fieldwork or clinical hours before they graduate. These experiences might take place at a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility. Students gain valuable hands-on experience through internships that they can use to earn licensure and boost their resume.
Developmental psychologists must earn a license through their state’s licensing board. Licensure requirements vary by state, but most states require a doctoral degree from an accredited institution. Some states require 1-2 years of supervised work experience, as well.
Candidates also need to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, this exam consists of 225 questions covering advanced psychological knowledge.
Developmental psychologists can also earn certification. Although psychologists do not usually need a certificate to find employment, some hospitals and clinics require certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology. Even if job candidates apply to places that do not require certification, it can improve their chances of securing employment.
Developmental psychologists can choose from certifications such as clinical child and adolescent psychology, couple and family psychology, geropsychology, and school psychology.
Developmental Psychology vs. General Psychology
General psychology and developmental psychology degrees share many similarities. However, general psychology programs include a broader catalogue of courses that cover many different aspects of psychology, while developmental psychology programs focus on one aspect of psychology, training graduates for more specialized jobs.
Especially at the bachelor’s level, general psychology and developmental psychology majors take many of the same foundational courses. These core courses might include introduction to psychology, psychological research methods, and cognitive psychology. Both programs also typically require a basic human development course.
Graduate programs in general psychology and developmental psychology usually include a research requirement. At the master’s level, this requirement usually comes in the form of a thesis. Ph.D. students must complete a dissertation. Both graduate programs require fieldwork, during which students complete clinical hours at a hospital or other healthcare facility.
Students in general psychology programs can choose courses that fall under many different subfields, such as psychophysiology, memory and attention, social cognition, and the psychology of gender. Rather than study a variety of psychology subfields, learners enrolled in developmental psychology programs primarily take courses in human development.
In developmental psychology programs, concentrations typically cover development over different stages of the lifespan, such as child psychology and gerontology. Meanwhile, general psychology degrees offer concentrations that span many different aspects of psychology, such as workplace psychology, addiction counseling, and behavioral psychology.
Practicing developmental psychologists work with people with developmental disorders, usually specializing in a particular period of the lifespan, such as childhood or old age. General psychologists may work with clients with a variety of psychological issues, such as behavioral or emotional disorders.
What Can You Do With a Developmental Psychology Degree?
Graduates with a Ph.D. in developmental psychology can work as psychologists in healthcare settings to support patients with developmental disorders. They might also find a research-focused job as a faculty member at a university.
An individual without a Ph.D. might work as a counselor, helping families overcome challenges or connecting individuals with resources. With a master’s degree, professionals can work as social workers, helping people across the developmental spectrum.
The following section covers several potential developmental psychology jobs for each degree level.
Developmental Psychology Degree Programs
Undergraduate Developmental PsychologyPrograms
Bachelor’s degrees usually require 120 credits of coursework, which full-time students can finish in four years. However, students in accelerated programs and learners with transfer credits can graduate sooner. By contrast, part-time students may take several additional years to earn the degree.
Curricula typically include research methods courses, a research component, and a capstone course or seminar. Depending on a student’s concentration and career goals, they may need to complete an internship, as well.
Careers This Degree Can Prepare You For
- Psychiatric Technician: Psychiatric technicians assist psychiatrists in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. They may monitor patients to make sure they take medicine and eat meals. They must know how to respond to behavioral changes in patients and when to call a nurse or doctor for care.
- Social Worker: These professionals work with vulnerable populations, such as abused children and individuals with mental illnesses. Although clinical social workers need a master’s degree in social work, other social workers can find employment with a master’s degree in psychology.
- Social and Community Health Manager: These managers work in administrative roles at social service and community organizations. They supervise staff, set goals, create programs, and plan events and outreach activities.
Bachelor’s in Developmental Psychology
Developmental Psychology Master’s Programs
The requirements for developmental psychology master’s programs vary, but most programs require 32-36 credits. Students can usually graduate in 1-2 years. However, a master’s thesis may add a year to graduation. Master’s in developmental psychology programs usually require research and fieldwork components. Learners may complete fieldwork in settings such as schools, community centers, or correctional facilities.
Careers This Degree Can Prepare You For
- Learning Disabilities Specialist: Learning disabilities specialists usually work at secondary schools or colleges. They assess potential learning disabilities and coordinate support for students with learning disabilities in class. These professionals usually need a master’s in developmental psychology or special education.
- Rehabilitation Counselor: Rehabilitation counselors work with people who struggle with various developmental, physical, and mental disabilities. They help individuals live independently, arranging career training services and medical care. They may also develop treatment plans for clients and help them overcome social and emotional challenges. Rehabilitation counselors need a master’s degree.
- Marriage and Family Therapist: These professionals support couples with marriage and family challenges. They offer strategies to help couples work through difficult situations with each other or with their children. Marriage and family therapists need a license and a master’s degree in psychology or a related field.
Master’s in Developmental Psychology
Developmental Psychology Doctorate Programs
Developmental psychology Ph.D. programs usually require 60-90 credits and 4-5 years of study. However, requirements vary by university, with some schools offering joint master’s-Ph.D. programs that can last six years and other schools requiring a master’s degree for admission. Learners usually need to complete a doctoral dissertation, clinical practicum, and final oral examination.
Careers This Degree Can Prepare You For
- Developmental Psychologist: Developmental psychologists can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and assisted living facilities. They evaluate patients with developmental disabilities and provide treatment plans. These professionals need a Ph.D. in developmental psychology and a license to practice.
- Professor: Professors work as faculty members at colleges and universities, instructing undergraduate and graduate courses. They also typically conduct research, publishing their findings in academic journals and presenting at conferences. Additionally, professors may work as advisors to master’s and Ph.D. candidates.
- Developmental Psychology Researcher: Professionals with a doctoral degree in developmental psychology can find research positions outside of academia, as well. For instance, they may work for a tech company to study how a new piece of technology affects human behavior.
Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology
Online Developmental Psychology Programs
Online developmental psychology degrees offer convenience and flexibility. Many programs allow students to study at their own pace and don’t require any on-campus visits. This flexibility particularly appeals to students with work and family responsibilities.
Developmental psychology students typically need to complete internships and research projects, which require onsite visits to labs or clinical settings. Online students can often meet these requirements at approved sites near their homes.
When Selecting a Program
Look For Tuition Waivers and Stipends
Many colleges and universities offer financial incentives to master’s and Ph.D. students who work as teaching or research assistants. Students should research whether prospective schools waive tuition costs and offer living stipends for graduate students.
Reach Out to Current Students
Prospective students should consider reaching out to current students to learn more about a program. Current students can often provide more insight into what a program is like than a program’s website or admissions office.
Check Where Graduates End Up
Students should research job placements for graduates of their prospective program. Doing so helps students determine whether a potential program will prepare them for their professional goals.
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