Developmental Psychology PhD Programs Guide

Earning a Ph.D. vs. a Psy.D.

Students who want to become a developmental psychologist can explore two doctoral degrees: a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. degree.

A Ph.D. is a research-focused degree and offers a wider variety of career options in developmental psychology. In a developmental psychology Ph.D. program, students undertake research and in-depth dissertation studies in addition to completing hands-on practicum work and internships. Graduates may work in clinical settings, research centers, or universities. Ph.D. admissions are rigorous, and many programs admit only a handful of applicants.

Students who wish to work as clinical practitioners might opt for a Psy.D. in developmental psychology instead of a Ph.D. With a focus on hands-on experience, Psy.D. programs tend to admit more students and allow faster completion. There may be fewer funding opportunities in comparison to the Ph.D.

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Degree Snapshot

Typical Admission Requirements:
BA or an MA in psychology, GRE, interview

Time to Completion:
5-7 years

Average Salary:

More information on Developmental Psychology degrees

Why Get a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology?

In the field of developmental psychology, professionals can make many tangible contributions that improve the quality of individual lives and collective experiences.

  • Understanding how human beings grow and develop is helpful in both personal and professional situations. Developmental psychology provides knowledge that can be applied to parenting, caretaking, and personal relationships.
  • In developmental psychology, research helps professionals make important changes to educational systems, elder care facilities, and resources for adults with disabilities.
  • Professional opportunities for graduates of developmental psychology Ph.D. programs are varied, with options focusing on research, teaching, program direction, and practice.
  • Developmental psychologists can choose from a range of specialties. They may focus on infants, children, or adolescents; aging processes and care of the elderly; adult development; or developmental disabilities.
  • Through experience, developmental psychologists can advance to leadership positions in government and corporate environments. They may lead research efforts, oversee large projects, and supervise staff.

Example Curriculum

While curriculum, practicum, and internship requirements vary depending on the program and state, most developmental psychology Ph.D. programs require the following:



Students in developmental psychology Ph.D. programs can expect coursework that provides a firm foundation in research methods, theory, and statistics. Other required courses cover topics such as child and adolescent development, language development, cognitive development, and emotional development.



A practicum experience is one of the hands-on components of a developmental psychology program. Students apply theoretical and lab studies to clinical situations under faculty supervision. Typically, practicum experiences coincide with a student’s research interests and occur before the internship and dissertation.



Developmental psychology Ph.D. programs require students to conduct an empirical research study, report the results in a dissertation paper, and defend their conclusions to a committee. Typically completed in the final year of study, sometimes in conjunction with an internship, the dissertation is the culmination of the student’s academic career and often serves as a launchpad for post-graduation opportunities.



To graduate from a Ph.D. program in developmental psychology, students must complete an internship year in an APA-approved setting. The internship typically occurs after a student has successfully applied for doctoral candidacy. Students may complete the internship in conjunction with dissertation work.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology?

Graduates of developmental psychology Ph.D. programs can explore several career paths.

Many graduates work directly with clients as practicing developmental psychologists, often specializing in a particular age group. Others make important field contributions as researchers or university professors who both teach and conduct research.

Median Salary: $79,010


Where Do Developmental Psychologists Work?

Research centers, government offices, schools and universities, and hospitals and nursing facilities.


Graduates of developmental psychology Ph.D. programs must obtain licensure to practice. Some developmental psychologists working in research centers and universities may be exempt, but by and large, students should research the requirements in the state where they wish to practice and compile materials accordingly.

While requirements vary by state, graduates should expect to present their state licensing board with proof of internship hours. Generally, students must have completed at least 2,000 hours, though some states require much more experience. Students may need to report details regarding particular clients and problems they treated during the course of internship experiences. All states require developmental psychologists to pass the the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology to obtain licensure.

Generally, psychology licenses expire every 2-3 years. To continue practicing, developmental psychologists may need to complete continuing education and pay state fees as part of the renewal process.

Professional Organizations

  • American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry AACAP advocates for improvements to state and federal policies involving children and adolescents, as well as publishing professional guidelines for the field. Members can access regional chapters, annual meetings, award opportunities, and a job board.
  • American Educational Research Association AERA supports educational researchers, including developmental psychologists, with an eye toward improving educational systems. The group conducts a lecture series and annual conference. Member resources include discounted access to JSTOR, professional development opportunities, and a job board.
  • American Psychological Association APA advocates for the psychology field and psychological research, providing members with access to job and internship postings, awards and grant opportunities, and networking via listserv.

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