Doctorate degree in child development

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Introduction to child development

Child development is a multifaceted field combining subjects like psychology, sociology, neuroscience, and biology. Countless decades of research, data analysis, observation, and assessment have changed the way we view child development today. In the 17th century, English philosopher John Locke was famous for his “tabula rasa” or “blank slate” theory. Children were thought to have no biological predispositions before birth, hence everything they learned and became was influenced by their environment.

Through hundreds of years of research, numerous theories, and technological advancements we know children are born with billions of neurons, have rapid and robust brain growth in the first few years, and that there is a myriad of external and internal factors that intricately influence development. A doctorate in child development puts you at the forefront of cutting-edge research, expands your knowledge of developmental domains, and challenges past theories to improve the care and education of children throughout their lifespan.

What do I need to apply?

Doctorate programs have the highest academic recognition with the result that graduates are perceived as experts in their field. To access a doctoral program, applicants must meet several important prerequisites, that generally include:

What will I learn?

Child development coursework typically falls under the umbrella of developmental psychology or human development, which is reflected in the program title at the various higher education institutions. Some of these programs may offer concentrations in child development. The coursework covered in these different programs is similar and will likely include:

Social development

This course will critically examine the elements of social development such as attachment, aggression, morality, altruism, and parental discipline. You will also analyze methodological issues, evidence-based research, and developmental theories.

Research methods and data analysis

An important component of any doctorate program is extensive knowledge about research methods, data analysis, and statistics. Commonly, you have to take several courses that cover these topics to ensure you have adequate knowledge of the different research methods, how to analyze data for research, and the mathematical background necessary to properly conduct research at the doctorate level.


This course covers neurodevelopment, neurological pathways and their influence on cognitive abilities.

Cognitive development

You will have likely taken a course in cognitive development previous to this doctoral level course. This course builds on earlier courses on cognitive development offered in undergraduate and master’s programs. It will encourage students to look into cognition, memory, metacognition, typical and atypical development.

Theories of development

You will focus on theories of development and learn how to critically analyze these theories, using your findings to understand and direct policy analysis and social activism.

Career options

School administrator

The school administrator is responsible for school budgets, hiring new staff, the development of educational programs, and the overall smooth running of the school environment. School administrators work year-round and are in charge of overseeing junior administration staff.

The average salary for a school administrator was $64,022.

Child development coordinator

This position researches and designs strategies to optimize child development programs, oversees curriculum development, and coordinates the administrative components of child care. Child development coordinators usually work at nonprofits and healthcare companies, although they can also be employed in the education or government sector.

The average salary for a child development coordinator is $59,154.

Post secondary teacher

A very popular way to blend research and education is in a teaching position at the university level. Professors can work at a community college or university giving lectures on child development.  They will be responsible for the course content, grading assignments and tests, and holding office hours for students. Outside of class times, professors may continue their research, write books, or host seminars.

The average salary for a postsecondary teacher in 2020 was $80,790.

The cost of a doctoral program

The average cost of a full-time doctoral program costs $11,380 a year at public institutions and $45,380 at private universities.

Financial aid

Doctoral programs take an average of 3 to 5 years to complete on a full-time basis. So, for many students, the decision to pursue a doctorate in child development results in anxiety related to the expense. Federal Student Aid is one of the most popular ways students pay for higher education. This is a need-based grant that qualifies students for financial aid. Most universities also provide scholarships, assistantships, and other Ph.D. funding opportunities to cut the cost of a doctoral degree.

Assistantships are a popular way to pay for your doctoral program. These are usually available as a teacher or lecturer assistant, or as a research assistant – with students working at their university and performing a range of duties.

American Psychological Association (APA)

The APA advocates for psychology-informed federal policy and legislation, helps users find employment in the field, provides research publications, and news articles.

Society for Research in Child Development

This association aims to advance developmental science, integrate diversity, use research to advocate for useful recommendations for policy makers, and communicate developmental science to people who address policy and practice. They provide professional advancement, news, events, and research journals.

Human Development and Capability Association

A community of practitioners who seek to promote research and relate these ideas to policy. They provide networking opportunities, resources, and HDCA publications to advance knowledge of human development, health, education, and sociology.