Master’s degree in developmental psychology program guide

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Introduction to master’s in developmental psychology

If you want to understand how humans mature, study developmental psychology. A career in developmental psychology can feel incredibly rewarding and fulfilling since you can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Developmental psychologists study changes in human development through their whole lifespan. A development that includes physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality and emotional growth.  

Developmental psychologists work in many different places, including academia, government agencies, healthcare facilities and schools. The psychologists in the college and university world are mainly focused on research or teaching. Others working in applied settings, like healthcare facilities or clinics, help to assess, evaluate and treat people with developmental disabilities. Developmental psychologists may also work in assisted living homes for the elderly, hospitals, mental health clinics and centers for the homeless. The American Psychology Association, APA, gives great tips on how to pursue a developmental psychology career.

If you think about it – to understand any psychological phenomenon, you have to understand how it develops. At the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, a popular developmental psychology lecture “Harry Potter and Child Development” focuses on Harry, Hermione and Ron’s behavior throughout the books, how they change with age and what causes those changes. It touches on topics like depression, perfectionism and the need for a growth mindset. By studying developmental psychology, you’ll get a deep understanding of the advanced methods, analytical techniques, and theoretical and practical approaches to this division of psychology.

When you study developmental psychology, you will learn what causes us to think, feel and behave the way we do at different stages of our lives. It examines physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. You will study how our personalities form and find the answers to questions like:

  • What psychological changes happen to us as babies, children and grown-ups?
  • How do we reach our developmental milestones?
  • What psychological processes drive the development of children?
  • How do their thoughts, language and social skills develop?
  • When does real self-awareness emerge?
  • Are the changes we go through in life gradual or abrupt?
  • How can we help with autism and neurologically atypical patterns of behavior?
  • Are children’s behavior related to age, family relationships, or temperaments?
  • How do we develop our emotions?
  • Where does our sense of morale come from?

Why should you get a master’s degree?

A developmental psychology degree is an investment for the future. Psychology isn’t just a well-paid field – it’s also a growing one. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for psychologists to grow faster than average at a rate of 19%, compared to 7% across all sectors. Many of these added opportunities will be in hospitals, schools, mental health centers, and social services agencies.

With a degree in developmental psychology, you’ll have great skills for popular fields like education, healthcare, and counseling. As a developmental psychologist with a master’s degree you can work as a learning disabilities specialist, school counselor or rehabilitation counselor, for instance.

A graduate degree in developmental psychology also leaves the door open to an exciting career in research. We may have extensive knowledge about human behavior, but there is much that remains a mystery. The data that psychology researchers get from conducting surveys and experiments adds to the ever-evolving body of knowledge that informs psychological principles and practices.

The skills that you get from studying developmental psychology bring strong analytical thinking, research, and abstract reasoning skills. These skills are fundamental in our modern-day society, and obvious in almost every aspect of business, where employees need to base their actions on thinking and behavior. So even if you change your mind down the line and decide to change career – your degree in psychology will always benefit your career path.

If you want to set up your own business or clinic, having this kind of background will equip you with invaluable skills for a life as an entrepreneur. It will help you to interact with customers, clients and employees to have them behave in ways that benefit your business efforts.

Critical thinking is one of the most important skills you can learn from studying psychology. As you explore the concepts, theories and methods employed in the field of psychology, you will get plenty of practice in thinking about the information you learn. You will develop the analytical skills to evaluate not only whether the information is true, but also the reasons why the phenomenon progresses the way it does. This may lead you on to a career within law or media.

Which developmental psychology program should you choose?

There are a lot of things to take in consideration when you choose where to study. The biggest impediments are, you guessed it, requirements and cost. So, get your priorities right. Think about what you want to do, what your incentives are, and how you’re going to achieve your goal. Dream a little but be rational. Understanding the different avenues to get to your goal will be a great help. Do your research on university ranking, scholarship options, internship opportunities, placement records and location. Start early, there’s a lot of data to go through.

Regardless of what postgrad study you are signing up for, make sure you are taught by the right people. Looking into the faculty of a prospective university gives great insights into their specialties and how they fit around what you want to study yourself. The faculty of each location is likely to be really diverse, so checking what areas they’ve worked in and how they choose to focus their study is crucial. Looking at published works and how well they were received is a great place to start.

What should your developmental psychology application include?

Many students who enter a psychology master’s program have a year or more experience working within their field. The level of experience required for a master’s program is decided by the department and professors. Some graduate students might get the opportunity to become research assistants, but professors often prefer the graduate to have some experience of the subject matter. Some faculties won’t require work experience because of the nature of the program. Most universities will not accept you without a bachelor’s degree. Don’t worry if your major wasn’t psychology, as you may still qualify for further studies within the psychological field. Check admissions criteria carefully because the requirements between universities can be different.

In order to study for your master’s in developmental psychology, most universities require you to include the items listed below, or most of them, in your application. They require you to –

  1. Have a B.A. or B.S. in psychology, although other related majors may be considered.
  2. Have earned a strong undergraduate GPA; usually above 3.30.
  3. Have strong GRE scores; typically 156 or higher for verbal and 158 or higher for quantitative.
  4. A curriculum vitae that includes your educational background, relevant research and teaching experience, and any research publications or presentations.
  5. Present 2-3 strong letters of recommendation from university faculty or from individuals familiar with your academic and research relevant background.
  6. Bring a 2-3 page statement of purpose with details of your academic and/or professional achievements, your specific areas of interest within your desired field of study, why you are a strong candidate for graduate studies at the university of your choice, and your career goals.

If you’re applying without an undergraduate degree in psychology, it’s a good idea to take the GRE subject test in psychology, even if it’s not required. You can find out more about what that entails at Educational Testing Service, ETS.

Applying and finding the right education will take time, often much longer than anticipated. You’ll need to apply by June or July for many of the postgraduate courses that start in September and October. It’s wise to start sending applications at least 6 months in advance – so around March for a course that starts in September/October.

How is your application reviewed?

Your test results and degrees are important, but they aren’t everything. The degree of fit between faculty research programs and graduate student’s research interests is an important consideration when your application is under review. Clearly focused personal statements that describe your research interests and career goals are thought to be crucial. So, make sure you take time to let the statement say all the great things about you that the reviewers need to know.

The university admissions committee reviews applications to decide which candidates to welcome for an on-site interview. Most universities only interview students who have interests and career plans that fit their program.

Why is accreditation such an important thing?

Before you select a degree program, check that it has been accredited. Accreditation is your guarantee that an institution or program provides a recognized standard of quality education.

The federal government stipulates that a college, university, or program be accredited, for attending students to be eligible for federal grants and loans or other federal funds. Similarly, state governments who offer financial support options to students demand accreditation for purposes of financial aid and state licensure as applicable.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, CHEA, has a database of institutions and programs accredited by recognized United States accrediting organizations. With information about more than 8,200 institutions and over 44,000 programs in the US, it’s a database well worth exploring when you’ve narrowed down your top program candidates

How long will it take you to graduate?

A master’s in developmental psychology can be completed in 2-3 years, while a doctoral program can take anywhere from 4-6 years to complete. The duration of a master’s program depends on the type of program you choose and your motivation levels. Every master’s student is required to complete hands-on learning experiences to graduate and some colleges offer flexible scheduling, if you also have work commitments.

You can achieve either a Master of Science (M.S.) or a Master of Arts (M.A.) in developmental psychology. An M.S. degree will emphasize the sciences more, with more courses in biology and chemistry, the M.A. degree focus on the liberal arts. Both degrees prepare students for careers and doctoral studies in psychology.

The time it takes to graduate from a psychology master’s program also depends on factors like program requirements, specialization options, and whether the program requires a thesis. Enrolling part-time will also lengthen a program. Some schools offer accelerated or online options to shorten the overall time to completion.

What’s the coursework in developmental psychology programs?

A master’s in developmental psychology typically requires you to complete 32 credits. Depending on what university you choose, you can register for independent study in order to undertake theoretical or empirical research projects or fieldwork. You can also enroll in introductory course offerings, which in many cases can be applicable if you are later admitted to one of the more advanced master’s or doctoral programs in these areas.


The good news is that the university world is your oyster with its inbuilt flexibility that even allows you to create a tailored program of study. In consultation with an advisor, you will find that there is a lot of freedom to choose among the many offerings.

These are the components for your master’s course:

  • A basic course in methods of research.
  • Required courses in cognitive development, personality development in atypical populations, and social and personality development.
  • A basic course in statistics.
  • Research practicum.
  • Optional courses of study, so called electives, in developmental psychology plus relevant electives offered by other programs.
  • A special project.

You may choose a variety of classes to make up the required credits. The availability of specific courses varies, although many programs include the following: 

  • Neuroscience of adversity
  • Applied regression analysis
  • Psychotherapy with families
  • Adolescent and young adult development
  • Psychopathology in children
  • Diversity and multicultural issues in psychology
  • Human cognition and learning
  • Educational psychology
  • Language development
  • Spatial thinking
  • Visual explanations
  • Personality development and socialization across the lifespan
  • Creativity and cognition

How much does a master’s degree cost?

The cost of your education depends on whether you go to a local university or not – where the former is cheaper – or if your master is part of a Ph.D., in which case you might receive funding from the university itself.

The average developmental and child psychology program tuition and fees are around $13,500 per academic year for state residents and $25,000 for out-of-state students, based on numbers for 2019-2020 comparing different universities. By comparison, the costs for an online course range from $9,000 to $27,500. Studying at the most expensive universities can set you back about $50,000-60,000 per academic year.

A recent survey showed that on-campus dormitory rooms cost just over $5,300 (for public colleges) up to around $8,200 (for private non-profit four-year institutions) per academic year. That includes all utilities and housing-related costs.

Are you entitled to financial aid?

It’s crucial to make a financial plan before you start your degree program. A huge factor will be financial aid. The type of aid you receive depends on a variety of factors, including:
• Where your university is
• The type of degree you are earning
• How many years you’ll be in school
• How much you can afford to pay yourself
• Whether you plan to work while you study
• How many scholarships/grants you are awarded
A good place to start is to fill in the form for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out what you’re eligible for. Start your search as early as possible as some states and schools have limited funds.

Where do you find scholarships and grants to apply for?

Pursuing your career dreams can be costly so check if you’re eligible for scholarships or grants. Scholarships are based on merits, like grades, community service or athletic talent. Grants are based on needs, related to your income and expenses. APA has a great site where you’ll find what‘s available in your field.

What jobs can you get after graduation?

There’s a lot of really exciting jobs out there when you finish your studies. If you’re considering clinical and counseling careers, licensure after earning a degree is often required; information on licenses and certification section can be found below. Here are some career options you can consider:

Work with children in their pre-teen and teenage years to tackle difficult changes on an emotional and behavioral level.

Assist clients in identifying and overcoming problematic behaviors in their lives.

Advocate on behalf of their clients, bearing in mind the developmental stage of the client when pursuing resources for them.

Are engaged to work with people of all ages, for example they may observe children and adolescents to evaluate their cognitive and emotional development, or work with older adults.

Child psychologists work with children who may have behavioral, emotional or social disorders to ensure they have a proactive life and reach their developmental milestones.

Seek teaching positions in adult education or prepare for a related doctoral degree and a career in academia.

Assist clients in the development of their careers. They do this by identifying their client’s interests, guiding important career decisions, and helping to resolve problems in the workplace.

Help people who suffer from addiction as well as behavioral and mental health issues.

Perform both group and individual counseling, and provide referrals and services for patients with mental, emotional, developmental, and physical disabilities.

Assist individuals, couples, and families by using a family-centered approach to counseling and seek to improve both relationships and emotional health.

Work with children in preschool and elementary school and help them to reach developmental milestones appropriate for their age.

Advise and assist schools in developing developmentally appropriate educational standards, learning targets and classroom policies and expectations.

Use their intimate understanding of the developmental obstacles; for instance, outbursts of anger and violence that children must overcome and express in a different way.

Employ their understanding of old age and end of life issues on a daily basis, ensuring physical care and providing emotional support and counseling for elderly people or younger people who are dying.

Seek answers to crucial questions about human development. For example, you might devise a research question that seeks to determine why ADHD develops in some children and not in others.

Work in a residential treatment facility to help children and adolescents overcome mental, emotional, or behavioral problems.

provide a safe environment for children to turn to when they are feeling troubled and help them cope with the demands of school and personal issues.

What can you expect to earn after finishing your masters?

Choose your future employer wisely to make the most of your developmental psychology degree. Psychologists working in a hospital, rather than a school or an outpatient mental health practitioner’s office, earn a median wage of about $81,000 annually. If you secure a psychologist job in a government department, your median salary rises to nearly $91,000. The highest 10% of earners made more than $100,000 per year, according to APA.

Salary ranges vary depending on education, certifications, additional skills and the number of years you have spent in your profession. According to salary.com, the average developmental psychologist salary in the United States is $70,700 as of October 28, 2020, but the salary range typically falls between $61,514 and $79,955.

While you’ll be earning nearly double the annual wage for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many psychologists earn even more. The kinds of psychologists who may make near-six-figure salaries include developmental, forensic and social psychologists.

Do you need a license or certificate after your studies?

To work within the psychology field, you may need certification, although this will depend on where you live and what your practice. You may need a certification from a specialty board or licensing authority. For example, in some states school psychologists are required to be certified or licensed by the state’s department of education.

In most states, professional experience is required to apply for a license to practice psychology. Internships are incorporated into your graduate program. Generally

at least one year of postdoctoral supervised professional experience must also be completed. According to the APA, the average licensing requirements for psychologists are 2,000 hours of internship and 2,000 hours of postdoctoral experience, though some states require more.

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) has all the info you need on licensing and certifications.

Continuing education

After a master’s degree, many students decide to take their education up a notch by pursuing a doctoral degree. A master’s in developmental psychology prepares students for doctoral-level coursework in psychology and education. One of the most popular academic paths is to pursue a P.hD. in Child Development or developmental psychology. This program teaches students in-depth knowledge about developmental psychology and human development to advance their career options.

As a developmental psychologist staying up-to-date with research and therapeutic treatments will out new techniques and studies in your fields. You’ll also benefit from the support and experience of other professionals. That’s why joining a professional organization is a wise choice. Listed below are a number of both regional and national groups you might consider joining:

Association for Behavior Analysis International

Many university programs are affiliated with and accredited by the ABAI. It gives fantastic support and outreach through a variety of worldwide events, job placement services and scholarly journals. The organization is divided into special interest groups, known as SIGs, to serve individualized areas of concern.

American Psychiatric Association

The organization’s goal is to make sure patients are receiving effective and humane treatments throughout their psychiatric care. The group is dedicated to keeping a close eye on psychiatric research, maintaining proper ethical standards in clinical practice and providing encouragement and leadership to its members. There are currently more than 37,000 members involved in the organization doing research, reaching others in academia and practicing with patients.

American Psychological Association

This organization, also known as APA, is very similar to the American Psychiatric Association. It has more than 115,000 members and focuses on proper application of psychology practices. The APA works to improve the qualifications and the research of psychologists through professional conferences, published reports, discussions and own publications.

American Educational Research Association

Formed more than 100 years ago as a nationally recognized research society, membership is divided into 12 divisions and more than 155 special interest groups. Developmental psychologists make up a strong constituency that shapes the developmental side of education policies.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

The AACAP’s commitment to meeting the professional needs of its membership makes it a great organization for developmental psychologists, regardless of specialty. The group is guided by an executive committee made up of certified individuals who have dedicated their work to helping people of all ages.