Developmental psychology programs guide

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HomeDevelopmental psychology overview

What is developmental psychology?

Developmental psychology is the study of humans as they change throughout their lives. While this field once was just focused on babies and children, the study has now expanded to include the lifespan of humans from birth to old age. Due to the initial focus of this field being infancy and childhood, and because of the significant changes and formative experiences that happen during this time, theories surrounding children remain the most prevalent in developmental psychology.

Developmental psychology covers 7 broad life stages:

Prenatal

Prenatal – this stage starts at the time of conception and ends at the birth of the child. It considers all the influences that can affect a child while in utero. This includes how a fetus reacts to stimuli from inside and outside the womb.

Some examples are the impact of a mother taking drugs while pregnant, or a mother singing to an unborn child, or genetic problems that can develop in a child at this stage like Down’s Syndrome.

Early childhood

Early childhood – this period is the time of rapid growth and change in a child’s life. During this stage, developmental psychologists look at the emotional, cognitive, and physical growth that occurs in these formative years

Middle childhood

Middle childhood – is the period when children start on their formal education journey, this stage is often influenced by social factors. Cultivating friendships and learning new skill sets in school are studied in this stage.

Adolescence

Adolescence – often a period of intense emotions as children transition over a period of 6-7 years to becoming independent adults. This adolescent stage is filled with physical, psychological, and social changes that can be problematic and require the intervention of a developmental psychologist.

Early adulthood

Early adulthood – this stage is marked by the importance of building relationships that can last over long periods and can include marriages, business partnerships, and friendships that begin at university or college. Developmental psychology looks at the factors that allow and block the ability to make and maintain close or intimate relationships with people outside the immediate family.

Middle adulthood

Middle adulthood – this is a stage of self-reflection when people question their sense of worth including what they have been able to contribute to the world around them. This is when people look back on past decisions that became the basis for their present life, like career, relationship, location choices.

In evaluating these past choices, new decisions can be made that impact the future of the person. This process can be stressful and filled with anxiety. A developmental psychologist can provide essential support and guidance with the issues that may arise during this developmental stage.

Older adults

Older adults – as the final developmental stage, the senior years can be difficult as people need to create a new identity that doesn’t include a career. For some people, health problems and less money can reduce the feeling of independence and freedom and cause anxiety and depression. Developmental psychologists can help the person find contentment in their later years. If psychology as a whole interests you, and you are a compassionate person, this wide field of study may be just for you.

What are the requirements to study developmental psychology?

From undergraduate to doctorate, your journey to become a developmental psychologist begins with a college application. Most colleges look for a minimum GPA of 3.0, good transcripts, letters of recommendation from your teachers, and an attractive personal statement. In many areas of psychology, good scores in science, social studies, and statistics add support to your application and prepare you for the classes you will be taking in this course of study.

Most commonly, your college journey will start with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. During your first 2 years of college, you will have the opportunity to take a range of classes in introductory courses. The second half of your undergraduate degree is, most often, solely focused on your major. Majoring in psychology provides the foundational base of knowledge to prepare you for further study and specialization in different fields of psychology.

During your undergraduate degree, you can start to apply for master’s programs. Although there are not many master’s degree courses in developmental psychology, it is possible to specialize at this stage of your education. There is a second alternative route to this specialization that involves enrolling in a doctorate program in developmental psychology, which incorporates a master’s degree in the program.

In general, colleges look for a minimum GPA of 3.0 and good scores on the GRE test. It is not mandatory that your undergraduate degree was in psychology. Graduate schools do look for strong pass marks in statistics, science, humanities, and good letters of recommendation.

Entering the workforce after your graduate program is a possibility. However, to be at the top of your field, a doctoral degree is necessary. An undergraduate degree is a prerequisite to apply for a doctoral degree in developmental psychology, but not a master’s degree. As mentioned above, some programs allow you to work towards a master’s while completing a doctorate. Specific requirements for acceptance on a doctoral program as an undergraduate vary and should be checked. Should you apply to a doctorate program after earning a graduate degree, you will need to show a minimum of 3.0 GPA, decent GRE scores, and letters of reference and recommendation, especially from an internship if available.

Can I study on campus or online?

Generally, online and on-campus studies are offered for undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology. Many students wish to study on campus and partake in the full college experience. Numerous factors make studying on campus impossible for other students, and hence the majority of programs are also offered as online or hybrid courses.

Be aware of the cost of an education that may endure over more than a decade, from undergraduate to doctoral degree. In psychology, many jobs and licenses are only available to those with doctoral degrees.

The American Psychological Association (APA) conducted a study which shows the following annual tuition for graduate and undergraduate study:

Bachelor’s degree – $18,037

Master’s degree – $8,640 – $30,345

Doctorate – $10,800 – $33,698

Financial aid

The fact is, earning a degree at any level and in any field, in the United States is expensive. Fortunately, there are different types of aid available to you to help you meet these costs.

Options such as grants and scholarships may be a possibility for you, as well as Federal Student Aid loans. Applications for FAFSA can be submitted as early as October of the preceding year and it’s recommended to get your application in as early as possible.

To calculate the amount of aid you’re eligible for as an undergraduate, you must provide your social security information, your parents’ social security and income information, driver’s licenses, and tax documents.

The amount of study demanded by both masters and doctoral programs is copious, making it very difficult for many students to hold down jobs. Aid is also available for graduate students and the application is similar. One significant difference, however, is that as a graduate student, or for students over the age of 24, you are considered as an independent. This means that your eligibility for financial aid is based solely on your financial circumstances.

Accredited courses

When choosing your course, it’s important to make sure that it is accredited by the APA. This accreditation indicates to you, and your future clients and employers, that your education has met a high standard. Part of the APA accreditation involves making sure that the most recent research and theory is being taught and examined. The American Psychological Association’s website provides detailed information on accredited programs.

What will I study?

Undergraduate study

An undergraduate degree

Takes 4 years of full-time study to complete. Some schools offer a developmental psychology bachelor’s program, although these programs are not common. The most common course of study is an undergraduate degree in psychology where you can take different classes that pertain to developmental psychology. Some examples are:

  • Adolescent psychology
  • Cognitive development
  • Development and interpersonal relationships
  • Language development and communication
  • Social and personality development

Bachelor programs

For aspiring developmental psychologists this tends to be either a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in psychology or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in psychology. In general, bachelor programs in psychology cover the following introductory courses:

  • Abnormal psychology – while studying this course, you will learn about issues and behavioral disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and personality disorders.
  • Cognitive psychology – this course looks at human thought, including topics such as memory, emotion, and decision-making processes.
  • Psychological assessment – being able to conduct an assessment of the psychological health of a client is the first step in providing the appropriate treatment. This course covers various assessment techniques and tools used to identify psychological problems.

Postgraduate study

Graduate study programs

Here’s where you can begin to specialize your study of developmental psychology. There are a limited number of colleges that offer developmental psychology as a 2-year master’s program. Depending on the institution, you can develop a strong understanding of the research, theories, and practical applications of knowledge about developmental stages in the areas of cognitive, behavioral, social, language, and personality development. Possible master’s level courses include:

  • General development psychology – a broad understanding of developmental psychology and how its principles can be applied to people throughout the different stages of their lives.
  • Child and adolescent development – this course looks at abnormal psychology and behavior analysis in children and adolescents. This will cover topics of general psychological and physiological development as relevant to the well-being of children at home and school.
  • Adult development and gerontology – this course looks at the psychological, emotional, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging. It also incorporates the adoption of various psychological theories to understand people at different life stages.
  • Health and human development – this course will teach you how different theoretical approaches in developmental psychology can be applied to real-life situations within health and social care.

Ph.D. or a Psy.D in developmental psychology

Both of these degrees present the final step in graduate study and take 4-6 years of full-time study to complete. Examples of the specializations available in the Ph.D. programs are developmental science or developmental psychopathology. In these courses, you can focus on the development of psychopathology, which can include diving deep into neuroscience, executive brain functions, and developmental research.

In Psy.D. programs programs, the focus is more on applying research and training to actual client problems in practical settings. You will have the opportunity to intern and gain real-life experience in your preferred area of developmental psychology, under the guidance of a Psy.D. supervisor. Internships can take place in healthcare facilities, schools, government agencies, behavioral health clinics, or in a private practice.

Licenses and certification

To become a practicing developmental psychologist, it is necessary to obtain and maintain licenses in your field of specialty. These licenses ensure you are up-to-date with all relevant psychological theory and research. To gain a license, you need to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Your license is generally valid for 1-3 years, for exact details visit The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) website. Aside from a doctoral degree in psychology, you need to provide a background check, fingerprints, and transcripts of relevant experience to receive your license.

Developmental psychologists can also apply for certifications in their specialty, although this is not mandatory in all states and specializations. Examples of certifications include school psychology, child psychology, family psychology, and geropsychology. These certifications can be applied for through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).

Career options

Psychiatric Technician

A psychiatric technician works with people with mental or physical disabilities. They provide therapeutic care to their patients, listen to their concerns, and monitor and record their condition. Their job may also entail travel to and from medical facilities that patients visit for different services. Psychiatric technicians often work in residential healthcare facilities, psychiatric treatment centers, and hospitals.

Average annual salary: $37,550

Social Worker

A social worker, in the context of developmental psychology, works with people who have behavioral, mental, and social issues. The role of a social worker is to assess the needs of a client and to implement the support and services needed to minimize the struggles they are facing. This can involve client advocacy and mediation with service providers to guarantee clients are receiving essential help. Social workers work in many settings including government agencies, community health centers, hospitals, schools, and private practices.

Average annual salary: $50,470

Social and Community Health Manager

A social and community health manager oversees those who provide social services and programs to the community. They look at data to see what is missing in a community and implement plans and programs to fill this gap. Once programs are underway, they evaluate them based on their effectiveness. This duty can extend to applications for funding for these programs and presenting evidence that the funding is being used appropriately.

Average annual salary: $67,150

Rehabilitation Counselor

A rehabilitation counselor works with people who have emotional and physical disabilities to ensure they can live as independently as possible. Counselors assess the strengths and weaknesses in all areas of their clients’ lives to plan and promote client independence wherever possible. They can help a client to find and hold down a job, develop independence, and to apply to different services for the help they may require. Generally, a rehabilitation counselor works in healthcare facilities, social services, and community agencies.

Average annual salary: $39,950

Marriage and Family Therapist

As you might expect, marriage and family therapists work with people in relationships, married couples, and families. They work with people who are having problems that range from divorce, infidelity, substance abuse, grief, and behavioral issues. Therapists work with groups and individuals to address negative behaviors that damage relationships. Marriage and family therapists work in private practice, healthcare facilities, and community centers.

Average annual salary: $49,610

Developmental Psychologist

The role of a developmental psychologist varies according to their area of specialization. They may work with children who have speech difficulties and language delays attributed to developmental problems, to evaluate and implement the treatment and services they require to acquire better language and communication skills. Developmental psychologists may work with elderly people who are struggling with the aging process, increased dependence, loss of loved ones, or changes in their life circumstances. They can work in private practice, hospitals, schools, government, residential care centers, or any other agency that sees clients who need the specialized skills of a developmental psychologist.

Average annual salary: $80,370

Sociologist

Sociologists study human behavior. They look at groups, cultures, and social structures, and try to understand the changes that take place when people are together over some time. They research social theories, and where applicable use this research as a means of implementing changes to improve the social environment. For example, they observe the behaviors directed at certain groups within a community and then assist social workers in developing action plans to minimize these behaviors. Sociologists work in healthcare facilities, research and development, and educational facilities. Their work often takes them out of the office to conduct research.

Average annual salary: $83,420

Association for Behavioral Analysis International

This organization, founded in 1974, is the primary membership organization for psychologists interested in the science and application of behavior analysis. It promotes and organizes events, publishes journals, and provides information on jobs and services to its members.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

The AACAP is the leading association that is dedicated to treating children, adolescents, and their family members, who suffer from developmental, behavioral, or mental disorders. Established in 1953, members of this association research, evaluate, and treat different psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents.

American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy

The AAMFT represents more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists in the United States and internationally. The board of directors offers insight and experience to help professional psychologists interested in this field.

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