Developmental psychologists study how people change over time and the developmental
stages across the human lifespan (i.e., birth to death). Developmental psychologists
conduct basic and applied research in such topics as age-related changes in
neurobiological development, emotional and social development, and cognitive-
intellectual development and language acquisition. Until recently, the primary
focus was on infancy and childhood, the most formative years. But as life
expectancy in this country approaches 80 + years, developmental psychologists
are becoming increasingly interested in aging, especially in researching and
developing ways to help elderly people stay as independent as possible. Developmental
psychologists are often employed in academic settings, clinics, hospitals,
and public school systems as well as in private or group practice.
For more information:
1) Developmental Psychology Information
2) More Developmental Psychology Information
Programs in developmental and child psychology focus on the study of growth
and aging in people. Students learn how children's emotions and personalities
develop. They also learn how to research human needs in various stages of
The development of the human mind is one of life's great wonders. Everyone
has experienced it firsthand and has seen it happen to family members, yet
it still holds many mysteries. For example, the parents of a toddler might
show her a photo with her own image and say, "That's you!" For some
time the child might point to it and say, "That's you!" How and
when does the child learn to say, "That's me!"?
The most rapid development of the mind occurs early in life, and what goes
right or wrong then can affect a person's whole life thereafter. So young
people have always been of special interest to researchers in this field.
However, people's minds continue to develop throughout life. As baby boomers
are going gray, researchers are paying more attention to the changes that
older adults go through. How do they cope with the empty nest? With retirement?
With thoughts of their own mortality? What can help them stay productive and
keep a positive outlook?
You can study developmental and child psychology as an undergraduate. About
180 colleges offer a bachelor's degree in this field. Normally that takes
four years of full-time study beyond high school. In such a program, you learn
what researchers have found out about emotional and cognitive development.
You study developmental problems. You learn about the kinds of mental illness
that are more likely to occur at various stages of life. You study the scientific
methods that are used to investigate behavior. In order to make sense of the
data that such research produces, you also study statistics.
The bachelor's degree by itself does not prepare you to work in psychology;
in this field, even research assistants often have graduate degrees. However,
you may use the bachelor's as the foundation for your further education. It
may prepare you go on to graduate school in psychology, physical or occupational
therapy, business, or (with some additional courses) medical school. Or it
may lead to work assisting with marketing research.
Graduate work in this field prepares you mainly to do research or teach in
college. The best preparation is a doctoral degree. That probably explains
why more universities offer the doctorate (about 60) than the master's (about
30). You can earn a master's in about two years of full-time study beyond
the bachelor's. The doctorate takes an average of three additional years.
That time may be divided between studying and assisting with research or teaching.
In graduate school you take additional courses to learn about development
at various stages of life, but the main emphasis is on learning how to do
research. That's why the culmination of the master's is an original research
project written up as a thesis. And to complete your doctorate you need to
do a more elaborate research project for a dissertation.
Admissions - Pre-college preparation
You can prepare for this program by taking courses in high school that prepare
you for college. This typically includes four years of English, three years
of math, three years of social studies, and two years of science. Some colleges
also require two years of a second language.
Probability and Statistics
Admission to graduate programs is highly competitive. You need a bachelor's
degree, good grades, and good test scores. Your bachelor's degree may not
need to be in psychology if you have taken some courses in the subject.
Additional requirements at some schools include:
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE) Psychology (less often)
- Miller Analogies Test (MAT)
- Letters of recommendation
Typical course work
A bachelor's degree program in general psychology typically requires that
you study the following core courses:
- English Composition
- Introductory Psychology
- Experimental Psychology
- Introduction to Statistical Methods
In addition, you usually must choose several (but certainly not all) of the
following subjects. If your program specializes in developmental and child
psychology, it is likely to require the subjects nearest the top of the list.
They are also valuable as preparation for graduate school in this field:
Psychology of Adulthood and Aging
Theories of Personality
Research Techniques in Child Psychology
Clinical Problems of Childhood
Psychological Tests and Measurement
History and Systems of Psychology
Psychology of Learning
Psychology of Sex and Gender
Memory and Cognition
As preparation for graduate school, it helps to include one or more courses
A master's degree program in developmental and child psychology typically
includes courses such as the following:
Issues and Methods in Developmental Psychology
Cognitive and Affective Bases of Behavior
Biological Bases of Behavior
Cognitive and Perceptual Development
Measurement of Intelligence
A doctoral degree program in developmental and child psychology typically
includes more courses such as the above, plus courses on research methods
and advanced statistics, such as the following:
Research Methods in Community Psychology
Applied Regression Methods
In addition, graduate programs typically require the following:
Thesis (master's degree)
Preliminary exams (doctoral degree only)
Dissertation and dissertation defense (doctoral degree)
Graduate programs may include one or more practicums, which are supervised
experiences of real work in this field. At first you may merely follow a professional
around and observe what that person does. Later you take on more real tasks,
including research or teaching.
You may have opportunities to work part-time as a research assistant or teaching
assistant. Although either these activities can extend the amount of time
it takes to get your degree, you are paid for the work, your tuition fees
may be waived, and they help build your career.
Things to know
The graduate program is about research above all. You are encouraged to do
independent research, even during your first year. This helps teach you important
skills you need to know to work in this field. It gives you ideas for your
dissertation research, to come later. And, if you can get your results published,
it adds to your resume.
Similar areas of study:
Family Studies and Human Development
Careers you may qualify for
University and College Teachers
American Psychological Association
APA Online: Psyccareers
National Association of School Psychologists
Select "NCSP/Certification," then " Listings of Graduate Programs
in School Psychology."
Select "Grad School Search."
Finding Careers with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, by Bruce R. Fretz,
Schools that offer program
Click on the school name to see a list of their programs related to this area
Metropolitan State University - St Paul, St. Paul, Located in the Metro
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota - Rochester, Rochester, Located in Southeast
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Located in the Metro
Return To Fields Of Psychology Page