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 development.

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.

English Composition
Public Speaking
Probability and Statistics
Child Care

Graduate admissions
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
  • Pre-Calculus
  • 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:

Child Psychology
Adolescent Psychology
Psychology of Adulthood and Aging
Social Development
Cognitive Development
Theories of Personality
Research Techniques in Child Psychology
Clinical Problems of Childhood
Experimental Design
Psychological Tests and Measurement
History and Systems of Psychology
Psychology of Learning
Psychology of Sex and Gender
Social Psychology
Memory and Cognition
Physiological Psychology
Organizational Psychology

As preparation for graduate school, it helps to include one or more courses in biology.

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
Social/Emotional Development
Child Psychopathology
Measurement of Intelligence
Personality Assessment
Professional Ethics

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
Multivariate Analysis

In addition, graduate programs typically require the following:

Thesis (master's degree)
Preliminary exams (doctoral degree only)
Dissertation and dissertation defense (doctoral degree)

Supervised training
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:
Child Development
Family Studies and Human Development
Psychology, General
Social Science
Careers you may qualify for
Education Administrators
University and College Teachers

Phone: 800.374.2721
American Psychological Association
Select "Students."

APA Online: Psyccareers
E-mail: careers@apa.org

National Association of School Psychologists
Select "NCSP/Certification," then " Listings of Graduate Programs in School Psychology."
Phone: 301.657.0270
Fax: 301.657.0275
E-mail: cert@naspweb.org

Select "Grad School Search."

Finding Careers with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, by Bruce R. Fretz, Ph.D.

Schools that offer program
Click on the school name to see a list of their programs related to this area of study.

Metropolitan State University - St Paul, St. Paul, Located in the Metro
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota - Rochester, Rochester, Located in Southeast Minnesota
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Located in the Metro

Return To Fields Of Psychology Page