Child Psychology in Focus

Would-be child psychologists can browse through this guide to professional opportunities, required degrees and courses, ranging from clinical child psychology to early childhood development. These resources encompass alternatives for online study, options for financial support and ways to build experience in the field of child psychology.

Careers in Child Psychology

An undergraduate education in child psychology could help prepare students for entry-level opportunities in pre-school, child care, community centers, social services or child advocacy. Administrative or education-related roles usually call for graduate degrees or professional certification. A master’s degree allows candidates to apply for community college faculty openings, but university teaching and advanced research require a doctorate. Positions in clinical and therapeutic counseling mandate specific work experience and credentials in additional to educational qualifications.

Child psychologists can seek a broad range of opportunities, from public agencies to hospitals to private practice. Child psychology encompasses different areas with a clinical, developmental, pediatric or psychotherapeutic emphasis. Candidates with a focus on education, learning disabilities and classroom behavior can specialize in school psychology, which has specific training requirements and qualifications. Clinical child psychologists, on the other hand, pursue a license in order to treat clients, and experimental psychologists choose to focus on research in academia or other settings.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of clinical, counseling and school psychologists to expand between 2012 and 2022, particularly in the context of education and health care. Professionals with doctoral or specialist degrees and post-doctoral experience should see the strongest career opportunities.

Career Salary Tool

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Anchorage 2012 MEAN PAY $37,410 per year
Fairbanks 2012 MEAN PAY $49,070 per year

Internships

Internships give students and recent graduates the chance to gain real-world experience in child psychology. These positions also allow professional networking and career exploration. Doctoral degree programs require a practicum or internship, and the American Psychological Association (APA) notes that practitioners who treat patients or clients need supervised work experience. The APA and the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers offer resources and information about psychology internships. Please note: The following openings may have been filled, so interested individuals should contact the organizations involved.

Wellesley College
Location: Wellesley, MA
The Assistant Teacher Internship program at the Child Study Center is a paid position of 29 hours per week for nine months. Duties include helping with classroom management and curriculum planning. Interns can interact with children and their parents and assist with research projects.

Children's Hospital of Michigan
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Pediatric psychology holds a central role in this clinical psychology internship. Interns observe individuals from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of medical or psychiatric conditions. Interns need candidate status for a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree in school psychology, counseling psychology or clinical psychology.

Stanford Youth Solutions
Location: Sacramento, CA
Paid interns help provide flexible, integrated treatment (FIT) therapy for at-risk children, youth and families. Therapists serve as case coordinators and provide mental health services, including psychotherapeutic interventions. Applicants may qualify for this entry-level position with professional credentials and registration as a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern. Candidates typically have a master's degree in social work, psychology or counseling and at least one year of experience.

The Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency
Location: Jackson, CA
Marriage Family Therapist (MFT) Interns at this non-profit public agency may offer counseling services for children and their parents, as well as assessments, screenings or client reports. MFT interns have a master's degree in counseling, psychology or a similar program, and are registered or eligible for licensing. Interns gain clinical experience hours in providing social services, and hourly compensation may be available. The AATC site explains that interns work with family services such as parent-child interaction therapy and child abuse treatment.

People's Care
Location: San Diego, CA
Behavioral therapists help children and their families facing challenges such as autism and related developmental disabilities. Therapists gain experience on a clinical team and collect data on child behavior. This paid, entry-level position requires a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field. Candidates should also have coursework in applied behavior analysis and a background in behavioral intervention services.

Kaiser Permanente
Location: Sacramento, CA
Candidates who qualify as Marriage Family Therapist Interns and with prior experience in mental health settings can gain supervised clinical experience. Interns may interact with the outpatient Psychiatry or Chemical Dependency departments. Interns help provide patient psychotherapy and therapy for families and groups.

Nebraska State Government - Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center
Location: Kearney, NE
The Department of Health & Human Services has a listing for a paid, entry-level position as Youth Security Specialist. Duties include supervising and observing individual youths or small groups, as well as crisis management. Candidates should have education and experience in fields such as psychology, social work, criminal justice, counseling and guidance, human development, mental health care or behavioral sciences.

Child Psychology Degrees

Undergraduate programs offer studies related to child psychology and child development, however, the option to specialize in the field typically appears at the graduate level.

Beginning Child Psychology: The First Four Years

Potential learning paths for students interested in child psychology include an associate or bachelor’s degree in general psychology, or another relevant field such as early childhood development, with elective courses pertaining to child psychology such as human development, juvenile delinquency or behavioral disorders of children and adolescents. Different areas of emphasis include infant and toddler, preschool, adolescent or family studies. Undergraduate degrees may prove useful for positions in child care, early childhood education, community centers or social services.

In introductory child psychology classes, students explore critical thinking skills and methods of scientific analysis, building a foundation that can serve them academically and professionally. Basic coursework could examine the theories and research relating to child development as well as tools for qualitative and quantitative assessments.

In addition to courses for their psychology major, undergraduate students enroll in general education classes such as mathematics and English, which can contribute skills used in research and counseling. The curriculum varies for different programs, but the examples below highlight some of the academic choices available for undergraduate students.

Example Curriculum

Course Name Semester Credits/Units Description
Introductory Psychology 3 Scientific approach to human behavior and overview of mental health issues.
Child Learning and Behavior 3 Study of theory and methods relating to learning and behavioral psychology.
Research Methods 3 Introduction to social science research techniques and procedures.
History of Psychology 3 Overview of different theories, methods, systems and schools of thought in the field of psychology.
Social Psychology 3 Introduction to the role of the self in society and types of social influence.
Early Child Development 3 Studies including cognition and learning, language, social and emotional aspects of development.
Special Needs Children 3 Studies on identification, intervention and inclusion for children with special needs, with overview of government guidelines.
Observation and Assessment of Children 3 Techniques for formal and informal assessment of child development and analysis of data.
Guiding Child Behavior 3 Methods for providing guidance and creating safe learning environments.

Advanced Study: Master’s Degree in Child Psychology

Master's degree programs in child psychology may focus on research findings and methodologies as well as clinical diagnosis and treatment. A master's degree in child development could investigate topics such as early childhood education, special education or social work. Other concentrations include applied developmental psychology, which targets support and intervention services for children and youth facing challenges. Graduate programs at this level analyze theories and practical applications relating to mental health and the well-being of children.

Students enrolling in master's degree programs in child psychology may be on a professional path leading to a doctorate, as required for clinical and counseling careers. Those choosing not to pursue doctoral studies can seek careers such as community college teaching positions or administrative roles in social service agencies. Other options encompass support roles in schools, youth organizations, residential treatment programs or health care facilities such as hospitals.

Completion of a master's degree program may take from one to two years for full-time students, depending on the extent of commitments such as graduate assistantships, internships and externships, which can vary from school to school. Participants hone their skills in social science research and psychological observation and assessment, which can be useful building blocks for future professional endeavors. The sample curriculum below outlines potential academic choices at the master's degree level.

Example Curriculum

Course Credits/Units Description
Infancy and Early Childhood 4 Analysis of development from prenatal stage through kindergarten age.
Middle Childhood and Adolescence 4 Theories and findings on development for school-age children and adolescents.
Childhood Emotional Disorders 3 Principles of prevention, treatment and intervention for children's emotional and behavioral issues.
Child Cognitive Development 4 Research on perception, language learning, memory, reasoning and cognitive processes in children and adolescents.
Early Childhood Assessment 4 Study of practices for testing and assessment.
Externship in Child Development 2-5 Supervised work experience in public facilities or private settings.
Psychopharmacology 4 Study of the use of psychotropic medications for psychiatric disorders, including effects and symptoms.
Teaching Methods for Psychology 2 Overview of pedagogical methods for college-level instruction.

Doctoral Degree in Child Psychology

Doctoral degree programs in child psychology vary according to the school's focus and a student's goals. Someone seeking a career in research may pursue a Ph.D. in child psychology, with studies in statistics and the design of research projects. Students who wish to work directly with children could enroll in a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program aimed at clinical practice. All professionals working with children need a background in the relevant ethical and legal guidelines.

Clinical child psychology programs target students hoping to counsel or treat children and adolescents, so coursework spans psychotherapeutic methods such as family therapy. On the other hand, developmental psychology programs delve into the cognitive, biological, emotional, social and cultural aspects of childhood.

The length of a doctoral program depends on a student's schedule and the time devoted to externships or graduate assistantships. A Ph.D. in child development could require 42 semester hours in addition to a master's degree. Beyond the doctorate, an externship in the field usually represents the next step for aspiring child psychologists.

Example Curriculum

Course Title Semester Credits/Units Description
Infancy and Childhood 3 Overview of psychosocial and emotional development through school age.
Children at Risk 3 Potential risk factors relate to health, psychopathology, educational challenges, genetic traits, family and social environment.
Learning and Teaching 3 Practical applications of theory and research in educational settings, including field work.
Social Factors in Development 3 Social science research on influences such as gender, race, ethnicity, culture and economic status.
Childhood Intervention Programs 3 Design, development and evaluation of support programs such as public aid and parental leave benefits.
Cultural Diversity 3 Exploration of cultural and individual differences and mental health disparities among socioeconomic groups.
Advanced Statistics 3 Coursework on multivariate statistics and related concepts.

Online Degrees and Coursework in Child Psychology

Online degree programs feature web-based coursework ranging from recorded lectures to reading assignments to observation of videos showing child behavior.
Distance learning provides convenient access to education for students with existing time commitments. The Internet also allows students to share ideas with their peers, for example, through virtual discussion forums.

Graduate programs often offer a blend of online components and in-person fieldwork. For individuals who wish to pursue clinical careers in therapy, counseling or health care, experience such as an internship plays a central role in graduate school. Doctoral studies in child development tend to emphasize learning and education, with opportunities for practice teaching and classroom observation.

Online Education Q&A

How can psychology students interact with professors and their peers?

In addition to online tools such as email and chat rooms, programs may incorporate residencies to facilitate face-to-face instruction and feedback.

Can online students gain practical experience in child psychology?

Online programs in child developmental psychology may provide chances for on-site fieldwork such as observing school students. Psychology students may refer to videos used in the observation of certain patient populations such as infants. Outside of school, aspiring child psychologists can explore web-based opportunities such as telementoring. Doctoral degree programs in child psychology, however, typically require students to complete an internship, externship or practicum, which will provide students with real world experience in the field.

Can online students in child psychology work with patients?

The most common model of distance learning entails study of scientific research and methods through the online delivery of concepts, supplemented by in-person fieldwork. Psychologists need a license to treat clients, so internships and externships require qualified supervision.

Do students need special skills to succeed in online psychology programs?

Some schools may ask students to take a course in mastering e-learning to acquaint them with the technology and techniques used for online study. These programs expose students to remote communication and collaboration tools that could prove useful as society evolves and telemedicine becomes more widespread.

Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards

An array of scholarships, fellowships and awards support students geared toward child psychology and related fields. Some awards target students in a particular region, from a specific ethnic background or at a certain college. To follow is a sampling of the funding available for child psychology students and recent grads. As information may change, interested individuals should contact the organizations offering these awards.

Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Fellowships
Amount: $25,000
Graduate studies should focus on subjects related to child and developmental psychology. Eligibility requires a completed doctoral candidacy, research competence and commitment in the specific area, and the host school's approval if human participants are involved.
For more info: http://www.apa.org/apf/funding/koppitz.aspx

APAGS/Psi Chi Junior Scientist Fellowship
Amount: $1,000
This fellowship supports psychology graduate students in a research-oriented master's or doctoral program, and the funding should be used for research costs. Those applying must be entering their first year, or the first semester of their second year. Candidates must be members of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) and Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology.
For more info: http://www.apa.org/about/awards/apags-psi-chi.aspx

Foundation for Child Development: Young Scholars Program
Amount: Up to $150,000
The FCD fellowship supports research on the early education, health and well-being of the children of immigrants, particularly from low-income families. Candidates must have earned a doctoral degree within the last 15 years and be full-time faculty at a U.S. college or university. Applicants need a PhD or its equivalent in behavioral and social sciences or an allied field such as public health, education, social work, nursing or medicine.
For more info: http://www.apa.org/about/awards/fcd-young.aspx

Kenneth B. and Mamie P. Clark Fund
Amount: $10,000
This grant supports research to promote the understanding of the personal and physical factors, or social arrangements and institutions, which may affect disadvantaged individuals. Full-time psychology graduate students may apply if they are in good standing at an accredited university. Candidates should be familiar with the Clarks' contributions to science, and should acquire approval for work with human participants.
For more info: http://www.apa.org/apf/funding/clark-fund.aspx

NAJA Graduate Scholarship Program
Amount: Not specified
Awards offered by the National Association of Junior Auxiliaries include the Betty W. Robbins Endowed Scholarship. Candidates must be working or planning to work with children, and must be full-time or part-time students at a U.S. college or university. Graduate studies should address the needs of children and youth, for example, counseling, psychology, mental health or special education. Eligible individuals are U.S. citizens and permanent residents of states with a Junior Auxiliary Chapter—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee or Texas.
For more info: http://www.najanet.org/view/17

NASP-ERT Minority Scholarship Program for Graduate Training in School Psychology
Amount: $5,000
The National Association of School Psychologists offers scholarships to support culturally diverse and disadvantaged students who could someday serve in schools with diverse populations. Applicants must be minorities who are U.S. citizens and enrolled in an accredited graduate program approved by NASP.
For more info: http://www.nasponline.org/about_nasp/minority-scholarship-program.aspx

The Sandra Koscielniak Graduate Education Scholarship
Amount: $1,000
The Association of Illinois Township Committees on Youth funds a scholarship for students in master's programs such as social work, psychology, counseling or family therapy.Applicants must be enrolled or accepted in an approved program, and they need to demonstrate leadership and experience in youth programs or social services. Candidates should be planning on careers working with youth.
For more info: http://aitcoy.org/graduate_education_scholarship

Virginia Tech Undergraduate Psychology Scholarships
Amount: Up to $1,000
Virginia Tech sponsors awards for undergraduates showing commitment to the field of psychology. Juniors may apply for the Mary Nolen Blackwood Scholarship, and seniors can apply for the Friends of Psychology Endowed Scholarship. Candidates should demonstrate academic achievement as well as involvement in school and community activities.
For more info: https://www.psyc.vt.edu/undergrad/scholarships-psycholog

Cappex Psychology Scholarship
Amount: $1,000
Cappex.com offers an award for undergraduate psychology students, who can apply by creating a free profile on the company website. Scholarships are based on leadership, academics, and extracurricular or volunteer activities.
For more info: http://www.cappex.com/scholarships/

JVS Chicago Scholarship
Amount: From $700 to $6,000
The Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) processes applications for scholarships administered by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Jewish college and graduate students are eligible, based on financial need and commitment to the helping professions such as psychology, medicine, education, social services or public health. Applicants should have ties to the greater Chicago area and plan to work in the region.
For more info: http://jvschicago.org/training-education/scholarship-services/

Graduate Assistantship in the Department of Psychology
Amount: Not specified
The Psychology Graduate Program at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse hires graduate assistants for duties such as helping faculty prepare course materials and conduct research projects. These paid positions require a weekly time commitment of about 15 hours. Students must be admitted to the graduate program and hold a minimum GPA of 3.0.
For more info: http://www.uwlax.edu/schoolpsych/Graduate-Assistantships.htm

Schools with Child Psychology Programs

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SCHOOL NAME CITY, STATE STUDENT POPULATION SCHOOL TYPE TUITION PROGRAM TYPE PROGRAMS
University of Minnesota-Twin CitiesMinneapolis, MN52,557Public, 4-year$12,060Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
Master’s
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
Doctorate
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
University of HoustonHouston, TX39,820Public, 4-year$7,176Campus
Doctorate
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
Capella UniversityMinneapolis, MN36,375Private, 4-year$11,952Campus
Master’s
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
Doctorate
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
University of KansasLawrence, KS27,939Public, 4-year$8,790Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
Master’s
  • Clinical Child Psychology.
Doctorate
  • Clinical Child Psychology.
Columbia University in the City of New YorkNew York, NY26,050Private, 4-year$45,028Campus
Doctorate
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, PA24,832Private, 4-year$39,088Campus
Master’s
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
Metropolitan State University of DenverDenver, CO23,789Public, 4-year$4,304Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
Cornell UniversityIthaca, NY21,131Private, 4-year$43,185Campus
Master’s
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
Doctorate
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
St. John's University-New YorkQueens, NY21,067Private, 4-year$34,750Campus
Doctorate
  • Clinical Child Psychology.
The University of Texas at DallasRichardson, TX18,864Public, 4-year$10,666Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.
Master’s
  • Developmental and Child Psychology.