Developmental Psychology Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's and Ph.D. degrees in developmental psychology can lead to careers in counseling and academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Developmental Psychology: Master's and Ph.D. Degrees at a Glance

Students in a developmental psychology graduate degree program receive comprehensive training in the theory and methods of psychological and developmental changes that occur from childhood through adulthood. Graduates of Ph.D. programs in developmental psychology typically pursue careers in academia, research or policy, while master's degree holders may work as school psychologists or as program directors in social and community programs.

Occupational data may vary depending on specialties within psychology. Although the overall demand for psychologists was expected to grow by 22% from 2010-2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, admission into graduate degree programs remains highly competitive. The BLS anticipates that job prospects are most positive for specialists and individuals with a doctoral degree in an applied specialty.

Students should keep in mind that most states require practicing clinical psychologists to be licensed, which requires transcripts from a graduate degree program, hundreds of hours of supervised clinical experience and a passing score on a state certification exam. According to the BLS, clinical, counseling and research psychologist positions typically require a doctoral degree.

Master's Ph.D.
Who is this Degree for? Students with bachelor's degrees in a social or natural science, healthcare or liberal arts who want to specialize in a psychology concentration- Students who want to work in developmental psychology policy or research
- Master's degree holders with a background in psychology
- People who want to teach at the post-secondary level
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary) - Child development specialist (salary not available)
- Clinical, counseling and school psychologist ($73,000)*
- Postsecondary psychology instructor ($75,000)*
Time to Completion Typically two years (full time) Typically 4-5 years (full time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Complete coursework (approximately 36 credits)
- Maintain GPA standards
- Satisfy thesis requirements
- Pass proficiency examinations
- Satisfy practicum requirements
- Complete coursework (approximately 72 credits)
- Research, write and present dissertation
- Pass qualifying exams
- Teaching or research assistantship, if applicable
Prerequisites - Undergraduate transcripts in a social or natural science, healthcare or liberal arts field
- GPA standards
- Resume
- Letter(s) of recommendation
- Personal statement
- Recent GRE scores
- Prerequisite courses in psychology and research methodology, if applicable
All of the master's requirements, plus:
- Graduate transcripts, if applicable
- Samples of professional writing from master's thesis or other relevant work
Online Availability YesCourses are available but degree programs are rare at this time

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 mean figures).

Master's Degrees in Developmental Psychology

Master's candidates in a developmental psychology degree program typically develop skills required to succeed in research, leadership and professional practice. Programs structures vary but are generally formatted as a Master of Science (or Arts) in Developmental Psychology or as a Master of Science (or Arts) in Psychology with a concentration in Developmental Psychology. Degree programs typically focus on core developmental coursework, electives and a practicum requirement. You will also likely select a concentration in a field that interests you, such as behavioral science, child and youth studies, developmental research, program design or school-based behavioral health.

Students should be advised that developmental psychology master's programs can be competitive and rigorous. Additionally, obtaining a master's degree does not necessarily qualify you to practice psychology; you will need to follow your state's guidelines on licensing to work as a clinical practitioner.

Pros and Cons


  • Most master's degree programs do not require a prerequisite bachelor's degree in psychology. (Students may have to complete introductory coursework in psychology and/or statistics.)
  • According to the BLS, the employment outlook for careers in psychology, particularly school psychology, are more promising than average due to the limited number of qualified applicants.*
  • Master's degree programs typically include a practicum requirement, which provides inexperienced students with relevant on-the-job training.
  • You will likely need a master's degree to gain admissions into a competitive Ph.D. program.


  • If you plan to work as a clinical, counseling or research psychologist, you will likely need a doctoral degree.
  • There can be some barriers to entry in this field; it is common for developmental psychology professionals to complete annual background checks, professional development hours and other certification/licensing requirements.
  • Students can expect strong competition for admission into master's degree programs due to the popularity of the field and promising career opportunities.

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses and Requirements

To graduate with a master's degree in developmental psychology, you need to satisfy several requirements including academic coursework, qualifying examinations and a clinical internship/practicum. A clinical experience allows students to apply their academic knowledge to real-life situations. Students may also participate in labs where they observe subjects and design experiments. Because programs are typically designed for students with a bachelor's degree and/or professional experience in the social sciences, applicants may be required to complete prerequisite courses in psychology and statistics.

Master's candidates in a developmental psychology degree program can expect courses in research methods and statistics, observation of child behavior, behavioral health, professional/technical writing, experiment variance and design and current issues in developmental psychology. Additionally, students will likely select a concentration (for example, child life, research or school-based behavioral health) where they would like to focus their studies and pursue a thesis topic.

Online Class Options

Similar to traditional on-campus programs, online programs may require applicants to have several years of relevant work experience and basic understanding of psychology. Fully online master's degree programs specifically in developmental psychology may be hard to find; however, similar programs, such as a Masters of Arts in Psychology with a concentration in child development, are more widely available. Some schools may offer a hybrid option, where you can take some classes online and some classes on campus. You must also coordinate your practicum and independent study to meet program requirements.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

As a graduate student, you are eligible to become a member of the American Psychological Association for Graduate Students (APAGS). With this credential, you can take advantage of exclusive job boards and receive discounts off books and professional development supplies. You may also consider specializing in a concentration with a promising employment outlook that can open more doors during your job search.

Ph.D. Degrees in Developmental Psychology

Ph.D. programs aim to train students in the principles of psychological development and prepare them for careers as researchers, professors and clinical practitioners. Ph.D. candidates need to complete approximately 70 academic credits, pass preliminary examinations in their field and research, and write and present a dissertation.

Most Ph.D. programs are predominantly focused on research. Students work side-by-side with their classmates and faculty advisors to become experts in a particular field of developmental psychology.

Pros and Cons


  • It is common for doctoral programs to offer competitive research or teaching assistantships to qualified students (however, these opportunities may be selective and competitive).
  • Academic institutions may provide grants to qualified Ph.D. candidates to help offset their housing and tuition costs.
  • Due to the small class sizes in Ph.D. programs, you will have close interaction with faculty members. Depending on the program, you may have one or several faculty members serve as your academic mentor.


  • Doctoral degree programs may require applicants to have a master's or bachelor's degree in a related field.
  • According to the BLS, clinical and counseling psychologists must overcome several professional and academic hurdles, including obtaining a doctoral degree in psychology, completing several years of professional experience and achieving a passing score on a national examination.
  • Acceptance into a Ph.D. program can be competitive because only a handful of applicants are accepted each year.

Common Courses and Requirements

As a Ph.D. candidate, you will likely complete academic coursework, perform research, obtain a passing score on a preliminary examination and prepare for your doctoral dissertation (which you must research, write and present to a faculty panel). In addition, some programs may require students to serve as teaching assistants for at least one semester. In a typical developmental psychology Ph.D. program, you can expect coursework to include statistics, social cognitive development, treatments and disorders, developmental psychopathology, language development and public policy, among other topics.

Online Class Options

Currently, online Ph.D. programs in developmental psychology are not widely available. If you find an accredited online program, consider that you may need access to an approved site where you can conduct research.

Individual courses in psychology are widely available, and depending on the school, may be used to satisfy prerequisite requirements. Additionally, to maintain a clinical certification, you may need to take continuing education courses throughout your career, many of which are available online. The coursework in online programs is generally very similar to that of a traditional academic institution.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

A key component of a successful career in research or academia is published, original works. Students who plan to pursue careers in academic research and education can leverage their school's literary journals to publicize their projects and papers. If you are on a clinical track, consider teaching assistantship opportunities that are offered through your school. If highly coveted assistantship opportunities are not an option for you, you may be able to secure a volunteer experience at a school, hospital or nonprofit organization in your local community.

Alternate Degrees

Students who are interested in developmental psychology may want to consider an applied developmental program. While developmental programs train students in theory and research, applied programs prepare students to use research findings to improve the design and administration of research methods.

Alternatively, students may also consider a joint clinical/developmental program, where one additional year of study and a yearlong pre-doctoral internship prepare students for clinical licensure. The Psy.D. is also a clinical degree; however, unlike a Ph.D. program, a Psy.D. program is often based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation.

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