Study Child Psychology: Master's Degree, PhD & Training Info

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Master's and PhD degrees in child 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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Child Psychology Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) 2010-2020 projections, employment of clinical, counseling and school psychologists was expected to grow a faster-than-average 22%. Individuals who want to practice in clinical settings will likely need doctoral degrees and state licensure or certification; additional requirements can vary by state. School psychologists also need state licensure or certification to practice. Master's degree holders may find jobs as school psychologists or child development specialists. However, candidates with master's degrees may face strong competition within their field, and some people may end up taking jobs outside the psychology field, reported the BLS.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? - Bachelor's degree holders
- Individuals who want to work in schools, clinical settings or assist in research
- Bachelor's or master's degree holders with a background in psychology
-People who want to work in academia
- Individuals aspiring to work independently or in clinical settings
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - School psychologist ($68,000)*
- Psychological research assistant (salary unavailable)
- Child life specialist ($44,000)**
- Postsecondary psychology professor ($68,000)*
- Clinical psychologist ($68,000)*
Time to Completion Typically two to three years (full time) Typically five to six years (full time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Coursework
- Research
- GPA maintenance
- Practicum
- Coursework
- Qualifying exams
- Dissertation
- Teaching assistantship (some programs)
- Internship (some programs)
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Minimum GPA
- Personal statement
- GRE scores (some programs)
- Prerequisite coursework, if applicable
- All of the master's requirements plus
- Bachelor's or master's degree (dependent on program)
- Master's thesis or undergraduate research experience
Online Availability Some No

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 mean figures), **Salary.com.

Child Psychology Master's Degrees

Students in child psychology master's degree programs acquire the knowledge and skills to develop, implement and evaluate social and mental health programs for children, adolescents and families. You can find a variety of master's programs relevant to this field, such as Master of Science or Master of Arts programs in developmental psychology or general psychology with concentrations in child development or a related field. Master's degree programs in education with concentrations in child psychology also teach relevant concepts. However, you should note that not all master's degree programs prepare you for licensure or certification.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Master's programs prep you for doctoral programs in the field
  • Some programs accept students with bachelor's degrees in non-related fields
  • You can gain on-the-job training through field experiences or internships

Cons

  • A doctoral degree is necessary for clinical work or research
  • Some master's programs don't prepare you for licensure
  • Master's programs leading to licensure are often longer and more intensive than those that don't

Common Courses and Requirements

Your curriculum can vary depending on whether you enroll in a master's program that prepares you for licensure or not. The required number of credits in a master's program that preps you for licensure is often significantly greater than its counterpart. Additionally, field experience is typically required in a licensure-prep program, and it may only be optional in a program not leading to licensure. Regardless, you will most likely learn about child development, psychology theories, assessment, therapy methods and research methods. Depending on your program, you may also complete a research project, comprehensive exam and/or thesis. Programs often offer flexible scheduling options that may include evening or weekend classes.

Online Training Options

Fully online programs for this field are available, but aren't common. As with campus-based programs, some online programs prepare you for licensure, while others do not. The curricula for online programs are comparable to on-campus programs, but the learning formats differ. Online programs typically take advantage of various technologies, such as web-based audio conferencing, video presentations and online discussion forums. However, depending on your program, you may have some field-based requirements, such as internships and practica.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

When choosing between master's programs, enrolling in one that prepares you for licensure to work in a school can be a smart career move. According to the BLS, the demand for school psychologists was expected to continue increasing as more and more children start school. Additionally, there is a deficient number of professionals in this specialty, so you can up your odds of landing a position.

While you are enrolled in your master's degree program, consider taking additional courses or training that teach new and marketable skills, particularly in software applications that are frequently used in the field. Psychologists often use analytical or scientific programs, presentation programs and field-specific software, such as Psychsoft !Observe. Demonstrated knowledge of software programs can set you apart from other job applicants and show potential employers that you are adept at using these technologies.

Alternate Degree

If the BLS' prediction that many graduates of psychology master's programs may have to seek employment outside their field due to competition, consider earning a Master of Social Work. You could obtain employment in schools, healthcare facilities or work as a clinical social worker. Licensure is required for social work professionals; however, requirements vary for each state. MSW degrees usually take 1-2 years to complete, depending on your undergraduate major. Field work is an integral part of the MSW curriculum. A faster-than-average 25% employment growth rate was expected from 2010-2020, and these professionals earned median salaries of nearly $54,000 in May 2011, reported the BLS.

Child Psychology PhD Degrees

Clinical programs in psychology typically award Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) degrees, while PhD programs in child psychology typically prepare graduates to work in research and academia; however, some PhD programs also include clinical components that prepare students for licensure. A minimum of a bachelor's degree and a specific amount of psychology-related undergraduate coursework are necessary to qualify for admission; many programs also prefer candidates with at least some undergraduate research experience.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Programs may prepare you for licensure to work in clinical settings
  • Programs often allow you to customize your curriculum to focus on an area of child psychology you're most interested in
  • Can gain admission with only a bachelor's degree and relevant coursework

Cons

  • Child psychology PhD program admission is competitive; only a limited number of applicants are accepted
  • Licensing requirements vary for each state and often require additional continuing education requirements to keep licensure valid
  • Curriculum is intense, requiring about 20 hours a week of research in addition to coursework and a year-long internship

Common Courses and Requirements

Your curriculum will include several components, including coursework, research activities and exams, and depending on your program, teaching apprenticeships and/or clinical experiences. Coursework topics may vary because PhD programs are often highly specialized to account for each student's individual interests. However, there are usually required courses that all students must take as well, and these may include:

  • Statistics
  • Professional ethics
  • Family therapy
  • Psychopathology

In addition to coursework, you'll conduct research, complete projects based on your research and take comprehensive exams. Qualifying exams are typically required after a specific duration to determine if you can remain in the doctoral program. Some programs include teaching assistantships in order to prepare you to teach undergraduate psychology courses. A doctoral dissertation is the main research requirement where you conduct original research on an area of child psychology of your choosing. Practica and/or internships may also be included to satisfy the clinical requirement necessary for licensure.

Online Course Options

Online PhD programs in child psychology aren't currently available. However, you can find continuing education classes online in the field. You can check with your state's psychology board or professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association (APA) or National Association of School Psychologists, for options.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

If you plan to work in academia or research, you can acquire publication opportunities by submitting your dissertations and other research papers to scholarly journals. Publication can help bring you credibility and recognition in the field. You can also acquire student memberships with professional associations. APA student affiliates can stay updated on industry trends with the help of APA resources, apply for scholarships and awards, receive discounts on journals and receive subscriptions to trade publications.

Alternate Degree

If you want to gain an education that could lead to a career with a higher earning potential than a psychologist's, consider becoming a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are classified as medical doctors, so you must complete medical school and earn a medical license to practice. To specialize in the psychiatry field, you can attend a residency program in psychiatry; some residency programs specialize in pediatric psychiatry. In a pediatric psychiatry residency program, you can expect to complete medical training in various hospitals' psychiatric units and outpatient clinics. You may also perform services within the community.

You take classes grounded in psychotherapy; topics may cover behavioral sciences and therapy, psychological development and social and cultural aspects relevant to children. The BLS doesn't project employment growth specifically for psychiatrists, but it does collect data for physicians and surgeons; a rapid 24% employment increase was expected for these professionals from 2010-2020. Salary.com reported a median salary of roughly $192,000 for pediatric psychiatrists in November 2012. May 2011 BLS data showed all psychiatrists earning median annual wages of about $170,000.

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Grand Canyon University

  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
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  • MS in Psychology: General Psychology

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University of the Rockies

  • Master of Arts in Psychology - General Psychology
  • MA Counseling
  • MA Counseling - Addiction Counseling

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Northcentral University

  • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies
  • Master of Science in Forensic Psychology

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization

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