If you've decided you want to study child psychology, it's important to know which schools offer the best and most competitive programs. Child psychology is one portion of the field of developmental psychology, which is the study of how human psychology changes with age. Child psychology involves a great emphasis on infants and young children, especially what is known as the "critical period," the first few years of human life during which psychologists believe children's intelligence, reasoning skills and language acquisition can be permanently set for life. Students considering graduate study in the field of child psychology can expect to use their degrees to work as educational therapists, social workers and family and child psychologists. A lot of ratings systems are out there, but the best and most highly respected college ranking system is understood to be that of U.S. News and World Report, which publishes college rankings in several categories once a year.
According to the 2009 rankings provided by U.S. News and World Report, the top schools for developmental psychology in the United States are as follows: 1. University of Minnesota--Twin Cities 2. University of Michigan--Ann Arbor 3. Yale University--New Haven, Connecticut 4. Tie: University of California--Berkeley; University of Virginia, Charlottesville 6. Harvard University--Cambridge, Massachusetts 7. Tie: Stanford University--Stanford, California; University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign; University of Wisconsin--Madison 10. Tie: University of California--Los Angeles' University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill
Every school will have its own specialty, and it's important to know the differences between the universities and not just their ranking. According to collegecrunch.org, the University of Minnesota stands out for its reputation of excellent teachers, and is an especially good place to study school psychology and personality genetics. The University of Michigan offers one of the largest programs in the nation, and although it is known for sheer size, it is also regarded as a place with accessible of its faculty. Yale's reputation and famous name draws famous researchers to its New Haven campus, which means that students get the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research along with hitting the books. At UC Berkeley, research is also the name of the game, and all students are taught the skills to conduct their own individual research projects. UVA, which is tied for fourth place with Berkeley, boasts a state-of-the-art technical laboratory and a library specifically for psychology students.
Harvard is the place where psychology was born. William James launched the field on its Cambridge campus in the 1800s, and the legacy continues with other greats such as B.F. Skinner and Jerome Bruner studying there, as well. Stanford's overall psychology program is consistently ranked first in the nation, so a focus on developmental psychology will only benefit from the university's top-of-the-line faculty and facilties. UI-Urbana-Champaign embraced psychology as a field just after Harvard did, and today its faculty, which includes advisers to politicians and editors of respected journals, knows the real-world benefits of the study. UCLA can boast both a sunny, beachside campus and its own childhood education center, but prospective students should know that the program offers only a Ph.D. and no master's. And finally, UNC is known as the place to go for research and clinical training--potential therapists may not thrive here, but those interested in science and policy work will likely do very well.
Choosing a school involves much more than looking at its ranking. Graduate school involves specific and streamlined study, which is different than the broad-based education most students pursue as undergraduates.
It is important to know exactly what area of child psychology you want to focus on and then do research on the universities you are considering to make sure they offer plenty of opportunities to focus your studies as you like. For example, if you are primarily interested in infant psychology, make sure you don't choose a school that is known as a place to study adolescent development.
Debra Kamin has reported from the Hollywood red carpet, the war zone of the Israeli/Lebanon border, and many nooks and crannies in between. She holds a Master's degree in English literature and enjoys traveling, biking, and finding errant commas in major newspapers. She lives in San Diego.