You have always been interested in the human brain and how people’s thoughts and feelings affect their everyday lives. When you learned about Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson, you were absolutely fascinated about their theories on childhood, human development and the psyche. Now that you’re thinking about what you want to do professionally for the rest of your life, you’re hoping to learn more about child psychology.
First, you need to know exactly what child psychology entails, the jobs you can get in child psychology, what kind of schooling you will need to become a child psychologist and how long you’ll have to go to school for it. After all, you want to know you’re making the right investment for the next several decades of your professional life.
Becoming a child psychologist typically takes a maximum of 14 years of schooling.
What Is Child Psychology?
Child psychology is a branch of psychology and is one of the most popular areas of study in the psychology field. It centers on the study of children’s mental, physical, social and emotional growth from prenatal development (while a baby is in the womb) until they are adolescents (ages 13 through 19).
Before psychologists started studying the development of children, they were seen as smaller versions of adults. When Jean Piaget came along and said that children may think differently than adults, it became a booming area of study and practice.
Today, child psychologists take different approaches to the field of study. For example, some emphasize the importance of early childhood experiences, while others put more importance on later experiences. They will look at aspects like school, self-esteem, social pressures, parenting and much more when studying children’s development.
What Child Psychologists Do
Before you jump into schooling for child psychology, you need to know what child psychologists do, what kinds of careers you can pursue with this degree and your earnings outlook.
As a basic job description, child psychologists work with children to diagnose and treat behavioral, emotional, psychological and developmental disorders. Most child psychologists work with patients in clinical care settings as opposed to studying the field in research settings. Child psychologists work in schools, private practice, clinics, rehabilitation centers and hospitals.
There are a number of career concentrations you can pursue if you’re studying child psychology. You may have a varied career, working in a variety of settings throughout your professional life.
Careers for Child Psychologists
The career options you have as a child psychologist include:
School psychologist. School psychologists earn a median salary of $70,580 per year and meet with children in school one on one. They work with teachers and parents to help them with students’ issues and come up with ways to use teaching and learning to address problems that happen at school.
Clinical child psychologist. Clinical child psychologists earn a median salary of $70,580 per year, and they diagnose and treat their young patients. They use a variety of treatment methodologies and frameworks to come up with a plan of action for a child’s needs. They may work in a private practice setting, a mental health facility or a hospital.
Developmental psychologist. Developmental psychologists earn a median salary of $94,590 per year and focus on the research aspect of child psychology. They work in research settings like universities, clinics and health care facilities to study cognitive skills, language acquisition, the personality, emotions and moral development.
Additional Careers for Child Psychologists
If you want to take on a job that is indirectly related to child psychology, you could do the following:
Social worker. Social workers earn a median salary of $45,000 per year and work in settings like clinics, schools and hospitals. They help children who are having behavioral issues, advocate for children’s needs, counsel children and help children find the resources they need to succeed.
Postsecondary child psychology professor. Postsecondary child psychology professors earn a median salary of $70,620 per year and teach courses on child psychology in academic institutions, like universities. They may provide students with fieldwork and independent research opportunities as well.
Job Outlook for Child Psychologists
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, the average annual salary for school and counseling psychologists was $76,040, which is far above the median salary of $31,099 for the average worker in the United States.
Job growth is also healthy for the child psychology profession. The BLS states that counseling and school psychology jobs may increase 20 percent between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than average growth when compared to other jobs.
Undergraduate Schooling for Child Psychology
Becoming a child psychologist starts with graduating high school and getting into a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Let’s say you already chose a different major than psychology for your undergraduate degree. Does that mean you can’t get into a child psychology master’s program? Not necessarily.
You will simply need to research the accredited master’s programs you plan to pursue before applying. Some may have undergraduate prerequisites you need to complete prior to sending in your application, which means you’ll have to sign up for some psychology classes. In addition, they will require a minimum GPA and a certain Graduate Records Examination (GRE) test score.
As a general recommendation, it’s best to at least take a few classes in psychology in your undergraduate years before applying to a master’s program. That way, you can determine whether or not this is truly the field for you. You will need to be in school for many more years if you plan to earn more than a master’s, so you have to be certain that this is the field in which you want to work. You can also reach out to child psychologists working in the field and see if you can shadow them to get a feel for what this career is truly like.
Bachelor's Degree in Psychology
Another option is to stick with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, which will take four years if you earn your credits in that amount of time.
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, you can become a child development specialist or a case worker, which is like a social worker.
Master’s Degree for Child Psychology
If you want to be eligible for a wider variety of careers and earn more money as a child psychologist, then you’ll need to get at least a master’s degree, which will take two to three years. With your bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, you’ll be in school for a maximum of seven years before you can become a child psychologist. You can do a master’s program online, in person or go into a program that offers a hybrid of both.
When you enter into a master’s program, you will go more in depth on psychology topics as well as hone in on an area of psychology you want to study, like child psychology. In your program, you will learn how to use the theories and principles of human behavior to create treatment plans for patients with mental health issues. You will also learn how to focus on the internalized mental and emotional health of patients.
With a master’s degree in child psychology, you can get a job as an art therapist, where you use therapeutic art projects to help children with emotional, developmental and mental issues. You can work in a private practice or hospital or clinical setting.
More Options for a Master's in Child Psychology
Some more options for a master’s in child psychology include social work, where you may help single parents who need resources, coordinate adoptions and foster care and provide counseling. You may be able to work in school psychology and as a school guidance counselor as well depending on the job requirements and state requirements for licensing exams. You might need to earn a doctorate prior to applying for those jobs.
The best option is to go for a doctorate degree in child psychology since you will gain access to many more career opportunities and have the chance to earn more money.
Doctorate Degree for Child Psychology
When you go into a doctoral program for child psychology, you will be there for five to seven years. Combined with an undergraduate and master’s program, the maximum amount of time you will be in school for child psychology is 14 years.
Doctoral programs are usually offered as a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with a concentration in child development or in clinical child psychology. In classes, students will learn skills in cognitive, biological and behavioral approaches to child psychology. Ph.D. candidates need to do research in the field and write a thesis. A doctorate degree will prepare you for your state-licensing exam.
Getting Licensed as a Child Psychologist
Before students can apply for their psychology license, they need to go through a supervised practicum from the American Psychological Association. This could take a year or more, but many states require that students complete this practicum prior to obtaining their license.
Every state requires that psychologists have licenses before they practice. The license will show that a psychologist is either a clinical or a licensed one. Applicants are also required to sit for and pass the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.
Post-License Requirements for Child Psychology
After getting licensed, psychologists can take on a postdoctoral fellowship for child psychology for two years. Then, they will take the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology’s board examination. In order to be qualified for certification, candidates need to:
- Have a doctorate from an APA-approved program
- Be licensed in their practice
- Complete a one- or two-year internship and at least two years of postinternship experience
- Pass the ABCCAP exam
As you can see, the 14 years of schooling is not enough to become a child psychologist. After that, you have an additional five years or so until you are fully licensed and have passed your boards.
Schools Offering Child Psychology Doctoral Programs
After researching how long it takes to go to school for child psychology and learning about what getting a degree and licenses entails, you are ready to start your research on schools that provide doctoral degrees in child psychology.
Some of the best-value schools in terms of tuition price include the University of Washington – Seattle Campus, Montclair State University and the University of Kansas. The University of Minnesota is the number one development psychology program, according to U.S. News & World Report. Other well-known programs are located at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Michigan.
You cannot earn a doctoral degree through an online child psychology program since you need to be on campus to do research and study. However, it is possible to do online classes for your bachelor’s and master’s degrees prior to going into a doctoral program.
Becoming a Child Psychologist
Becoming a child psychologist may take many years, but if you are passionate about studying the development of children and helping young patients with their mental, emotional and developmental issues, then you are on the right path. With the right schooling and experience, you can shoot to the top of your field and earnings bracket and become a respected child psychologist.
- Psychology Today: Adolescence
- Learn How To Become: How to Become a Child Psychologist
- CareerProfiles: Psychology Careers That Involve Working With Children
- All Psychology Schools: Master’s Degrees in Psychology: Everything You Need to Know
- Learn.org: Child Psychologist: Job Duties, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. She has written about education for topics for LegalZoom, Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Cornerstone and WeWork.