How do I become a developmental psychologist? 

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What is Developmental Psychology?

Developmental psychology is a specialty in psychology that examines the growth and change in a person throughout their life. The scientific approach focuses on how an individual’s behavior, environment, culture, perception, and emotions affect a person’s development. A people progress through life they experience change from various influences on the micro and macro levels. Micro involves the study of humans from birth to older adults. In the macro sense, the psychologist studies how the changes in culture over the years affect one’s development.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss psychologist, was one of the pioneers in the cognitive development of children. He theorized that children develop intellectually through a series of stages. Before Piaget’s work, psychologists believed that children thought as adults, but not at the same level of intelligence. He opined that children acquire knowledge through experience and interactions.

Anyone considering developmental psychology as a profession should have a keen interest in human growth. The development process lasts a lifetime, which creates opportunities to concentrate on one particular age group. For example, child development is a standard specialty. Dr. Piaget proposed that humans have four stages of formal thought development. The first three last from birth to age 12.


It is a long road to be a developmental psychologist. Initially, you need to set your sights on a doctorate. The degree can be either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. You can earn the familiar Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is a host of disciplines. A Psy.D. or Doctor of Psychology produces professionals who are interested in clinical practice. However, the difference is not delineated as you can obtain a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, for example.

DegreeQuery devoted more space to the above differences in another post (see link below). Therefore, we will briefly state that the Ph.D. takes an average of 5-7 years, and the Psy.D. takes 4-6 years. In addition, you may find it more accessible to receive funding in a Ph.D. program. It is advisable to check with your prospective schools before making a decision on which degree is best for your career.

RELATED: What Is the Fastest Way to Become a Psychologist?

Bachelor’s Degree

At this level, you can jump into a Bachelor of Science in Development Psychology in an online or campus format. The typical program teaches the science and practice of how children develop physically, cognitively, and socially. Social psychology is a crucial component of a child’s development due to the effects of people on behavior.

Students intent on a career in child development may opt for a bachelor of arts or science in this specialty. By beginning your studies as a freshman in child development, you will learn about intellectual and behavioral changes, nutritional and physical effects, as well as childhood disorders. Some of which alter the mental and physical development of the child, for example, autism, attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, and physical disabilities.

Individuals not set on a concentration in child development have choices. One example is a Bachelor of Science in Applied Developmental  Psychology. This program takes a broader approach by studying human development from birth to late life. You may have courses covering the principal theories of human development and the strategies for enhancing development.

Closely related to the one above is a Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology. The curriculum exposes students to cultural influences, personality theory, social psychology, life-span development, and abnormal psychology. The theoretical and practical aspect of the study plan affords a foundation to proceed to a graduate degree.

Master’s Degree

You may enroll in a Master of Science in Development Psychology online. This particular program covers development from childhood to adulthood by offering four specialties that address development.

The choices are:

Child and Adolescent Development: The courses educate you on theories, research, and gender development. You also learn about diversity in child/adolescent development, behavioral analysis, and emotional disorders.

Health and Human Development:  Many of the same courses as above with the inclusion of health psychology and child/adolescent health. The latter explores various afflictions, such as epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, obesity, and asthma.

Adult Development and Gerontology: For those interested in working with adults and the elderly. Students study the cultural effects on aging, social theories of aging, chronic diseases, cognitive changes with aging, sexuality, and social interactions. Working with the elderly is a viable option as the Centers for Disease Control predicts that by 2030, 20% of the population in the U.S. will be over 65.

International Perspectives in Developmental Psychology: With these four concentrations, they share 5-6 courses in common. This one focuses on culture and social behaviors, and the theory of cross-cultural psychology.

A Master of Arts is also available in Developmental Psychology that sifts through learning, cognition, social behavior, theories of personality, and psychopathology from infancy to adulthood.

Therefore, at the master’s level, you have choices in arts or science degrees as well as a range of specialties from which to select. You may find that some schools allow you to apply your master’s credits towards a Ph.D. An example is Walden University, whose doctorate in Development Psychology waives up to six courses if you earned a master’s degree in psychology. Their Ph.D. offers a General Program or seven specializations in developmental psychology.


As stated initially, the apex degree is a doctorate. However, you can find employment in this field with a master’s degree. You should strive for this level before contemplating additional studies. Your graduate degree will open doors to work in mental health facilities, nursing homes, research centers (in psychology), schools, private practice, childhood education, and hospitals.

Additional Resources:

What does a Developmental Psychologist Do?

What is the Difference Between a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Psy.D.?

What Are the Different Kinds of Psychology Degrees?

What Government Jobs are there with a Degree in Psychology?

What is the Difference between a Degree in Psychology and Sociology?

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Psychologist?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychologist?