Introduction to Child Psychology
Throughout much of history, people thought of children as miniature adults. This mindset began to change as Jean Piaget and other pioneers in the field of child psychology started demonstrating how childhood is a unique stage of human development.
Nowadays, we possess a realm of theories and research that provides insight into the mind and behavior of children at various ages. This information guides many of the practices and decisions in fields such as mental health, education, human services, and marketing. Thus, a degree in child psychology makes the recipient attractive to a range of employers.
Beyond earning a living, though, studying child psychology prepares graduates to truly make a difference in the lives of our youngest members of society. From handling social media to experiencing a global pandemic, children today face unprecedented challenges that have contributed to growing rates of anxiety and depression. They need understanding and trained professionals to help them navigate a complex world.
What is a Child Psychology Degree?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines child psychology as “the branch of psychology concerned with the systematic study of the behavior, adjustment, and growth of individuals from birth through adolescence, as well as with the treatment of their behavioral, mental, and emotional disorders.” Child psychology majors learn how children grow physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. They examine the effects of nature vs. nurture on development. They also gain knowledge about abnormal behavior and the possible causes of it.
Undergraduates interested in child psychology typically find that colleges structure their program to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Students may be able to select an emphasis or concentration in child/adolescent psychology, but the main concern at this level is that students leave with a solid introduction to the field of psychology as a whole. Some schools group child psychology and developmental psychology together, with the latter being the study of human growth and change throughout a lifespan.
Institutions offer more detailed, specific study of child psychology at the graduate level. The type of degree you should choose depends on your career aspirations.
A Master of Arts often appeals to those who plan on doing counseling or therapy.
Those who wish to conduct psychological research or go on to doctoral studies may opt for a Master of Science.
The highest level one can achieve in the discipline is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Such a degree is usually necessary to set up private practice as a child psychologist.
What to Expect in Child Psychology Degree Programs
Before taking specialized classes, undergraduate child psychology majors learn about the general discipline of psychology. Programs focus on an understanding of the human experience and the factors that influence it.
As a child psychology major, you will learn about notable psychological theories, assessments, and treatments. You’ll also develop an understanding of how psychological research is conducted and interpreted. Many programs require students taking psychology classes to participate in research conducted by professors at the institution in order to witness first-hand what goes on in psychological studies.
Child psychology majors bring a basic foundation into higher-level courses focusing on children and adolescents. You’ll learn about healthy development and factors that support it or pose challenges to it.
Upper-level students may choose classes in particular areas of interest, such as childhood mental health problems, the role of genetics in personality, or gender issues in elementary school. Further specialization occurs if you seek a graduate degree in child psychology.
Potential Classes for Child Psychology Majors
Whether you physically head to a school or earn a child psychology degree online, each educational institution has its own set of core requirements and offered electives. Some courses that are frequently part of the curriculum include:
- Introduction to psychology
- Child development
- Adolescent development
- Lifespan development
- Abnormal psychology
- Social psychology
- Psychology of personality
- Research methods
- Research statistics
Note that psychology majors at many schools finish out their undergraduate degree program with a capstone project in the form of a research paper or an original experiment. This project allows students to delve into an area of individual interest as well as demonstrate what they have learned in their classes.
Likewise, the classes you might take while studying child psychology in graduate school differ by institutional offerings and personal interests. Here are some courses you may encounter:
- Data analysis
- Assessments (personality tests, intelligence tests, etc.)
- Clinical experience
- Advanced developmental psychology
- Physiological psychology
- Cultural diversity in psychological services
Graduate programs typically involve writing and defending a thesis as well as passing tests demonstrating mastery of the discipline.
Child Psychology Salary & Career Info
The knowledge gained from studying child psychology can be applied to careers in mental health, education, human services, business, and more. The choice of occupation depends on the interests of the individual, the amount of education and training completed, and the job market.
What You Can Do with a Child Psychology Degree
Most people who choose to study child psychology do so to prepare for careers that impact the lives of children. This assistance could involve situations ranging from counseling one-on-one to formulating policies that aid children through research studies.
The following is a sample of some of the hottest-growing careers in which a background in child psychology proves useful. All figures come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Median Salary: $48,520
- Career Outlook: +23% (2020-2030)
Counselors work with children and teens on a variety of issues: depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, relationships, grief, and self-esteem, to name a few. They may meet with individuals or with groups to discuss problems and ways to cope.
- Median Salary: $63,920
- Career Outlook: +22% (2020-2030)
Market research analysts help companies determine what consumers want. Employees with insight into the thoughts and actions of children and teenagers help their employer make decisions on how to attract this important sector of the population.
- Median Salary: $37,610
- Career Outlook: +17% (2020-2030)
Many child psychology majors find their degree attracts interest from non-profits and governmental agencies that serve the needs of children and their families. Assistants perform a variety of tasks, such as coordinating services, helping clients fill out paperwork, and following up to make certain needs are being met.
Child Psychology Degrees
An undergraduate degree in psychology is a useful foundation. As with most disciplines, however, higher education opens up more job possibilities and increases pay. According to the American Psychological Association, the median salaries of psychology bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral/professional degree holders in 2019 were $50,000, $60,000, and $90,000, respectively.
Many careers require further education, training, and licensure beyond a bachelor’s degree. Here is a sample of such occupations:
- Median Salary: $79,510
- Career Outlook: +10% (2020-2030)
These psychologists work with children and teens to identify and improve disorders and problems related to emotions, behavior, education, and interactions. A master’s degree may be sufficient for school positions; others typically require a doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD).
- Median Salary: $49,880
- Career Outlook: +16% (2020-2030)
These professionals help people manage problems with their family. They may assist with processing emotions, improving behaviors, looking at situations from different perspectives, and dealing with life changes such as divorce. Therapists need a master’s degree and supervised clinical experience as part of state licensing requirements.
- Median Salary: $77,860
- Career Outlook: +10% (2020-2030)
Junior colleges, colleges, and universities hire faculty to teach courses in child psychology. People holding this position often combine classroom duties with conducting original research. A master’s degree may be sufficient at some institutions, but most college professors hold a PhD or other doctoral degree.
Child Psychology Careers By State
The geographical region in which one wants to land a job plays a significant role in terms of opportunities and pay. Some areas of the country have a greater need for certain types of professionals, often due to their population size. Likewise, salaries can vary greatly from one state to the next.
Here’s a look at state rankings as of May 2021 for the child psychology-related occupations previously discussed:
Substance abuse, behavioral, and mental health counselor
- Top-paying states: Utah, Alaska, District of Columbia, Rhode Island, New Jersey
- States with highest employment level: California, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas
Market research analyst
- Top-paying states: Washington, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, District of Columbia
- States with highest employment level: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois
Social and human service assistant
- Top-paying states: District of Columbia, Connecticut, California, North Dakota, Alaska
- States with highest employment level: California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida
Clinical and counseling psychologist
- Top-paying states: New Jersey, Delaware, Oregon, California, New York
- States with highest employment level: California, New York, Illinois, Texas, Massachusetts
- Top-paying states: Colorado, New York, California, District of Columbia, Washington
- States with highest employment level: California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Florida
Marriage and family therapist
- Top-paying states: Utah, New Jersey, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada
- States with highest employment level: California, New Jersey, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida
Psychology teachers, post-secondary
- Top-paying states: California, District of Columbia, New York, Oregon, Massachusetts
- States with highest employment level: New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois
Best Child Psychology Colleges
Plenty of programs exist for earning a child psychology degree online, on-campus, or through hybrid arrangements. No single “best” child psychology college exists since a great match depends on several factors – individual interests, career aspirations, location, and costs, to name a few.
The following are a few places known for their outstanding child psychology programs. For additional assistance in locating child psychology colleges, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!
1. University of Denver, Denver, Colorado
In 1976, the University of Denver became one of the first schools in the nation to offer a PsyD in clinical psychology. The school’s reputation has grown over the years, as has its commitment to four pillars: rigorous academic coursework, in-house clinical work, community-based clinical work, and departmental mentorship.
Psychology students in the Master of Arts program at this private institution are encouraged to tailor their studies to align with their personal interests. Some specialty areas offered include infant and early childhood mental health, substance use disorder psychology, and LatinX psychology.
Serving communities within the greater Denver area is a priority for the university, and even undergraduate psychology majors participate in clinical field placements. They also have opportunities to hold research assistantships in the university’s 20+ research labs.
2. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
When it comes to studying children, many different departments at this selective, private institution get involved. The Department of Psychology and Human Development in Peabody College offers undergraduate majors in child development, cognitive studies, and child studies. In the Colleges of Art and Science, undergrads can pursue a psychology major. Vanderbilt also offers a Master of Education (MEd) in child studies and a PhD program in psychological sciences that emphasizes psychological theory and original research.
Good news for those looking for assistance to pay for their studies: Vanderbilt has a nationally renowned financial aid program. Its Opportunity Vanderbilt program ensures a need-blind admission process based on merit that promises to meet the monetary needs of every undergraduate through grants and scholarships. You’ll leave with a great education, not student loans.
3. St. John’s University – New York, Queens, New York
Sure, undergraduate psychology majors at this Catholic institution complete core courses that provide a strong foundation in the overall discipline. But they also have a variety of exciting electives from which to choose:
- Child and adolescent psychopathology
- Educational psychology
- Autism and intellectual disabilities
- Psychology of humor
- Psychology of the African American experience
- Positive psychology, to name a few
At the graduate level, students can opt to pursue a heavily research-oriented Master of Arts in Psychology, a Master of Science or a Doctor of Psychology in School Psychology, or a Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology. Note that the PsyD program offers a bilingual track.
4. CUNY Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, New York
This public institution in the City University of New York system allows undergraduates to pursue either a BA or BA in Psychology. The first option provides more of a liberal arts education, while the latter concentrates more heavily on math and science aspects. Both provide plenty of opportunities to take courses dealing with children and adolescents.
Those going on to graduate studies may find the Master of Arts in experimental psychology an interesting option as it uses scientific methods to improve understanding of the mind, brain, and behavior. Students with career aspirations that include hands-on work with clients may opt for a Master of Arts in mental health counseling. The college also offers a PhD program in Psychology.
5. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
While students can earn a traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, a highlight of this public institution’s undergraduate psychology program is its new major in behavioral neuroscience. This concentration is particularly well-suited for students interested in the biological bases of behavior and thought.
At the graduate level, the university has made a name for itself with its doctoral program in clinical child psychology. Highly selective, only three applicants out of 135 were admitted for 2021-2022. Much of the hands-on experience in this program takes place at the KU Child & Family Services Clinic, which provides affordable, quality mental health care to children, adolescents, and families of Northeast Kansas.
Skills Needed for Child Psychology Majors
Child psychology is a great discipline for people who want to gain a deeper understanding of that period of life. Most individuals who choose to study child psychology genuinely like kids and teenagers, feel comfortable interacting with them, and want to help them lead better lives. Through both their own natural traits and what they learn in their college classes, child psychology majors do well to possess skills such as:
- Active listening
- Keen observation
- Effective written and oral communication
- Critical thinking
- Eliminating personal bias
- Data interpretation
- Applying psychological theories to real-world situations
- Awareness of sociocultural, race, and gender differences and their impact
- Respect for privacy
Next Steps - How to Get Started on Earning a Degree in Child Psychology
Think earning a degree in child psychology might be a good move? There are many things to consider before making a commitment.
If you haven’t already, graduate from high school. A good grade point average will expand the pool of child psychology colleges likely to accept you. Develop your reading, writing, and math skills. All will be necessary in a child psychology college program.
Examine higher education options thoroughly. Find accredited schools that offer classes in your area of interest. Be certain the delivery format works for you, too. Some students really want the on-campus experience. Others like the convenience of remote learning.
Look at your potential career aspirations. While a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology provides a great foundation for many jobs, some occupations require advanced degrees and/or licenses. See what you need from the get-go in order to make solid educational choices and avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.
If you are trying to get into a graduate program in child psychology but have a background in a different discipline, pay attention to prerequisites. You may need to address educational gaps before applying or take some extra classes to strengthen your fundamentals once admitted.
At every level, money is bound to be a chief concern. Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in order to see what type of grants, loans, work study programs, and other sources of help may be available based on your need and circumstances.
Finally, spend time researching scholarships – a highly desirable way to cover educational costs because recipients do not need to pay them back. Read eligibility requirements carefully so as not to waste time applying for scholarships for which you are not a match. Put your best self forward for those for which you do meet criteria. A thoughtful essay or a thorough list of past accomplishments may give you an edge over other candidates.
Three scholarships students interested in a child psychology degree may want to check out are:
NASP-ERT Minority Scholarship Program - The National Association of School Psychologists-Education and Research Trust awards this $5,000 scholarship to a minority student enrolled in or accepted for enrollment in a graduate school psychology program with the aim of becoming a practicing school psychologist.
Charlotte Shepherd Southern Spirit Scholarship - Oregon students majoring in counseling, family therapy, social work, or psychology can apply for this scholarship administered through the Office of Student Access and Completion. Selection is based on application answers, transcript, financial need analysis, and essay submission.
American Psychological Foundation - This professional organization presents a variety of scholarships at different educational levels. Among them is the Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship, which offers $25,000 prizes to graduate students in child psychology.
For additional possibilities, search our scholarship database. Its filters can help target scholarships based on criteria you select, such as gender, ethnicity, state of residence, or career goals. With more than 5,000 awards available, you’re bound to find many for which you’re a great candidate!
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