How to Become a Developmental Psychologist

Developmental psychology is the study of human development that takes place throughout life. The study of human development encompasses physical development; cognitive development; moral understanding; language acquisition; identity formation; and social, personality, and emotional growth. For many years, developmental psychologists focused on childhood and adolescence — the most formative years of life. But as the American Psychological Association notes, as life expectancy approaches an average of 80 years, those in the profession have increasingly focused on aging and ways to help the elderly stay independent. Developmental psychologists often focus on one particular stage of life in their work and can be found in nearly every industry.

What degree is required to become a developmental psychologist?

Developmental psychology is a varied field; those in it may work with patients through an independent practice; in research for the government or a manufacturer; or as educators for universities or museums. The type of work you want to do will dictate the level of education you need. For instance, developmental psychologists who are directly involved in patient care or conducting research will likely need a Ph.D., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Other types of work in the field of developmental psychology may require a master’s degree. Since specialized study in psychology begins at the graduate level, you can expect to need at least a master’s degree to pursue a career in developmental psychology.

In addition to dictating the level of education you need, the type of work you want to do in developmental psychology may also require or encourage you to pursue certification. If you specialize in cognitive development, you may want to apply for board certification in Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology. There is no one surefire path, so be sure to talk to your professors and mentors about what certifications they recommend based on your professional interests and goals.

How long does it take to become a developmental psychologist?

It can be several years from the time you start studying developmental psychology to when you’re a professional in the field. An online developmental psychology degree at the master’s level can take up to two years on top of a bachelor’s’ degree, while a doctorate can require four to seven years of study. The length of time it takes to complete an online degree for developmental psychology will depend on such factors as your prior education, whether you attend part time or full time, and what kind of clinical or practicum experience is required by your school or future employer.

Once you graduate, you may have gain work experience and obtain a license before you’re fully credentialed as a developmental psychologist. This is generally the case for those who practice as a psychologist; in all states, independent, practicing psychologists must be licensed, according to the BLS. If you do not intend on working as a practicing psychologist, you may not need to be licensed.

What is a developmental psychologist’s salary?

A number of different factors can influence how much developmental psychologists earn. These include their level of experience, the area of the country they live in, and the size of their client base. The BLS reports that the median annual wage of psychologists overall was $68,640 in May 2010. Furthermore, the higher 10% of earners made more than $111,810, and the lowest 10% earned less than $39,200.