Child Psychologist: Milestone Map
Pursuing a degree and ultimately a career in child psychology involves a significant commitment of time, intellectual energy, and emotional perseverance, but the rewards are great. The chart below shows just one path a child psychologist can take to make a difference in children’s lives.
Becomes interested in psychology after battling anxiety issues.
Works with children at summer camps while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in
Works at a program specializing in outdoor therapy for troubled teens.
Enrolls in an online Ph.D. program specializing in child and adolescent psychology.
Joins a mental health clinic and starts grief counseling group for teens whose parents have died.
Serves on commission to improve state-sponsored mental health services for children.
Child Psychology: Online Learning Experience
Child psychology takes into account the complete life experiences of children, from family relationships and socioeconomic pressures to learning and cognitive processes. The job requires a firm grounding in psychological theory—and also a good deal of practice.
Online degree programs in child psychology are well-equipped to deliver the classroom work that underpins the profession. Students can expect to rely heavily on technology, such as audio and video lectures, online discussions and wikis to work on team projects and facilitate real-time interaction. At the graduate level in particular, there remains the challenge of providing meaningful hands-on experiences that are vital for students to develop practical skills. Most programs have addressed this by incorporating campus-based elements, such as academic residencies or integrating in-person internships into the curriculum, giving students valuable experience as they fulfill requirements for future licensure.
Because online students often have other life commitments, such as full-time jobs or family responsibilities, online degree programs in child psychology are usually flexible in their timelines for completing a degree. An accelerated bachelor’s degree may take just three years instead of four, for example, while a master’s degree can be extended from two years to three years for part-time students.
Online Program Types for Child Psychology
While many schools have specific degrees in child psychology, others offer an emphasis in child psychology under the more general headings of clinical, counseling or developmental psychology. In most cases, however, the coursework and core curricula are very similar, and the degrees are considered largely equivalent for future employment. Following are the various types of online child psychology degree programs:
- Graduate Certificates
Undergraduates interested in pursuing a career in child psychology usually begin by getting a bachelor’s degree in general psychology. The degree typically requires 120 credit hours of coursework both within and outside of the major, including a number of general educational requirements in the arts, sciences and humanities. Students can expect to take classes in the theories of psychology, psychological research methods, developmental psychology, behavioral psychology, social psychology and statistics as prerequisites for graduate study in child psychology.
At the master’s level, students typically choose between a master of arts (MA) or a master of science (MS) in child psychology. Studies delve into the details of child and adolescent behavior and development, and the special considerations important when offering counseling to children and adolescents. The degree often includes a research thesis project, as well as supervised internship opportunities.
Master’s programs are designed to feed into doctoral degree programs, which are necessary to become a licensed psychologist, but they can also be appropriate for students who want to begin a career in the social and human services sector that doesn’t require licensure in psychology. Another option at the master’s level is the master of education (MEd) in child studies, an interdisciplinary degree that combines the study of psychology with the science of learning and development.
The two degrees available at the doctoral level in psychology are the Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy), which is the traditional research university doctorate, and the Psy.D. (doctor of psychology), which follows the scientist-practitioner model of medical school training. Students can enter these programs with bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees, with the time to completion dependent upon the initial education level.
Both the Ph.D. and Psy.D. degrees are meant for those aiming to become licensed to practice professionally, or to teach psychology at the college level. Doctoral candidates typically specialize in an area like clinical child psychology, developmental psychology, or adolescent counseling psychology, and can expect to complete a thesis or research project, as well as fulfill about two years of supervised internship experience.
These certificates are designed for graduate students who have earned, or are in the process of earning, a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology, sociology, or another related social or behavioral science. Certificates are offered in areas of specialization like children’s mental health, developmental psychology, forensic child psychology, and child and adolescent counseling, and are meant to supplement graduate studies in other core areas.
Online Child Psychology: Curriculum Overview
A degree in child psychology can be thought of as training in clinical counseling psychology as applied to children and adolescents. Much of the coursework centers on the core areas of psychological theory, research, and clinical practice, but will also include work specific to working with children and adolescents. Curricula and course descriptions vary from program to program, but below are some of the typical classes that are integral to child psychology.
Human Lifespan Development
An overview of how behavior, cognition and overall psychology evolve from birth through adulthood.
Child and Adolescent Social Psychology
Examines theories and research about the impact of social group dynamics and personality development in children and adolescents.
Counseling and Interventions with Children and Adolescents
Explores the special concerns and techniques related to providing counseling and therapy to children and adolescents, including how various interventions are best coordinated with family members, teachers and other relevant parties.
Biopsychology of Children’s Health
Covers the psychological components of various health issues that affect children, such as diabetes, asthma, obesity and anorexia, as well as the impact of nutrition, exercise and sleep on psychological well-being.
Covers the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of recognized psychological problems in children and adolescents, including how psychological disorders and disruptive behaviors are classified, evaluated, and treated in clinical counseling.
Choosing an Online Child Psychology Program
Several things factor into choosing the right online program, including students’ previous educational level, program costs, admissions requirements, and scheduling commitments. Following is a checklist of common considerations to help students evaluate specific programs:
Investigate the program’s content and format
The program should offer appropriate courses in child psychology, as well as sufficient research and work experience opportunities. Also, ensure that program start dates, schedules and in-person requirements are compatible with your schedule.
Determine the admissions requirements
Some programs will require a minimum GPA; graduate programs may also require specific course prerequisites or Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, and usually request letters of recommendation.
Look for accreditation
At the graduate level, it’s especially important to find a program that has been accredited by a national organization; the Masters in Psychology Accreditation Council handles master’s programs; at the doctoral level, look for those approved by the APA’s Commission on Accreditation. Learn more about program accreditation in the section below.
Check out support services
Distance students rely on technology, so ensure that the school offers tech support services. Generally, online students may also take advantage of other services such as academic advising and career counseling, tutoring, and library access, but check for any limitations.
Crunch the numbers
Online programs are often less expensive than their on-campus equivalents. However, take note of any additional expenses, such as travel to complete on-campus residencies or internships. Check into financial aid available through both the individual school and at the federal level.
Online Program Accreditation: Child Psychology
Accreditation is important for both schools and individual programs and ensures that programs have been thoroughly reviewed and meet academic standards. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of accrediting agencies that includes the major regional organizations for undergraduate programs.
The main accrediting body for master’s programs in clinical psychology is the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council, which maintains an online database of accredited schools and programs. The MPCAC is responsible for vetting online and on-campus programs in the broader field of clinical psychology, which includes child psychology, as well as counseling programs.
Accreditation is particularly important at the doctoral level because state licensing boards require that practicing psychologists graduate from an accredited school. The American Psychological Association is the primary organization that oversees the accrediting of Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs, including those in child psychology, through its Commission on Accreditation. It should be noted, however, that because of the hands-on nature of psychology training, the APA requires some form of in-person education and involvement as a basis for accreditation of doctoral programs. Fully online programs without internship or residency components are not eligible for APA accreditation.
Online Master’s in Child Psychology: Steps to Enroll
The application process for undergraduate and graduate programs in child psychology varies, and some online programs offer rolling admissions. Following is a typical timeline for students who want to enroll in a master’s program in child psychology:
||Time Before Program Start Date
Identify programs that suit your academic and scheduling requirements.
|15 months before start date
Take the GRE, if required for admission.
|15 months to 1 year before start date
Collect required materials, including college transcripts and letters of recommendation, and have them forwarded to the chose programs.
|9 months to 1 year before start date
Write essays and personal statements, complete applications, and submit.
9 months to 1 year before start date
Apply for financial aid through school or federal sources.
|9 months to 1 year before start date
In addition to the formal application requirements, several other factors can improve students’ chances of being admitted into a graduate program in child psychology:
- Undergraduate research Gain experience by finding psychology faculty members who are conducting research projects, especially those related to children to adolescents, and offer opportunities for students to serve as research assistants.
- Honors thesis While not required at the undergraduate level, top students may have the option of writing an honors thesis or completing a senior project to demonstrate suitability for a graduate program.
- Intern or volunteer Practice working with children through internship or volunteer opportunities in schools, community mental health centers, recreational centers or summer camps.
- Join a student clubShow commitment to the field by joining a group such as Psi Chi, an international psychology honor society for undergraduates that has chapters on many college campuses. Psi Beta is a similar society for community and junior college students.
Child Psychology: Career Concentrations
Like other clinical and counseling psychologists, child psychologists work in schools, community health centers, clinics and hospitals. Many child psychologists also set up private practices; in fact, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook shows that nearly one-third of all psychologists were self-employed in 2014. The BLS expects job growth for psychologists to surpass the national average through 2024, with an estimated 19 percent increase in employment.
Within the field, there are opportunities to specialize in particular areas. These include child counseling psychology, which offers training in how to provide psychotherapeutic treatment to children and adolescents; pediatric neuropsychology, which focuses on dysfunctions in the central nervous system and their impact on psychological and behavioral disorders; and forensic child psychology, which involves learning to work in the legal system, evaluating children involved in custody cases and other criminal matters. The following chart illustrates some of the career paths in child psychology, along with salary data and educational requirements:
||National Median Annual Salary (2015)
||Provides counseling and treatment to children and adolescents in a clinical setting
||Doctorate and state licensure
||Assesses and treats patients with psychological disorders and long-term illnesses
||Doctorate and state licensure
||Evaluates brain function and cognitive development of children, from infancy to adolescence
||Doctorate and state licensure
|Professor of Child Psychology
||Teaches child psychology at the college and university level to undergraduate and graduate students
|Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
||Treats patients using psychotherapy and psychotherapeutic medications
||Medical degree and state licensure
Child Psychologist Licenses & Certifications
Clinical psychologists working with children are required to obtain state licensure before entering professional practice. In addition, they may also pursue professional certification to further their career options.
A state license is required for anyone who practices professionally as a psychologist. Licensure is available to those who hold a doctorate in psychology and who have completed one to two years of supervised internship experience, depending on the individual state. Candidates must then pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology in order to gain licensure.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC):
Those holding a master’s degree in child psychology qualify to be licensed as professional counselors. Earning this license can serve as an intermediary step for those who want to gain work experience in the child psychology field before moving on to a doctorate.
Requirements and designations vary by state; some offer licenses for professional clinical counselors (LPCC) and/or mental health counselors (LMHC). In order to qualify, candidates must have a certain number hours of supervised counseling experience, and then pass either the National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology Certification:
The Specialty Board of the American Board of Professional Psychology offers voluntary certification in Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology to those who have already obtained a license to practice psychology professionally, and who have completed at least one year of supervised experience in the field of child and adolescent psychology. The overall goal of the certification in Child and Adolescent Psychology is to recognize and promote excellence in the specialty.
Similar Online Psychology Programs
Working in the field of child psychology not only demands a specific set of skills and knowledge, it also requires a particular temperament. For those who are interested in pursuing a slightly different career path, there are numerous related options that students may pursue online at the graduate level.
Online School Psychology Degree:
Prepares students to work with students at the K-12 level, as school counselors, program coordinators, and educational policy administrators.
Online Forensic Psychology Degree:
Prepares students to work with police, prosecutors, victims and perpetrators in the criminal justice system, as counselors, analysts and expert advisers.
Online Clinical Psychology Degree:
Students are trained in the broad practice of assessing and treating mental illness, abnormal behavior, and psychiatric problems of patients individually and in relation to their families and communities.