Building a Developmental Psychology Career: 15 Best Courses

Developmental PsychologyAt some point, most parents, grandparents, teachers, and carers wonder what the small child in front of them will be like as they grow older and who they will become.

Developmental psychology attempts to answer these and other questions by understanding how children develop and the impact of the environment on their journey from birth to adulthood (Gillibrand, Lam, & O’Donnell, 2016).

Developmental psychologists study the transformation that takes place across human life and explore “physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality and emotional growth” (American Psychological Association, 2014a).

This article looks at what it takes to build a career in the fascinating field of developmental psychology and the programs and courses that will help.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

What Does a Developmental Psychologist Do?

“Developmental psychologists are interested in all aspects of our behavioral and psychological development” and attempt to understand the following influences (Gillibrand et al., 2016, p. 3):

  • Social development
    Such as the effect of parent–child relationships and how play can impact lasting friendships

  • Cognitive development
    Including how language develops, an understanding of numeracy, and the appreciation of art and music

  • Emotional development
    Our sense of morality and emotional influences on our decision making in life, work, and play

Developmental psychologists seek to understand children by studying and combining each developmental aspect to form a complete picture of psychological growth from infancy through adulthood.

Developmental psychology identifies factors that influence each stage of a young person’s growth. They include the role of inheritance and upbringing in a child’s development and how they affect crucial areas of a young person’s life, including education, family life, and even bullying (Gillibrand et al., 2016).

“Developmental psychology adopts a longitudinal, lifespan or life-cycle approach from the time of conception to death” to understand child development across “age, gender, and psychological and social contexts” (Kapur, 2011, p. 3). As a result, developmental experts see life trajectory as more important than a cross-sectional view of how psychological issues manifest.

The American Psychological Association (2014a) describes developmental psychologists as studying human growth, development, and adaptation throughout life, performing research “designed to help people reach their full potential.”

While some developmental psychologists, typically based in universities and colleges. focus on teaching and research, others work in more applied settings. Such environments include healthcare facilities, homeless shelters, mental health clinics, and in conjunction with schools.

 

12 Reasons to Study Developmental Psychology

Developmental Psychology CoursesThere are plenty of reasons to focus on developmental psychology within the larger field of psychology.

They include the following opportunities (Kapur, 2011; Gillibrand et al., 2016; American Psychological Association, 2014a):

  • Study multiple, wide-ranging developmental domains, including cognitive, emotional, social, moral, physical, language, and sexual development.

  • Work in various settings, including teaching and research in academic settings or in the field, helping seniors, children, and people experiencing homelessness.

  • Apply developmental psychology skills to the emerging and growing field of psychopathology to better understand abnormal psychology.

  • Work with experts from child psychology, cognitive science, counseling, and other mental and physical health researchers and practitioners.

  • Adopt a contextual view of development from birth to death, including gender, age, biology, genetics, and sociocultural factors.

  • Help people make more of their lives through learning and development opportunities and create environments geared for growth.

  • Make tangible differences to crucial aspects of people’s lives, including education, family, and aging.

  • Work toward helping the vulnerable and those requiring additional support, including seniors; children with developmental challenges such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning, and cognitive development difficulties; and people being bullied.

  • Support people through various stages of development, helping them grow and adapt at their own pace.

  • Work with both parents and doctors to gain a contextual understanding of, identify, and treat psychological and physical health problems.

  • Ensure intervention is early and appropriate, helping children get back on track to normal development.

  • Apply developmental psychology in less traditional settings, including entertainment, marketing, and other private enterprises.

 

Building a Developmental Psychology Career

As with psychologists working in other fields, developmental psychologists will usually begin with an undergraduate degree in psychology followed by an appropriate master’s degree.

Employment in the field of developmental psychology, including academia, government agencies, schools, and healthcare facilities, typically requires a doctoral degree (American Psychological Association, 2014b).

Specific developmental psychology programs are available, taking students from undergraduate to graduate study.

According to Salary.com, as of July 28, 2021, the average salary for a developmental psychologist in the United States was $71,833, with the top 10% in the field earning in excess of $89,795.

 

10 Best Degrees and Programs

While most developmental psychologists begin their journey with a more general psychology degree, a few dedicated developmental psychology undergraduate options exist.

The following list contains a sample of undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs available for those wishing to progress their career in developmental psychology.

As courses are constantly updated, visit the university websites for the latest program details.

 

Bachelor of Science (BS) in Psychology – Developmental Disabilities, Pittsburg State University, Kansas, USA

Pittsburg

Development disabilities is a concentration area that forms part of the four-year Bachelor of Science psychology program at Pittsburg State University.

This on-campus degree targets students who wish to pursue further developmental psychology studies after graduation; students are also equipped to move straight into full-time employment.

Past graduates have gone on to work as care workers, case managers, personnel directors, and mental health professionals.

Find out more on their website.

 

Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science (BA/BS) in Developmental Psychology, University of Minnesota, USA

Minnesota

The University of Minnesota offers this undergraduate degree as either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science.

While the former includes a second language requirement, the latter focuses on research, including directed research within an area of developmental psychology.

Ranked number one in the 2017 U.S. News and World Report for developmental psychology, this degree prepares students for a meaningful career in a related field.

There are also opportunities to study abroad and experience child development in other cultures.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Arts (MA) in Developmental Psychology, Illinois State University, USA

The full-time master’s degree can be completed in two years on campus and focuses on the “scientific study of stability and change in biological, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning across the life span” (Illinois State University, n.d.).

With an in-depth exploration of developmental theories and their application, the program allows students to work toward doctoral study or a more applied focus for a career in multiple diverse community settings.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Arts in (MA) Positive Developmental Psychology and Evaluation, Claremont Graduate University, California, USA

This fascinating master’s degree uses positive psychology to understand human development while examining the potential for human flourishing and wellbeing.

Students learn the importance of positive developmental processes and how to recognize differences between individuals and over a person’s lifespan.

The university encourages and promotes applied research that positively impacts families, schools, policymakers, and practitioners.

A PhD is also available and typically takes between five and seven years to complete.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Arts (MA) and Doctorate (PhD) in Applied Developmental Psychology, George Mason University, Virginia, USA

Mason

George Mason University (n.d.) offers an MA and a PhD in applied developmental psychology for students wishing to learn more about “enhancing and shaping developmental processes in individuals and contexts across the life span.”

The George Mason faculty support students in their efforts to understand and resolve challenges faced through research, scholarship, and creative endeavors.

Past students have contributed to award-winning publications and presented at research symposiums.

Find out more on their website.

 

Doctoral Program (PhD) in Developmental Psychology, Stanford University, California, USA

Stanford

The Committee on Developmental and Psychological Sciences (DAPS) oversees training and research leading to a doctoral degree in developmental psychology at Stanford University.

DAPS’s aim is to focus on learning and research involving understanding psychological functioning and human development, and to prepare students for their chosen career as developmental psychologists.

Faculty and students work together to create a study plan to ensure a broad understanding of psychological and developmental research while achieving a detailed knowledge of chosen specialties.

Find out more on their website.

 

Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Developmental Psychology, University of Windsor, Canada

Windsor

This degree starts with an introduction to psychology, placing students in small, dedicated groups led by mentors to encourage learning before digging deeper into developmental psychology.

Community placements and research opportunities are available to see developmental psychology in action and recognize a future career path, whether in teaching, healthcare, social services, universities, or private practice.

This bachelor’s degree prepares students for a career after graduation or to continue their studies with either a master’s or doctoral degree in developmental psychology.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Arts (MA), Master of Education (MEd), and Doctorate (PhD) in Developmental Psychology and Education, University of Toronto, Canada

Toronto

Students can study developmental psychology and education toward an MA, MEd, or PhD at the University of Toronto to build a detailed yet broad understanding of human development and its practical applications in education and other settings.

The MEd program is particularly valuable for those wishing to apply their learnings to education and related fields. At the same time, the MA and PhD are ideal for those wishing to pursue academic and research-based careers.

Find out more on their website.

 

Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Developmental Psychology, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

East Anglia

This three-year degree in developmental psychology combines core learnings in psychology, focusing on developmental aspects of behavior and cognition.

Graduates are equipped to pursue careers in education and child psychology or progress to graduate degrees.

An optional placement year provides a valuable opportunity to gain practical experience in a real-world setting.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Science (MSc) in Developmental Psychology, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK

The master’s program at the University of Kent (n.d.) offers students a deep understanding of “the advanced methods, analytical techniques, and theoretical and practical approaches to developmental psychology and developmental psychopathology.”

Courses in the MSc program are taught by academics, practicing clinical and educational psychologists, and child therapists. Students can also gain practical experience with clients in a dedicated lab space.

Find out more on their website.

 

Top 5 Courses and Online Options

Multiple options are available for remote or time-crunched learners juggling numerous roles and requiring the flexibility of online learning.

 

Introduction to Developmental Psychology, Berkeley Extension, University of California

This course can be studied independently or as part of an online degree and explores “biological, physical, cognitive, emotional, linguistic, socio-cultural and spiritual changes across the lifespan” (Berkeley Extension, n.d.).

Students learn through reading assignments, instructor notes and presentations, assignments, and a reflection paper.

Find out more on their website.

 

Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Master of Arts (MA) in Developmental Psychology, Liberty University, Online

Liberty’s 100%-online BA and MA programs prepare students for a career serving and advocating for children in multiple settings, including government agencies, schools, hospitals, and private practice.

Flexible eight-week courses are combined to complete the bachelor’s degree in less than four years (or longer if required) at a time and pace that suits the learner.

Students cover general psychology topics and explore the leading theories in child development and human brain functioning.

The master’s degree can be completed in under two years and is valuable for those planning to work with children in counseling settings.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Science (MS) in Child Development/Psychology, Southern New Hampshire University, Online

New Hampshire

This online master’s degree focuses on child and adolescent psychology, including research methods, cognitive psychology, and social psychology.

Particular focus is paid to human development and growth during each stage of life while understanding how individuals can reach their full potential.

The program does not lead to state licensure but is a pathway to either a career working with children and adolescents or continuing to doctoral study.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Science (MS) in Developmental Psychology, Bay Path University, Online, Massachusetts, USA

Bay Path

Bay Path University offers their master’s in developmental psychology 100% online or blended (online and on campus).

Whether remote or on campus, students learn about developmental psychology and its importance and impact on all stages of human development.

Students are provided with an expansive and broad understanding of psychology while exploring the factors that impact development.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Science (MS) in Developmental Psychology, Walden University, Online

Walden University’s online program helps working professionals build and apply knowledge of human development and growth for their existing or future career in developmental psychology.

Students choose a general program or six specializations that focus on what interests them or advances their career.

Credits obtained from the master’s program can subsequently be used toward a PhD in Walden’s Developmental Psychology program.

Find out more on their website.

 

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

We have many worksheets, tools, and exercises that help individuals gain a greater understanding of their developmental needs and how to set goals to remove obstacles that may be holding them back.

Some of these tools and worksheets are available as part of a subscription to our Positive Psychology Toolkit©, an online library for mental health practitioners.

  • Action Brainstorming
    Use this exercise to identify, evaluate, and then break or change habits that may be getting in the way of making desired changes or moving closer to goals.

  • 20 Guidelines for Developing a Growth Mindset
    Mindsets can be changed. These guidelines help users see challenges as opportunities to grow by adopting a growth mindset.

  • The Values Timeline
    Values do not remain stable but change over a lifetime. This tool examines such changes by encouraging users to explore their values.

  • Goals Vision Board
    Visualization and imagery can be highly effective ways to set and attain goals.

  • A Mindful Goal Focus
    Focusing on future goals is an essential predictor of wellbeing. Use this worksheet to explore the different types of goal focus and learn how to adopt a more mindful, reflective outlook.

  • WDEP Questions
    This worksheet uses a list of questions about what a person wants, what they are doing, whether it is working, and how to arrive at a plan for what to do next.

  • 17 Positive Psychology Exercises
    If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

 

A Take-Home Message

Developmental psychology is a fascinating field of study that engages with and combines multiple disciplines to cast light on human development and growth. Not only that, it has a far-reaching impact on human wellbeing, with the potential to improve lives by encouraging growth and handling change at all ages.

Fully understanding social, cognitive, and emotional development factors requires a prolonged commitment to learning. Studies should include the general discipline of psychology and a focus on specialist areas that are appropriate to your chosen career and the roles you are likely to perform.

This article introduces several undergraduate and graduate study options, some of which are remote and online, leading to further career options or future learning. They each provide an in-depth understanding of developmental psychology and an awareness of the field’s value to individuals and society.

Review these and other learning options, and ensure that the content, cost, and mode of learning are appropriate for your needs now and over the study period.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

  • American Psychological Association. (2014a). Developmental psychology studies human development across the lifespan. Retrieved August 17, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/education-career/guide/subfields/developmental
  • American Psychological Association. (2014b). Pursuing a career in developmental psychology. Retrieved August 17, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/education-career/guide/subfields/developmental/education-training
  • Berkeley Extension. (n.d.). Introduction to developmental psychology. Retrieved August 23, 2021 from https://extension.berkeley.edu/search/publicCourseSearchDetails.do?method=load&courseId=42041
  • Gillibrand, R., Lam, V., & O’Donnell, V. L. (2016). Developmental psychology. Pearson.
  • George Mason University. (n.d.). Applied developmental psychology. Retrieved August 23, 2021 from https://psychology.gmu.edu/about/adp
  • Illinois State University. (n.d.). Psychology – Developmental psychology. Retrieved August 23, 2021, from https://illinoisstate.edu/academics/psychology-developmental-masters/
  • Kapur, M. (2011). Counseling children with psychological problems. Pearson.
  • University of Kent. (n.d.). Developmental psychology – MSc. Retrieved August 23, 2021, from https://www.kent.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/66/developmental-psychology

About the Author

Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.

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