Master’s Degrees in Child Psychology: Everything You Need to Know
A master’s degree in child psychology opens doors to several careers centered on fostering mental wellness, healthy development, and academic success for young people. If you possess excellent communication skills, patience, and a positive, problem-solver attitude, you might be an ideal candidate for work as a school psychologist, child counselor, or family therapist.
What Is a Master’s Degree in Child Psychology?
A master’s degree in child psychology is a graduate-level program that follows a 4-year baccalaureate degree. Though there are some 1-year programs, most are 2–3 years long. Nearly every state licensing exam requires aspiring therapists to complete a master’s in counseling or a related field.
A master’s is also a necessary step to becoming legally licensed as a psychologist, which requires holding a doctoral degree. Either master’s track—a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS)—can prepare you for doctoral studies, but there are some key differences between the 2 degrees.
Are MA and MS degrees in child psychology different?
There’s a lot of overlap between an MA and MS in child psychology. However, an MA focuses more on the liberal arts and the practice of counseling or therapy, while an MS focuses largely on the science of psychology, behavior, and brain function.
Though there are paths to doctoral degrees through both programs, a Master of Science may be more beneficial for students who want to go on to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). If you’re pursuing a career as a child therapist or school counselor, a Master of Arts may be the best approach.
Who are child psychology graduate degrees intended for?
Anyone who seeks a career working with children can benefit from graduate studies in child psychology. These positions can involve providing therapy services for children, counseling in a school, or developing programs for vulnerable kids, such as those in the juvenile corrections system.
Can you become a child psychologist with a master’s degree?
Generally, no, but it’s an essential step to becoming one. A child psychologist must earn a doctorate, either a PhD or PsyD, and most doctoral programs require a graduate-level degree in a field of psychology.
A PhD is recommended for people interested in the academic or research track, while a PsyD focuses more on direct practice. Learn more about the differences here.
Terminal vs. non-terminal degree programs
Many universities offer terminal and non-terminal degree programs. The difference is whether the student intends to continue their studies after receiving their master’s or embark on a career as a counselor or child therapist. A non-terminal degree prepares you for doctoral studies, while a terminal degree prepares you for a career upon graduation.
Careers with a Master’s in Child Psychology
Family and child therapist
Child therapists work in a variety of settings, seeing to their clients’ well-being on social, developmental, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive levels. In addition to assessing the child’s mental state, they might also look into family dynamics and other group interactions.
After making an assessment, a child therapist develops and executes a care plan, often working in collaboration with the child’s parents, teachers, medical professionals, and any others who work closely with the child.
Though many licensed child therapists work in a purely therapeutic setting, either with group or individual counseling, others may work within settings like school systems, correctional institutions, mental health facilities, and pediatric hospitals.
There are no official salary statistics specifically for careers in child therapy. However, similar fields can shed some light.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for marriage and family therapists—a category which includes professionals who specialize in child therapy—was$53,860. The average salary for educational and career counselors was $58,620.
In addition to a having master’s degree in child psychology, therapists must pass a state licensing exam. Requirements for certification vary by state, and holding a license in one state doesn’t guarantee work in another.
Most states require you to complete a minimum number of supervised hours of practice. For this reason, people who want to become child therapists may find it more practical to pursue a terminal MA program with a supervised work requirement, because these hours can apply toward your certification.
Though many schools require their staff psychologists to hold doctoral degrees, most entry-level positions for school counselors and psychologists hold the same requirements as a child therapist: a master’s degree and state license. Depending on your state, however, it may be necessary to hold a PhD or PsyD to work as a school psychologist.
According to the BLS, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned an average salary of $81,330. Psychologists working in elementary and secondary schools made an average of $77,430 the same year.
Most child psychologist positions require a doctoral degree. However, the best way to prepare for a PhD or PsyD in this specialty is with a non-terminal master’s degree in child psychology.
The average annual wage for psychologists of all kinds was $93,440, according to the BLS. Those working in private practice can earn well over $100,000 a year.
With few exceptions, child psychologists must earn a PhD or PsyD from an accredited program and obtain a state license.
A PhD in psychology is a research degree and usually takes 5–7 years to complete. This usually involves a comprehensive exam and a dissertation based on original research.
A PsyD emphasizes clinical studies and is more heavily based on practical work and examinations, though some require a dissertation. These programs, which typically run 4–6 years, usually include a yearlong internship.
Academic Requirements Before Starting a Master’s in Child Psychology
Is there a GPA requirement?
Program requirements vary, but most require a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Other criteria such as recommendations, professional experience, and a personal statement might help if your undergraduate performance was less competitive.
Can you get in if your bachelor’s isn’t in psychology?
Previous coursework in psych is recommended, but many programs will admit students whose bachelor’s degrees are in a variety of other fields. You might be asked to fulfill prerequisites through coursework in psychological theory, statistics, and research methods if your degree program didn’t have comparable requirements.
Do you need to take the GRE?
Though most accredited master’s programs require applicants to take the GRE, there are exceptions for some terminal master’s degrees, especially online programs. Some schools require alternate tests, while others might waive the exam for applicants with a lot of professional experience, a prior master’s, or a high GPA.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree?
On average, it takes a full-time student between 18 months and 2 years to complete a master’s degree, depending on the program. Some students who work while going to school may take longer. On the other end of the spectrum, some schools offer accelerated programs, which a full-time student may complete in as little as 1 year.
The Master’s in Child Psychology Curriculum
Degree programs that fall under the umbrella of child psychology go by a number of names, and each has different requirements and areas of focus. When looking for a program with an emphasis in child psychology, look for words like “developmental psychology,” “school psychology,” “child and adolescent,” or “family” in the title.
What core classes are involved?
Most programs have core requirements in developmental psychology, statistics, research methods, and ethics. More specialized classes might cover learning disabilities, the autism spectrum, and mental disorders common among children. A capstone project of independent study and/or fieldwork requirement is also typical.
Number of course credits
The number of course credits required varies by program, but the spectrum often ranges between 30 and 60 credits. Some students, especially those who won’t be attending full-time, may evaluate schools on a cost-per-credit basis.
Many students choose to focus on areas of study that reflect the prevalent issues young people are facing today, such as gender development, bullying, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders.
Is Fieldwork or a Practicum Required?
Nearly all terminal degrees involve fieldwork or an internship, and those hours can be used to satisfy the minimum supervised hours requirement dictated by your state. Many non-terminal degrees have a capstone project or thesis in place of fieldwork.
Can You Get an Online Master’s in Child Psychology?
Students interested in pursuing master’s degrees in the field of child psychology can study online, in the classroom, or in a hybrid environment. However, even programs offered exclusively online may require you to satisfy a supervised fieldwork assignment. This is often an internship working directly with patients under the supervision of licensed psychologists.
Hybrid programs are also becoming increasingly popular for fields of all kinds. These typically involve taking the majority of your courses online and attending on-campus classes just 1 or 2 times a week.
Can I Apply Credits Toward a Doctorate?
Some master’s degree credits earned from an accredited institution may be applicable to a future doctorate program, however it depends on the program you eventually wish to attend. If you plan to go on to earn a PhD or PsyD, the most economical plan may be to enroll in a joint degree or master’s-to-PhD program.
Master’s/doctorate joint degree programs
A direct-to-PhD program allows you to earn a master’s on your way to your PhD or PsyD. In addition to taking fewer credits overall, there are many advantages to this track.
While a non-terminal master’s program may have a capstone project or thesis requirement, a joint degree program usually skips this requirement in favor of your dissertation. This could save you up to a year of work, and you’ll also have more time to forge relationships with faculty within your institution.
If you’re unsure that your desired career path will require a doctorate but want to leave the option on the table, a non-terminal master’s degree might be the safest bet.
Financial Aid for Child Psychology Students
Students seeking master’s degrees from accredited institutions have many financial aid options. The Free Application for Federal Student (FAFSA) will determine your eligibility for government assistance. These programs include subsidized and unsubsidized loans, grants, and work-study opportunities. You can also apply for private loans through banks and other institutions.
You might also qualify for scholarships based on academic merit or other criteria. Some full-time graduate programs also offer fellowship opportunities, wherein you may receive partial or full tuition reimbursement and additional stipends in exchange for teaching or research assistant work.
Does Child Psychology Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?
If your career leads you to work within a non-profit organization or government entity, you may be able to receive loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Your state may have supplemental loan forgiveness programs that also match your circumstances.
Professional Organizations for Child Psychologists
In addition to general psychology organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA), the following professional associations provide development opportunities, publications, certification, and networks for child psychology professionals:
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)
- American Educational Research Association (AERA)
- Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)
- National Association of School Psychologists
Ready to Get Started?
If you’re passionate about working to enrich the lives of children and teens, a master’s degree in child psychology can help clear the path to a rewarding career. Use the Find Schools button to research programs in your area or online options that can accommodate you wherever you live.
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