How Do You Become a Child Psychologist?

Child psychologists are professionals with extensive knowledge on the behavioral development and learning patterns of children from birth to adolescence. These professionals may work as counselors in both private and public settings, researchers, and advocates for children and children’s rights. The path to becoming a child psychologist can be long, but rewarding.

Undergraduate Study

Your journey to becoming a child psychologist starts by declaring an undergraduate major. While you may be inclined to select psychology as your major choice, this is not necessarily a requirement for admission into a graduate program at a later point in your academic career. In fact, choosing to major in an area outside of psychology, while subsequently completing a minor in psychology may yield several advantages. A major such as child and family studies or social work can give you further insight into child development at the undergraduate level. Majoring in sociology can help you to understand the impact of child bearing on society as a whole, while majors such as women’s and gender studies, anthropology, or African-American studies may help to broaden your understanding of the underlying cultural components that may impact your career as a child psychologist. If you intend to run your own private practice, it could also be wise to pursue a major in business, management, or economics while working on your psychology minor. Whatever path you chose, taking classes in abnormal psychology, child development, and undergraduate research are recommended to prepare you for graduate admissions. In most situations, earning this degree should take you about four years.

Graduate Study

While no to graduate programs are alike, most will require that you pass the Graduate Record Exam, earn a minimum 3.0 Undergraduate Grade Point Average, and complete some basic courses in psychology prior to applying. At the graduate level, you have the option of applying directly into a doctoral program, or the option to first apply for a master’s program. While direct admission into a doctoral program would ultimately require less of a time investment to complete, only a handful of applicants with only an undergraduate degree will be selected for admission to a doctoral program. Preference for doctoral programs is often given to those who have completed a master’s program, typically in psychology or counseling, and have spent some time working with children professionally. In most cases, a master’s degree will take about two years to complete, while a doctoral degree will take about four, and may require that you complete a dissertation.

Licenensure and Career Considerations

Upon completion of your doctoral degree in psychology, you will need to pass the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP) and register with your state’s licensing board, according to the American Psychological Association. While licensing requirements vary from state to state, in most cases you will be required to undergo an internship of at least 2,000 hours, submit your transcripts and course descriptions for review to the licensing board, and turn in your EPPP scores for review before beginning practice as a licensed child psychologist.

Related Resource: What is an Inpatient Psychologist?

Though there is no prescribed path to choose from when attempting to become a child psychologist, the choices that you make can both provide career opportunities and strengthen your application and resume for years to come.