Child psychologists focus on the mental, social and behavioural development of children and adolescents. Child psychology offers a variety of career paths, and you will find these psychologists working in hospitals, schools, private practice and the judicial system. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for child psychologists in the United States are expected to grow at a faster than average rate in the coming years, making this occupation a good choice for people who enjoy helping children and their parents.
- Skill level:
Major in psychology or a related discipline in college. Take as many psychology and child development classes as you can, making sure to maintain a high grade point average. Contact admissions representatives for graduate programs that interest you and ask about the requirements for prerequisites and grade point averages. If you have a particular graduate program in mind, this information will help you ensure that you meet all requirements for admission.
Take a statistics class in college. Since research is a large part of psychology, understanding statistics will be a necessary skill when you enter graduate school. Your application may be more attractive to schools if you have a statistics class on your transcript.
Volunteer to work with children in some capacity during your college years. Not only will this demonstrate your strong desire to work with this age group, it will also allow you to determine if a career working with children is the best choice for your personality.
Take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) during the second semester of your junior year or the first semester of your senior year of college. The GRE is required for admission to most graduate-level programs. The test measures critical thinking, quantitative and verbal reasoning and analytical writing skills. Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the GRE, offers the ScoreItNow online writing practice test for those students who would like to improve their essay writing skills. You will find a link for the ETS website in the Resources sections of this article.
Apply to graduate programs during your senior year of college. Choose schools that have strong programs in child psychology and offer supervised clinical training programs that provide ample opportunities to work directly with children. Find out if graduate or research assistant positions are available at your school of choice to help defray expenses.
Decide if you would prefer to earn a master's degree in psychology or would like to stay in school longer and earn a PhD or Psy.D degree. While both PhD and Psy.D degrees are doctorates in psychology, the Ph.D. is more focused on research and requires a dissertation before a degree is granted. Obtaining a doctorate degree rather than a master's expands the types of jobs available to you and increases your earning power.
Apply for state licensing once you have a graduate degree. When you pass the licensing examination for your state, you will be permitted to call yourself a psychologist. You will find the addresses and websites for state licensing boards at Assessment Psychology Online listed in the Resources section of this article.
Tips and warnings
- Find a mentor during your college years to help you take the first steps to becoming a practicing psychologist. Choose a psychology professor you admire and volunteer to help with research or other projects. Your mentor can help guide you in choosing appropriate classes and can recommend graduate programs best suited to your career goals.
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