2021 Best Online PhD in Child Psychology Programs

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Earning an online PhD in Child Psychology may be the final big step in your educational journey, and it may open doors to top-level positions in your field.

PhD in Child Psychology

You may pursue a rewarding career as a licensed clinical child psychologist, university professor, or experimental psychologist.

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Whether you’ve just finished your undergrad or masters degree or you’re already working in the field of child psychology, you may be feeling the urge to continue your climb to new professional heights. Earning your Ph.D. online might be the right next step for you to consider, whether it’s an online PhD in child psychology, one in forensic psychology, or even a PhD in industrial organizational psychology online.

Online PhD in Child Psychology Programs

School psychologist talking to a student

If you’re ready to take your career to the highest professional level as a child psychologist or adolescent psychologist, you might start exploring online doctoral programs.

Child psychology is a subfield recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA), and the term refers to the psychotherapeutic treatment of clients from birth through adolescence.

Child psychology encompasses the developmental, clinical, pediatric, and psychotherapeutic aspects of the field of psychology. With a Ph.D. in Child Psychology, you may qualify for clinical licensure to treat children and adolescents for cognitive, intellectual, and behavioral disorders.

As a child psychologist, you may treat children for issues pertaining to emotional problems, developmental disorders, trauma, and biological vulnerabilities. Your services may include evaluations, interventions, and consultations to help your young clients.

Psychology professionals who hold a doctoral degree in child psychology can work in a variety of settings. You may work in hospitals, residential or outpatient mental health treatment facilities, schools, universities, and private practices. Additionally, you may serve as a university professor or an experimental researcher in the field of child psychology.

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A typical PhD program includes coursework, research, an internship, and a dissertation. The psychological research that you might conduct during your degree program includes qualitative, quantitative, biological, cognitive, and behavioral research.

Through your doctoral coursework, you may develop skills in APA-approved research methodologies as well as the scholarly writing style necessary to report your findings.

Your courses will likely focus on professional and ethical issues surrounding the licensed practice of child psychology. Additional courses may focus on specific issues, such as child and adolescent development, family counseling, and psychological assessment.

Topics of study may include perception, cognition, behavior, and neuroscience in children and adolescents.

Child Psychology Careers & Salaries

Child Psychology Careers & Salaries

With a doctorate in child psychology, you may qualify for licensure to practice in a number of clinical settings.

Perhaps you’re interested in becoming a school psychologist and working for a public school system. You may also pursue a career where you treat adolescents living in a residential mental health treatment facility.

The following information pertaining to child psychology and related careers is retrieved from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Medical and Health Services Manager $104,280
Sociologist $86,110
Psychologist $82,180
Clinical, Counseling, or School Psychologist $79,820
Postsecondary Psychology Teacher $78,180
Social and Community Service Manager $69,600
School or Career Counselor $58,120
Social Worker $51,760
Marriage and Family Therapist $51,340
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor $47,660

With this terminal degree, you might progress in your career to supervisory or managerial positions. In this capacity, you may become the head of a team, overseeing the work of others in your field.

Of course, you might also enter the world of academia as a psychology professor or experimental psychologist in a university or teaching hospital. Private practice is always an option, too.

Doctorate in Child Psychology Curriculum & Courses

Curriculum and courses in a child psychology doctoral program generally center around classroom lecture, research, and field experience or practicums. Many programs require one or more internships as well as a dissertation for program completion.

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Here is a brief overview of courses that you may encounter in a child psychology PhD program:

  • Foundations of Doctoral Study in Psychology: This course involves discussion and skill-building in critical thinking, scholarly writing, ethics, and empirical research for academic work on the doctoral level in psychology.
  • Psychological Assessment with Children: This course combines classroom lecture and field experience, covering clinical interviewing techniques, behavior observation methods, risk assessment, and therapeutic approaches in child psychology.
  • Family Counseling Theory: This course is a survey of theoretical models of family interaction, function, and dysfunction.
  • Evidence-Based Practice in Psychology: You’ll study empirically supported psychotherapy protocols with an emphasis on implementing techniques within an evidence-based practice.
  • Introductory Practicum in Child Psychology: This course is an orientation to psychological evaluation and treatment of children, adolescents, and their families through shadowing cases and assisting licensed professionals.
  • Legal Issues in Child Psychology: This course is an overview of laws that govern the practice of licensed clinical child psychologists.
  • Developmental Stages of Childhood and Adolescence: You’ll examine theories of child development, including social, physical, cognitive, and psychological stages of development.
  • Child and Adolescent Social Development: You’ll explore the ways children develop in social settings, including family relationships, peer relations, and social behavior.
  • Research Methods and Statistics: This course covers methodology and statistical analysis for experimental, descriptive, and predictive research studies.
  • Qualitative Research and Analysis: This course covers theoretical foundations for understanding human behavior through qualitative research methodologies, including case studies.

This list represents only a sampling of courses you might take in an online PhD in Child Psychology program. Curricular requirements commonly include lecture-based academic courses, supervised practicum experiences, dissertation preparation, and independent research.

How to Become a Child Psychologist

Child Psychologist working from home

To become a licensed child psychologist, you’ll often need to earn a doctoral degree. This might be a PhD, which focuses on research, or a PsyD, which focuses on clinical practice.

Both degree types require years of coursework, practicums, and internships that culminate in a final dissertation or capstone project. The PhD requires the submission and defense of a research-based dissertation. The PsyD also requires either a dissertation or a capstone project, but it may be practice-based rather than research-based.

Of course, academic achievement alone does not guarantee success. A child psychologist generally possesses these personal traits:

  • Caring, empathetic, and patient attitude toward children
  • Motivated to help others
  • Keen observational skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to evaluate and analyze data

If you’re just starting your educational journey with the goal of becoming a child psychologist, you might want to begin with a bachelors degree in psychology. This can be followed by a masters degree in psychology that may act as a stepping stone toward a doctoral program.

While many doctoral programs in child psychology do not require bachelor’s and master’s degrees specifically in psychology, it is necessary to show completion of prerequisite courses.

Throughout your undergraduate and graduate programs, it may help to focus on building strong skills in sciences, math, and statistics. These can be important for admission to a doctoral program in child psychology.

Admissions Requirements

Doctorate in Child Psychology student studying online

One of the first steps in your new educational journey will be to apply and be accepted to the doctoral program of your choice. Here is a list of typical admission requirements.

  • Transcripts: Transcripts may be required in order to show your completion of bachelors and masters degrees programs along with your GPA.
  • Test scores: Some schools will request to see your score on the GRE test, but this is not always required.
  • Letters of recommendation: Schools will often request letters of recommendation from employers or previous professors.
  • Work experience: References and evidence of work experience in psychology or a related field may be required.

Child psychology doctoral programs require completion of bachelor’s and master’s degrees with minimum GPAs, typically 3.0.

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Your bachelors and masters degrees may be in psychology, or you may demonstrate completion of undergraduate and graduate courses in psychology, statistics, research methods, and laboratory experience to meet admission requirements for a PhD program.

Accreditation

Online PhD in Child Psychology Programs Accreditation

When you’re shopping around for online child psychology PhD programs, you may want to consider choosing a university that holds regional accreditation from one of the following accrediting organizations:

Additionally, you may want to verify that a degree program is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). You may also check your state licensure board to see if your particular state requires a degree accredited by the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Boards (ASPPB).

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Online PhD in Child Psychology Programs Financial Aid

As you shop for online PhD degree programs in child psychology, you may want to explore opportunities to apply for financial aid. You may start by visiting the Federal Student Aid website, where you can fill out and submit your FAFSA form. This form is an important first step toward receiving financial aid.

Financial assistance is available in the form of loans, grants, merit-based and need-based scholarships, and work-study jobs. Veterans and military family members are eligible for some types of student aid, too.

In addition to federal student aid, you may explore financial assistance from your state or your employer. The university that you choose may also offer fellowships and assistantships for doctoral students.

What Is a Child Psychologist?

Child Psychologist with her patient in the office

A child psychologist is a trained professional who specializes in the delivery of psychological services to infants, toddlers, children, and adolescents. These specialists apply their understanding of the psychological needs of children and adolescents to assess, diagnose, and treat an array of problems.

Child psychologists help their clients with cognitive, emotional, developmental, and behavioral issues. These issues may include trauma and loss, behavioral disorders, stress, problems with family or social relationships, and much more.

Children and adolescents may experience a wide range of interrelated biological, psychological, and social problems. Through specialized training and research, child psychologists are equipped to assess and treat their young clients for these problems.

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

Child Psychologist interviewing a child

Child psychologists conduct testing and evaluation for children and adolescents to assess their needs for interventions related to psychological, intellectual, cognitive, and behavioral problems. After testing, they design and administer interventions such as psychotherapy and behavior management to help their clients.

In addition to treating clients, child psychologists design and direct prevention programs for child and adolescent populations. Examples include anti-bullying campaigns, teen pregnancy prevention, and drug addiction prevention programs.

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In their work, child psychologists design and conduct research as well as utilize the research of others. They frequently collaborate with colleagues involved in the psychological evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Child Psychology

With a PhD in Child Psychology, you may qualify for top-level professional positions in the field.

Your personal preferences and professional interests might direct you toward establishing a private practice, working in a hospital, or serving as a pediatric psychologist in schools. You may want to work in a family services or child protective services agency.

On the other hand, you might prefer to work in the world of academia, where you can serve as a college professor and researcher. After completing your doctoral degree, it’s time to pass the requirements for licensure in your state. Then, you can practice as a licensed clinical child psychologist.

With your doctoral degree and professional experience, you might qualify for supervisory positions, such as a medical and health services manager or social and community services manager.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Child Psychologist?

Child Psychology student studying on her laptop

The time it will take for you to complete your online PhD in Child Psychology depends on whether you are able to enroll full-time or part-time.

Online learning allows you to schedule your academic work around your existing family and professional responsibilities. So, the speed with which you complete the program will often be unique to your circumstances. In general, it takes approximately 3 to 5 years to complete a doctoral degree.

In addition to coursework, most programs require at least one internship of a year’s duration. You may also need to conduct independent research to write and defend a dissertation.

How Much Does a Child Psychologist Make?

Child Psychologist with a child in her office

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a psychologist earns an annual average of $82,180 while clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in particular make an average of $79,820.

As a professor of psychology or researcher at a university, you might expect to earn an average salary of $78,180. If your career as a child psychologist leads you to work in a hospital, mental health treatment facility, or family services agency, there’s a chance you may be promoted one day to a managerial position.

A medical and health services manager earns an average of $104,280 annually, and a social and community services manager earns an average of $69,600.

What Is the Difference Between a PhD in Child Psychology vs. Developmental Psychology?

Child Psychologist with a child

You may be wondering whether you should pursue an online PhD in Developmental Psychology or an online doctoral program in child psychology. The two disciplines are closely related, and they have some overlap as well.

Child psychology is a specialty area that focuses on the years from birth through adolescence. It is sometimes called developmental psychology because childhood and adolescence are viewed through the lens of developmental stages.

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Developmental psychology, though, is the study of human development across the entire lifespan, from infancy through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood to older adulthood. So, developmental psychology encompasses a broader view that includes all stages of life.

What Is the Difference Between a Child Therapist vs. Child Psychologist?

A child therapist is a psychiatrist. This is a medical doctor who has completed residency training and fellowships in the field of child psychiatry.

After passing a state licensing exam, a psychiatrist is qualified to prescribe medication in addition to evaluating, diagnosing, and treating mental or emotional health problems in children and adolescents.

A child psychologist has earned a doctoral degree and met requirements for state licensure to practice clinical child psychology. Preparation includes years of training and internships. A child psychologist is licensed to conduct psychological testing, evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental and emotional problems in children and adolescents.

Is a PhD in Child Psychology Worth It?

Child Psychologist with a teenage boy during consultation

Yes, a PhD in Child Psychology is worth it for many students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, life, physical, and social science jobs are set to grow at 5% over the next 10 years, faster than the average for all occupations.

Common child psychology careers in this field include medical and health services manager, school psychologist, clinical child psychologist, social and community services manager, and family therapist.

Depending on your career goals, you might provide psychotherapeutic services for children in a broad array of work settings. These settings include hospitals, schools, mental health treatment facilities, community and family services agencies, and private practice.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Child Psychology Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Capella University

Capella University campus

Capella University has a PhD in Psychology with a concentration in Developmental Psychology. The program helps provide students with a more in-depth understanding of the ways people change as they grow. Students can further streamline their curricula by focusing strictly on either adulthood and aging, lifespan, or adolescent development.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Fielding Graduate University

Fielding Graduate University campus

Students interested in child psychology at Fielding Graduate University can enroll in the school’s PhD in Infant and Early Childhood Development program.

It’s a multidisciplinary program that includes further emphasis in either developmental disorders or mental health. Sample courses include cross-cultural understanding, developmental disabilities, social and emotional development, statistics, and language intervention.

Fielding Graduate University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University’s psychology PhD program features a concentration in developmental psychology.

It’s a 60 credit program that takes about 3 years to complete. Classes are delivered online via 8 week sessions and include courses such as foundations of doctoral study in psychology, psychological research, and biblical worldview and teaching of psychology.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Loyola University – Chicago

Loyola University Chicago campus

While Loyola University – Chicago doesn’t offer a PhD in Child Psychology, it does offer a Doctor of Education in School Psychology, which could be preferable to students seeking jobs in the field of education. The curriculum focuses on intervention, consultation, assessment and placement, and the evaluation of evidence-based practices.

Loyola University – Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Northcentral University

Northcentral University campus

Students in Northcentral University’s PhD in Marriage and Family Sciences program can select the child and adolescent therapy concentration.

Graduates of the program should gain expertise in the field, be well-versed in working with diverse populations, be capable of conducting independent research, and be able to appraise relational and systemic ethical behaviors.

Northcentral University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Regent University

Regent University campus

The PhD in Counseling and Psychological Studies program from Regent University features a concentration in marriage and family ministry. Coursework for the program is entirely online and is delivered through 16 week sessions. Students will also gain hands-on, real-world experience through their 150 hours of on-site human services work.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Saybrook University

Saybrook University campus

Saybrook University’s online PhD in Clinical Psychology program meets the requirements for licensure in many states.

The program focuses on multicultural psychology, psychotherapy, data analyses and meta-analyses, humanistic-integrative psychology, developmental psychology, and child and adolescent psychology. Students will receive close mentoring from highly qualified faculty members as well as plenty of hands-on training.

Saybrook University is accredited by the Senior Commission of Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Sofia University

Sofia University campus

Students enrolled in the PhD in Transpersonal Psychology program at Sofia University can choose from four specific concentration options. The program is largely completed online, but there are four required residential seminars that must be completed before students can graduate. Sometimes the school also offers these seminars online.

Sofia University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Touro University Worldwide

Touro University Worldwide campus

Touro University Worldwide’s Doctor of Psychology in Human and Organizational Psychology program is a 66 credit program that takes about 3 years to complete. It’s a fully online psychology degree program that features a series of classes lasting 8 weeks each.

Courses include applied cognitive psychology, applied media psychology, and evidence-based practices.

Touro University Worldwide is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

Walden University

Walden University campus

Walden University has an online PhD in Developmental Psychology program that allows students to choose between seven different concentration options, including one in child and adolescent development.

There are also two different degree tracks based on whether students have masters degrees in psychology or in other disciplines not related to psychology.

Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your PhD in Child Psychology Online

Getting Your PhD in Child Psychology Online

If you want to support and treat children and adolescents, a PhD in Child Psychology may be the final step in your educational journey.

You may be finishing up a masters degree and launching immediately into a doctoral program, or you may have been in the professional world for a while and plan on returning to school to earn your doctorate.

Regardless if you’re a current student or working professional, online learning platforms have expanded and improved in the past few years to offer amazing educational opportunities. The flexibility of online learning can allow you to balance school with work and other responsibilities.

This is the case with both online child and adolescent psychology masters programs.

If you’re ready to continue your academic journey to receive your doctorate in child psychology, then you may begin exploring accredited, online degree programs to find the one that’s right for you.

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Carol Benton
WRITTEN BY
Carol Benton
Carol is a retired college professor in the field of music education. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from Shenandoah University, a Master of Music in piano performance and a Bachelor of Music Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Carol has many years of experience as a teacher and academic advisor for undergraduates.