How to Become a Child Psychologist

Child psychologists work in schools, healthcare facilities, law enforcement and government, providing counseling, conducting research and assisting children, and to become a child psychologist, you need a graduate degree in psychology, as well as any necessary certification for your area of specialization.


Child psychologist possesses either a master's degree or a PhD in psychology from a program that is recognized by the state where they wish to practice as a psychologist. There are over 1500 psychology programs in the United States, some specializing in school psychology, child clinical psychology, and developmental and child psychology.

If you are currently an undergraduate or have finished your degree in one of the following fields, you can study psychology, education or social work and apply to enter a graduate program in child psychology. Even as a student in a general psychology program, you can focus your studies and research on children and their psychological needs and assessment techniques.

License and Certification

Licensing can differ between states, but the minimum requirement for most states is a graduate degree in psychology as well as the successful completion of an full-time one year internship.

Depending on the patients that you would like to work with, you could pursue additional certification to become a Nationally Certified School Pyschologist (NCSP) which is offered by the National Association of School Psychologists. To qualify, you must complete sixty graduate semester hours in a recognized school psychology program, as well as a 1200 hour internship, with 600 hundred of those hours completed in a school setting. Finally, you need to register, write and pass the National School Psychology Examination. If this is the path that you wish to pursue, there are over 150 programs in the US for school psychology, though you will have to confirm with the National Association of School Psychologists that the program you wish to attend is recognized and approved by their organization.

The American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology also offers certification and their basic level is limited to psychologists with a doctoral degree, as well licensure in their state as a psychologist.

Tips and Advice

Get experience working with children and young adults. As a high school or college student, there are opportunities to work in summer camps, to coach sports teams or to tutor or mentor children. Experience working with children is an asset, since you will have experience communicating, negotiating and directing children to accomplish tasks.

Though a general psychology degree is acceptable for applying to graduate school, shape your studies so that you can take as many courses as you can in child psychology. Your graduate thesis should also make children and adolescents the main focus of your research. Also make sure that your internship will include children in your patient groups.

Different Types of Jobs

Child psychologists can work in schools, healthcare facilities or private practice, but opportunities may be limited based on the type of psychology degree program completed and the certification that you possess. For example, there may be a hiring preference for school psychologists that are certified by the National Association of School Psychologists.

Child psychologists can counsel children and young adults, work in rehabilitation facilities and healthcare settings. They may also conduct research into the treatment of children and young adults, or become professors of child psychology. There are also opportunities to develop curriculum that applies the principles of child development and cognition, especially for special needs populations.