About the Program

Developmental psychology focuses on the development of individuals across their lifespan within the context of family, peer groups, child-care and after-school programs, schools, neighborhoods, and larger communities and society. It considers the well-being of children, youth, and adults, vis-a-vis the cognitive, emotional, social, academic, and health domains. Our Program is concerned about disparities among groups (for example, gender, resources such as parental income and education, ethnicity, and immigrant status) as well as the ways in which equity among groups may be promoted. The pathways through which such disparities emerge is our focus of inquiry, as well as the promotion of educational and societal strategies for ameliorating them. The Program stresses theory and research in the service of policy and practice.

Master of Arts (M.A.)

The Master of Arts in developmental psychology typically requires completion of 32 points. In accordance with individual interests and objectives, students acquire familiarity with basic theoretical and research orientations as well as exposure to substantive knowledge in the areas of cognitive, language, personality, and social functioning and development. Opportunity exists for the study of deviant as well as normal psychological functioning within a developmental framework.

Students may register for independent study in order to undertake theoretical or empirical research projects or fieldwork. Students whose goal is to acquire professional skills in clinical or counseling psychology may enroll in introductory course offerings, which in many cases can be applicable if the student is later admitted to one of the more advanced master's or doctoral programs in these areas.

In order to accommodate the diverse aims of individual students, a considerable degree of flexibility has been built into the course of study leading to the M.A. degree. An attempt has been made to minimize specific course requirements, and the student will find that there is a good deal of freedom to choose from among the many offerings provided by Teachers College and the Columbia University Graduate Faculties. In consultation with an advisor, students may create an individually tailored program of study, or may enter an area of focus in Risk, Resilience, and Prevention; Developmental Psychology for Educators; or Creativity and Cognition.

The course of study has these main components:

  • A basic course in methods of research.
  • Required courses in cognitive development, personality development in atypical populations, and social and personality development.
  • A basic course in statistics.
  • Research practicum.
  • Electives in developmental psychology plus relevant electives offered by other Teachers College and Columbia University programs.
  • A special project.

Students completing the M.A. degree accept positions in research laboratories or field settings, biomedical institutions, educational and child care agencies, foundations, public policy settings, state and local governments, community programs, and as instructors in community colleges, or they go on to pursue more advanced degrees in particular areas of specialization.

Students may elect, but are not required, to focus study in one of the following areas:

  • Risk, Resilience, and Prevention: This area of focus brings knowledge of developmental psychology to future work relating to competence and maladjustment among at risk children and families. Diverse areas are considered, ranging from intellectual giftedness/mental retardation and academic achievement to child poverty, cross-cultural differences, resilience, and different domains of psychopathology.
  • Developmental Psychology for Educators: This area of focus helps to promote an understanding of development in varying social contexts and cultures, ethnic and racial groups, and social classes. It focuses on how knowledge about development, thinking, and learning can be applied to educational practice and to educational policy.
  • Creativity and Cognition: Focusing on the importance, development, and influence of creativity, this area is designed for those interested in creative problem-solving and multi-modal thinking as it affects the classroom, curriculum development, community organizations, therapeutic settings, and business.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

The 75-point doctoral degree prepares students for faculty positions in colleges, graduate schools of education, and universities, and for positions as research associates in research laboratories, biomedical schools,foundations, public policy, and arts and sciences, as well as policy research firms, governmental agencies, and NPOs. Throughout their program, doctoral candidates work in a close apprentice relationship with a faculty advisor of their choice. The Ph.D. degree requires completion of 75 points with an empirical research dissertation.

The aim of instruction at the doctoral level is to produce a psychologist who can make a sound and innovative research contribution to the study of human development, who is concerned with the relationship between development and education, and who is equipped to teach about such matters. Students acquire the conceptual background and methodological skills necessary for faculty positions in colleges and universities or for positions as associates and consultants in research laboratories, biomedical schools, and other applied settings.

While consultation between student and faculty advisor is considered to be the best way to decide which steps should be taken towards these goals, there are specific requirements for all students in Developmental Psychology that serve to define the character of the program and to ensure that all students have a common experience and acquire a common level of expertise in dealing with the core issues in the field.

The courses offered through the program provide content in the research and theoretical literature relating to all phases of the psychology of human development. All age groups are covered, from infancy through childhood, adolescence to adulthood, and later life. Coursework in developmental psychology can be supplemented by courses in the other psychology programs at Teachers College as well as by courses in the social sciences,linguistics, and other fields offered at Teachers College and the graduate faculty of Columbia University (including the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons). The doctoral program is focused primarily on training in the conduct of empirical (e.g., experimental, observational, and interview)research. Other types of research (theoretical, descriptive, and historical)may be undertaken in special circumstances of student and advisor competence.

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