Applying for Graduate Study in Developmental Psychology

Graduate students typically concentrate on one aspect of development during their graduate training, e.g. cognitive development, social development, language acquisition, etc. In addition, many graduate students are encouraged to focus on development at one particular stage of development, for example, cognitive development in infancy, or social development during adolescence.

Upon applying for graduate school, one need not necessarily know what domain of development one will focus on, but it is to one’s advantage to have some idea of what one wants to study. Some graduate programs require that students do “rotations” in different developmental labs so as to become familiar with ongoing research in different domains. This way, the student can make a more informed choice about her area of focus for the dissertation work. Other programs prefer to admit students who, at the time of application, are fairly clear about the domain of development they want to focus on.

It is a good idea to have some idea of your area of interest at the time that you begin collecting information about graduate programs. Knowing that you are interested in perceptual development in infancy, for example, will guide your selection of programs to which to apply. Obviously, you will wish to apply to programs where there is at least one faculty member conducting research in your area of interest. Before applying, it is well worth your time to read several papers by faculty members at the graduate schools to which you are applying, in order to have a better idea of the sort of work they do. Many graduate admissions committees look more favorably upon applicants who actually state that they would like to work with Professor So-and-So, and whose application statement shows that they have thought carefully about finding a good match between their interests and those of the program’s faculty. In cases where an applicant is absolutely certain that she would like to work with a particular professor, it sometimes helps to write to that person individually, expressing an interest in their work, summarizing your own background, and asking if they would be in a position to have you work with them, if accepted.

Obviously, it is to the student’s advantage to take as many courses as possible in development and related topics, for such exposure helps students decide on an area of interest. At the very least, one should take the developmental sequence at Scripps, Child Development, offered in the fall semester, and Adolescent Development, offered in the spring.

Other important courses at Scripps are Cognitive Development and Cultural Psychology. The other campuses offer other relevant courses, such as Pitzer’s Infant Development course and Experimental Child Psychology. At Pomona, there is a seminar offered once yearly on Social and Emotional Development. It is also a good idea to take at least one course in ethnic psychology, such as Asian-American Psychology, or Psychology of the Chicano. In addition, it is imperative to have at least two semesters of experience as a research assistant, preferably in a developmental lab.

Sheila Walker