University of Pittsburgh School of Education

Applied Developmental Psychology - Master of Science (MS)

Welcome to the Master of Science (MS) degree program in Applied Developmental Psychology (ADP) at the University of Pittsburgh! The MS degree in ADP emphasizes the integration of knowledge and practice in human development, with a focus on implementing best practices to promote positive outcomes for children, youth, and families.

Children, youth, and families continue to face challenges and increased needs for support services. As hardships become more widespread and diverse, the resulting needs also grow. Professionals skilled in applied developmental psychology address the diverse needs of children, youth, and families across multiple settings, including community-based organizations, schools, hospitals, child and youth programs, advocacy organizations, residential treatment programs, out-of-school programs (including before- and after-school programs), and service agencies. To promote well-being, the newly revised MS curriculum represents the most up-to-date knowledge across the fields of ADP practice and research. ADP emphasizes the application of this knowledge and use of “best practice” skills.

Through a blend of research and professional practice training, students in this vital field acquire competencies and expertise in applying knowledge of child development and evidence-based practices to address real-world problems in real-world settings. Applied developmentalists are experts in interdisciplinary collaboration; they use their knowledge of current research and evidence-based methods to design, implement, and evaluate innovative interventions and programs for children, youth and families; they emphasize principles of positive psychology to promote the success of all children and youth, especially those who are at developmental risk and or have developmental/learning difficulties.

The revised MS program curriculum includes an expanded set of foundational or “core” psychology coursework in Applied Development for all students followed by in-depth specialty coursework and a community-based learning experience in one of the following specialization areas (chosen by the student with their advisor):
  • Child and Youth Work [CYW] - the Child and Youth Work (CYW) specialization is designed to prepare professional practitioners who promote the positive development of children and youth in a variety of out-of-school time (OST) settings. Child and youth participation in organized activities outside of school has dramatically increased, which has stimulated growth in this emerging professional area. The CYW specialization includes a developmental-ecological perspective that emphasizes both child development and the impact of contexts on the developing individual. It is based on the idea that the growth of OST activities provides the rich opportunity for creating and coordinating developmentally positive spaces.

  • Behavioral Health in Schools and Communities [BHSC] – the Behavioral Health in Schools and Communities (BHSC) specialization advocates improving access to and quality of care for families and children and youth with developmental, social-emotional, and behavioral difficulties. A BHSC specialization is appropriate for students interested in consultative and direct provision of behavioral health services, developmental services for children with disabilities, and program administration; BHSC specialists also emphasize policy-focused work, education, and advocacy. Students learn about emotional and behavioral disorders, evidence-based interventions and treatments for individuals and groups, program development, and use of resources and data to answer identified questions and provide necessary services. Upon completion of the program, students in this specialization meet all of the evidence-based coursework requirements for the PA Behavior Specialist License.  Students may elect to also pursue the Applied Behavior Analysis certificate (BCBA) with some additional planning and coursework. The BHSC specialization is not a clinically-focused curriculum; therefore, it does not prepare students to apply for professional psychology or counseling licensure or to work as professional, licensed counselors, therapists, school psychologists, or school counselors, either in public or private practice settings.

  • Children with Special Health Care Needs (with Child Life option) [CSHCN] – the Children with Special Health Care Needs (with Child Life option; CSHCN) specialization prepares students for direct work with families and children who have special health care needs in interdisciplinary settings such as children’s hospitals, transitional programs (i.e. “step down” programs), and community-based organizations. Increases in poverty and disability have resulted in increases in the prevalence of children who experience chronic healthcare conditions and needs. Students in the CSHCN specialization are trained in developmental healthcare prevention and intervention supports to meet children’s social, emotional, and behavioral needs in diverse health and allied health settings. Upon completion of the program, students interested in applying for the Child Life Certificate (overseen by the National Child Life Council) will: have met the expected coursework requirements. Candidates must apply and achieve a passing score on the national certification exam to gain the practice certificate. 

  • Applied Research Methods for Child and Youth Serving Organizations [ARMO] - the Applied Research Methods for Child and Youth Serving Organizations (ARMO) specialization focuses on training applied research practitioners who are able to producing relevant, useful research to evaluate and enhance key programs for child and youth development. Child and youth serving organizations are increasingly expected to collect and analyze a variety of data in order to monitor outcomes, improve performance, and demonstrate effectiveness. Organizations that serve children and families, however, often are overworked and underfunded, making such data-oriented efforts burdensome. To meet the need of child and youth serving organizations, the ARMO specialization trains practitioners within a model of practical, applied research to evaluate program functioning, performance, and outcomes as well as to contribute to overall knowledge.

  • Infant Mental Health (IMH) – the Infant Mental Health (IMH) specialization gives students the opportunity to gain specialized skills and knowledge for working with very young children (0 to 3-years of age) and their families as it pertains to the promotion, prevention and intervention for optimal social-emotional developmental for children. The training will be aligned with the recently purchased IMH Competency Guidelines and will prepare IMH students to be “ready” for IMH Endorsement through the process to be determined by the state of Pennsylvania.Infant mental health is a growing field of study and practice.  There are several potential employment opportunities within early childhood serving systems including; Home Visiting programs, Part C IDEA Early Intervention Providers, Child, Youth and Family workers, Early Care Educators, behavioral health providers (social workers, licensed professional counselors, psychologists), and more.  

  • Professional Year (only for students who previously completed Professional Year teaching certification program, which transfers 18 credits of coursework) [PY] – take only the ADP core course sequence for additional 18 credits.

Job Opportunities

Graduates of the program are equipped to work in a wide variety of professional settings, including wrap-around or community mental health service agencies, out-of-school programs (including recreational programs and afterschool programs), residential programs, juvenile justice (detention) centers, early care and education, early intervention, and pediatric health care programs. Some graduates also proceed to doctoral study (in areas such as counseling psychology, applied developmental psychology, and school psychology). Graduates of the program hold positions such as:

  • Community-based program Administrators, Directors and Supervisors
  • Developmental Specialists
  • Child and Youth Advocates
  • Behavior Specialist Consultants (BSCs)
  • Youth Workers
  • Child Life Specialists
  • Behavioral Health Specialists
  • Teachers with strong training in applied development
  • Research Associates
  • Faculty in Community and 4-year Colleges

Contact Information

Admissions Inquiries and General Information

School of Education
Admissions and Enrollment Services
5500 Wesley W. Posvar Hall
230 South Bouquet Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
PHONE: 412-648-2230
FAX: 412-648-1899
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