Gerontology Degree Programs & Schools

anziano seduto in giardino al tramontoGerontology is the study of aging, often focusing on the physical, mental, and social changes individuals experience as they grow older. More specifically, individuals studying gerontology may be concerned with topics such as caregiver burden or depression in older adults.

As healthcare improves and people continue to live longer and longer, gerontologists are in very high demand. People with a degree in gerontology may work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Nursing homes
  • Colleges and universities
  • Research facilities
  • Health care

Gerontologist Licensing

While many individuals with a gerontology degree do not need to attain licensure, some clinical psychologists have a gerontology focus. These individuals treat mental health disorders in elderly people, requiring state licensure.

Although each state has specific requirements to become a licensed clinical psychologist, all states require certification or licensure to practice as a clinical psychologist. Individuals should examine the specific requirements for the state in which they plan to practice as early as possible in their academic career.

Learn more about how to become a gerontologist.

Bachelor’s Degree in Gerontology

Average timeline to earn a bachelor’s degree in gerontology is typically 4-years

Psychology bachelor’s degree students usually complete a curriculum covering a number of core psychology subfields, including:

  • History of Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology (which can focus on Child, Adolescent, or Adult)
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Abnormal (Clinical) Psychology
  • Psychology Statistics / Research Methods

Examples of other psychology electives may include: Personality psychology, educational psychology, evolutionary psychology, or other special psychology topics.  General coursework in other areas—such as math, science, art, composition, and literature—often are also required.

The courses individuals complete as undergraduates can have a large impact on them in graduate school. For instance, every graduate program has a variety of psychology prerequisites all accepted students must complete prior to enrolling. Failure to complete these perquisites often causes students to be rejected by graduate programs. Other times, graduate school applicants will be required to complete their missing courses before enrolling.

Because of all the psychology prerequisites, many undergraduate students interested in gerontology choose to major in psychology or biology. Alternatively, students often choose a major that compliments their psychology major or is well-suited to their graduate program, such as human development or another related field.

Masters in Gerontology

The average timeline to earn a master’s degree in gerontology is typically an additional 2-years

A master’s degree in gerontology can prepare students for careers including:

  • Research coordinator or lab manager
  • School psychologist
  • Therapist
  • Community or technical college instructor
  • Associate to a psychologist or gerontologist

One major difference graduate students often notice is that they are only required to take courses in their focus area, and are not required to take general electives in subjects like English or math. This is because graduate school is aimed to teach students what they will need to know in their respective careers.

Master’s level coursework in gerontology includes a variety of courses, including:

  • Lifespan developmental psychology
  • Advanced statistics
  • Psychological assessment
  • Health care administration
  • Aging and public policy
  • Counseling older adults and their families

PhD in Gerontology

The average timeline to earn a doctoral degree in gerontology is typically an additional 2-4 years after completion of a master’s degree

Earning a doctoral degree in gerontology usually leads to a career as a clinical gerontologist or college professor, although there are many career paths for those with a doctoral degree in gerontology. Getting a doctorate degree takes a minimum of eight years—four years of an undergraduate bachelor’s program, and four-to-six years of doctoral study. In addition, many students choose to earn their master’s before applying to Ph.D. programs, which can add another two years. Students may also complete a short paid position after their doctoral program, called a postdoctoral fellowship (or “postdoc”) to gain additional skills and experience.

Students who choose to earn their doctorate in gerontology will take much more specialized classes than when they were undergraduates. Doctoral coursework can include:

  • A series of statistics classes—each statistics class is focused on one concept, such as ANOVA, multivariate methods of analysis, or psychometrics.
  • Advanced neuroscience classes, which focus on the structure and functioning of the brain.
  • Other specialized topics depending on the student’s degree focus. For example, a student studying gerontology may take courses that focus on life span developmental sociology, psychological assessment, health care administration, aging and public policy, and/or counseling older adults and their families

It is important for any doctoral program to be accredited. In addition to the college or university having accreditation overall, doctoral programs can also seek accreditation by the American Psychological Association. Click here to view APA accredited programs.

Online Gerontology Degrees

Online programs in gerontology can be available at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree levels. Although admissions requirements vary by school, many online programs in gerontology require minimal time spent on campus. It is also important to note that few accredited graduate programs in gerontology exist.

There are a number of pros and cons to be considered when exploring online psychology programs, including:

Pros:

  • Flexibility for students with other commitments, such as a job or family
  • Allows long-distance learning
  • Students with disabilities that keep them from attending classes

Cons:

  • Not all online programs are accredited, nor do all credits always transfer to other programs
  • Some programs are more expensive than programs offered on- campus
  • The timeline to earning a degree may be much longer
  • May be frowned upon by employers

On-Campus Programs

Campus-based programs offer the opportunity to study face-to-face with leaders in the field. For many students, on-campus learning is necessary for disciplined study and interaction with other students and professors.

  • Classes are often more in-depth than with online classes
  • Professors are more accessible
  • Students have access to tutors, clubs, and associations
  • On-campus learning can offer greater potential for internships and employment
  • On-campus programs are usually less expensive than on-line programs, and can usually be completed in less time

Gerontology Continuing Education

In order to stay up-to-date with trends and advances in the field of cognitive psychology, as well as for professional development opportunities, graduates should consider continuing education. In many states, sources for continued education credits include:

  • Workshops and seminars offered by educational institutions
  • Seminars, courses and workshops sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Membership in societies and subscribing to industry journals

Postdoctoral Fellowships and Internships for Gerontologists

As the job market in psychology becomes increasingly competitive, more and more individuals are seeking postdoctoral positions (or “postdocs”) to help bolster their credentials. Although not required, gerontologists who have research-focused careers (instead of teaching-focused or clinical) usually apply for postdoctoral fellowships. Postdoctoral fellowships generally last one or two years and usually involve work on grant-funded research at a large university.

Alternatively, gerontology students who hope to work in a health care or mental health setting may seek internships in these types of settings after attaining their degree. These positions can offer even more specialized training than students received in graduate school, and can also help make them stronger job applicants.