Educational psychology is the study of how various factors affect the educational process. Students learn how behavior and school setting affect learning. They learn how to measure when a school is producing good results.
In our society, we expect every young person to spend many years getting educated. And as technology advances, we realize that adults need constant education as well. Parents want a good education for their children. Voters want to improve schools. Teachers want to do their jobs better. So there is a great need to answer this question: What makes education work - or not work?
As an educational psychologist, you try to answer this question, and your pursuit of the answer can help improve many aspects of our society. You may work in a university or college, training teachers and researching what contributes to effective teaching and learning. You may evaluate schools and issue reports on how well they are meeting their goals. You may develop or evaluate educational software. You may help businesses or the military develop training programs that teach complex skills. You may develop standardized tests.
When you study educational psychology, you approach the question of what makes education work from several angles. You study how the mind remembers and learns from experiences. You learn how to design experiments that test factors that may encourage or discourage learning. Because experiments produce data, you learn a lot of statistics so that you can draw valid conclusions. You study how the human mind develops over a lifespan, which makes you aware of age-related factors that influence learning. You study educational testing and other methods of measuring learning outcomes.
To work in this field, you need a graduate degree. This means you first must earn a bachelor's degree, which usually takes four years of full-time study beyond high school. A bachelor's in psychology is the ideal starting place, but with the right course work you may be able to start from a bachelor's in education or a social science. You can usually earn a master's degree with one or two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's. About 100 universities offer a master's in this field, often within the graduate school of education. This is the minimum degree you need to work in educational psychology.
If you are interested primarily in research and college teaching, a doctorate is the normal entry route. This usually requires about three years beyond the master's. Some of that time may be divided between your studies and assisting with teaching or research. About 90 universities offer this program. In the doctoral program much of what you learn is about research. The program culminates in an original research project upon which you base your dissertation.