Online Master's Programs in Child Development

Updated on: 12/13/2018

An online master's degree in child development provides the in-depth theoretical and practical knowledge necessary to make an impact on the policies and practices that affect children's welfare. The increasingly diverse and global society of the U.S. results in the need for well-qualified candidates capable of working with children of all backgrounds. These advocates represent the best interests of children and their families, particularly those at risk based on socioeconomic and other factors.

For individuals with a bachelor's degree, a master's degree often serves as the next step for advancing into a leadership position or starting a new career. As you research for the best master's degree in child development program, you may find this page helpful. You'll also find information on funding your master's degree and professional organizations dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children.

What to Know About Online Master's in Child Development Coursework

Most online master's in child development programs require about 35 credit hours and take an average of two years to complete. Practicum and internship components may require additional time. While most online programs host the full curriculum online, some may only offer particular specializations, electives, or courses on campus. Many programs require students to maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in order to graduate.

Individuals who earn a child development master's degree possess a deep understanding of child and adolescent development from birth through age 18. Many programs dedicate part of their curriculum to exploration of current issues and trends impacting child-centered programs and practices. Students develop the critical thinking skills essential for analyzing research and the effectiveness of existing programs, along with the ability to suggest and direct plans of action for improving programs and practices.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Child Development Program?

While specific course requirements vary by school, many master's in child development programs include classes in research, behavioral science, play therapy, and other relevant subjects. Available concentrations and degree specializations may impact course offerings and availability. Most master's programs also require observation seminars and field experiences in child development.

Current Issues in the Child Development Field

Students investigate the current issues impacting the care and education of young children. The course considers a range of perspectives and contexts, including socioeconomic status and cultural influences. Students examine the latest debates in education, brain research and development, and political impact on budgets for child development programs.

Research Methods in Health or Family Sciences

This course teaches students how to analyze and conduct qualitative and quantitative research in both academic and professional contexts. Students discuss research theory and methods in the child development field. Students may then apply this knowledge to an independent research project or master's thesis.

Diversity and Equity in Early Childhood Services

This course develops a deeper understanding of the role that family and culture play in healthy child development. With this context, students delve into issues related to equity and social justice on a local and national scale. Students may also explore their own biases to better understand how this affects their work.

Cognitive and Behavioral Development

This class covers the natural processes of cognitive and behavioral development. Students cultivate an understanding of the factors that influence normal and abnormal development from the fetus through adolescence. Learners may conduct observations of children in a classroom, childcare center, or other environment to better understand patterns in behavior and social interactions.

The Importance of Play in Child Development

Play is the foundation for children's social, emotional, and cognitive development. Students learn how play informs early childhood learning and how to integrate elements of play into other professional practices and programs. Coursework may include observations of children at play and comparing observations to published theories on the subject.

What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Child Development Program?

The list below features examples of in-demand specializations in childhood development, though available concentrations vary by program and school. Certain specializations, such as behavioral health or psychology, set students up for entry into a doctoral program. Some schools may also offer customizable degree concentrations that allow students to pursue individual interests such as policymaking or the arts in education.

Child and Adolescent Development Behavioral Health

A concentration in the behavioral health of children and adolescents prepares students for hands-on positions working with children and adolescents in health care organizations, welfare agencies, and educational programs. Career options include substance abuse counselor, case manager, and community health program director. This specialization also provides a pathway for a doctoral degree in the social sciences or public health.

Early Childhood Education

A specialized degree in early childhood education prepares educators for advanced teaching certification and leadership positions. Students usually participate in practicum and student teaching experiences. Potential careers include early childhood teacher, curriculum specialist, or community college instructor.

Leadership and Program Administration

The leadership and program administration emphasis allows current teachers and childcare workers to develop the skills necessary for administrative and supervisory roles. Career options include early childhood consultant, supervisor in early childhood education, and family specialist in a community services organization.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Final projects give child development master's degree students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of their field, participate in and present research insights that contribute to the field, and synthesize information into practical solutions for public and nonprofit programs. Through an applied research project or thesis, students investigate a topic of interest or a contemporary issue and draw research-based conclusions.

Some programs may require a capstone portfolio or oral presentation. These options provide students with the opportunity to reflect on their learning and defend their thinking in front of an advisory board. Many programs also conclude with a final comprehensive exam that asks students to demonstrate knowledge acquired across core coursework.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Child Development Program?

All learners should ensure that their online master's degree in child development holds national or regional accreditation. Accreditation ensures that a college or university meets high standards set by a federally approved accreditation organization. Depending on the focus of the program, child development master's degrees may also hold programmatic accreditation, a specialized form of accreditation that only applies to certain programs within specialized fields. This may prove important if students intend to apply for professional licensure after graduation. For example, accreditation from the National Council on Family Relations allows students to apply for the professional certified family life educator designation.

In addition to accreditation, students should also pay attention to faculty background and program learning outcomes. In general, high-quality programs require students to gain hands-on experience through a field experience. Students should also consider whether they prefer to complete a final project, thesis, or exam.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Child Development Degree

Earning a master's degree in child development online can open a number of career pathways, including options in healthcare, childcare and community services, and counseling. This foundational program can also help students earn licenses or certifications in teaching, psychology, or social service management. Graduates can find a diverse set of positions in both public and nonprofit organizations. While a degree does not guarantee that applicants will meet all requirements for a job, an online master's in child development may serve as an important qualification for many of the positions outlined below.

Developmental Psychologist

A psychologist observes and records an individual's or group's emotional, behavioral, and cognitive processes. They use this information to better understand and predict behavioral patterns, diagnose disorders, and suggest treatments to help improve or regulate behaviors and emotions. Developmental psychologists in particular focus on understanding children and adolescents. Psychologists may choose to spend the majority of their time counseling clients or performing research in a more academic role.

Median Salary: $77,030 per year

Currently Employed: 166,600

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +14% (faster than average)

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher

Educators with a background in childhood development teach young children in kindergarten and elementary school. Teachers establish a positive classroom environment, set classroom norms and rules, and instruct children in core subject areas through hands-on lessons. Teachers regularly assess students' progress, evaluate students' strengths and gaps, and plan individual and group learning activities. In addition, teachers communicate and work with parents, other educators, and administrators to ensure that a student's learning and socio-emotional needs are met.

Median Salary: $56,900 per year

Currently Employed: 1,565,300

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +7% (average)

Childcare Center Director

Directors of preschools and childcare centers often start out as childcare workers. Pairing real-world experience with higher education provides directors with the knowledge needed to effectively supervise staff and oversee center operations. Directors may work for an organization, or they may own and operate their own childcare facility. Commons tasks include establishing educational standards and structures that support children's wellbeing, communicating policies to parents and staff, and ensuring maintenance of facilities in accordance with state law.

Median Salary: $46,890 per year

Currently Employed: 61,800

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +11% (faster than average)

Social and Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers work in a variety of human service organizations. Most professionals with a background in child development choose to work in a place that serves children and their families. In addition to overseeing social workers and other staff, social service managers work with the community and key stakeholders to identify necessary educational and other programs. They also collect and assess data to determine the effectiveness of programs and write funding proposals to ensure program sustainability.

Median Salary: $64,100 per year

Currently Employed: 147,300

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +18% (much faster than average)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

What's the Expected Job Growth for Child Development Careers?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs requiring a master's degree will grow 17% by 2026, a faster rate than occupations for all other degree options. Careers in child development also look promising, with faster-than-average growth projected for many occupations. The projected top five job areas for master's degree holders — including education, community and social services, and healthcare — all present opportunities to professionals with a background in child development.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Child Development

Professional organizations provide a rich source of research-backed resources, professional development, and networking opportunities for both students and professionals in child development. Several member-based organizations advocate for child development programs and practices that align with their mission and values, and many host events or committees for discussions about policies and new research. Volunteering your time and talent for an organization that you support can provide a valuable addition to a portfolio or resumé.

  • Child Care Aware of America

    A member-supported nonprofit, Child Care Aware of America was founded in 1987 to advocate for research-backed childcare policies. The organization promotes practices that improve children's welfare, provides families with information to make informed childcare decisions, and hosts professional development opportunities for childcare workers.

  • Council for Exceptional Children, Division for Early Childhood

    The DEC is an international organization that serves and advocates for children with developmental disabilities. In addition to advocating for policies, DEC provides professional development opportunities and publishes a peer-reviewed journal. Members can join a DEC committee or join a local community of practice.

  • National Head Start Association

    National Head Start Association supports initiatives and advocates for policies that positively impact the lives of at-risk children and their families. NHSA pioneered the Head Start model that supports early childhood education, healthcare, and other services for young children. NHSA hosts annual leadership and family-focused conferences and offers various scholarships and awards to community service providers and families.

  • Association for Childhood Education International

    The ACEI works globally to promote education for all children in the U.S. and abroad. The organization's work on behalf of children led to a consultative position to the United Nations in 1977. The organization drives its mission through three main programs, including one focused on educational diplomacy and another promoting progressive approaches to education.

  • ZERO to THREE

    The nonprofit organization ZERO to THREE advocates for policies that support the cognitive and social-emotional development of children from birth to age three. The organization emphasizes the connection between care in the early years and lifelong impact on success. Their website hosts resources for families, policymakers, and professionals. ZERO to THREE also offers a number of services, including a leadership development institute and professional development opportunities.

How to Pay for a Master's in Child Development Degree

The first step to paying for your master's in child development degree is researching the many funding options available. From federal loans to paid graduate assistantships, most students can find multiple options for helping cover the cost of tuition and related fees.

Federal Financial Aid

Federal financial aid includes loans, grants, and scholarships, including special funding for military families. Most students, including those seeking graduate degrees, qualify for some amount of financial aid. Even before applying to schools, prospective students should fill out the FAFSA application to determine their eligibility for loans.

Graduate Assistantships

Many schools and programs offer graduate assistantship positions to qualified candidates. Students may apply directly to the program or through the college's career services department. An assistantship may be available through the specific college offering the child development program. Some schools also allow students to apply for another department's graduate assistantship position.

University or Program Scholarships

Many schools and programs offer scholarship and grant funds to graduate students. Some programs, for example, provide grants to prospective students who enroll by a certain date. Schools often award merit-based scholarships based on undergraduate performance.

Employer Tuition Assistance

Many organizations and companies offer up to $5,250 in employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement. Eligibility may depend on factors such as major and the employee's performance in the program. These program often include an agreement to remain at the company for a specified period of time. You can request additional information from your organization's human resources department or supervisor.