Best Online Master’s Degrees in Early Childhood Education

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Resources, Program Options & Curricula for Online ECE Master’s Students

An online master’s degree in early childhood education allows students to dive deeper into the theory and practice of teaching young children. This higher education program is for certified early childhood teachers who want to expand their knowledge and advance their careers, or for students who have earned bachelor’s degrees in another field and want to guide young children into the American school system. Read on to see more of what a master’s degree in early childhood education can mean for future educators.

Top 10 Best Online Master’s Degrees in Early Childhood Education

Rank School Location
1 Concordia University-Nebraska Seward, NE
2 Southwestern College Winfield, KS
3 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, AL
4 Jacksonville State University Jacksonville, AL
5 Concordia University-Chicago River Forest, IL
6 Harding University Searcy, AR
7 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ
8 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, LA
9 Champlain College Burlington, VT
10 Emporia State University Emporia, KS
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Degree Leaderboard: Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education

  • Methodology


    To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:

    Accredited at the institutional level
    Private nonprofit or public school
    Minimum of 1 bachelor’s or master’s degree in subject area for 4-year schools
    Minimum of 1 associate degree or certificate program in subject area for 2-year schools

    Schools were then scored on factors such as:

    Cost & Financial Aid
    Number and variety of program offerings
    Student-teacher ratios
    Graduation rates (4-year schools only)
    Placement and support services offered
    Academic/Career counseling services
    Employment services
    Loan default rates

    These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or “bang for your buck” of a college or degree program.

Tuition costs, financial aid options, student sizes and graduate services are just a few of the factors that determine the strength of an online early education master’s program. Use these rankings to see the top early childhood education programs in the U.S.

4 – Year Colleges

  1. Concordia University-Nebraska
    Location

    Seward, NE

    Students in Concordia University-Nebraska Master of Education in Early Childhood Education program generally have a background working with children, whether that experience is at the preschool or elementary levels. The curriculum aligns with standards set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. A minimum of 36 hours are required to be awarded the master's degree. Training offers guidelines, methods and study that assist adults in teaching children between the ages of birth and eight years. Current research approaches and tools are covered. An essay, resume, transcripts and an application are needed to start taking classes.

  2. Southwestern College
    Location

    Winfield, KS

    Traditional and special education for students at elementary through secondary levels is acquired within Southwestern College's Master of Education Curriculum and Instruction. Professional educators and school administrators learn how to develop and enhance their leadership, research and teaching assessment abilities. The Master of Education in Special Education is another graduate teaching degree awarded at Southwestern College. In the special education track, there's the option to major in a high incidence or a low incidence concentration. Each degrees takes about 36 hours to earn. An online option is available for all of the college's master's in education programs.

  3. University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Location

    Birmingham, AL

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham's Master of Education degrees offer adults the abilities, skills and background learning to work public or private schools as preschool or elementary teachers. Assessments and theories that students learn about cover developmental reading, classroom management techniques and the development of a child. Minimum credits needed to graduate range from 31 to 58 hours. The combined early childhood and elementary education degree takes the longest to complete. Students can graduate from a standalone early childhood or elementary education program after they take 31 to 34 credits.

  4. Jacksonville State University
    Location

    Jacksonville, AL

    Courses in Jacksonville State University's Master of Science in Education in Early Childhood Education are developed and taught through the College of Education and Professional Studies. Clinical experiences are a part of the program. Workshops, dispositions and training in technology, math and science balance the traditional lecture, reading and writing components of the instruction. The master's degree is intended for adults who already have a teacher's certification. Elementary education, reading specialist, early childhood special education and early childhood education are specific areas that the degree is conferred in.

  5. Concordia University-Chicago
    Location

    River Forest, IL

    The chance to get an education near Chicago, one of America's major cities, is available to adults majoring in the Master of Education in Early Childhood Education or the Master of Education in Early Childhood Special Education at Concordia University-Chicago. Accelerated and traditional tracks are available. The approximately 30 credit programs prepare adults to work with students between kindergarten and 21 years of age. In addition to completing about 30 credits, students need a professional educator license and an early childhood certificate to graduate. Focal areas in the programs are research, language development and teaching assessments. The university accepts transfer credits from other accredited education programs.

  6. Harding University
    Location

    Searcy, AR

    Harding University's Cannon-Clary College of Education offers advanced training programs that support and deepen learning for educators. Instructors who teach classes in the university's master's level education degree programs have practical elementary and secondary classroom teaching experience. In person classes are taught at the school's professional centers located in North Little Rock and Rogers, Arkansas and in Memphis, Tennessee. Education degrees awarded at Harding University include the Master of Education in Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning, Master of Education in Special Education K-12 and the Master of Science in Education. Graduate level licenses are also awarded.

  7. Northern Arizona University
    Location

    Flagstaff, AZ

    Three areas of emphasis are offered through Northern Arizona University's Master of Education in Early Childhood Education degree. Students can choose to pursue courses that have an emphasis in early childhood teacher, early childhood leadership or early childhood national board preparation. Each program aims to strengthen teacher skills at the preschool and elementary levels. It takes about two years to finish the approximately 31 credit hour program. Online and on campus learning options are open. Students with a bachelor's degree need at least a 3.0 GPA, transcripts, a teaching certificate and a completed application to be eligible to pursue the degree.

  8. Northwestern State University of Louisiana
    Location

    Natchitoches, LA

    Teachers who are currently certified could meet the eligibility requirements for the Master of Education in Early Childhood Education degree at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. The main campus where classes are taught is in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Online courses are delivered through the university's global campus. A practicum, a thesis and classroom training make up the degree program. Curriculum development, childhood learning design, relationships with children, families and communities and advanced child development are types of classes that instructors offer advanced learning in. The university operates on admissions deadlines.

  9. Champlain College
    Location

    Burlington, VT

    Current teachers aiming to continue their learning could apply for a Master of Education in Early Childhood Education degree from Champlain College. It's possible to earn the degree completely online. Students can continue to work while they take classes. Emphasis can be selected in special education, early childhood education teaching or early childhood education administration. Included in the course list are classes like early childhood and play, child, family and community, behavior analysis and intervention and administration of early childhood programs. A five day residency is offered in May and January. The residency takes place in Burlington, Vermont.

  10. Emporia State University
    Location

    Emporia, KS

    The Master of Education in Early Childhood Education degree program at Emporia State University prepares adults to teach students who attend nursery school, preschool or elementary school. Students can major in special education or regular education tracks. Among the program outcomes is the opportunity to take and pass the Kansas Early Childhood Unified license for the birth to eight years old range. Campus visits for graduate students are accepted online. A bachelor's teaching degree or a similar bachelor's degree and a 3.0 or higher GPA are required to get into the program.

Explore the Online ECE Master’s Degree Timeline

Students accepted to a master’s in early childhood education program learn child psychology, lesson planning and how to navigate shifting American school system standards. Most programs have students choose a specialization within early childhood education for the two-year program. Students may even have to work with a class of children before graduating as part of their program requirements.


  • Admission Process

    Online master’s programs in early childhood education ask students for a great deal of commitment, preparing them to work with children or to design programs and deal with administrative business. The admissions process for a master’s degree is rigorous, and there are specific requirements for accepted students to meet, including the following.

    Bachelor’s degree in ECE or related field

    Because this is a graduate-level degree program, applicants must first complete a bachelor’s degree. Candidates with undergraduate degrees in in early childhood education or a closely related field, such as psychology, child development, education or sociology, are best fit for this master’s program.

    Transcripts and GPA standards

    Programs ask for official transcripts from all higher learning institutions that an applicant has attended. These transcripts must reflect a GPA above a certain range on the 4.0 scale, generally 2.3 or higher.

    GRE and/or MAT scores

    Some programs ask applicants to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and/or the Miller Analogy Test (MAT) and submit their scores. These tests show how prepared an applicant is for graduate degree studies.

    Teaching credential

    Some online early childhood education programs require students to complete a practicum in an early learning classroom, meaning that students may have to have a state teaching credential before entering the program.


  • Year 1 Milestones

    Classroom management and classroom environment

    Online master’s degree students learn to keep control of a classroom, manage difficult children or those who need extra help, and create a learning environment that welcomes all children and their families.

    Curriculum planning for young students

    Structuring learning and playtime for young children makes up a large part of an early childhood teacher’s duties. Students in online early childhood learning degree programs learn to organize instruction in ways that suit a range of learning styles.

    Child psychology

    Early childhood master’s degree programs teach students the different stages in child development, particularly mental and emotional milestones. Students in some programs may choose to specialize in child psychology and become school psychologists.

    Practicum classroom work

    Because a master’s in early childhood education prepares students to work with children in the classroom, online programs may require students to spend time there as well. This could be a set number of hours per semester or an extended placement at a particular point in the program.


  • Year 2 Milestones

    Relationship-building strategies

    Early childhood master’s programs teach educators to incorporate parents and other members of a child’s community in the process of learning, thereby spurring childhood development outside of the classroom.

    Instruction and leadership progress

    As master’s degree program students grow in their confidence working with young children and fellow educators, they should become able to control a classroom, direct learning, and encourage individual students and whole classes.

    Early childhood education specializations

    After completing the standard required coursework that addresses all aspects of early childhood education, students in a master’s degree program can narrow their focus to particular areas of early childhood education, such as learning theories, special education or supervisory roles.


  • Graduation Requirements

    Graduating from an online early childhood master’s degree program can lead students directly into teaching positions in preschools or day care centers, administrative roles, or careers as counselors, program directors or school psychologists.

    Course and credit requirements

    Although some online master’s programs accept current early childhood educators who want to earn additional endorsements without completing a full graduate program, all other students must complete the program’s credit hour requirements for graduation. Required courses vary by institution but likely include instruction on teaching math, building literacy and developing curricula.

    Participation in group projects

    Because students in an online master’s in early childhood education programs are not learning in a classroom, professors may have them demonstrate their commitment to the program by grading the quality of their contributions to discussions. Group assignments are commonplace, and students may be asked to, for instance, role-play a parent-teacher meeting or put together a presentation outlining applicable pedagogies for early learners.

    Classroom experience

    Educators benefit from seeing other teachers at work and incorporating new methods into their instructional style. For this reason, many online programs include observational visits to pre-K, kindergarten and early primary classrooms, which are then followed up by classroom-based student teaching.

    Licensing for early childhood ed

    Some states require professionals to get additional licenses or certifications to teach or work with children. Online programs prepare their graduates for these exams with general course material, and some even run prep courses in addition to their core courses. Early childhood education students should discuss potential licenses with their program advisor so they can tailor their specializations to be relevant for these state exams.

Career Paths for Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Graduates

Because of the higher intensity of the coursework combined with the ability to specialize within the field, graduates from an online master’s in early childhood education program have several career options. The most obvious career is teaching in a preschool, but the master’s degree opens up opportunities to administer programs, work in scientific roles or be an advocate for children. Below are a few jobs open to graduate degree holders that can inspire young children to learn and grow.

Browse Master’s in Early Childhood Education Careers

  • Preschool & Childcare Center Directors

    Directors work in preschools and daycares, supervising staff members and managing all aspects of the child care programs. They design curricula, prepare budgets and ensure program excellence in addition to overseeing daily activities. They serve as the main point of communication between families and early childhood teachers.

    Mean Annual Wage

    $45,670

    Growth Potential

    7%

  • Special Education Teacher – Preschool

    These instructors work with children who have mental, emotional, physical and/or learning disabilities. They adapt lessons for these children, teaching communication techniques and life skills at a level that is comprehensible and manageable. They may also teach general education lessons such as reading, writing and math in a one-on-one setting to give students more personalized attention.

    Mean Annual Wage

    $53,990

    Growth Potential

    9%

  • Grant Writer

    Grant writers research, write and submit proposals for funding on behalf of child care centers, seeking funding from governments and private foundations. Grant writers may work for one institution or they may be hired on a freelance basis.

    Mean Annual Wage

    $60,250

    Growth Potential

    3%

  • Sociologist

    Professionals in the field of sociology study behaviors within larger social structures, including what forces exert social influence, how groups form and why, and how a particular law may affect a specific section of the population. Sociologists typically work with research organizations, colleges and state and local governments.

    Mean Annual Wage

    $73,760

    Growth Potential

    -1%

Core Skills & Principles Learned in an Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education

Master’s in Early Childhood Education

  • Communication with young children The ability to clearly communicate information to children who are at various stages of development and have different learning styles is a key skill for early childhood educators to cultivate throughout their online master’s degree program and their careers. They will also have to speak with parents, discussing learning objectives and individual children’s progress as well as strategies to improve or reinforce lessons.
  • Understanding school systems Master’s program graduates must know the current context of schools, education, teaching theories and learning to be able to design standards-based lesson plans or administrative practices. Graduates will be able to put together a curriculum that not only meets governmental standards but also helps students to easily transition into primary classrooms.
  • Ability to work with a diverse student body Given the proliferation of child care centers, professionals in early childhood education can increase their chances of employment by being able to work with students, families and fellow teachers who come from diverse backgrounds. Early childhood educators, for instance, may find opportunities in Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which cater to children from lower socioeconomic standings. There are also many programs tailored to students who come from homes where English is not spoken. A master’s degree program exposes educators to the skills they need to work in diverse classrooms.
  • Appetite for continuing education A master’s degree is just one part of a professional’s continuing education plan. Government standards, teaching resources and technologies are constantly evolving. Educators must stay up to date as well as strengthen areas they did not fully cover in their master’s program. Examples of continuing education courses for early childhood educators include learning how to build a classroom portfolio, assessing toddlers’ mental health and creating behavior management plans.

Associate in Early Childhood Education

LEARN MORE ABOUT ASSOCIATE DEGREES IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

Additional Resources

Administrators, counselors and other professionals working in the field of early childhood education can find current policies and data via various organizations online. See the resources below for the latest research, lesson plans and government policies.

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning

This organization, based at Vanderbilt University, provides research and resources to early childhood teachers, including plans and training modules for educators working with each age group and strategies for handling difficult children.

Fred Rogers Center

Begun in the memory of children’s television star Mr. Rogers, this center has teaching resources on how to incorporate media into learning strategies and encourage simple interactions with children.

National Association for the Education of Young Children

NAEYC is a professional membership organization that publishes work on early childhood policy, best practices and research to help teachers advance their educations and careers.

U. S. Department of Education

Almost all current government policies and educational resources relating to early childhood and preschool are on this website, which also has an archive of informational resources.

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.


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