Online Master's Programs in Child Development and Family Studies

Earning a master's in child development and family studies requires a significant amount of time and effort, but it pays off for many. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social work and counselor careers are projected to grow about twice as fast as the average occupation in the U.S. from 2018 through 2028. The growth projections for some specialist positions, like family therapists, are more than four times the national average.

An undergraduate degree in the field may grant access to some lucrative positions, but many employers prefer candidates with master's degrees. These advanced degrees also give graduates access to specialized licensure and clinical counseling positions. The following guide covers some of the best programs in the field, degree requirements, career possibilities, and resources for funding and professional development.

Online Master's in Child Development and Family Studies Degree Requirements

After earning an online master's in child development and family studies, students typically come away with an in-depth understanding of family dynamics and child development within the context of the family. Degree-seekers can develop additional and more specialized skills based on their educational choices. In general, these degrees usually feature 30-45 credits and take 1-2 years to complete. By studying online, enrollees may graduate in a shorter period of time compared to on-campus students, even balancing full-time study and work.

What Courses Are Required in a Master's in Child Development and Family Studies Program?

Each master's in child development and family studies features its own curriculum. The sample classes below provide an idea of what students can expect from a typical child development and family studies master's program. Course titles and descriptions may vary between schools.

Family Stress and Resilience

Students in this class examine how critical events impact family life. They explore common coping and resiliency patterns and look at possible methods for improving the resiliency process. Equipped with these skills, graduates can pursue careers in family and child counseling.

Intervention Methods

Students in this course explore the most common intervention methods in a variety of contexts. Some courses may look at family counseling intervention, exploring the best assessment and evaluation techniques. Others may delve into child development and schooling, teaching learners how and when to implement learning assistance remediation programs. These skills can be applied in many different counseling careers.

Cross-cultural Perspectives

This course teaches students to consider and make sense of various cultural influences as they relate to family and child development. Learners also explore family studies and child development in other cultures to allow for a wider knowledge base. Well-developed cultural perspectives help students in several counseling-related careers.

Language Development

Learners explore the development of language in this course, including how environments, cultures, and families can impact this growth. Students look at best practices for helping develop language and investigate assessment and intervention methods. These courses help professionals in their pursuit of careers in child counseling and education.

Separation and Divorce

Separation and divorce courses educate students in the processes involved in these actions, along with how they impact children and families. Learners explore psychological and developmental issues as they relate to separation and divorce, as well. This knowledge proves vital for most family and child counselors.

What Specializations Are Available in a Master's in Child Development and Family Studies Program?

Most programs offering a master's in child development and family studies don't provide specializations. However, a few may offer specific concentration options. The following list highlights potential concentrations within these programs.

Childhood Education

In this specialization, students explore child development in the context of childhood education settings. Learners look at methods for assessment, evaluation, and intervention for children in education, striving to improve educational results and identity building. Professionally, this specialization can lead to careers and licensure in school counseling.

Aging and Gerontology

Students who specialize in aging and gerontology better understand the process of aging and the elderly as a population group. These learners look at how humans develop in their later years and how aging can impact families. They also examine federal and state policies in this field, along with caregiving techniques and programs. Graduates may pursue careers that focus on counseling the elderly.

Adolescent Development

In an adolescent development specialization, students learn to apply their training to adolescent learners and clients. They explore how adolescents develop within school settings, families, and society. This training can assist graduates in their pursuit of school and child counseling positions. It can also help with careers in family and marriage counseling professions.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Final projects in master's in child development and family studies programs vary considerably and are often guided by student choices and career goals. Thesis programs, for example, require students to complete in-depth research assignments; individuals who select this route often pursue further study and careers in academia.

Non-thesis programs typically attract degree-seekers looking to enter the career world immediately after graduation, although some work well for both career-bound students and those looking for more advanced training. Some programs feature a final portfolio, in which students compile and present their work; this may strengthen job or grad school applications. Online master's in child development and family studies programs often include internship requirements, which offer practical training and preparation. Learners may also need to take a final comprehensive exam.

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

Finding the right online master's in child development and family studies program is a personal decision, but all prospective learners should consider certain general requirements and hallmarks of quality programming — especially accreditation. Learners should make sure their desired school holds regional accreditation from one of the accrediting agencies recognized the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

At the programmatic level, students should seek accreditation that meets the requirements for their desired field. For example, learners pursuing careers in counseling should look for accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, which meets industry standards. Financial aid, certification programs, and professional positions often require candidates to hold degrees from properly accredited institutions.

Degree-seekers should look out for other quality program markers, as well, such as graduation and employment rates. These stats demonstrate how well previous students and graduates have performed. Learners can examine the program course content and faculty research interests to ensure they align with their own career interests and goals.

Online students should also consider any on-campus and clinical requirements. Many schools allow distance learners to complete programs entirely online, but some may require limited travel.

Career Opportunities for Master's in Child Development and Family Studies Graduates

Earning a master's in child development and family studies does not guarantee employment in any specific role, but it can lead to promising career prospects for graduates. The following list highlights some of the professional options for learners pursuing this degree.

School and Career Counselors

School counselors help students build and foster strong academic and social skills and habits. They may work with individuals and families to develop performance plans for educational improvement. They might also perform assessments and evaluations on students to identify issues. Child development training may qualify candidates for this career, but aspiring school counselors may also pursue a counseling specialization. Most school counselors need a master's degree and state-issued licensure or certification.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists work with couples and families to discuss problems, provide support, and help develop coping and management plans. They apply their training to better understand how family and marriage may impact mental and behavioral health. Students pursuing this career may consider a therapy or counseling concentration to focus their training. Most family and marriage therapists need a master's degree and state licensure for employment.

Social Workers

Social workers help their clients work through personal and emotional issues, identify people who need support and assistance, and develop client assistance programs. For families, these professionals may provide housing assistance, food support, and adoption and care services. Many social workers come from social work programs, but family studies graduates can qualify to enter the social work field by pursuing certain specializations. Social workers and related professionals need a master's degree and licensure to gain employment.

Elementary School Principals

Elementary school principals manage school operations, helping to design and coordinate various curricula and implement policies and procedures. Principals may also counsel and advise students, work with families, and represent their school in the community. Most elementary school principals hold a master's degree in a topic related to leadership or education administration, plus teaching experience. By way of specialization, family studies and child development graduates can improve their chances of entering this field.

School Psychologists

School psychologists may perform a variety of tasks, but they often work with individuals to help them overcome or manage educational or developmental disorders. They may also work with students and families to evaluate and develop intervention plans for those with learning or behavioral problems. To gain employment, school psychologists typically need a master's degree. They may also need certification. Child development students can look for a psychology specialization to enhance their training.

Professional Organizations

Regardless of the stage of their career, professionals of all types can benefit from joining a professional organization. These associations provide benefits like career development and continuing education opportunities, as well as access to networking events and industry publications. The list below describes some pertinent organizations in this field.

American School Counselor Association

  • ASCA supports school counselors by advocating for the profession and enhancing research in the field. Members benefit from access to professional development, education, and networking events.


American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

  • AAMFT looks to improve the field of marriage and family therapy by increasing access to services, providing information to therapists and families in need, and improving training. Members can access educational programs, industry resources, and professional support services.


National Association of Social Workers

  • NASW offers growth and development opportunities to its members in hopes of improving the industry and profession. The association helps build best practices, develop standards and policies, and improve ethics in the practice.


National Association of Elementary School Principals

  • NAESP serves elementary and middle school principals across North America, advocating for the profession and providing support to professionals in the industry. Members can access continuing education, training programs, and initiatives and resources to enhance their schools.


National Association of School Psychologists

  • Supporting the profession of school psychologists, NASP gives its members access to industry events and publications, continuing education opportunities, and standards and certification resources. Members also join a large community and benefit from research and policy information.

Scholarships for Child Development and Family Studies Graduate Students

Many students finance their education through a variety of sources, and scholarships represent one of the most rewarding and beneficial forms of aid. Many types of scholarships exist, and child development and family studies students can find program-specific funding. The following list outlines some funding opportunities.

NASP-ERT Minority Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Presented by the National Association of School Psychologists, this scholarship rewards minority students pursuing graduate studies in a school psychology-related program. Applicants must possess a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $5,000

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NBCC Foundation Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The National Board for Certified Counselors presents a variety of scholarships for students pursuing certified counselor careers. These scholarships reward minority applicants and those pursuing specializations in subjects such as youth, mental health, and addictions counseling.

Amount: Varies

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Learn.org Master's Degree Scholarship Psychology and Counseling

Who Can Apply: Presented to graduate students pursuing degrees in psychology or counseling, this scholarship recognizes applicants with strong histories of academic achievement and community involvement.

Amount: $500

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American Society of Aging Graduate Student Research Award

Who Can Apply: Presented by ASA, this research award goes to the applicant with the best unpublished research paper on a relevant topic. Applicants must have a clinical interest in the field of aging.

Amount: Varies

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National Association of Black Social Workers Scholarships

Who Can Apply: NABSW offers several scholarships to its members. Applicants must submit a statement of purpose and letters of recommendation to qualify.

Amount: Varies

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