Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Online

Updated January 6, 2023

Thinking about an advanced degree in early childhood education? Get program details and career information for an online doctorate program. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Degree Options & Potential Careers

Individuals with a doctorate in early childhood education online possess the knowledge and skills to support others as subject-matter experts. This degree emphasizes areas employers seek, including psychology, data analysis, and policy development.

Employers view applicants with a Ph.D. in early childhood education as subject-matter experts in comparison to applicants with a master's degree. The best candidates possess classroom experience and a passion for working with students through age eight. Lucrative career opportunities include educational program directors or admission coaches. This page discusses requirements for online early child Ph.D. programs in addition to accrediting bodies and professional organizations.

Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education?

Earning a doctorate in early childhood education online requires a significant time commitment. Students should outline their ideal career to determine if this degree meets their goals. For instance, a Ph.D. in early childhood education provides research-based methods and skills that help professionals identify possible causes of current issues. Students also learn how to design experimental or theoretical models, identify information sources, develop organizing principles to evaluate data, and generate solutions to current gaps in the field.

The best programs typically provide mentorship and supervision through multiple field experiences, which allow students to perfect their research and problem-solving process before entering the job market. Supervision also helps Ph.D. students develop efficient processes and effective workflow.

Additionally, doctoral programs allow professionals to pursue niche areas that interest them. Colleges and universities provide fundamental, advanced coursework. Afterward, students write a dissertation around their interests. A doctorate in early childhood education is one of the field's most highly recognized credentials. As a terminal degree, graduates qualify for multiple leadership opportunities in various settings. Graduates may also bolster credibility by publishing journals, academic findings, and participating in conferences.

Professionals with an early childhood education doctorate qualify for senior leadership positions that require education, experience, and an in-depth understanding of the field.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education?

Candidates with a doctorate in early childhood education qualify for elite roles in leadership, which may include positions like childcare center program director, director of education programming at public or private preschools, preschool admission coach, a college or university professor, or a school superintendent.

Professional settings for these roles vary. For instance, some professionals may remain in classroom settings within a private or public institution. School administrators work outside classroom settings in private or public sectors of elementary schools. Their roles require collaboration with the superintendent or school board members, which may occasionally remove them from the school building.

Some roles require travel between schools and government facilities. For instance, superintendents collaborate with the department of education to stay abreast of laws and policies. Some professionals may choose to work with the government full time as a consultant. This role requires subject-matter experts who can help teachers and administrators in educational facilities improve their teaching methods and processes.

Contrastingly, Ph.D. graduates who enter academia may work for nonprofit, for-profit, or public colleges or universities. Outside the classroom, academia professionals also gain access to research opportunities, which allow professionals to collaborate with other experts to improve the early childhood education field. Research projects also often lead to scholarly publishing. Additionally, postsecondary work can lead to curriculum development for future practitioners in the field.

Overall, a doctorate in early childhood education online creates opportunities for elite roles. While professionals can work within school environments, the greater education field needs highly qualified, passionate professionals who can improve other areas of the field. Therefore, job opportunities exist in the public, private, and government sectors. Professionals can also access opportunities at the postsecondary level, within hospitals, or pursue self-employment through consultant work.

School Superintendent

Superintendents work directly under the school board and oversee multiple school buildings within a K-12 district. Employers often require these professionals to hold an advanced degree with teaching and principal experience. Typical duties include establishing budgets, managing school objectives, identifying school goals, and managing school property.

Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal

School principals manage K-12 educational institutions, class schedules, and staff. These professionals typically address any disciplinary actions incurred by students and staff. Other duties include maintaining curriculum standards, monitoring test scores, administering teacher performance assessments, and providing additional support where needed. The most valuable qualities principals can possess include communication, critical-thinking, decision-making, interpersonal, and leadership skills.

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary educators instruct college students in the content areas that relate to their own advanced degrees. Responsibilities include building lesson plans and course syllabi, grading assignments, assessing student progress, developing new courses, and staying abreast of new developments within their field. This profession requires an advanced degree to work with emerging early childhood educators.

Education Administrator

Education administrators include professionals overseeing elementary and secondary facilities. Educational administrators ensure that teachers effectively perform their duties and that students receive a high-quality education. Other duties include securing funding for school programs, budgeting, communicating with parents and community members, and maintaining legal regulations for schools.

Education Consultant

Education consultants create strategic objectives for educational institutions. These professionals should possess expert knowledge in the area they plan to advise. Duties include developing training manuals, training staff, organizing review sessions, coordinating schedules, and providing support where needed. This position typically requires an advanced degree and experience.

Early Childhood Education Ph.D. Program Overview

Students pursuing a doctorate in early childhood education online should note that schools' requirements vary. Private and nonprofit schools may possess different admission requirements than public schools. Similarly, accredited programs may offer slightly different curriculum paths.

Furthermore, program outcomes may also vary depending on the school's learning goals. While the number of online programs continues to increase, early childhood Ph.D. students should only consider accredited programs. The subsections below contain more detailed information about what students can anticipate.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

The best doctorate in early childhood education online programs often require a master's degree in a similar field with a 3.0-3.5 GPA. Students without these qualifications may need to complete additional coursework to qualify. Additionally, schools may require two or more years of field and research experience.

Typical application processes include a fee, official transcripts, a resume, and recommendation letters from professional or academic references. Institutions often request samples of students' writing, which can include publications or previous course papers. Otherwise, students may submit personal statements, which overview accomplishments and career objectives.

Schools may also request standardized test scores, such as the GRE or Praxis exam. International learners should also submit scores for an English proficiency exam. Competitive programs may require interviews prior to admission. Students can interview in person, on the phone, or through virtual tools like Skype or Zoom.


A doctorate in early childhood education online often requires 48 credits at minimum. However, students who hold master's degrees in unrelated fields or students completing a joint master's and Ph.D. program may need to complete additional coursework, which can extend their overall program length. Longer programs may require as many as 90 credits. Additionally, the best early childhood education doctoral programs offer multiple concentration areas through elective selections. This additional curriculum can extend program lengths.

Early childhood Ph.D. programs often require students to complete fundamental advanced coursework at the beginning of their program, prior to beginning dissertation coursework. These courses focus on philosophy and ethics in early childhood education, study advocacy, policy, and leadership in the field. Other topics include curriculum inquiry, professional learning and leadership, or contemporary research of teaching effectiveness.

Programs may allow students to take foundational coursework mixed with field experiences that mingle with dissertation-related coursework. For instance, universities offer doctoral seminars and independent studies. However, the final program tasks focus on dissertation work.

Dissertation often includes research courses, such as human inquiry, mixed methods research, directed research, and qualitative research. Additional criteria for the best online doctoral programs in early childhood education can include an assessment, portfolio, literature review, and internship.

Qualitative Research: Curriculum Inquiry
Doctoral students explore qualitative data analysis, including observation and unstructured interviews. Students also learn the epistemology of qualitative approaches through applied experiences.
Early Childhood Leadership and Supervision
This course focuses on student advocacy, evaluating and assessing educators, reinforcing organizational management integrity, and managing fiscal data. Other tasks include reviewing common models of educational leadership and administration.
Fostering Professional Learning and Leadership
In this course, students focus on the conceptual framework, skills, and values that inform organizational and school leadership. Other topics include operational systems management and teacher evaluations.
Language, Literacy, and Reading Instruction in Early Childhood Education
Course content addresses language development and acquisition in young children. Students also explore best practices for adult-child interactions in classroom and personal settings.
Theory-Based Problems in Early Childhood Education
Students explore problems related to thoughts, research, and writing that amount to a theoretical base for constructivist approaches in early childhood education.
Legal Issues in Early Childhood Education
Topics in this course include mandated reporting, record keeping, safety practices, and understanding preventative methods and strategies for managing conflict. Other topics include policy development and reporting abuse.
Educational Research Methods
Students apply data analysis to address current issues in the field. Objectives often include examining quantitative and qualitative research methods and theories.
Family and Community Relationships
Students examine the way family and community members impact early childhood students. This course emphasizes strategies for developing cultural diversity, instances of neglect, and advocacy.

Program Outcomes

A doctorate in early childhood education online prepares students to excel in administrative or leadership roles. Course content emphasizes child development, including social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth. This research-intensive program trains students to conduct qualitative and quantitative research initiatives, which professionals can use to structure early childhood curricula. Professionals can also use research skills to develop solutions to current issues in the field.

A Ph.D. in early childhood education creates professional opportunities that require critical thinking and effective decision making. Students employ these skills when developing modes of inquiry, debunking complexities within educational policy, initiating organizational change, or collaborating with staff and student families.

Early childhood education doctoral students engage in multiple field experiences with their target population. Real-world settings and scenarios allow students to apply what they've learned under the supervision of seasoned professionals. Dissertation work also creates opportunities for competency-based learning in applied settings, while reinforcing research skills.

Accreditation for Online Early Childhood Education Doctorate Programs

Postsecondary accrediting agencies exist to establish a minimum quality standard. This helps validate students' competencies and skills. Students earning a doctorate in early childhood education online should consider programs with Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) accreditation. CAEP evaluates educator preparation programs for their content, field experience requirements, and selectivity.

Students interested in academia careers might also consider programs accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which requires excellent academic quality standards. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education collects data, enforces statutes, and distributes funds. Students can access online databases of recognized accrediting agencies and all accredited schools.

Early Childhood Education Professional Organizations

The education industry experiences constant change, development, and innovation. Therefore, incumbents benefit from professional organizations that provide access to cutting-edge research and technology innovations. Colleges and universities often participate in student membership chapters that evolve into professional memberships after graduation.

Professional organizations often provide scholarships or fellowships, which allow early childhood education Ph.D. students to receive support or mentorship from experienced professionals. Professional organizations also allow members to apply for organizational roles, which provide valuable experience. For instance, members could become a board member, serve on specific committees, or support a preferred initiative.

Educational membership associations offer multiple benefits, including networking events, discussion forums, digital journals, online catalogs, newsletters, and professional development opportunities. Members gain access to continuing education requirements, which satisfy relevant licensure renewal requirements. Most organizations also provide career support through online job boards.

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.

See All Posts is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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