Child development degrees

Each stage of childhood has its own significance to the growth of the mind and body, and formal education in child development can prepare you to help students through these critical parts of their lives. The specific subjects studied by child development majors can vary, depending on the degree level and the individual institution, but here are a few general learning goals that many programs have in common:

  • Promoting healthy mental, physical, social and emotional development in children
  • Assessing and responding to a wide range of learning styles
  • Cultivating positive relationships with parents, guardians, and the community
  • Providing children with culturally and linguistically diverse experiences
  • Developing and coordinating a functional curriculum for groups as well as individuals

Although programs that teach child development concepts may overlap somewhat with early childhood education degrees, the latter typically have a narrower focus. Child development degrees can pertain to the lives of children from birth to around age 19, while early childhood education programs tend to concentrate on the ages of birth to around 7. General psychology degrees, on the other hand, tend to only skim the surface of childhood as they work to understand the behaviors and motivations of mature adults.

Types of degrees in child development

Aspiring child development majors can find programs at just about every degree level, each with their own depth of study and application in the workforce.

Associate degrees

Careers in child development

Child development degrees can lead to a range of jobs, depending on your focus of study and any prior experience. Here's a quick list of just a few of the careers where the skills taught in child development programs can be a big asset:

*Preschool and childcare center directors develop policy, hire teachers, train staff and maintain facilities at day care and pre-K programs. Mean annual salary in 2013: $52,010. Job growth 2012-22: 17%.

*Kindergarten teachers assess children's learning styles and introduce students to concepts covered in elementary education. Mean annual salary in 2013: $52,840. Job growth 2012-22: 13%.

*Instructional coordinators develop curricular material for schools, assist in its implementation and assess its effectiveness. Mean annual salary in 2013: $63,070. Job growth 2012-22: 13%.

*Teacher assistants work under the supervision of teachers at multiple levels to provide added instruction and attention to students. Mean annual salary in 2013: $25,570. Job growth 2012-22: 9%.

*Childcare workers supervise of children in care facilities and parents' homes. Mean annual salary in 2013: $21,490. Job growth 2012-22: 14%.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Programs at the associate level introduce students to the range of concepts covered in the discipline and provide basic training in essentials such as health, safety and nutrition. Associate degrees in child development often deal more with young childhood and early adolescence, although the focus of some programs may differ.

Online associate degrees in child development are fairly common, both at traditional brick-and-mortar schools and fully online institutions. Hybrid programs may also be available, if the curriculum contains a learn-by-working or other field experience component.

Bachelor's degrees

Child development degrees at the bachelor's level tend to address the range of developmental concepts in greater scope and depth than associate programs. They may bring in ideas from the larger-scale social sciences, exploring socialization as a factor of development and decoding cultural context as it relates to individual children.

Prospective students with existing commitments can usually find online bachelor's degrees in child development, on both Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) tracks. The differences between the two can be nuanced, so it's best to look into a few individual programs before making a decision.

Master's degrees

Master's degree programs in the field aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of all stages of development. Subjects studied include cognitive details of each phase of growth, historical perspectives on development, statistical knowledge and research methodologies.

These degrees are often available online as well, in two-year, three-year and longer course schedules. Students hoping to enter into instructional coordination, policymaking and other administrative careers tend to earn master's degrees before seeking upper-level work.


This highest-level degree goes deep into the details of social and cultural dynamics while conducting investigations of existing developmental theory and policy. A Ph.D. is often necessary for positions in independent research, while a Psy.D. can prepare you for clinical practice or university-level instructional work. Some schools may offer doctoral programs online.

Child development schools

If this sounds like the right field for you, here are a few schools with notable child development programs where you can look deeper into the opportunities and expectations that are part of life as a child development major:

  • The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers its child development degrees as specializations within psychology and clinical psychology graduate programs.
  • Florida Institute of Technology addresses child development concepts in its applied behavior analysis bachelor's degree and boasts faculty with a wealth of experience in the field.
  • West Virginia University gives advanced child development education to its educational psychology majors at the graduate level, including a strong research component and a teaching practicum.

Keep in mind that these three schools are just examples, and they are far from the only options for getting a degree in the field. A good first step for aspiring professions is to compare child development programs in their area and online, in order to see what programs might best fit their goals.

Professional certifications

Graduates with child development degrees can also earn professional certifications that enrich individual knowledge areas and demonstrate general expertise. The Council for Professional Recognition's Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is one nationally recognized example, and some employers may require that candidates earn one of its four concentrations:

  • Preschool
  • Infant/Toddler
  • Family Child Care
  • Home Visitor

Depending on the employer, the CDA credential may even serve to satisfy the educational requirements of certain entry-level positions. To find out more about what's necessary to qualify for various child development jobs in your area, check with a regional association of child development professionals or your state's Department of Education.

1. Online M.A. in Psychology, Child and Adolescent Concentration, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, http://www.thechicagoschool.edu/Online/Our_Programs/Online_MA_in_Psychology_Generalist_Concentration/Online_MA_in_Psychology_Child_and_Adolescent_Concentration
2. Bachelor of Arts in Child Development, Concordia University Saint Paul, http://online.csp.edu/adult-undergraduate-programs/teacher-education/bachelor-of-arts-in-child-development
3. BA - Applied Behavior Analysis, Florida Institute of Technology, http://cpla.fit.edu/clinical/faculty.php
4. Child Development Associate (AAS), Muskegon Community College, http://www.muskegoncc.edu/degrees-and-certificates/associate-in-applied-science/child-development-associate-aas/
5. Child Development Program Student Learning Outcomes, Saddleback College, http://www.saddleback.edu/sbs/cd/program-student-learning-outcomes
6. Child Development A.A. Degree, San Bernardino Valley College, http://www.valleycollege.edu/academic-career-programs/degrees-certificates/child-development/child-development-aa
7. May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
8. Various Occupations, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
9. B.S. in Child Development, Walden University, http://www.waldenu.edu/bachelors/bs-in-child-development
10. Child Development and Family Studies, West Virginia University, http://catalog.wvu.edu/graduate/collegeofhumanresourcesandeducation/tlc/childdevelopmentandfamilystudiescdfs/

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