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Child development degrees

Working with children can be rewarding, and it's fairly well understood that graduates of campus-based or online child development programs are prepared to take on the challenges of the field and make the most of its opportunities. Whether you're hoping to go into education, child care, social services or another industry, formal training in child development can show employers that you've got what it takes to do the job right.

Your options for child development training are fairly vast, as well. Here's a table showing the number of schools in each U.S. region that offer child development degrees online or on campus, according to data published by the National Center for Education Statistics:

Region No. of institutions with child development degree programs No. of institutions offering child development degrees online
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 113 5
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 78 2
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 167 9
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 224 5
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 409 23
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 309 3
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 261 2
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 104 2
Total (all 50 states) 1665 51

Entry-level child development degrees

Applicants with appropriate formal training in their field tend to have an edge in over other candidates in the hiring pool, and education or child development professions are no different. Here's a breakdown of some of what you can expect from different levels of child development degrees, online and on campus:

  • Associate degrees - Earning a two-year degree in child development can teach you the knowledge and skills you need to be an effective child care provider, teacher assistant, preschool teacher or other steward of very young children. Programs may lead to Associate in Arts (AA), Associate in Science (AS) or Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degrees and typically consist of courses in educational play, observation and assessment, curriculum resources for early childhood, youth literacy and health, safety and nutrition, among other subjects.
  • Bachelor's degrees - University programs that lead to bachelor's degrees tend to cover a broader range of topics than two-year degrees, including infant development, developmental disabilities in children and adolescents, theories of family life, administration of child-focused programs, music for young children, child advocacy, cognitive and social factors and the roles of race, ethnicity, gender and culture in development. Most programs lead to a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, but some Bachelor of Science (BS) programs are available as well.
  • Non-degree study - Some institutions offer students the opportunity to pick up some vital child development skills in a concentrated non-degree format, leaving out the general education core requirements of associate and bachelor's degrees to focus specifically on material directly related to the discipline. If you're looking to become senior staff at a day care center or apply to teach at a competitive preschool program, an undergraduate certificate in child development may be able to give your résumé the boost it needs to put you in the running.

Online child development programs have gone a long way toward making these programs accessible to students who wouldn't otherwise be able to commit to continuing their education. It's possible to find all three of the above types of undergraduate child development degrees online, if concerns about fitting school into your schedule have been holding you back from getting a degree of your own.

Advanced-degree child development programs

Employers of organizational managers, policymakers, educational consultants and other professionals with considerable decision-making responsibility may prefer candidates with advanced degrees. Here's a look at some generalities of graduate and post-graduate child development degrees online and on campus:

  • Master's degree programs - Subjects such as social-emotional development, advanced cognitive development, developmental neuroscience, child and adolescent psychology, historical perspectives on child care and research methods in child development enter the picture at the master's level, where students often explore key concepts in much greater depth than undergraduate programs make possible. Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) programs are the most common types of child development graduate degree, although programs that lead to a Master of Education (MEd) degree in early childhood education may deliver a similar curriculum.
  • Doctorate programs - Child development degree programs at the doctoral level are typically offered as either Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees, although the distinction between the two isn't as concrete as it can be in other disciplines. Coursework consists mainly of seminar classes, scholarly literature reviews, research training sections and dissertation work, although some institutions may include teaching internships or other elements of practice.
  • Graduate certificates - Graduate certificate programs in child development can allow educators, psychologists and other professionals who already have a bachelor's degree or greater to add some child development skills to their portfolio or brush up on new developments in the field. Program lengths vary — typically in a range of 15 to 30 credit hours — and may count toward the continuing education requirements of licensed professions that require them.

Graduate students who pursuing child development degrees or certificates online may be able to save some money per credit hour at some institutions, and the ability to enroll in school while remaining fully employed can be a great benefit to students with career advancement in mind.

Q&A with an expert

Dr. Stephen Hupp, professor of clinical child psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Dr. Stephen Hupp, professor of clinical child psychology at Southern Illinois University EdwardsvilleWhy would you encourage someone to consider a degree in child development?

Working with children is fun, rewarding, and has the potential to make the world a better place.

What would have been helpful to know about the child development job market when you were looking into your own education?

There are so many possible career paths including clinical-child psychology, school psychology, pediatric psychology, applied behavior analysis, counseling, and education.

What are the most common educational paths for students seeking a career in child development?

There are some entry level positions that are available to professionals with a bachelor's degree. More opportunities are available when professionals have a master's degree, a specialist degree, or a doctoral degree.

What surprised you the most about the value of child development training once you joined the workforce?

The same degree can lead to many possible career paths. For example, I have a colleague with a degree in school psychology, but he functions more like a clinical-child psychologist. Conversely, I have my degree in clinical-child psychology but I function more like a school psychologist for Head Start. Moreover, we're both professors who teach, do research, and write about child development.

What level of education is typically necessary to get started in the field?

Many jobs require graduate study, but there are opportunities for people at all education levels.

What's some advice you might have for a student who wants to make a living studying or applying the principles of child development?

Start getting experience now! Getting experience helps students figure out which path they would like to take, and also increase the likelihood that students are able to get accepted in to the training programs designed for their chosen path.

Types of child development careers

The range of career trajectories that professionals with child development degrees or early childhood development degrees might take is broad and diverse, particularly for those who have certain types of employment experience or auxiliary training. Here's some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about a few of the top careers available to graduates of traditional or online child development programs:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2015)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
Preschool teacher $32,500 7 percent 441,000 Associate degree
Kindergarten teacher $54,510 6 percent 159,400 Bachelor's degree
Elementary school teacher $57,730 6 percent 1,358,000 Bachelor's degree
Preschool or childcare center director $52,760 7 percent 64,000 Bachelor's degree
School counselor $56,490 8 percent 273,400 Master's degree
School psychologist $76,040 20 percent 155,300 Bachelor's degree

Common misconceptions about child development degrees

Unfortunately, there are a few perceptions about campus-based and online child development programs that persist in missing the mark. Make sure you aren't approaching your degree search with any of these misconceptions in mind:

Misconception: Child development degrees are just education degrees with a fancier name.

  • Fact: There is some overlap between the study of child development and the study of education, to be sure, but there are some important distinctions between the two. Child development programs tend to focus on the emotional, social and psychological processes that take place as children progress from one stage of life to another, for example, while education programs direct students' attention to the methods by which lessons can be effectively communicated to young minds.

Misconception: You can't learn as much in online child development programs as you can on a traditional brick-and-mortar campus.

  • Fact: The myth that there's anything different about online degrees other than the way in which the courses are delivered seems to be hard to put to rest. The knowledge and skills taught on the path to child development degrees online are essentially identical to the ones available to on-campus students, and the same old saying holds true for each: you get out what you put in. If you're determined to learn, you'll probably learn quite a bit however you attend class; if you're not, you probably won't.

Misconception: Unless you take your education to the graduate or post-graduate level, a child development degree can only prepare you to run a day care.

  • Fact: Professionals with child development skills are sought after in a surprisingly wide range of employment contexts. Preschool, child care and education are the most obvious destinations for child development graduates, but community organizations, social services providers, government agencies, communications and media companies, health care organizations, research firms and more may have a need for child development knowledge in policy development or day-to-day operations.

How can I enroll in an online child development degree program?

If you're ready to start learning more about the child development degree programs available to you, the best way to get the details you need is to contact your prospective schools directly. We've listed some institutions below to get you started, so take a quick look through and reach out to a few programs to find out exactly where to go from here.

Sources:
1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, accessed May 19, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. School pages, accessed May 27, 2016: Child Development, Associate in Arts Degree, Southwestern College, http://www.swccd.edu/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=2430; Child Development Associate Degree for Transfer, Cuyamaca College, http://www.cuyamaca.edu/academics/catalog/degrees/cd-degrees.pdf; Child Development/Early Childhood Education AAS, Dallas County Community College District, https://www1.dcccd.edu/catalog/programs/degree.cfm?degree=aas.child.deve; Early Childhood Education Associates Degree - Child Development Specialization, Rasmussen College, http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/education/child-development/associates/; The Bachelor of Arts in Child Development, California State University, Chico, http://catalog.csuchico.edu/viewer/CHLD/CHLDNONEBA.html; Child and Adolescent Development, B.A., California State University Northridge, http://www.csun.edu/catalog/academics/cadv/programs/ba-child-and-adolescent-development-ii/early-childhood-development/; Bachelor of Arts in Child Development, Concordia University, http://online.csp.edu/academics/bachelor-of-arts-in-child-development; Child and Family Studies - B.S. (Child Development), University of Southern Mississippi, https://www.usm.edu/undergraduate/child-and-family-studies-child-development-bs/degree-plan; Child Development Associate Certificate, City University of New York School of Professional Studies, https://sps.cuny.edu/academics/certificates/child-development-associate-certificate-certificate; Undergraduate Certificate, Early Childhood Development, West Virginia University Online, http://online.wvu.edu/EarlyChildhoodDevelopment/; Online Child Development Training Program, Penn Forster Career School, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/counseling-and-human-development/child-development-associate-cda-certificate; M.S. in Child Development, Erikson Institute, http://www.erikson.edu/graduate-school/programs/masters-child-development/; Child Development, M.S., University of La Verne, http://laverne.edu/catalog/program/ms-child-development/; M.S. Child Development Program, California State University, San Bernardino, http://psychology.csusb.edu/graduatePrograms/child_development_program.htm; Master of Arts in Child Development, Sarah Lawrence College, https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/child-development/; Child Development, California State University, Sacramento, http://www.csus.edu/coe/academics/graduate/programs/overview-chdv.html; Master's in Early Childhood Education Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/med-in-early-childhood-education; Curricula, Human Development & Family Studies, Michigan State University, https://hdfs.msu.edu/graduate/child-development/curricula; Ph.D. in Child Development, Erikson Institute, http://www.erikson.edu/graduate-school/programs/phd-child-development/; EdD in Developmental Studies, Boston University, http://www.bu.edu/academics/sed/programs/developmental-studies/edd-human-development/; Child Development Certificate, Ogeechee Technical College, http://www.ogeecheetech.edu/docs/d_Programs/ECCE/Child%20Development%20Specialist%20Certificate.pdf; Child Development Graduate Certificate, California State University, Stanislaus, http://catalog.csustan.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=11&poid=884; Graduate Certificate in Child and Family Development: Birth through Kindergarten, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, http://spcd.uncc.edu/child-and-family-development/graduate-certificate-program; Youth Development, MS or Certificate, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, http://online.unl.edu/programs-and-courses/graduate-doctorate-programs/cyfs-youth-development.aspx; What Can I Do With This Degree?, Child Development, California State University, Chico, http://www.csuchico.edu/chld/studentResources/whatCanIDo.shtml;
4. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed May 21, 2016: Preschool Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm; Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm; Preschool and Childcare Center Directors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/preschool-and-childcare-center-directors.htm; School and Career Counselors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors.htm; Psychologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm;
5. May 2015 National Occupational and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed May 21, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

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