Child development – degrees, programs and career options

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HomeChild development overview

Introduction to child development

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for professions in the child development field is expected to grow as fast, or faster than the national average for job growth. A degree in child development can open up many career options in a variety of work environments. Whether you want to get an associate’s degree to become a teaching assistant, a bachelor’s to become a teacher, a master’s degree to become a social worker, or a doctorate to become a college professor, there are many different paths you can take to achieve your academic goals. This major will teach you how to better understand your students, clients, and community.

Online degrees in child development

At every academic level there are online options for degrees in child development. Online education gives you the freedom and flexibility to choose when to study rather than the rigidity of a traditional in-person program. There are many programs that are being offered online due to the current health pandemic, which gives more options to those who prefer online education. Before applying to an online child development program, make sure the program is accredited so your units can be transferred to future academic programs, be applicable for a certificate and credential program, or be accepted by a future employer. Doctorate programs are also available online, just keep in mind that doctorate programs can take up to 8 years to complete depending on the program.

Why is accreditation important?

Whether you are applying for an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate program, your university needs to be accredited. The good news is that most community colleges, especially state-funded colleges, are accredited. For you, this means that your community college credits will likely transfer to other institutions. When graduating from a university to work in the field of child development, future employers, licensing agencies, and other universities are only going to accept candidates from accredited universities. This shows them that you have the knowledge and skills to prepare you for the next level of academia, or employment.

Career options

Depending on your level of education and aspirations, there is an abundance of career options, in a variety of settings, to choose from after completing a child development program. Therefore, you could work in a school, hospital, health clinic, or government office. For example, a bachelor’s degree in child development is a great foundation for a master’s program in social work, or occupational therapy.

Associate’s degree in child development

An associate’s degree in child development can help provide you with access to entry level career options such as a preschool teacher or teaching assistant. This 2-year program will introduce developmental domains, including how to apply this knowledge to a work environment. It will also enhance your understanding of specific behaviors and developmental needs. Earning an associate’s degree in child development can help you stand out when applying for these careers.

What will I learn?

An associate’s program will introduce you to the field of child development with introductory courses. You will take courses which shape your understanding of human development, how a child’s surroundings impact behavior and development, the importance of art, health, and safety. In addition you can learn how to create a stable, safe, and educational environment to create positive, lasting effects in a child’s life.

What do I need to apply?

To be considered for a place in an associate’s program, you will need a high school diploma or equivalent. An online application is submitted directly on your community college’s website, and you will receive a reply in 24 to 48 hours. If you are applying to an associate’s program at a 4-year university, you might also need standardized test scores, prerequisite courses, and academic references.

How much will this cost?

The cost of a 2-year associate’s degree program ranges from around $3,000 per year for in-state tuition in an online program to upwards of $36,000 for out-of-state tuition. This does not, however, factor in the cost of books, lab fees, or campus-related costs such as parking permits, which can add up fast.

Career Options

A preschool teacher helps children prepare for kindergarten. The teacher is responsible for creating developmentally appropriate lessons that incorporate music, art, movement, in a playful way. Preschool teachers need to have a minimum of an associate’s degree in child development to be considered for the position, but typically a bachelor’s degree is preferred.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a preschool teacher is $30,520.

Teaching assistants work with licensed teachers to help prepare work for lessons, gather materials, give additional instruction, and assist in classroom management.

Salary

Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the median annual wage for teaching assistants, in 2019, was $27,920.

A childcare worker can work in a daycare center or as a private at-home care provider such as a nanny. They establish routines, oversee play, and facilitate a playful environment where children can grow and learn. Nannies might prepare meals, help with homework, or assist with light housework, depending on the family they are employed by.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for a childcare worker in 2019 was $11.65 an hour. The national average hourly rate for a nanny is $19.14 per hour.

Bachelor’s degree in child development

This program studies the development of a child cognitively, physically, socially, emotionally, and linguistically. It takes a deep look into how childhood experiences influence and directly affect adulthood. You will strengthen your understanding of child development through coursework and fieldwork.

I’m interested, what do I need before applying?

If you are applying to a bachelor’s program after graduating high school, you will need transcripts showing your grades, and test scores from recognized assessment exams like the SAT or ACT. To get into a 4-year university, you need at least a 2.0 GPA, but again, to remain competitive with other applicants, a higher score around 3.5 GPA, will improve your chances considerably. Some schools may require a personal statement or essay showcasing your ambitions, experience, and achievements.

When applying for a bachelor’s program from a community college, the university recognizes that you have already fulfilled the general education requirement. You need a minimum of a 2.0 GPA to apply, but again to remain competitive with other applicants a higher score, around 3.5 GPA, will improve your chances considerably. Most universities insist on the prior completion of prerequisite courses in child development. These classes could include, Introduction to Child Development, The Family and the Community, Assessment and Observation, and acceptable elective courses.

What will I learn?

You will take semester-long courses on cognitive, social-emotional, and linguistic development to enhance your understanding of a child’s developmental milestones, behaviors, and how to cultivate them. Fieldwork is an important element of this bachelor’s program. Generally, you leave your classroom and join a child development program. This encourages you to take what you have learned in theory, and to put it into practice in a real life setting, like a school or child development program. You will also take courses on curriculum development, assessment procedures, and theory.

What’s the cost?

The cost of an online bachelor’s degree in child development range widely from around $4,500 per year at the far-low end, up to $40,000 per year or higher. State residency, private or public school status, and accreditation can all affect tuition rates. Tuition costs can be lower overall for students transferring from a 2-year college.

Career Options

The importance of early education and intervention cannot be overstated, and it is crucial that aspiring teachers have a strong understanding of child development. One of the main career paths after completing a child development program is teaching. Teachers work in preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities. Some hospitals work with teachers or employ permanent teachers for children who are spending extended periods of time in the hospital. After you earn a bachelor’s degree in child development and pass a credential program, you will be eligible to apply for licensure to teach in a public school.

Salary

When working as a teacher, typically you’ll find that the higher your education level the higher your salary. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a preschool teacher earns on average $30,520, whereas a high school teacher earns on average $61,660.


A childcare director is the pillar of a child development center. They hire teachers, plan budgets, oversee daily activities, and design educational programs. Directors work closely with teachers, parents, and government agencies to ensure the program is upholding a high standard.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a childcare center director in 2019 was $48,210.

Master’s degree in child development

A master’s degree in child development can expand your career options, and add new knowledge to what you have already learned in your undergraduate program. In addition, you can further develop your research, communication, and assessment skills. Master’s degree courses may differ in focus because of the programs they offer, for example, some programs are based on specific age groups, or on counseling.

What do I need to apply?

If you are applying to a master’s program in child development, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in child development, or a related field. Your grade point average should be at least 2.5 to 3.5 to remain competitive with other applicants. You will also need academic references from professors or tutors, and a personal statement. A personal statement is an important part of a master’s application. It is how you highlight your education, experience, and why you are a perfect candidate for the program.

What will I learn?

A master’s program can provide you with the opportunity to deepen your knowledge of developmental domains and curriculum development. You will learn more about theoretical approaches, research methods, and fieldwork. At the end of a master’s program you will present your thesis in order to be eligible to candidature for the master’s program.

How much does it cost?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of an on-campus master’s program is $16,435 per year. A typical master’s program takes about 2 years, making the total program cost around $32,870. An online course may cost significantly less.

Career Options

Social workers are important members of their community because they are trained to help people, at all stages of their lives, with problems that can include mental illness, chronic health issues, addiction, family trauma, and child protection. They can work in various environments like schools, health clinics, government offices, prisons or hospitals. If you have graduated from a bachelor’s in child development program, you can apply for a master’s program in social work to start your journey to become a licensed social worker. Some states require licensing before you can start your career as a social worker.

Salary

Depending on a social worker’s level of education, experience, and the work setting, the average salary can range anywhere from $41,740 to $64,110. This is based on education level and work environment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers at elementary schools, secondary schools, and junior colleges earn the highest salaries.


School principals oversee all operations of their school, which includes daily activities of all students and staff. They can work in elementary, middle, or high schools. They are often seen as the leader of the school, and handle administrative tasks and supervise all faculty and students.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a elementary, middle, or high school principal was $96,400 in 2019.


School counselors work in public or private schools, career centers, or colleges. They help students develop the academic and social skills they need to succeed. They help people assess their strengths, interests, values, and direct them to the path they need to take to achieve their goals.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for school and career counselors was $57,040 in 2019.


A program director needs to manage budgets, coordinate education programs for students, implement training programs for teachers, and oversee curriculum development. This job can also include research, planning, and the development of an educational program.

Salary

PayScale reported that educational program directors make an annual average salary of $62,502.


Children who have been victims of crimes often need professional help to cope with trauma. If you are interested in providing essential support and help to these children, then becoming a victim advocate may appeal to you. Victim advocates counsel children, transport them to court, stand by them in court proceedings, and help them seek restitution. They help reduce the amount of stress that can come with reliving trauma, police interviews, and court procedures.

Salary

According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a victim advocate is $35,415. 

Doctorate program in child development

A Ph.D. program will give you the opportunity to conduct your own original research under the supervision and guidance of a child development faculty member. You will attend lectures and conduct the research essential for you to complete your dissertation. Ph.D. programs can take anywhere from 2 to 8 years to complete.

Applying to a doctorate program

A common misconception is that you need a master’s degree before applying to a doctorate program. This is not necessarily true. Some universities offer doctorate programs to potential applicants who seek entry to the program directly after completing their undergraduate degree. A degree, academic references, test scores like the GRE, and a personal statement are required to be considered for candidacy. The personal statement should showcase your potential to do original scholarly work.

What will I learn?

A doctorate program will focus on applied research in child development and possibly cover topics like intervention programs, policies, and other issues that can impact child development. Depending on the program there might be weekly, or bi-monthly cohort meetings to network with colleagues and touch base with your program advisor. In addition to the necessary coursework, you will also need to conduct your own research as part of your dissertation. A dissertation is a document that summarizes your research which you present at the end of your doctorate program.

What’s the price?

Students can expect to pay anywhere between $20,000 and $79,000 in total tuition for an online doctorate program, depending on the university. Online courses tend to be more affordable than in-person classes overall. Doctoral degree seekers can typically find funding sources through a variety of grants, loans, teaching opportunities, and scholarships.

Career options

The career options listed above are also available to Ph.D. holders. One study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported that Ph.D. holders find employment at higher paying establishments, compared to applicants without this academic qualification. When applying for a job, a doctorate degree can not only boost your application for positions, like a school principal or administrator, but may entitle you to a higher salary.

College professors teach at the community college or university level. They are considered to be experts in their field, and therefore are qualified to teach higher levels of education. They are responsible for preparing lectures, seminars, or field studies.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a post-secondary teacher was $79,540 in 2019.

National Child Care Association

They promote the success of licensed providers in early care settings. They advocate for policies and practices that are beneficial for young children and are involved in professional development and community engagement.

End Violence Against Children

This organization works to ensure children around the world have a safe environment to grow up in. They work with governments and international organizations to pursue this goal. There are news articles and events to inform and encourage members to become actively involved.

International Federation of Social Workers

This platform introduces you to what social work is, what it looks like, and how social workers can work on an international level to promote change. They create a global network of people with a common goal. The platform provides new updates, events, and conferences for members.