Master’s degree in child development program guide

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Master’s in child development

To advance your career options in this field, you will need to further your education and complete a master’s program in child development. A master’s program will further develop the knowledge and skills you have from your bachelor’s degree, especially in the areas of research, communication, and assessment. Upon completion of this program, you will be prepared for careers in a variety of settings working with infants, children, and their families.

What you need before applying

To be admitted to a master’s program, you need a bachelor’s degree in child development, or a related field, with a minimum of a 3.0 GPA. Schools commonly require an entrance exam like the GRE, which will measure academic skills to determine readiness. Most schools also require academic references, experience in programs serving children from infancy through primary grades, and a personal statement outlining your professional and academic background.

Entrance to a master’s program can be very competitive. Apply to several programs at different universities to increase your chances of acceptance. Generally, you receive a response from the universities you applied to within 2-3 months.

Online master’s degree in child development

An online master’s degree is perfect for those who juggle busy professional or personal lives. Online education gives you the freedom and flexibility to choose when to study, rather than the rigidity of a traditional in-person master’s program. There are many programs that are being offered online due to the current health pandemic, which gives more options than in previous years. Before applying to an online master’s program, make sure the program is accredited so that your units can transfer to a Ph.D. program, be applicable for a certificate and credential program, or be accepted by a future employer.

Should my university be accredited?

Accreditation is granted to universities that meet a certain standard of excellence which is set by accreditation agencies. These agencies ensure that by the time you have finished an academic program, you have the skills and knowledge needed to start a career or doctorate program in the child development field. The NAEYC Commission on the Accreditation of Early Childhood Higher Education Programs is the agency that grants NAEYC Higher Education Accreditation to U.S. child development programs at the associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels.

What will I learn?

During the 2 years it takes to earn a master’s in child development, you will further your research and understanding of child development. Here are some examples of courses offered in a master’s program.

Theoretical approaches

Theoretical approaches will take a deeper and more critical look into the theorists who paved the way for child development studies. Their theories provide the framework for understanding cognitive, social, emotional, and psychological development during childhood and adolescence.

Human development

This is an advanced course that will look into the research methods of human development. It will explore both qualitative and quantitative research methods which help understand human learning and development processes. This course provides an introduction to research questions, hypotheses, and design in regards to the practice of theory, policy, and practice of child development.

Child, family, and community

This course explores how a child’s life is influenced by family and communities, both directly and indirectly. It looks into how cultural differences, parenting styles, and family dynamics influence a child’s identity and behaviors.


You will use new research findings to design, analyze and create a curriculum that is appropriate for desired learning outcomes or specific age groups.

Research methods

This course will teach you different research methods and their key elements. This knowledge will help you better analyze research findings, in addition to possibly teaching you how to create your own research methods for your dissertation.


In this course, students learn how to observe, listen, record, and assess a child’s behavior. This is important because by documenting a child’s progress, teachers can support their needs, strengths, and weaknesses.


A thesis is a document submitted in support of candidature for a master’s degree or professional qualification presenting your research and findings.

Graduate certificate opportunities

A graduate certificate concentrates on a certain area you want to learn about. This can be a great way to learn specific information in a shorter period of time than it takes to complete a master’s program. You can also take a certificate program to get a better idea if you are interested in a field before you commit to a 2-year master’s program. Depending on the institution and program, graduate-level certificates may also be available online for those who prefer an online approach to their education.

Infant and early childhood mental health certificate

This certificate helps you address the socioemotional and mental health needs of young children and their families. It will enhance your understanding of infant and early childhood mental health, and equip you with the skills needed to support social-emotional development in children up to age 5.

Post-master’s reading education certificate

Available to students with a master’s degree in a related field, this certificate provides you with the skills and knowledge to become a certified reading specialist for grades K-12. You will learn about the latest advances in reading education and research, and develop a deeper understanding of literature, language, and curriculum development.

Teaching multilingual learners certificate

Many classrooms include students from different cultural backgrounds, who may also speak languages other than English. This certificate prepares you to work with these students and their families. You will learn theory and techniques to support the needs of early childhood, elementary, and secondary students in a school setting.

Program concentrations


This concentration can be beneficial if you are interested in a career as an administrator or a leader in early childhood programs. It will educate you on how to understand, implement, and plan administrative systems to effectively organize a program or school. Students will learn how to budget, implement programs, resolve conflicts, and manage resources. Coursework can include administration processes, educational planning, technology and evaluation, human resource administration, special education administration, and leadership for multicultural education.

Family services

This concentration prepares students for a career working with individuals and their families. It explores how families contribute and shape an individual, and how social contexts such as, schools, gender, and socioeconomic status influence development. Once the coursework is completed, the student will have the professional skills needed to work in a human services career. Coursework can include consumer education, family life education, adult-child relationships, family law, and professional issues.

Child life

This concentration is perfect for those who are interested in pursuing a career in the healthcare field as a child life specialist. Students who complete this concentration can pair their foundational knowledge from previous child development courses to content learned in this concentration, to help ease the anxiety or stress that can come in healthcare settings. They do this by providing educational information about medical procedures, coping support, and therapeutic play. Coursework can include, human physiology, child life theory and practice, family dynamics, family stress management, death and dying, and developmentally appropriate play.

Policy and advocacy

A concentration in policy and advocacy teaches students how citizens, communities, laws, economics, and social welfare shape the education system. Coursework can include social policies, child welfare, community organization and development, and sociology. Upon completion, students will be prepared for employment opportunities in policy, research, or teaching positions. For example, you could work as a program accountability manager, family support coordinator, or education manager.

Literacy education

This concentration focuses on evidence-based research, historical perspectives, and diverse methods and knowledge that have built the study of literacy education in PreK-12 aged students. This helps teachers implement best practice procedures and literary thinking to their classrooms. Coursework can include issues in literary education, reading difficulties, language development, collaboration in learning and literacy, and techniques in reading. This can prepare students for future employment as teachers or early years educators.

Career options

Some occupations require a master’s degree for entry level positions, and although this is not the case for all positions, a master’s degree can lead to a higher salary or career advancement.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the wage premiums for preschool and kindergarten teachers with master’s degrees were 43 percent higher than those without academic qualification. This higher salary can be an incentive to those who want to pursue higher education even though it is not necessarily required. It can also help set you apart from other applicants who may only have a bachelor’s degree. Depending on your credential, with a master’s degree, you can be eligible to teach at the elementary, middle, or high school levels.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for elementary schools teachers was $60,660 in 2020, and $ 62,870 for high school teachers.

A school administrator can work in schools at the elementary, middle, high school, or post-secondary levels. A school administrator is responsible for overseeing student affairs, academic programs, and faculty. At the university or college level, they are also in charge of research.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics a school administrator at the university level earns on average $97,500 annually.

A school counselor can work at the elementary, middle, or high school levels helping students develop the academic skills they need to succeed, mediating problem situations, or providing emotional support. Some states will require licensure to become a school or career counselor.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a school counselor’s median salary for 2019 was $58,120.

School principals are responsible for the supervision of all students and faculty. Every school, whether elementary, middle or high school has a school principal position. They often work with the school board to make decisions that affect the school community.


Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the median annual salary for a principal in 2020 was $98,480.

A child life specialist helps children and families while they are staying at the hospital. It is important to note that if being a child life specialist is your career goal, the child life program needs to be approved by the Association of Child Life Professionals (AALP). Before becoming a certified child life specialist you will need a bachelor’s degree, graduate from a pre-approved AALP program, and complete a 600-hour internship under the supervision of a certified child life specialist.


Payscale reported that the average hourly wage for a child life specialist was $19.94.

A child advocate is someone who is responsible for children placed in the child welfare system. Court Assigned Special Advocates (CASA) represent the child’s best interests, and ensure that the child’s medical and social needs are met. A child advocate will be responsible for attending court hearings, assessing adoptive parents, facilitating court-ordered visitations, and reporting progress or recommendations to judges.


According to PayScale, the average hourly rate for a child advocate is $15.02.

Is a Ph.D. for me?

If you decide that you want to go further than a master’s degree, then you have the option of pursuing a doctoral degree like a Ph.D. in Child Development. A doctorate will unlock advanced career options that are only available with this level of education, such as, university professors, child psychologists, or clinical researchers. Referring to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 median salary for a postsecondary teacher was $79,540.

What’s the cost?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average cost of an on-campus master’s program is $16,435 per year. A typical master’s program will take about 2 years, with the total cost for the program being approximately $32,870.

Students can expect to pay somewhere between $9,000 and $24,000 for an online master’s degree in child development.

The School Superintendents Association

Founded in 1865, this association supports school system leaders. With over 13,000 educational members, the association works to network officials from across the United States.

The American Association for University Professors

This organization helps develop high standards that maintain quality in education and academic success. You are able to access news articles related to the field, review academic resources, and network with people in the field.

Council for Higher Education Accreditation

This association works on behalf of accreditation and member services. They link you with accredited programs, offer access to publications and research, and inform you of state and federal laws in relation to accreditation.

Court Appointed Special Advocates Guardians ad Litam

This associate works with state and local programs to support court-appointed volunteer advocacy. They provide information to help children get access to a safe living environment, advocate for legislation, and give users news and event information.