Master’s in early childhood education

HomeTeaching and educationMaster’s degree in early childhood education

Introduction to early childhood education

Children rely on educated adults to develop appropriate curricula, advocate for effective policies and explore new and innovative research to enhance student learning outcomes. A master’s degree not only benefits students who want to be teachers, but those who wish to explore administrative, counseling, and healthcare roles. Because the program focuses on education, developmental domains, and the influences that affect learning and development, careers with this degree span across many fields.

What do I need to apply

To be admitted to this program, admissions departments require a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Many applicants have an undergraduate degree in child development, early childhood education or psychology. If have a degree in an unrelated field, you need to complete prerequisite courses before you apply. This shows the department that you have the academic knowledge required to enter the program.

Many institutions also require personal statements, academic references and GRE scores. Applications are filled in on the department’s website, and applicants usually receive a response in 6-8 weeks.

Study options

As the use of technology becomes increasingly prevalent, higher education also offers a variety of study options that integrate online and hybrid programs to accommodate a diverse range of learners.

In online programs, students are able to learn at their own pace, enjoy the flexibility it offers, and balance their academic and professional lives. Hybrid programs and courses deliver education to students both in person and online. This gives students who enjoy the flexibility of online learning and the benefits of traditional education the best of both worlds.

Does my university need to be accredited?

Accreditation is an important aspect of higher education. It carefully vets the programs offered at different institutions to ensure the education students are receiving has met a standard of excellence. These agencies not only assess the quality of academic programs but create a culture of continuous academic improvement while establishing criteria for licensure and certification.

What will I learn?

During your 2-year master’s program, you will gain advanced knowledge about the field of child development. Your coursework will likely be paired with fieldwork experience to combine your classroom knowledge with real-world experiences. Common places to complete fieldwork include public schools, early years centers and preschools.

Theoretical approaches to child development

This course takes an in-depth look at theoretical approaches to the different domains of human development. This includes historical developmental theory, the application of theory to developmental research, and current theory. 

Research methods

An important part of any research-based master’s program is a course on quantitative research methods. This includes research design and data collection.

Cognitive development

This course focuses on theoretical and empirical evidence, specific topics and the biological and environmental influences on a child’s cognitive development from conception to adolescence.

Motivation and learning in children

Life events, biological predispositions, and cultural experiences all influence children’s motivation and ability to learn. Examining these factors will be imperative to develop teaching practices and curricula that motivate young learners.

Theoretical and applied perspectives on cross-cultural development

This course takes an in-depth look into the cultural basis of human development. You will examine the socio-emotional, cognitive, and language development of children across cultures from infancy through adolescence.

Program concentrations

Counseling and family services

This concentration focuses on family development by examining relevant theories, issues and research. Coursework may include family services program development, death and bereavement, public policies affecting families, and professional development.

Early childhood mental health

A concentration in early childhood mental health focuses on the assessment, intervention and prevention of mental illness across an emotional, psychological and social spectrum. This concentration is ideal for people interested in pursuing a career as behavioral therapists or early childhood consultants. Professionals in this field aim to promote social and emotional wellness and help children get the support they need to thrive.

Early childhood administration

This concentration is desired by individuals interested in early childhood leadership and administration. It prepares students for careers as education coordinators, curriculum specialists, and program directors. You will learn about leadership techniques, the financial aspects of childcare administration, and the dynamic between communities, families, and schools. 

Certificate opportunities

Certified child life specialist

A child life specialist plays an important role in easing the stress and anxiety for children and their families in relation to hospitalization. You will learn how to provide support, relay information, and guide family members throughout the healthcare process. This certificate gives students the knowledge and skills to become competent child life specialists by learning how to develop strategies to minimize trauma, advocate for children’s needs and build an understanding of medical diagnoses and treatment plans.

Teaching certificate

Each state requires additional certification before becoming a licensed teacher. Whether you are interested in working at the elementary, middle or high school level, students will be required to complete their state’s licensure process. Most states require the completion of a credential program, assessment exam and background check before attaining certification.

Autism certificate

As awareness of autism and its impact in classrooms has become more prevalent in recent years. This certificate provides individuals with specialized training for treating and working with children with autism spectrum disorders. You will learn about applied behavioral analysis and increase your understanding of characteristics of individuals with autism and the challenges that surround them.

Cost of degree and financial aid options

The total cost of a 2-year master’s degree in early childhood education is roughly $32,870.

Financial aid comes in many forms. Students often apply for grants, scholarships and work study programs before taking out a loan, reducing the total amount that they borrow. One of the most popular ways to reduce the cost of graduate school is through Federal Student Aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) assesses your financial background to see if you qualify for financial aid. Most applicants get a response within a few weeks of applying.

Scholarships are also a popular financial aid option. Students wanting to pursue a career in teaching and early education have several scholarships to choose from. Financial support including scholarship information should be requested from the school you are applying to.

Career options

Many students who earn a master’s degree in early childhood education build careers as kindergarten or elementary school teachers. Teachers are responsible for planning and teaching lessons, grading student work, attending staff meetings and communicating with parents.

The average annual salary for kindergarten and elementary school teachers is $59,420.

School principals are seen as leaders on their campus because they create and enforce rules, manage staff and oversee day-to-day activities. Behind the scenes school principals are responsible for budgets, ensuring schools’ safety, planning for regular maintenance on school grounds and creating plans for academic success.

The average annual salary for school principals across all grade levels is $96,400.   

Curriculum designers work with teachers, organizations and clients to create educational curricula or programs that meet students’ needs. They analyze student performance, model instruction and collaborate with teachers to help plan lessons.

The average annual salary for a curriculum designer is $59,715.

Continuing education

Many students use this degree program as a starting point for their academic futures. Pursuing a doctorate degree opens an array of specialized career opportunities only available at this level. Students who wish to work in leadership, administration, or research roles generally need a doctorate.

Doctorate in developmental psychology

This program equips students with an understanding of theory and research in developmental psychology. A doctorate in developmental psychology will cover the domains of human development and environmental and biological influences. Students in this program focus on a specific aspect of developmental psychology such as cognitive neuroscience or developmental psychopathology.

Doctorate in leadership and administration

For students interested in pursuing a career in leadership and administration, this doctoral program provides the knowledge, skills, and tools required for employment. Students will learn how to promote student achievement, enhance problem solving skills, analyze data, and understand the fundamentals of educational planning.

Doctorate in education

As the field of education becomes increasingly complex, so does its need for individuals with an exceptional academic background. This program will provide students with the professional training and practical skills needed to work in research or leadership roles. Students will examine curricular issues and develop organizational skills that can be applied to careers working in K-12 to collegiate environments.

Autism Speaks

For more information about autism and educational resources related to autism, this organization provides advocacy, support and research programs to its users.

Association of Child Life Professionals

This association establishes professional standards and provides a platform for professional development. Certificate opportunities, career information and helpful resources are also provided.

National Education Association

The National Education Association advocates for change in the education system to enhance student learning and support educators. It also provides information and resources pertaining to laws, rights, professional excellence, and success.