Earning a Master’s in Child Development Online

If you want to land a job helping children learn, grow, and hit their milestones, you should consider pursuing an online master's in child development. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that from 2016 to 2026, the number of child life specialist positions will grow by 7%; special education teachers positions are projected to increase by 8%. A master's degree gives candidates an edge over their competitors in the job search. If you don't know where to start looking for child development master's programs, this page acts as a guide. Read on to learn how to fund your online master's in child development and family studies degree, what it takes to earn the degree, and your salary potential after graduation.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master’s Degree in Child Development?

Students pursuing their online master's degrees in child development come from all walks of life. Recent bachelor's graduates might head straight to a master's program to increase their earning potential before finding a job. Others may want to pursue a career specialization, which requires a master's degree. Professionals who have worked in the industry may also return to graduate school to obtain an advanced degree and grow in their careers.

Why Get a Master’s Degree in Child Development?

Pursuing Specialization

Master's degrees allow students to focus on one particular topic within a subject. Some schools help students narrow down a topic by offering specializations, such as in children with special needs, infancy and new language learners, administration, and teaching diversity in early education. Choosing a concentration can help shape your future career path, as well. For example, graduates with an administration emphasis might look for preschool director jobs.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Master's degrees often lead to greater career opportunities. Graduates can use their advanced education to negotiate higher salaries, or they might apply to higher-paying jobs that only consider candidates with master's degrees. These leadership and management jobs often entail more responsibility, presenting greater challenges than entry- and mid-level positions.

Online Learning Technology

When pursuing your online master's in child development, expect to use web-based technology to watch lectures, participate in class discussions, communicate for group projects, and submit assignments. Gaining this technological experience may help in your career pursuits. An increasing number of industries, including the child development field, are using digital work tools. Child development professionals often help kids use computers and other technological devices, as well.

Prerequisites for Online Child Development Programs

In researching master's programs, make sure you meet each prospective program's requirements. See below for typical prerequisites for online master's degrees in child development and family studies.

  • Work Experience: Most master's programs do not require prior work experience. For the most part, candidates need only a bachelor's degree. However, previous experience may help students better grasp their course material, especially when real-life vantage points can help them understand the theory.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Some admissions departments only ask for applicants' undergraduate transcripts, while others may also require GRE scores. Schools rarely list minimum GRE score requirements. GRE scores remain valid for five years following the original test, after which individuals must retake the exam.
  • Coursework: Admissions requirements rarely include prerequisite courses, but admissions representatives do consider prospective students' course loads and grades. Applicants usually need to submit transcripts demonstrating an undergraduate GPA of 2.5-3.0, with some exceptions.
  • Recommendations: Recommendation vary by school, but most programs ask students to submit one or two letters of recommendation. References should come from academic and professional mentors.
  • Essays: Applicants may need to submit a personal statement explaining their reasons for applying to the program and their professional goals. Admissions departments usually prefer short statements, though some may call for longer writing assessments, which test students' writing skills.
  • Interviews: On-campus programs may recommend or require prospective students to interview with a department head or professor in the last stages of the application process. However, most online programs do not expect students to complete interviews.
  • International Students: Schools normally mandate that international students be able to effectively communicate in English, since master's-level material often involves difficult discussions and readings. International applicants should submit proof of English proficiency through an assessment like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam.

How Much Can I Make with a Master’s Degree in Child Development?

Students pursuing their master's in child development online can expect to see a wide range of salaries upon entering the workforce. The average annual salary for careers in this industry range from $41,223 for child life specialists to $94,390 for elementary school principals. Holding an advanced degree generally increases your earning potential.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Child Development Graduates

Career Stats Description

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

Median Pay: $46,890

Job Growth: 11%

These professionals oversee centers that watch and teach pre-kindergarten children. Directors set budgets, hire staff, create interactive programs, connect with parents, and make sure their facilities meet state policies and regulations.

Ideal for: People who like children and possess solid business, leadership, and organizational skills.

Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher

Median Pay: $56,900

Job Growth: 7%

In short, kindergarten and elementary school teachers instruct children. They teach their students foundational skills and knowledge in reading, writing, and mathematics. These teachers must also help children overcome learning challenges and emotional difficulties.

Ideal for: Professionals with resourcefulness, physical stamina, and patience who also enjoy working with young kids.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Child Development Graduates

Career Stats Description

Instructional Coordinator

Median Pay: $63,750

Job Growth: 11%

Instructional coordinators develop curricula and teaching standards, and analyze how well schools implement these standards through testing and other evaluations. At public schools, instructional coordinators make sure curricula meet federal, state, and local regulations.

Ideal for: People who understand how children learn and possess the analytical skills to integrate mandated standards into effective strategy

Special Education Teacher

Median Pay: $59,980

Job Growth: 8%

Special education teachers help kids with learning impairments and mental disorders. They often work one-on-one with these children, allowing them to learn at their own pace. These professionals might also help in classrooms, guiding teachers in creating lesson plans that cater to special-needs children.

Ideal for: People with plenty of patience and resourcefulness who can communicate with special-needs kids

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master’s in Child Development

The cost of earning an online master's in child development and family studies typically totals over $20,000. Students who transfer prior credits or pursue accelerated degrees can often reduce costs considerably. Learners may also apply for scholarships and grants to cut down on tuition; aspiring teachers, in particular, can find significant funding. Students may apply for student loans, as well, though repaying certain loans may prove a difficult and lengthy process.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

The cost of a master's program adds up quickly, with distance learning and other fees only adding to tuition prices. Fortunately, students may access scholarships to help them pay for graduate school.

What to Expect from a Master’s-Level Online Child Development Program

Full-time students normally spend one to two years pursuing their master's degrees. Part-time students might take longer to finish, as they take on fewer credits each semester. Course material covers child development theories and perspectives. Some programs focus on early childhood, while others concentrate on adolescent development. Students must often complete a fieldwork component and a research component in order to graduate. Online students must meet the same requirements as their online peers; class discussions for distance learners occur through chat boards rather than in physical classrooms.

Major Milestones

  1. Choosing a concentration

    Some programs allow students to choose a specialization. Decide on your emphasis at the beginning of your program so you can create a degree plan that includes all required courses.

  2. Fieldwork

    Childhood development programs often require students to gain real-world experience. This may include student-teaching at grade schools, observation at early childhood centers, or working with kids in clinical settings.

  3. Master's Thesis

    Childhood development curricula typically entail a research component, commonly in the form of a master's thesis. Students must design unique research projects and carry out their own methodology.

  4. Seminar/Capstone

    Students usually enroll in seminar or capstone courses toward the end of their studies. These courses include culminating material, summarizing information from students' previous coursework. Classes often follow a discussion format.

  5. Comprehensive Exam

    Some programs require students to take a comprehensive exam before graduation. These exams cover material learned throughout the curriculum, testing whether students retained knowledge from the entire program.

  6. Licensure Prep

    If students plan to pursue careers that require licensure -- like elementary school teaching or special-needs instructing -- they must pass an exam. Licensure requirements vary by state and position.


Each college offers its own curriculum, so the below courses may not reflect every school. However, these courses represent common classes in child development master's programs.

Theories of Child Development

This course serves as an overview of major child development theories, like Freudian psychosexual development theory and Piaget's cognitive development theory.Students often take this course early on as a foundation for the rest of their curriculum.

Social-Emotional Development

Learners in this course study how biological and environmental forces shape children's social abilities and emotional capacities. The material looks at which factors help kids' growth, and how to assist children with stunted socio-emotional development.

Language Development

Language plays a large role in human communication. This course examines how young children learn language skills, and which external and internal factors might hinder kids from mastering language skills.

Early Childhood Assessment

In this course, students learn to properly evaluate the development of infants, toddlers, and young children. The course examines when to expect children to hit major milestones, like walking or talking. It also trains students in using standardized tests and screening tools.

Family and Culture

Environmental factors like socioeconomic status, race identity, and location can significantly affect a child's development. This course focuses on two of those external forces: family and culture.

Licenses and Certifications

Many positions in the child development field require licensure. Licensing processes can require up to two years of postgraduate supervised field work, plus an exam or series of exams. Individuals in careers that do not require licensure might still consider pursuing optional certification, which can help advance their careers and boost their earning potential.

  • Social Work Licensure: Clinical social workers need a master's degree and two years of supervised postgraduate training, after which they must take a clinical social work exam to earn licensure. Standards for social work certification differ between states.
  • Teacher Licensure: Public school teachers must obtain licensure, with exact requirements varying by state. Requirements typically include a bachelor's degree, a minimum undergraduate GPA, supervised teaching experience, and a passing certification exam score.
  • Special Education Teacher Licensure: Like grade school teachers, special education teachers who want to work at public schools must first obtain licensure. They should possess at least a bachelor's degree, as well as fieldwork and a passing licensure exam score.
  • Child Development Licensure: Child development specialists do not need the child development associate credential to practice, but this certification can help them find employment. Credential candidates undergo workplace observation by a representative from the Council of Professional Recognition to ensure the candidate meets certification standards.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Making the jump from graduate school to a career may seem intimidating, but professional organizations may help simplify the transition. Members attend conferences or other events, where they can learn from experts and connect with peers in the industry. These organizations often provide job boards and career services, and publish research to help students in their coursework and after graduation. Webinars and online educational resources can provide supplemental study materials.

  • Association of Child Development Specialists: This organization welcomes child development professionals in several disciplines. It hosts events like lectures and networking brunches throughout the year, and runs an online job board.
  • Council for Exceptional Children: CEC invites professionals who work with special needs children with learning or developmental disabilities, and gifted children. Members can participate in professional development opportunities and find research in CEC publications.
  • Association for Early Learning Leaders: This association serves members who manage organizations for young children. Opportunities include networking and collaboration events, administrator training, and an annual conference.
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children: With nearly 60,000 members, this organization promotes learning techniques to help the development of young children. Members may participate in online continuing education courses and enjoy access to the association's publications.
  • Society for the Study of Human Development: The SSHD brings together researchers, scholars, and professionals in the human development field. The society also hosts an annual conference and publishes educational webinars.