Earning a Master's in Early Childhood Education Online

To advance in the educational workplace, candidates can pursue an online early childhood education master's. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for preschool teachers will grow by 7% and kindergarten positions by 6% before 2024.

Not every early childhood education career requires a master's. For instance, preschool teachers only need an associate degree; however, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2015, 46.5% of people, ages 25-34, held an associate degree. This number means that nearly half of the U.S. population in this age range met the professions educational requirements. Earning an online master's in early childhood education allows candidates to stand out from associate degree holders and improve their employment opportunities.

This page examines salaries, financial aid, professional organizations, and certifications for early childhood education candidates.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education?

Students looking for career advancement or change typically pursue a master's in early childhood education online. A master's qualifies students to teach at some colleges, and postsecondary educators earn a median annual salary that exceeds earnings for elementary teachers by nearly $20,000. Master's programs may also include licensure, endorsement, or specialization opportunities that help students advance their careers. Learners can begin these programs while pursuing their master's, since coursework for each option typically overlaps.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education?

Pursuing Specialization

Early childhood education programs offer specializations with unique curricula. Students can earn traditional online ECE degrees in special education, administration and leadership, and English as a second language (ESL), or they may pursue nontraditional specializations in childhood nutrition and grant management. These concentrations prepare students for roles, like special education teacher, but may also deliver career opportunities in other fields. For instance, an administration and leadership focus can prepare learners for management positions in non educational settings.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Earning an online master's in early childhood education online can lead to career advancement. For example, childcare workers only need a high school diploma, and preschool teachers require an associate degree. However, candidates need at least a bachelor's to become a childcare center director. Holding a master's degree in early childhood education provides students with stand-out credentials to obtain these positions. In addition, students can pursue careers as instructional coordinators in elementary schools, which typically requires a master's.

Online Learning Technology

Distance learning allows students to explore platforms like Blackboard and Moodle. For early childhood education, candidates can use online learning tools to tailor lesson plans, since music videos, television shows, and other digital formats help young learners process early childhood concepts. Studying online will also improve students' communication through these platforms and prepare them for careers in non educational settings.

Prerequisites for Online Early Childhood Education Programs

Admissions materials may vary among online early childhood education programs. Candidates should review these standards to ensure they submit the necessary components before the deadline. Possible requirements include the following elements:

  • Work Experience: Programs may require years of related work experience for admission. This standard proves that candidates can function in educational settings and supplies students with professional references. Programs may also allow students to count related work experience as credits and shorten their degree-completion times.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Standardized test scores help schools determine an applicant's candidacy for a program. Many master's programs require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), but an online early childhood education master's may call for passing scores on a Praxis exam. Schools generally require students to submit scores from the last 5-10 years.
  • Coursework: Online early childhood education degrees may require students to complete child development coursework or hold hours of supervised experience. Students should also hold a 3.0 GPA in recent or cumulative classes, which may apply to bachelor's classes or previous graduate coursework. These components verify students' academic abilities and dedication to the field.
  • Recommendations: Early childhood education programs often require three recommendation letters from candidates, with departments providing more in-depth criteria. For instance, one school may insist that two letters address graduate coursework, while the third letter explains an applicant's skills with children. These letters should come from school faculty, employers, and community leaders that can verify candidates' positive qualities.
  • Essays: Students may need to write personal statements or essays that detail personal goals, accomplishments, experience, community involvement, and strengths. Programs usually specify essay length, which can be 250-750 words. These documents allow departments to examine applicants' writing skills and values.
  • Interviews: Some programs require students to complete an interview in person, over the phone, or through a virtual platform like Skype. This admissions stage may only occur after an initial screening of applicants. Many early childhood education master's programs do not require an interview.
  • International Students: International students may need to submit scores from English proficiency exams, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language; however, this requirement typically only extends to students whose first language is not English. International applicants must also submit their credentials to an evaluation organization, such as the Education Credential Evaluators.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education?

Obtaining an online early childhood education master's can lead to traditional careers and considerable pay. Elementary school principals earn a median salary of over $79,000, elementary educators' median pay exceeds $56,000, and childcare directors receive a median salary of more than $46,000 per year. Program coursework also equips learners with skills for nontraditional careers. For instance, studying teaching strategies in programs helps learners succeed as instructional coordinators.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Early Childhood Education Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Preschool Teacher

Median Pay: $28,990

Job Growth: 10%

Preschool teachers educate children, often under five years old, in basic concepts such as numbers and colors. These teachers plan daily activities and look for indications of learning issues in students.

Ideal for: Patient, organized individuals who enjoy working with children.

Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher

Median Pay: $56,900

Job Growth: 7%

Elementary school teachers oversee classrooms that typically extend to sixth grade. Often, these educators teach multiple subjects in one classroom. Responsibilities include planning lessons and grading coursework.

Ideal for: Organized individuals with various interests and strong communication skills.

Elementary School Principal

Median Pay: $80,190

Job Growth: Not Listed

Principals participate in hiring employees and ensure that school curriculum and policies align with state expectations. Candidates supervise school programs and functions and discipline students when necessary.

Ideal for: Organized candidates with strong leadership skills.

Preschool and Childcare Center Director

Median Pay: $46,890

Job Growth: 11%

These directors oversee faculty and hiring and training processes. Additional responsibilities include creating company policies, establishing child care rules, and tending to organizational budgets.

Ideal for: Candidates with strong communication and management skills.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Early Childhood Education Graduates

Career Stats Description

Educational Consultant

Median Pay: $62,487

Job Growth: Not Listed

Educational consultants help students apply for college and decide on careers. These workers may also help parents of special needs children determine the best programs and schools for their child.

Ideal for: Strong communicators who prioritize education and possess motivational skills.

School Counselor

Median Pay: $49,110

Job Growth: Not Listed

Counselors help students with behavioral problems, learning disorders, and troubles at home. These professionals discuss students' concerns one-on-one or in groups and communicate problems to parents.

Ideal for: Problem-solving, empathetic individuals who communicate well.

Special Education Teacher

Median Pay: $58,980

Job Growth: 8%

These teachers evaluate the needs of special needs children and alter lesson plans to cater to their learning styles. Other responsibilities include communicating with parents and school administrators regarding student advancement.

Ideal for: Creative, patient thinkers with solid communication abilities.

Instructional Coordinator

Median Pay: $63,750

Job Growth: 11%

Instructional coordinators guide schools toward procedures that boost student performance and accomplish school goals. These candidates may train faculty, assist with selecting textbooks, and make suggestions on curriculum changes.

Ideal for: Strong communicators who are detail-oriented and possess leadership abilities.

Source: BLS/PayScale/Projections Central

Paying for an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education

Graduate students often pay higher tuition than undergraduate learners. To manage these tuition costs, candidates can explore financial aid, including degree-specific grants and scholarships. For instance, a student may study full-time at schools that charge higher part-time tuition or enroll in accelerated paths to avoid paying for additional semesters. Overall, students should compare budgets and available aid to program costs to determine which schools fit their financial needs.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

To help pay for an online early childhood education degree, candidates should apply for financial aid. This assistance comes from field-specific scholarships and grants, including the funds provided below for early childhood education majors.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Early Childhood Education Program

Earning an online early childhood education degree often requires field components, such as practicums and student teaching. For a master's, candidates may need to complete a capstone project, submit portfolios, or craft research projects related to the field; however, these details vary by program. Early education master's programs typically require at least 30 credits, though some degrees require over 40 credits. Students may take courses asynchronously or synchronously through learning platforms like Blackboard or Moodle. Online courses generally include discussion forums, exams, projects, and papers.

Major Milestones

  1. Research Project

    Departments may require students to explore an early childhood education concept over the course of one or two semesters. This project should target a problem within the field. Students may also need to write a research paper or deliver an oral presentation on their findings.

  2. Student Teaching

    To earn an early childhood education master's degree online, candidates may need to complete student teaching experiences. These courses target specific age ranges, such as birth to preschool.

  3. Capstone Project

    Capstone projects demonstrate knowledge obtained throughout the program through research assignments, academic papers, and portfolios. These capstones include coursework from prior semesters or involve material that students develop specifically for the projects.

  4. Prepare for Licensure

    Candidates pursue certifications and licenses that may require more than coursework. For instance, teaching licenses can necessitate standardized tests, like Praxis exams. Students should explore steps for credentials before completing their ECE degree online.

  5. Apply for Doctorate Program

    Students looking to pursue a terminal degree in education should research programs to ensure they provide all admissions requirements before deadlines. These elements may include recommendation letters, statements of purpose, and resumes.

  6. Apply for Graduation

    Some schools require students to apply for graduation by submitting a form and paying a fee. Other possible steps involve taking a survey, submitting a portfolio, and participating in an interview.


Coursework for an online master's in early childhood education varies among schools, particularly since departments may offer specializations; however, certain topics surface in multiple programs, including the following classes.

Literacy in Early Childhood Education

These courses prepare candidates to help children read and write by exploring language acquisition. Addressed topics include phonics, context, and vocabulary. Candidates learn techniques for delivering this information, along with common obstacles that young readers face.

Foundations of Education

Coursework explores education through theoretical, philosophical, and historical means. Programs incorporate contemporary models and ideas into classes as students examine current research practices and ethical issues in the field.

Mathematics in Early Childhood Education

Candidates learn various mathematical concepts in early childhood classrooms and explore techniques for delivering these concepts. Departments may ground ideas in theories and current research. Classes may focus on certain age groups or extend to include science concepts.

Early Childhood and Play

These courses introduce learners to the impact of play while educating children. Departments often cite popular theorists to assess why playing assists children in understanding new concepts.

Early Childhood Development

Students explore emotional, physical, and academic growth in early years. Courses may explore obstacles that complicate a child's development and ways to encourage healthy growth inside of classrooms. Coursework also requires classroom observation and targets a specific age group.

Licenses and Certifications

Candidates can pursue several licenses and certifications that apply to educational work. For example, individuals who want to teach in public schools should obtain a teaching license, while learners interested in childcare work can consider the certified childcare professional credential. States may require different steps to earn these qualifications, but the process often includes education and work experience. Occupations do not always require these credentials; however, obtaining these distinctions helps candidates stand out from the competition.

  • Teaching License: Public elementary, middle, and high schools typically require teachers to hold a license. Many states require standardized tests for these credentials, such as Praxis exams. Costs for these tests vary. For example, an algebra Praxis exam costs $120, while the elementary education exam in content knowledge for teaching costs $199. Other related Praxis categories include math, science, and language for elementary education.
  • Reading Specialist Certification: Reading specialists may work for school districts to increase literacy through lessons and curriculum guidance. The process to earn this certification varies by state, but common requirements include a teaching license, a related graduate degree, and field experience. Candidates may also take the reading specialist Praxis exam, which costs $146.
  • Certified Childcare Professional Credential: This credential helps candidates earn advanced childcare and early education careers. To earn this credential, graduates must fulfill 720 field hours with children who are under six years old. Candidates must also complete 180 training hours and take the National Early Childhood Education specialist exam. Application materials include a portfolio, endorsement letters, and writing examples.
  • Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential: Categories for this credential target three age groups of children: birth to three years, three to five years, and birth to five years. Candidates complete 120 hours of training related to an age group and 480 hours of experience. Applicants must submit a portfolio, undergo a CDA visit, and take the CDA exam. These credentials reflect child care expertise for candidates who run their own facilities.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations often deliver events that introduce candidates to field concepts. These events also allow attendants to network with professionals in the field, which can lead to career advancement opportunities. Organizations frequently provide online resources that discuss field topics and maintain job boards on their sites. Groups may additionally host training opportunities and courses that fulfill continuing education requirements for licenses and certifications. Essentially, these organizations prove invaluable to candidates in the field.

  • Early Childhood Teacher: Candidates can use this resource to explore teaching certifications and job opportunities. The site includes a blog with information on child development and curriculum and connects viewers to lesson plans and classroom tools on exterior sites.
  • Scholastic: Teachers can use this resource to explore lesson plans and browse literature for classrooms, based on grade level. The organization delivers a blog with topics such as early childhood libraries and seasonal activities for classrooms.
  • U.S. Department of Education: This department connects site visitors to resources, including national statements on literacy, cultural differences in learning, and tips for teaching math and reading to children. The organization also provides financial aid information for students pursuing a master's in early childhood education online.
  • Resources for Early Learning: Topics addressed by this organization involve math, music, reading, writing, science, and communication activities for children who are under 33 months. The organization also offers professional development training that focuses on children up to five years old.
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children: NAEYC delivers periodicals and books for educators, including "Teaching Young Children" and "Voices of Practitioners." The association hosts a yearly conference and allows members to participate in a public policy forum.
  • Learning Disabilities Association of America: The association provides a journal, books, and webinars that concern learning disabilities. The group advocates for government policies that help individuals with these disabilities, offers guidance on disorders that educators may encounter, and features annual conferences for members.
  • National Education Association: NEA supplies lesson plans and tips for structuring classrooms. The association also delivers conferences, training, and events in various locations and encourages educators to participate in Read Across America.
  • Zero to Three: This resource offers guidance on stages within a child's first years, including nutritional needs and behavioral issues. The organization provides training and hosts a yearly conference. Candidates may also attend events virtually.
  • National Head Start Association: Members can participate in training and attend events that include a winter leadership institute and a conference and expo. The association's blog covers concepts such as cultural diversity in education.
  • Early Childhood News: This resource provides articles on early childhood education topics, such as child development, safety, and classroom setup. Teachers, parents, and childcare workers can also explore classroom activities and lesson plan tips, based on children's ages, along with providing reading recommendations.