Best Online Master’s in Child Development Programs

Learn more about career opportunities for those with an online master's in child development and explore top online programs in this field.

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by Staff Writers

Updated June 10, 2022

Edited by Colin Weickmann
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Earning an online master's in child development can prepare graduates to enter a growing and meaningful career with many different professional pathways available. The cost of these programs can vary dramatically based on where a student decides to attend. Those looking to keep a tight budget often decide to earn their degree as a resident learner at a public college.

The majority of programs consist of 30-40 credits and take approximately two years to complete. Some accelerated programs may allow students to graduate in as few as 18 months, while part-time programs usually take three years. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Graduates can look forward to solid career growth in the coming years, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting jobs forpreschool and childcare center directors to grow 11% between 2020-2030. Positions forelementary school principals are projected to grow by 8%.

Keep reading to learn abouttop online schools offering master's in child development programs and make a confident decision aboutattending graduate school.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Child Development Program?

Whenpreparing for graduate school and setting out to earn a master's in child development, prospective students should consider whether this degree suits their personalities and interests. Graduates typically possess an interest in the intersection of education and psychology, taking a cerebral approach to better serving children at various developmental stages.

The majority of programs comprise 30-40 credits and take two years to complete. Some accelerated degrees may allow students to graduate in as few as 18 months. Master's in child development programs commonly offer concentrations in subspecialties of the discipline. These vary by school, but common offerings include:

In addition to coursework, master's in child development programs often require learners to participate in a semester-long practicum in an approved setting to complete mandated hours and build hands-on skills before graduating.

Most programs come as either a master of arts (MA) or a master of science (MS). The MA focuses more on liberal arts education and supports students considering jobs in education or counseling. The MS. prepares students for advanced doctorate study in areas of psychology and behavioral sciences.

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Popular Online Master's in Child Development Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Child Development Program?

Child Growth and Development

Taken in the first semester, this course teaches learners about development from conception through early adolescence. Students consider metrics from social, emotional, mental, and physical development.

Program Planning for Child Education

This course offers the training needed to create programming to match various developmental stages. Students review contemporary materials to compare what works and what does not.

Child Development Program Administration

Designed for students considering administrative roles, this course looks at common policies and procedures when working with preschool and kindergarten-aged children. Students consider local, state, and federal regulations and learn about recordkeeping and budget-setting.

Educating Exceptional Young Children

This course supports students looking to work in special education or educational intervention. Coursework covers hearing, language, speech, and visual disabilities. The class also covers gifted and talented education.

Observation and Assessment

This course provides the training needed to observe and assess children from preschool through elementary ages. The class emphasizes observation recording, documentation, and communication with other professionals and parents.

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What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Child Development Program?

Admission requirements for master's in child development programs vary across programs and schools, but many set similar expectations for accepted students. Most programs look for candidates with related undergraduate degrees in areas such as psychology, education, or similar fields. In general, online and in-person graduate admission requirements tend to mirror one another. Aside from the application components highlighted below, some particularly competitive programs may also require interviews.


The vast majority of online master's in child development programs use online college application systems, though a few may still accept paper applications. Common information required on these applications includes the student's full name, mailing address, date of birth, and citizenship status.

Test Scores

Master's in child development programs commonly require applicants to submit GRE scores as part of the application process, making GRE prep important. Some programs may bypass this requirement, while others may let students with high GPAs or significant relevant experience apply without taking the exam.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation form a critical part of the application, as they allow others who know candidates well to express opinions on their preparedness for advanced education. Most recommendation letters come from current/former professors, employers, supervisors, and/or faith leaders.

Resume and Work Experience

Work experience requirements vary from program to program: Some may look for candidates with relevant work experience, while others may accept career changers or recent bachelor's degree graduates. Regardless, prospective students should supply a college application resume with a list of any paid and/or volunteer experience.


Essays provide the opportunity for prospective students to convey to admissions committees why their applications should be approved. Important topics to cover in grad school essays include why a learner wants to earn a master's in child development, how they plan to use it, and why they want to attend a particular program.

Official Transcripts

Official transcripts play multiple roles in the admissions process. In addition to helping admissions officers verify GPAs and ensure all prerequisites were met, they also help with transfer student processing. Official transcripts let officers know which classes will likely transfer to the new program and which classes a learner may need to retake.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Child Development Degree?

Career Outlook

Earning an online master's in child development degree can lead to a variety of meaningful jobs after graduating. Many of these jobs are also projected to grow in the coming years, creating career stability for graduates. While individuals who decide to pursue a master's in child development typically do not pick this path with the hope of becoming millionaires, several positions offer above-average pay.

Earning this degree provides the qualifications needed to work in various settings, including preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school settings in both public and private institutions. Others may decide to pursue jobs focused more on counseling, which can lead to positions in a variety of healthcare, clinical, and private counseling settings.

See where a master's in child development degree can take you. Learn more about child development careers.

Career Paths

Preschool and Childcare Center Director

Whether working in public or private childcare centers, these professionals handle the high-level responsibilities of running the facilities. They hire teachers and childcare aides, interview prospective parents and students, and set organizational budgets. They also ensure all regulatory and legal requirements are followed.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $49,160

Elementary School Principal

After working in the classroom for a time, some educators may decide to take their career to the next level and become school principals. These professionals oversee the daily operations of schools, including hiring staff, providing professional development opportunities, and meeting with parents and students over disciplinary issues. They also oversee all budgetary needs.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $98,490

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher

Working in K-6 classrooms, these teachers provide students with the educational foundation learners need to move into middle school. In addition to creating lesson plans in areas such as math, science, and reading, these professionals evaluate students, assign and grade projects, and work one-to-one with learners to address specific challenges.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $60,660

Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers work with students with physical, emotional, mental, or learning disabilities. They translate general lessons into those that work for students of various academic ability levels and provide classroom, small group, and individual teaching and mentoring. They also assess performance and provide guidance on educational goals.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $61,500

Behavioral Disorder and Mental Health Counselor

These professionals help children and adolescents dealing with behavioral disorders and/or mental health conditions. They work with patients and their parents to evaluate behaviors, develop treatment plans, and review changes along the way to see what works and what still needs to be addressed. They may also refer patients to other resources or services.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $47,660

Child Development Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

After earning their master's in child development and working in the discipline for a few years, some professionals may decide to return to school and upgrade their credentials. Some may decide to pursue a doctorate in child development, while others may decide to take a more generalist approach and pursue adoctorate in psychology or adoctorate in education.

Students unsure if they want to pursue a full degree may be interested in a variety of post-graduate certificates. Certificate programs are available to help build specialized knowledge in niche subspecialty areas.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Child Development Program?


For the vast majority of students, cost plays a major role in deciding which master's in child development program to attend. Understanding thetrue program cost is vitally important, as iscomparing costs between online and on-campus programs. In many cases, online students can save substantial amounts of money.

Program Format

Online master's in child development programs are commonly offered in bothsynchronous and asynchronous formats, with the latter option typically working best for students who need flexibility. Students can also usually choose betweenfull-time and part-time learning schedules to help them manage personal and professional responsibilities.


When decidingwhether to go to college online or in person, location can play an important role. Master's in child development programs with no campus-based requirements allow students from near and far to enroll; those with in-person components typically mean students need to be within driving distance of the campus.


Failing to attend an accredited university can result in issues when it comes to transferring credits, seeking licensure, or even finding a job after graduation. In addition to finding anonline college with accreditation, students should also look for master's programs in child development with proper programmatic accreditation through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Student Support

Attending a master's in child development program with greatstudent support services can impact learners while at school and long after. The best programsoffer mentorship opportunities and top-tierinternship connections. In addition to in-person support systems, distance learners can also ask aboutonline student services.

Best Accredited Online Master's in Child Development Programs

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Best Online Master's in Child Development Programs

  1. University of South Florida

    Tampa, FL



    Based in Tampa, USF serves over 50,000 students, many of whom enroll in online courses. USF offers a fully online master of science in child and adolescent behavioral health that prepares graduates for careers as directors of juvenile justice organizations, substance abuse rehabilitation clinics, and child welfare agencies. USF provides distance learning through the Canvas platform.

    Required coursework in the program's 39-credit curriculum covers topics like behavioral health policy and cultural competency in children's mental health. Students also learn advanced research and evaluation methods. This master's in child development program lets candidates personalize the curriculum through seven electives. Participants also choose between thesis and applied (non-thesis) options.

    The program offers fall and spring entry dates. Applicants must submit three recommendation letters, a resume or CV, a writing sample, and a one-page statement of purpose. USF recommends — but does not require — that students send in GRE scores.

  2. University of Minnesota Twin Cities

    Minneapolis, MN



    UMN maintains its flagship campus in the Twin Cities, where it serves more than 50,000 students. The university also offers online degrees, including an entirely online master of arts in applied child and adolescent development. Program graduates are prepared to work as clinical counselors, social work case managers, and healthcare advocates for clients in this age group.

    Students choose from three specialized tracks: individualized studies, child life, and infant and early childhood mental health. Learners in the child life track complete a 600-hour internship and qualify to sit for the child life professional certification examination and the Association of Child Life Professionals eligibility assessment. All three pathways require 32 credits.

    Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA. UMN's College of Education and Human Development awards several scholarships each year.

  3. University of La Verne

    La Verne, CA



    La Verne hosts over 90 academic programs across its four colleges and eight regional campuses. The university also offers several degrees through the Blackboard platform, including an online master of science in child and adolescent development. Students in the program can complete all coursework online or complete some classes on campus.

    The program's 39-credit curriculum includes courses like educational psychology, studies in attachment, and cognition and brain development. The program culminates in a practitioner-focused experience or a research-oriented capstone. Distance learners can graduate in 18 months.

    To earn admission into La Verne's online master's in child development program, applicants need a minimum 2.75 GPA. All prospective students must also submit a statement of purpose detailing relevant work experience and career objectives and complete a writing assessment and an interview with the program chair.

  4. Missouri State University

    Springfield, MO



    MSU provides distance education through the Blackboard platform, delivering over 50 fully online certificates and degrees, including a master of science in early childhood and family development. This program allows working professionals to complete one class at a time around their schedules. Students may also take a full course load and graduate in three semesters.

    MSU also offers an accelerated, dual-degree track for learners who want to earn both their bachelor's and master's in child development in five years. Core courses in the program include advanced human development studies and children/families in a diverse society. Learners can use 12 elective credits to personalize their curriculum.

    Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective students who do not meet this threshold may still enroll if they submit adequate GRE scores. The program accepts up to nine transfer credits.

  5. Southern New Hampshire University

    Manchester, NH



    Based in Manchester, SNHU serves over 90,000 online students every year. The university offers roughly online 300 certificates and degrees, including a master's in child development. By taking two courses each10-week term, learners can complete the program in 15 months.

    The program's 36-credit curriculum covers topics like theories of personality, cognitive neuropsychology, and ethical practice in psychology. Students learn common psychometric techniques and how to evaluate test results. The curriculum culminates with a capstone project.

    SNHU does not require standardized test scores for admission. Applicants must hold a bachelor's in psychology or complete prerequisite coursework. SNHU provides a variety of financial aid, including scholarships and tuition discounts for military personnel.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Child Development Programs

Is a master's in child development worth it?

Before deciding if a master's in child development is worth it, prospective students must first decideif an online degree is worth it. While many learners have transitioned to digital learning, you should make sure this fits your educational needs before enrolling.

Master's in child development programs continue to be popular for individuals looking to work in education, psychology, research, and academia. Because of their versatility, graduates find many innovative and fulfilling ways to use their credentials.

What can I do with a master's in child development?

Graduates of a master's in child development program can take their careers in several different directions. Those interested in working directly with children in educational settings may decide to pursue jobs as preschool and childcare center directors, kindergarten or elementary school principals, or elementary school teachers.

Those interested in more clinical roles may decide to work as school counselors or mental health counselors. Some go on to earn a doctorate in psychology so they can receive licensure and practice as child psychologists. Many different pathways exist for graduates of these programs.

Are child development graduates in demand?

According to the BLS, child development graduates are very much in demand. Jobs forpreschool and childcare center directors are projected to expand by 11% between 2020-2030, leading to the creation of nearly 7,000 new positions. The organization projects more than 111,000 new kindergarten and elementary school teachers to be created by the end of the decade.

Given the versatility of this degree, students can leverage their skill sets and knowledge in many different directions. Because of this, they can choose from a variety of professional pathways.

How much money can I make with a master's in child development?

Salaries for master's in child development graduates vary based on several important factors. Where a professional works can make a big difference: Whilekindergarten and elementary school teachers working in public schools earned a median annual wage of $62,050 as of 2020, those employed by private schools made just $50,050 during the same year.

Other factors impacting how much a professional can earn include how much experience they possess, the type of employer they work for, the title they hold, and where they live. For instance, a graduate living in New York City will likely make more than one in Mobile, Alabama, since the cost of living in NYC is significantly higher.

What are the highest paying jobs with a master's in child development?

Graduates looking to maximize their earning potential often gravitate toward management and leadership roles, as these tend to pay the most. According to the BLS, professionals working aselementary school principals earned a median annual wage of $98,490 as of 2020, with those in the top 10% of earners commanding salaries of more than $152,500.

To qualify as an elementary school principal, however, the vast majority of schools look for candidates with at least a few years of teaching experience. Professionals aspiring to these positions may need to work in a classroom for a time before applying for administrative leadership positions.

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