Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs 2022

Online master's in early childhood education lets educators continue working while they earn a higher degree. Learn more about how you can advance in your career without stepping foot on...

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by Marisa Upson

Updated September 22, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Fecich

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Earning an online master's degree in early childhood education can grant individuals the training and experience necessary to obtain an advanced teaching certification or endorsement to work with young children. These programs are also well suited for educators with other specialties who wish to transition into working with young children or for individuals who want to pursue a doctorate.

This guide highlights top early childhood education master's programs and explores what prospective students can expect to encounter during the admissions process.

www.bestcolleges.com 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?

Earning an online master's in early childhood education can lead to a career as a teacher in preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school settings; a preschool or childcare center director; an early childhood instructional specialist; an early childhood special education teacher; or an early childhood education professor.

Data indicates that the demand for early childhood educators and specialists is increasing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of preschool and childcare center directors is expected to grow by 11% from 2020-2030.

Best Accredited Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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#1

Pacific Oaks College

School Information
Location Pasadena, California
Admission Rate 5%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 68% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,115; $892 for active-duty military members, veterans, and military dependents
Out of State | $1,115; $892 for active-duty military members, veterans, and military dependents

Credits to Graduate
30

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A

Pacific Oaks offers a master's in early childhood education that emphasizes trauma studies. The curriculum covers topics such as incarceration, substance abuse, and foster care. Learners can complete this degree fully online in 2-4 years.

Degree-seekers study public policy and its impact on children and families. Students also learn how to create responsive communities for all families.

Graduates may work in public schools, childcare centers, or other state agencies. Applicants need a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or child development.

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#2

Liberty University

School Information
Location Lynchburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 51%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $565 per credit for full-time learners; $615 per credit for part-time learners
Out of State | $565 per credit for full-time learners; $615 per credit for part-time learners

Credits to Graduate
36

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Liberty's fully online master's in early childhood education degree emphasizes a Christ-centered curriculum. The program follows an eight-week schedule. Students can graduate in less than two years. 

Learners complete coursework online. They study topics such as advanced child development and elementary curriculum. However, students must complete a practicum in person. 

Graduates may work as academic directors, educational consultants, or curriculum designers. Liberty offers eight annual start dates. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and a 2.5 GPA.

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#3

Fordham University

School Information
Location Bronx, New York
Admission Rate 46%
Graduation Rate 83%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 12% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Self-Paced

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,500
Out of State | $1,500

Credits to Graduate
36

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Fordham's master's in early childhood education program features a focus on preschool and primary education. Learners can enroll full time or part time. Coursework prepares graduates to teach in classrooms. 

Online classes in children's literature and early learning prepare students for field placements. Degree-seekers observe two grade levels in the fall and spring semesters for four days a week.  

Applicants need a 3.0 GPA. Fordham requires GRE or GMAT scores. 

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#4

UMass Global

School Information
Location Irvine, California
Admission Rate 89%
Graduation Rate 60%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 96% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $680
Out of State | N/A

Credits to Graduate
30

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

UMass Global's master's in early childhood education program trains students for program management careers. Students can take classes completely online or in a hybrid format. UMass Global offers courses at its Irvine, California, campus. Required courses cover topics such as learning theory, curriculum studies, and fiscal planning.

Only California residents can apply. Applicants need at least one certification. These may include California Child Development Associate Teacher, Single Subject Home Economics, or Child Development Associate.

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#5

Northcentral University

School Information
Location La Jolla, California
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $745
Out of State | $745

Credits to Graduate
30

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Learners can complete NCU's master's in early childhood education program in 15 months. Graduates may work as public or private school teachers, curriculum developers, or administrators. 

Required courses cover topics such as children's literature and administration of early childhood programs. 

Programs do not include live lectures or group meetings. Learners complete 10 online courses with weekly deadlines. Learners may take up to five years to finish the program. 

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#6

Mercy College

School Information
Location Dobbs Ferry, New York
Admission Rate 82%
Graduation Rate 44%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 36% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $943
Out of State | $943

Credits to Graduate
39

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Mercy's master's in early childhood education program allows students to earn multiple certificates. Learners can also apply for New York certification exams. Students can take additional coursework and practicums to earn certificates. 

All online learners take courses that focus on literacy instruction, educational foundations, and educational evaluation. The online program requires students to observe a classroom and complete 100 hours of fieldwork. Learners complete a clinical experience for the capstone project. 

Applicants need a bachelor's degree and a 3.0 GPA. Prospective learners may apply in the fall, spring, and summer. 

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#7

University of Colorado Denver

School Information
Location Denver, Colorado
Admission Rate 67%
Graduation Rate 52%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 31% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online or Hybrid | Self-Paced Classes and Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $388
Out of State | $466

Credits to Graduate
30

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Students can complete CU Denver's master's in early childhood education degree in 2-3 years. Degree-seekers learn online once a week. Most courses run in the late afternoons or evenings. Coursework focuses on early childhood education, research in schools, and working with families and communities. The program culminates with a capstone project. 

This program does not lead to licensure or endorsement. However, CU Denver offers other degrees for licensure and endorsement as special education specialists.

Online learners can access 24/7 technical support. They can also arrange virtual conferences with faculty. CU offers rolling admissions. New students start in the fall, spring, and summer.

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#8

Purdue University Global

School Information
Location West Lafayette, Indiana
Graduation Rate 27%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 99% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $420; $320 per quarter-credit for military members
Out of State | $420; $320 per quarter-credit for military members

Credits to Graduate
46-54

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Purdue Global offers a master's in early childhood education program with several concentrations. Options include educational leadership, teaching literacy and language, and teaching students with special needs. 

Enrollees spend about 20 hours per week studying. Each course lasts six weeks. Full-time learners can graduate in 1.5 years. The program does not lead to certification. However, advisors can help students research certification. Lessons focus on research methods, classroom management, and curriculum.

Online learners can use support services on campus through the Graduate Resource Center. Purdue Global offers multiple start dates. 

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#9

Northwestern College

School Information
Location Orange City, Iowa
Admission Rate 70%
Graduation Rate 68%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 37% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $340
Out of State | $340

Credits to Graduate
33

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

NWC offers an online master's in early childhood education for experienced teachers. Graduates may work as early childhood administrators, specialists, or educational consultants.

Learners study at their own pace. Courses last eight weeks. By taking two classes every semester, online learners can graduate in 5-6 semesters. 

Required courses include curriculum and assessment and educational research methods. Learners also study strategies for early literacy development. Online learners can complete an additional semester to earn their birth through grade three inclusive setting endorsement.

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#10

Erikson Institute

School Information
Location Chicago, Illinois
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 49% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,135
Out of State | $1,135

Credits to Graduate
30

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Erikson offers a master's in early childhood education program with seven concentrations. Options include early childhood STEM, language and literacy, and special education. 

Full-time students take 20 months to complete the program. Part-time students take up to three years. Unlike the on-campus program, the online program does not lead to licensure. Applicants need a bachelor's degree.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Early Childhood Education Programs

Is a master's in early childhood education worth it?

For students interested in pursuing a career in early childhood education, a master's degree is worth it. A master's degree can lead to more career opportunities and greater potential earnings, plus many online degrees now rival degrees earned on campus. In addition, many positions in education require a master's degree.

Students may also choose programs that incorporate a student teaching experience and lead to state certification. Current teachers may choose programs that align with their career goals, like special education or leadership. Some graduates continue their education and pursue a doctoral degree, enabling them to teach at the college level.

What can I do with a master's in early childhood education?

A master's in early childhood education leads to numerous careers, depending on a program's concentration. Some lead to teaching licensure and include supervised student teaching. Others are designed for current teachers who want to specialize in special education or English as a second language.

Some graduates pursue administrative roles as childcare center directors or managers of state and federally funded Head Start programs. This degree may also lead to positions advocating for children in social services. Additionally, graduates may work in government or nonprofit agencies as policy analysts for early childhood education.

Are early childhood education graduates in demand?

The BLS projects 10% job growth for education, training, and library occupations from 2020-2030. This would amount to about 920,000 new jobs during this period. Some occupations in this sector experience greater demand than others.

For instance, preschool teachers, elementary school teachers, and childcare center directors see projected employment growth of 18%, 7%, and 11%, respectively. Graduates pursuing child advocate roles in social services also see greater than average demand. The BLS projects 12% job growth for social workers from 2020-2030.

How much money can I make with a master's in early childhood education?

The salaries for people with a master's in early childhood education vary considerably depending on the occupation, employer, location, and experience level. For example, according to the BLS, childcare center directors earn a median annual wage of $49,160 as of May 2020, with the top 10% making $86,040.

Childcare center directors also find greater earnings in California and New York, with reported average earnings of $58,890 and $79,530, respectively. The BLS also reports that elementary school teachers earn a median yearly salary of $60,940, with the highest 10% making $100,480.

What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with a master's in early childhood education?

A master's in early education can lead to an elementary school principal position. This role offers one of the highest-paying jobs for those going into administration with this degree. This position usually requires several years of teaching experience and passing the state licensure examination.

The BLS reports that elementary school principals earn a median wage of $98,490, with the top 10% making $152,500 as of May 2020. The top-paying states for education administrators include New York, California, and Connecticut, with reported average wages of $141,020, $132,400, and $131,830, respectively.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Program?

A master's in early education prepares graduates for a career in leadership roles working with and advocating for children from birth to age eight. Positions in this field require patience, creativity, strong communication skills, and a passion for children and teaching. Early education teachers, administrators, and policymakers can have a lasting influence on children's lives.

An online master's in early childhood education program typically requires about 30-39 credits and takes about two years of full-time enrollment to complete. However, accelerated online tracks can lead to a degree in one year. Programs that lead to initial teacher certification may require 48 credits. These programs require fieldwork and a student teaching experience. Other programs lead to add-on endorsements for existing licensed teachers.

Concentrations within the program help students direct their studies toward their career goals. When preparing for grad school, students should consider where they would like to focus their studies. A few of the many concentrations include the following:

  • Trauma Studies: This concentration teaches students how to identify and address behavioral issues that stem from trauma. Graduates may pursue roles in nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and schools.
  • Special Education: This specialization focuses on the skills required to serve and teach students with special needs.

Leadership and Advocacy: This concentration teaches students about management and advocating for policies that support and protect young children and their families.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Popular Online Master's in Early Childhood Education 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 Early Childhood Education Program?

Curriculum in Early Childhood Education

This course provides an overview of principles in program development for young children. Participants learn about the theoretical basis of curriculum development in areas related to language, literacy, science, and social studies. They also link theory to practical planning.

Language and Literacy in Young Children

This course introduces students to current research and knowledge related to language and literacy development in children through age five. Participants learn about language components, the process of language and literacy acquisition, and language disorders demonstrated by children with learning disabilities.

Assessment in Early Childhood Education

This course addresses using formal and informal methods to measure intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development in young children. Participants also learn how to accommodate English language learners and children with disabilities.

Behavior Management

This course presents students with the latest research and instructional approaches for managing behaviors effectively. Participants learn how to use behavior management techniques to address diverse needs in the classroom, evaluate interactions between students, and gauge the effectiveness of instructional approaches.

Leadership and Supervision in Education

This course introduces students to the methods, theories, and best practices in education leadership, including supervisory methods of staff, organization of instructional materials, and evaluation of educational programs. Participants also learn how to analyze the performance and efficacy of administrative programs and what types of strategies increase educational outcomes.

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What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Program?

Admission requirements for an online master's in early childhood education program include a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Some programs require a bachelor's in early childhood education or child development, while others do not specify a major.

Schools may also allow applicants holding a bachelor's in another discipline to complete prerequisite courses before admittance. Additionally, some programs require that candidates hold a current teaching certificate. Selective programs may also require individual or group interviews held in person or remotely.

Application

Candidates submit their applications through a school's online portal or website. Most schools also accept paper applications. The application form may require general contact information, GPA, undergraduate coursework, and the name of references. Programs also require the following information and material.

Test Scores

While master's in education programs once required a GRE score for admission consideration, many programs are phasing out that requirement. Make sure to check with your school on their specific requirements. Most schools require international applicants to meet the English language proficiency requirements by submitting TOEFL or IELTS scores.

Letters of Recommendation

Most programs require 2-3 letters of recommendation. Consider asking for these references at least 1-2 months in advance to ensure they arrive by the application deadline. Most schools recommend that applicants obtain references from faculty members, supervisors, mentors, and others who can speak to a candidate's skills and qualifications.

Resume and Work Experience

Some programs require applicants to possess a valid teaching certificate and several years of teaching experience. Depending on the concentration, a candidate may also require experience teaching children from birth to age eight. Make sure to update your resume to reflect your most recent experience, including skills gained from volunteer positions and service to the education field.

Essays

Programs vary on the information they request in essays or personal statements. Some require answers to specific questions, like why a candidate wants to become an early childhood educator or administrator. Others require general information, including short and long-term goals and how their program fits into these aspirations.

Official Transcripts

All programs require official transcripts from any postsecondary institutions attended. Many require a minimum GPA of around 3.0. Students with a lower GPA may qualify for conditional admission. Many programs also allow nine or more transfer credits that require evaluation before acceptance.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Degree?

Career Outlook

An online master's in early childhood education prepares students for careers in teaching, social work, administration, and policy reform. Earning a master's also qualifies graduates for advanced roles in early childhood education. For instance, teachers may advance to administrative roles, principal, or director positions.

Concentrations enable students to pursue their area of interest, whether special education, administration, child advocacy, or curriculum developers. Potential salaries vary based on the position and employer. For example, special education teachers earn a median annual salary of $61,500 as of May 2020, with the top 10% earning more than $100,570.

The BLS projects 8% job growth for special education teachers from 2020-2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The projected employment growth for elementary school teachers and childcare center directors is 7% and 11%, respectively.

See where a master's in early childhood education degree can take you. Learn more about education careers.

Career Paths

Preschool and Childcare Center Director

These directors manage schools and childcare centers. They may supervise staff, prepare budgets, and design education programs. Some work for federally and state-funded Head Start programs. Others may oversee franchised or independently owned childcare centers. They may establish policies and manage centers to ensure effective operations. Licensure and certification requirements vary by state and employer.

Median Annual Salary: $49,160

Special Education Teacher

These teachers work with children who have emotional, mental, physical, or learning disabilities. They assess a student's abilities and needs to develop their lessons and the use of assistive technology. Special education teachers also implement individualized education programs (IEP) to meet the state and federal requirements of providing children with free and appropriate education.

Median Annual Salary: $61,500

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher

A master's in early education provides teachers with a deeper understanding of how young children develop and learn and the best practices for teaching subjects like science, math, and reading. These teachers often use a hands-on approach to teach abstract concepts and help students overcome learning challenges. Teachers require state licensure or certification.

Median Annual Salary: $60,660

Early Childhood Education Policy Analyst

Education policy analysts identify and research key issues in public schools and make recommendations for solutions. They act as advocates for children, parents, teachers, and communities. They may give presentations, monitor trends, and conduct cost analyses. These analysts may also work at the local level with school boards or on the national level with government agencies and nonprofits.

Average Annual Salary (March 2022): $60,860

Childhood Curriculum Developer

Curriculum developers evaluate and revise curricula based on advances in educational approaches and state and federal guidelines. They often work with teachers, helping them incorporate advanced teaching methods and order books and learning materials. These professionals tend to travel to various schools. Licensure and certification requirements vary by state and school.

Average Annual Salary (March 2022): $67,680

Early Childhood Education Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

Graduates with a master's in early childhood education may continue their education, seeking graduate degrees that lead to high-ranking leadership and teaching roles. The following represent a few common continuing education paths.

  • Doctorate in Education: Educators looking to advance and pursue leadership roles may earn a doctor of education. This practice-based degree leads to roles in schools, nonprofits, government, military, and healthcare facilities.
  • Ph.D. in Education: This degree is for professionals looking to generate new knowledge in the field of education through research. These graduates often pursue roles as professors in higher education.
  • Doctorate in Educational Administration: Many of these graduates serve as leaders in educational systems, determining policy, curricula, and standards.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Program?

Cost

Tuition rates for an online master's in early childhood education range widely but commonly cost $320-$1,500 per credit. In-state students enrolled in public colleges tend to find the lowest tuition. However, many online master's in early childhood education programs do not charge nonresident fees. Private schools generally charge the highest rates. Learn more about true online program costs and how these costs compare to on-campus programs.

Program Format

Students should choose a program that aligns with their professional interests and fits into their schedules. Different online programs offer a variety of learning formats, including full-time or part-time options and synchronous or asynchronous courses. Some part-time programs enable working students to earn their degree in four or more years. Some accelerated tracks can lead to completion in one year.

Location

Whether you're choosing an online or in-person program, location becomes particularly important for those entering a program that leads to teaching certification. States differ in teaching certification requirements, and some colleges do not offer out-of-state student teaching placement. Additionally, some online programs charge out-of-state fees, adding a substantial amount to the tuition.

Accreditation

Colleges and universities receive accreditation from accrediting agencies that review an institution's educational standards. Programs can receive institutional and programmatic accreditation, which are critical for ensuring the quality of a program and credit transfer eligibility. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation accredits early childhood education programs.

Student Support

Student support services play a critical role in a student's success. As online programs continue to expand, so do the online student services. Essential services to look for include admissions and advising, tutoring, library resources, and career and internship placement. College mentorship programs also help connect students with experts in their field who can offer guidance and support.

Feature Image: Maskot, Getty Images

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