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Published on October 28, 2020

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A master's degree in child development explores growth from infancy through adolescence. Learners study physical, mental, emotional, and cognitive elements and choose from various concentrations. Students may examine ways to help children read or learn methods to counsel children struggling with illness. Students may also choose programs focused on specific age groups, such as infants or adolescents.

According to PayScale, child development specialists earn an average annual salary of $32,000, with possible yearly earnings as high as $80,043. This maximum projection is about $30,000 more than the 2016 average national income, according to the Social Security Administration.

Professionals with a master's degree in child development can earn above-average wages in a variety of positions. Keep reading to learn how to choose the best child development master's program for your lifestyle and goals.

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Should I Get a Master's in Child Development?

Students pursuing a master's degree in child development need a passion for understanding and helping children. Learners examine the growth of children in social, emotional, physical, and linguistic contexts. Students also need patience to assist children who are learning academic concepts, dealing with illnesses, or enduring troubled home environments. Coursework builds skills related to these tasks, such as research, communication, and assessment abilities. Students may also explore child development theories, curriculum concepts, and legal concerns.

Many learners specialize in areas such as mental health or adolescent growth. Concentration options prepare students for specific careers and can make graduates more competitive in the job market. For example, a graduate with a child development master's degree with a focus on infancy is an ideal candidate for a position at a childcare facility.

Prospective students must choose between online and on-campus learning. Individuals already working in the field often choose online programs, which offer flexible scheduling options, while students entering the field may choose on-campus programs to have access to additional networking opportunities. On-campus learners interact with faculty in person and can participate in campus events. On-campus learning may also present opportunities for internships or practicums, which can lead to recommendation letters and job opportunities after graduation.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Child Development?

Child development programs explore the changes from birth to adulthood and lead to several career paths. Graduates may teach at public schools, counsel hospitalized children, or oversee community programs. Professional responsibilities may include creating daily itineraries, discussing progress with children's families, and helping children overcome obstacles. Prospective students should consider their career goals when choosing an institution.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

These educators create lesson plans and teach several subjects within one classroom. Elementary schools sometimes teach students through the sixth-grade level. Students earning a master's degree in child development learn to identify and apply relevant learning strategies.

Median Annual Salary: $56,900*

Social Workers

Social workers connect individuals with resources, such as healthcare information. These professionals may investigate child abuse reports and must maintain ongoing communication with people linked to cases. A degree in child development provides skills necessary to assist children dealing with family-related issues.

Median Annual Salary: $47,980*

Childcare Workers

These professionals supervise children's play to ensure safety and encourage learning. Additional responsibilities may include changing diapers and assisting with homework. Skills gained during child development master's programs help childcare workers create effective learning environments and identify mental or physical development concerns.

Median Annual Salary: $22,290*

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

These directors plan programs, evaluate employee performances, and help new employees adhere to company practices. Other responsibilities often include budgeting, discussing children's progress with parents, and creating policies. Master's degree programs in child development prepare students to tailor organizational policies to the needs of its children.

Median Annual Salary: $46,890*

Social and Community Service Managers

These managers assist with community programs, often those focused on children. These professionals may evaluate a program's success or offer guidance on an organization's agendas. A master's degree in child development prepares students to make sound choices for the wellness of children involved in these programs.

Median Annual Salary: $64,100*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Master's Program in Child Development

When choosing a program, learners should consider cost to avoid high student loans. Factors that impact cost include credit requirements and whether the institution is public or private. Students searching for lower tuition costs should consider public institutions and programs that require fewer credits.

Students should also also ensure any prospective program offers a specialization related to their career aspirations. For example, an aspiring child life specialist should choose a program with a concentration in child life or a related area.

Most master's programs take one to two years to complete. However, students who need to graduate quickly or those who need more scheduling flexibility can look for personalized options. Some programs allow learners to study part time or take more than the recommended number of credits per semester. Program requirements also impact degree completion time. For example, a program that requires a thesis may take longer to complete than one that culminates in a final project.

Students should also consider the school's location, since practicums and field experiences introduce learners to potential work environments. Building professional connections near the area in which a student plans to work can increase job prospects after graduation. Students may also choose to study in an area with a teacher shortage to increase employment opportunities.

Learners must also decide between an on-campus and an online masters in child development. Regardless of program format, prospective students should only consider accredited programs.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Child Development

Accreditation agencies review schools and programs to determine whether they meet academic standards. The accreditation status of a student's institution and program impacts financial aid availability and future career options. Students at institutions without accreditation may not qualify for financial aid or professional positions. Additionally, institutions rarely accept transfer credits earned from a school without accreditation.

Students should look for schools with national or regional accreditation and programs with field-specific accreditation. The National Early Childhood Program Accreditation and the National Association for the Education of Young Children award accreditation to child development programs. Aspiring teachers should also look for accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education.

Master's in Child Development Program Admissions

Many programs require an application, teaching philosophies, writing samples, and recommendation letters. Schools often set deadlines for priority admission, general admission, and scholarship consideration, so applicants should submit all materials before these dates.

Due to the number of applications schools receive, each application may only receive a few minutes of consideration. For this reason, students should organize applications so their most relevant qualifications stand out.

Learners should apply to several schools with varying admission standards. This strategy allows students to apply to prestigious schools while improving their chances of acceptance. Other considerations when selecting schools include cost, location, and accreditation status. Applying for online programs often involves more interaction between applicants and admissions teams.


This requirement proves that applicants can succeed in higher education. Many child development master's programs accept bachelor's degrees in any field, as long as the degree is from an accredited institution. Prior experience indicates an understanding of the field and the ability to apply information outside the classroom. Although not all programs require professional experience, some require a certain number of years of work in a related field. Many master's degree programs in child development require applicants to have a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Students who do not meet GPA requirements can sometimes earn conditional admission.

Admission Materials

An application includes a summary of the applicant's information, such as their intended major and academic achievements. Most applicants can complete these forms in less than an hour. Transcripts verify the applicant's academic success and include the student's GPA, previous courses, and class grades. Applicants should request official transcripts from all previous institutions; most schools charge a small fee. Recommendation letters provide evidence that professionals and community members support the student's education. Applicants should submit the required number of letters as schools and should allow recommenders at least two weeks to write the letters. Applicants pursuing a master's degree in child development must typically submit GRE scores, though many schools do not set minimum score requirements. Schools use standardized test scores to review an applicant's qualifications based on nationally accepted standards. Students pay these fees, which are often less than $100, to compensate schools for reviewing applications. Many schools waive application fees for students who demonstrate financial need.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Child Development?

Child development curricula vary by school and by concentration. For example, students focusing on infancy complete coursework related to early child development. A student's concentration can also impact program requirements, such as student teaching.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Child Development
Concentration Description Careers
Infant and Early Childhood Development This concentration typically focuses on development from birth to approximately six years of age. Students explore concepts related to children's emotional, physical, mental, behavioral, and linguistic growth. Coursework may include neuroscience of infant development and early childhood mental health. Preschool teacher, elementary educator, childcare worker
Child Life Students explore concepts related to child specialist roles. This concentration typically prepares learners to take the child life professional certification exam. Common courses include childhood mortality, mentality during illnesses, and play as therapy. Child life specialist, child counselor
Mental Health Students examine factors that can impact a child's mental development, including family dynamics and cognitive abilities. Coursework includes topics such as preparation for entering school, poor behavior, and emotional stages of childhood. Child life specialist
Education This concentration prepares students for careers with home-based organizations, public schools, community service companies, and daycares. Coursework covers topics such as educational statistics, educational trends, communication, and therapeutic play. Educator, childcare employee, curriculum designer
Counseling and Family Services This focus examines common problems within family structures, including drug abuse and death. Curricula may also cover community and cultural issues that impact families. Courses may include behavior modification and personality theories. Counselor

Courses in a Master's in Child Development Program

Coursework for a child development master's degree varies based on the program and the student's chosen concentration. Learners may focus on a certain area of the field, such as mental health, or on an age group, such as adolescents. The courses below are common among child development programs.

Infant and Child Development

Learners study child development theories and current issues in the field. Coursework covers physical, mental, cognitive, emotional, and linguistic growth in the context of cultural and family issues. These topics prepare candidates to work in preschools, elementary schools, and childcare facilities.

Divorce and Remarriage

This class discusses the impact of significant changes in families and how those changes affect child development. Students gain skills necessary for counseling positions, such as family therapist.

Child, Family, and Community

Students explore how families and communities impact child development by reviewing theories, history, and current ideas. Topics may include cultural variety and personal disabilities as they relate to identity and behaviors. Students prepare for roles as community service managers, daycare operators, and teachers.

Literacy Development

Students explore children's cognitive and mental development and learn to deliver reading instruction. Topics may include phonics, learning strategies, and the impact of family on early literacy. Students can apply this knowledge as educators, reading specialists, and reading coaches.

Child Growth and Development

Students examine child development, from infancy through adolescence. Coursework typically covers development theories for social, cognitive, emotional, and physical aspects of youth. Students also learn how family and culture impact development. This course prepares students for careers as teachers, childcare workers, and child life professionals.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Child Development?

Master's in child development programs typically require 30-40 credits, though some require more. Most learners complete 15-20 credits per year and graduate in two years. Students who want to graduate quickly should choose a program that requires fewer credits.

Students can shorten their degree completion time by taking more than the recommended number of credits per semester. However, schools may charge students course overload fees for surpassing full-time status. Busy students who have career and family responsibilities often need to take fewer credits per semester; these students require more time to graduate and may pay higher tuition rates than full-time learners.

Delivery method also impacts program length. Many online programs offer accelerated options, which allow students to graduate more quickly. On the other hand, cohort-based programs require students to take coursework in a prescribed sequence and may take longer to complete. Learners should consider all these factors to choose a school that fits their scheduling needs.

How Much Is a Master's in Child Development?

Tuition costs vary by institution, but students can use general guidelines to find less expensive options. Public schools typically charge lower tuition rates than private colleges and universities, and many offer significantly lower rates for in-state students. By choosing a public, in-state school, students can reduce their necessary student loan debt and pay less out of pocket.

Many institutions charge per-credit tuition rates, often $700-1,100 for child development master's programs. Along with tuition, students should consider graduation fees, technology fees, student services fees, and health insurance fees, as well as living expenses. Costs may include room and board, meal plans, and transportation costs. Students should also consider textbook costs; each course may require multiple textbooks, each of which can cost more than $100.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Child Development Prepares For

Child Development Associate Credential

This credential demonstrates expertise in early childhood education. To earn the CDA credential, candidates must meet experience requirements, submit a portfolio, undergo a verification visit from a specialist, and take the CDA assessment. The credential is ideal for curriculum designers, administrators, and teachers who want to advance their careers.

Childcare License

Graduates can obtain a license to run a home-based or center-run childcare. Licensure requirements vary by state, but typically include safety tactics, education, training, a background check, and a facility sufficient to meet childcare needs.

Teaching License

Public school teachers need a license, the requirements for which vary by state. In most states, requirements include experience hours, a degree (such as a master's degree in child development), and passing scores on assessments, including Praxis exams.

Certified Child Life Specialist

The Association of Child Life Professionals offers this credential for candidates in child life careers. Certification requires experience and an assessment and lasts five years. Candidates with this certification often assist children at hospitals and other medical facilities.

Resources for Graduate Child Development Students

National Head Start Association

This organization provides networking opportunities, including a parent and family engagement conference. The website includes resources on topics such as asthma, funding, and disabilities.


Students can volunteer with this organization to help children who have experienced abuse. Childhelp provides prevention and intervention opportunities and delivers events such as superhero September, a toy drive, and a fall youth gala.

Child Trends

This organization provides resources in areas such as school safety, cultural childhood issues, family dynamics, and homelessness. Child Trends offers publications, presentations, videos, and case studies.

Sprouts Child Development

This resource features information on children of specific ages, as well as videos related to infant, toddler, and preschool literacy. The blog addresses topics such as disorders and language elements.

Professional Child Development Associates

Students can volunteer at this organization, which assists children with developmental issues. The organization also provides training and consultations, and the website includes information about down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism.

Professional Organizations in Child Development

Professional organizations host events and conferences that allow professionals to discuss innovative child development concepts. These events encourage networking, which can lead to recommendation letters and job opportunities. Professional organizations in the field may also offer coursework and training that fulfills continuing education hours necessary to renew credentials, such as a teaching license. Many organizations also provide career resources, such as resume guidance and job boards.

ChildCare Aware

This organization advocates for childcare policies and practices that meet children's needs. Childcare owners and directors can explore the site for guidance on developing safe procedures that encourage learning.

National Association for the Education of Young Children

Members can attend an annual conference and participate in a public policy forum. The organization provides articles, books, and webinars related to children's educational and emotional development.

National Association for Child Development

This association provides information on disorders such as down syndrome, dyslexia, and autism. The website includes information about educating gifted learners, and NACD publishes a journal on neurodevelopment and behavioral tendencies.

Association for Early Learning Leaders

This organization hosts an annual conference, during which members explore innovative leadership ideas. The association also offers online courses, training, and webinars and maintains a career search engine.


Pathways provides information related to certain age groups, such as children in their first year of life. Website visitors can search for information related to topics such as motor skills development, language learning, and sensory development.

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