If you're considering a career in child development, you're seeking a degree that provides you with a variety of professional options upon graduation. Individuals who complete an online master's in child development choose from many different roles, ranging from teaching and counseling to overseeing a school library or developing curriculum. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the economy will add nearly two million education and education-related positions in the next few years.

What are the best child development programs of 2020? Here are our top 5:

Rank School Location
1 University of South Florida Tampa, FL
2 University of Minnesota Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN
3 University of La Verne La Verne, CA
4 Missouri State University Springfield, MO
5 Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH

Choosing a Program


Not necessarily. Previous work experience isn't a common requirement for online master's in child development programs, but prior education is often a prerequisite. Students with baccalaureate degrees in unrelated subjects should be prepared to take a few prerequisites before digging into the core curriculum.


Before committing to any online master's in child development programs, prospective distance learners should do their research. Take time to look at many different programs, consider any concentrations offered, compare costs, and research different learning options. It's also important to speak to faculty and staff within each school to get a sense of whether or not the department can provide the support and academic success that you're seeking.


Yes. Many online master's in child development programs offer part-time learning paths for individuals who want or need to continue working while completing their degree. Once enrolled, however, students should plan to spend between 10 to 15 hours per week completing requirements for each class taken.


An online master's degree in child development offers all the benefits of a traditional program without requiring students to visit campus. These benefits are especially important to people juggling personal and professional responsibilities or those who don't live close to a school offering such a program. Because the school offers most of its courses asynchronously, students create their own schedules and turn in assignments at times that suit them best.

What Are The Best Online Master's in Child Development Programs?

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

University of South Florida

Tampa, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 73%

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.


University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Minneapolis, MN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 80%

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.


University of La Verne

La Verne, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 69%

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.


Missouri State University

Springfield, MO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 54%

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.


Southern New Hampshire University

Manchester, NH Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 54%

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.

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

Completing an online master's in childhood development is a popular option for degree seekers throughout the country, and for good reason: these types of programs translate well to a distance learning format and make it easy for learners to attend school while working. Programs vary by school, but the following section provides students with a good idea of what to expect.


Graduation requirements differ from program to program, but the classes listed below are common across master's degrees in child development.

Social & Historical Perspectives of Early Childhood/Education: In this course, students look back at the numerous circumstances and perspectives in place across the historical spectrum of childhood development theory. The course places special emphasis on mainstream cultural ideas during these periods, as well as beliefs, values, and social purposes.

Cognition, Language, and Play: This course familiarizes distance learners with the basic knowledge they need to understand how cognitive functions develop in children, particularly children up to eight years old. Enrolled students review prominent theoretical frameworks, social contexts, and how language and play fit in.

Physical Growth and Development: Understanding how children grow and develop while in utero and through to eight years of age is the focus of this course. Degree seekers learn how to research typical development paths while studying how nutrition, growth, wellness, and general health welfare impact growth and development.


The time it takes to complete an online master's degree in child development is affected by a number of factors. Programs may require individuals who hold undergraduate degrees in unrelated subjects to take a number of prerequisite classes, while those with degrees related to education can begin core coursework upon enrollment.

Programmatic characteristics may also influence how long it takes. Individual pace programs allow students to move through coursework according to their needs, while cohort programs place students in a group with their peers. This group completes each class together.

The majority of online master's in childhood development require that students complete between 30 and 38 credits, meaning students taking courses on a full-time basis can graduate in two years whereas those studying on a part-time basis will need three years between matriculation and graduation.


Teaching License: Although each state has different requirements for obtaining licensure, every state requires that teachers earn certification before entering the classroom. Students interested in pursuing this path should check with their state's Department of Education before proceeding.

Child Development Associate: Provided by the Council for Professional Recognition, the CDA helps individuals advance their careers, show a commitment to lifelong learning, and developed nuanced understandings of developmentally-appropriate practice. Nearly 400,000 educators carry a CDA credential.

Accreditation for Online Master's in Child Development Degrees

Because the majority of careers requiring an online master's degree in child development also require applicants to hold licensure or certification, attending a properly accredited institution is critical. There are two different categories of accreditation with which to be familiar:

  • Institutional: Schools earn regional and national accreditation based on their ability to meet school-wide requirements. Employers, schools, and other institutions consider regional accreditation to be the most prestigious and difficult to attain of the two. Regional accreditation-awarding agencies require institutions to go through a multi-year certification process. National accreditation, conversely, is considered to be a less rigorous process and is therefore less respected. Students who graduate from nationally accredited institutions may face problems transferring credits and earning certification.
  • Programmatic: Overseen by accrediting agencies focused singularly on those topics, this type of accreditation is earned by individual degree programs or departments. Within child development, the two accrediting bodies to look for are the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Accreditation agencies must also live up to a set of standards: the Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) are governing bodies that ensure these agencies are functioning properly and maintaining appropriate requirements. Accrediting agencies must provide reports of their work to the ED and CHEA to maintain their status. To learn more about accredited schools throughout the country, students can review the regularly updated list provided at the ED's website.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Child Development Graduates


While an associate or bachelor's degree in child development can help graduates become competitive for entry-level roles, salaries and growth potential are much higher for individuals who complete a master's degree in the field. The following table highlights common careers for child development professionals with different degree levels, and demonstrates the financial benefits that come with completing an online master's in child development.

Career Path Education Required Median Annual Salary
Teacher's Assistant High School or Associate Degree $22,468
Childcare Provider High School or Associate Degree $28,486
Youth Counselor Bachelor's Degree $34,616
Preschool Director Bachelor's Degree $40,024
School Counselor Master's Degree $48,737
Elementary or Secondary School Education Administrator Master's Degree $71,455


Depending on the long-term goals of professionals in this field, salaries can be very competitive. Individuals pursuing leadership or managerial roles can top out with a six-figure salary, while those just starting out typically earn close to the national average for all professional roles. The table below provides insight from Payscale regarding earning potential throughout the lifespan of each career.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20 years)
Elementary School Principal $79,046 $72,316 $77,515 $89,000
High School Principal $85,628 $76,000 $82,000 $95,000
Assistant Principal $68,340 $66,000 $68,000 $77,000
Academic Dean $92,437 $78,000 $85,000 $122,000
School Superintendent $113,779 $100,000 $109,000 $124,000


An online master's in child development opens the door to several career possibilities for people who enjoy working with children, are able to multitask, can withstand long days, and find value in educating the next generation of professionals. Roles in this field tend to be demanding, but also highly rewarding. Here are a few examples:

Instructional Coordinators

Working with other school leadership, institutions charge instructional coordinators with creating and overseeing school curriculum. These professionals develop materials that are appropriate for different ages and stages of cognitive development, oversee its implementation, and ensure that instructors meet teaching and learning standards. This position requires a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary - $62,460
Projected Growth Rate - 7%

School Librarians

Librarians at primary and secondary schools ensure students have access to reading and media materials appropriate for their age and developmental levels. They also work with teachers to bring in materials that tie into content being taught while helping students use those materials in their assignments. This position requires a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary - $57, 680
Projected Growth Rate - 2%

School Counselors

This position, which requires a master's degree, focuses on working with individual students to ensure success. Whether helping learners develop academic or social skills, working with them to decide on a career path, or even providing a listening ear about difficulties at home, school counselors are on the frontline of serving students.

Median Annual Salary - $54,560
Projected Growth Rate - 8%

Special Education Teachers

Although special education teaching roles require only a bachelor's degree, individuals who pursue a master's degree are well placed to move into supervisory roles. When they're in the classroom, SPED teachers work with students who have any number of physical, emotional, mental, or learning issues to develop appropriate lesson plans and help them succeed.

Median Annual Salary - $57,910
Projected Growth Rate - 6%

Middle School Principals

After completing a master's degree, individuals with aspirations to lead a school are qualified and prepared. Once in the role, principals oversee school functions, manage school staff, make curriculum decisions, and ensure that every student has a safe and worthwhile learning environment.

Median Annual Salary - $92,510
Projected Growth Rate - 6%


Working in the field of child development affords individuals the opportunity to interact with countless others who hold similar positions, but the fast-paced natures of their days can often make these professionals feel like they're working in a vortex. Professional organizations help child development workers connect with others, learn about new research in the field, and continue building their knowledge base.

Financing Your Online Master's in Child Development Program

Like any other form of advanced education, online master's in child development programs aren't cheap. Students who may otherwise choose this path are often discouraged by the cost, but they don't have to be. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help prospective students gain federal scholarships, loans, grants, or work-study funds to help offset costs. Private organizations and foundations also exist and provide myriad scholarships and grants. Schools frequently offer departmental funds in the form of scholarships or teaching assistant roles.


Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the FAFSA is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.


Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.