Best Degrees for Working With Children

Discover the many pathways you can take to start a career working with children. Here, we list degrees that can lead to a rewarding career with kids.

October 6, 2021

Best Degrees for Working With Children

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Individuals who enjoy working with children often pursue careers as preschool teachers, pediatric nurses, school social workers, and child psychologists. Professionals who work with children, especially children with special needs, often need training and instruction in multiple disciplines. Learners pursuing these careers may study areas of psychology, human development, and education.

This guide explores several degree options and career paths for individuals who find satisfaction in working with children. Although extensive, this list does not cover all possible jobs working with children. Students can use this guide as a starting point in their search for the ideal career in this challenging and fulfilling arena.

Degree Paths That Lead to Working With Children

Students who wish to pursue a career working with children can explore the following majors, which represent a few of the many degree options in this professional field.

Most graduates with an undergraduate degree in elementary education work as K-6 or K-8 teachers. All states require educators at these levels to possess a teaching license. Licensure requirements vary by state but typically include a bachelor's degree in an area such as education. Counseling degrees prepare learners for careers in diverse specialization areas, such as addiction, school, career, and rehabilitation counseling. Most states require counselors to hold at least a master's degree to qualify for licensure. Bachelor's degree-holders in the field can work under the supervision of a licensed counselor or psychologist. A bachelor's degree in counseling also meets the educational requirement for graduate programs. Nursing degree-holders can pursue several jobs working with children. Registered nurses can work in neonatal intensive care units, as nurse midwives, and as pediatric endocrinology nurses. Some specialization areas require advanced training and/or a master's degree. Nurses need a state license to practice, and a bachelor's in nursing meets the educational requirement for licensure in most states. Students earning a social work degree can focus on child and family social work. This specialization is ideal for individuals interested in a career working with children. Social workers must hold a state license to practice, which typically requires a bachelor's degree. However, clinical social workers often need a master's degree. Graduates of speech pathology programs often work as audiologists, special education instructors, speech therapists, and children's hearing specialists. Most states require speech-language pathologists to hold a license and a master's degree. Licensed speech pathologists can work in therapeutic environments such as private practices, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers. Psychology majors who plan to pursue a career working with children can consider jobs as school counselors, child psychologists, and family therapists. Positions that involve direct client contact, especially in counseling settings, often require a master's degree and a state-issued license. Graduates of library science programs who enjoy working with children can consider careers as school librarians, museum curators, children's book writers, and curriculum developers for early childhood programs. Library science majors with strong technology skills often pursue positions developing digital educational games for children. Nonprofit management degree-holders often secure positions with national and international organizations focusing on children. Depending on their professional interests and career goals, graduates of nonprofit management programs can work in fundraising, human resources, marketing, and public relations. When seeking a career working with children, graduates of sports management programs may consider positions as coaches, talent scouts, elementary physical education teachers, and athletic directors. Programs in the field typically include coursework in financial management and administration, so graduates may also qualify for positions as day care center administrators and after-school activities coordinators.

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Career Paths for People Who Want to Work With Children

The following list features well-paying, growing careers that involve working with children. Degree-holders who wish to work with children can pursue roles in diverse professional fields and various settings. For example, graduates may work in healthcare, sports, education, or dentistry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for all occupations is $41,950 per year. For professionals across industries, the BLS projects an overall growth rate of 4% from 2019-2029. Learners can consider this data when evaluating the median salaries and projected growth rates of the careers below.

According to the BLS, registered nurses earn a median salary of $75,330 per year. The BLS projects employment for these professionals to increase 7% from 2019-2029. RNs in pediatric nursing often earn higher salaries, since they possess specialized skills. Most pediatric nurses work in hospitals. Some nurses further focus their practice on an area such as neonatal intensive care. School counselors must typically hold at least a master's degree, and many states require licensure. School counselors who prefer a career working with children often specialize in elementary and middle school counseling. These counselors help children improve their academic and social skills. They also coordinate with stakeholders including parents, teachers, and administrators. The BLS projects employment for school and career counselors to grow 8% from 2019-2029. These professionals earn a median annual salary of $58,120. Most child psychologists work in clinical settings. They provide therapy services, administer and analyze psychological tests, and work with parents and other concerned adults to develop treatment plans. Child psychologists need a license and a doctoral degree in psychology or counseling to see patients without supervision. The BLS reports that psychologists earn a median salary of $82,180 per year and projects a 3% growth rate for the field from 2019-2029. Nearly all states require athletic trainers to hold a license or certification. Those who plan to work in a school setting may also need a teaching license. Athletic trainers who work with children often receive special training in injury prevention, emergency procedures, and first aid for young children. According to the BLS, athletic trainers earn a median salary of $49,860 per year. The BLS projects employment for these professionals to increase 16% from 2019-2029. After earning a bachelor's degree, aspiring pediatric dentists complete four years of dental school and two years of residency work. These specialized professionals deliver dental services to infants, children, and teenagers. Most pediatric dentists work in private clinics. According to the BLS, dentists earn a median salary of $164,010 per year. Because of their specialized training, pediatric dentists may earn even higher salaries. Directors of childcare centers often design instruction and activity programs, supervise staff, oversee and implement budgets, and liaise with parents and other stakeholders. They also ensure their center complies with state and industry regulations and standards. The BLS reports that preschool and childcare center directors earn a median annual salary of $49,160. These professionals typically need a bachelor's degree in early childhood or elementary education. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers prepare students for further education. These professionals help children gain a strong foundation in fundamental subjects. They also encourage habits that support lifelong learning. Teachers prepare lesson plans, grade papers, plan activities, and discuss children's academic progress with parents. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers earn a median salary of $60,660 per year. The BLS projects employment for these educators to increase 4% from 2019-2029.

Career Preparation for Working With Children

Learners who want to pursue a career working with children can choose from various academic and professional paths. Many positions require a bachelor's degree, and some advanced roles require a master's or doctoral degree.

Some individuals begin an entry-level career working with children before pursuing additional education. For example, associate degree-holders can become classroom aides before earning the credentials necessary for teaching positions. Many colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs online, which allow students to earn their degree while working full time.

To address the shortage of professionals in fields such as teaching and nursing, the federal government offers education-for-service programs. Participants receive tuition waivers, stipends, or loan forgiveness in return for working in underserved communities after earning their degree. In addition, learners can apply for scholarships and grants from institutions, private nonprofits, and professional organizations.

Many programs of study that lead to careers working with children feature internship, job shadowing, or practicum components. Students may spend a considerable amount of time outside the classroom, especially toward the end of their program. Additionally, many careers working with children require a criminal background check.

Expert Interview with Laura Giammusso

Q. How did you decide to become a teacher?

When I was working in counseling, I discovered that I found the most enjoyment working with children in school settings. Also, my mother is a retired special educator who showed me the importance of making a difference in the lives of children and families.

Q. What are some of the unique challenges of working with children?

It is so important to meet individual students' needs and provide instruction that will help all learners make progress and feel motivated to do their best.

Q. What are the rewards?

It is wonderful to feel the excitement when students are engaged in the learning process and connecting with others. I love seeing students push themselves to grow as learners and feeling motivated by the results of their hard work. I especially enjoy hearing my students' ideas, questions, and insights.

Q. In what ways has your master's program helped you in your career?

My master's program has provided me with opportunities for deeper reflection on my current practice, which helps me to set personal goals and improve my teaching. I have greatly enjoyed collaborating with other teachers, especially sharing resources, lessons, and ideas.

Q. What advice would you offer someone interested in pursuing a career working with kids?

My advice would be to find ways to incorporate the things that you find most important and that bring you happiness into your daily practice, whether it is art, the outdoors, or helping your community. I also think that one of the best ways to inspire students to be lifelong learners is to pursue new opportunities in your own learning.

Organizations for Professionals Who Work With Children

This organization provides resources for professionals who provide services for children and families, such as welfare, educational, and counseling services. This international organization advocates for the educational support of children with special needs and exceptional talents. CEC provides resources, information, and professional development opportunities for educators. This organization administers the child development associate credential. Practitioners working with children five and younger in educational settings can pursue the credential. NCY includes more than 50 nonprofit, youth-oriented organizations nationwide. The organization serves as the collective voice of organizations working to improve the lives of young people in America. Uniting more than three million educators through chapters in every state, NEA works to advance the quality of public education in the United States. Members receive access to resources, training, and leadership opportunities.

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