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Online Master's Programs in Child Development

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Updated on: 11/29/2018

Research shows that an individual's quality of care during their formative years greatly impacts their overall life success. Professionals interested in a master's degree in child development open the door to a fulfilling, in-demand career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an overall 8% increase in job outlook through 2026. While students find gratification in acquiring knowledge that yields higher earning potential, graduates also remain prepared to make a difference in children’s lives.

Students considering graduate programs often work full time and lack an abundance of free time. Fortunately, quality online options safeguard their time. Use this guide to online master’s in child development as you explore programs and potential opportunities.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Child Development Program?

Students who have already earned their bachelor’s degree find a master's in child development online especially useful. This program focuses on advancing a student’s understanding of intellectual, mental, emotional, cultural, social, and physical aspects of a child’s development. Students become experts at identifying pertinent milestones and learn how to detect abnormalities.

On average, students can complete a master’s in child development online in two years. However, many programs allow students to graduate sooner. For instance, many online programs do not follow the traditional 16-week semesters like on-campus programs. Distance-learning programs often follow eight-week semesters and continue classes through the summer. A child development master’s program usually requires 32-39 credit hours depending on the university. Schools with advanced programs may offer concentrations. Students who wish to complete a concentration must consider how this impacts their projected graduation date.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master’s in Child Development Program?

All child development programs cover foundational knowledge and theories. However, programs differ because each university evaluates program content to develop its own curriculum. Schools consider needed skills, geographic influences, and accreditation requirements. Take a look at a few sample courses below:

Child Life Theory, Practice, and Program Development

Students explore fundamental skills required for assisting children and their families with healthcare experiences. They use current research and methodology to determine the best process for identifying developmental abnormalities and communicating their diagnosis. This course prepares professionals to identify behavior that requires debriefing, such as trauma or grief.

Current Issues in Applied Child and Adolescent Development

Through principles of development, motivation, and learning, students assess childhood behavior from birth to adolescence. Students also explore contemporary theories of education and psychology to analyze effective teaching practices. Students must apply course content to real-life case studies and reflect on their own theories of practice.

Prevention and Intervention in Early Childhood

This course prepares students to work with children who have special needs, which include abnormalities such as developmental delay. Students examine all details of early intervention methods. By the end of this course, students can identify how any child with special needs qualifies for early childhood intervention programs.

Cognition and Brain Development

In this course, students view development from infancy to adolescence from a cognitive behavioral neuroscience perspective. Pertinent topics include memory, attention, perception, executive function, and social cognition. Students learn how to discuss major theoretical perspectives regarding development and conduct accurate observations.

Introductory Statistical Methods

This course covers basic statistical concepts that assist with the understanding of data collection and analysis. Covering data, probability, and inference, this course trains students how to describe similarities and differences between collection techniques and demonstrate a variety of calculation methods.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

While programs differ, many master’s in child development online programs require students to complete an integrative project known as a capstone course. Course formats vary. Some schools require students to work independently on an assignment that is relevant to their career goals, while other programs place students in small groups. Child development students should anticipate completing a capstone course in the last semester of their program.

Depending on the degree path, students may need to complete internships to qualify for licensure. For instance, child life track students typically engage in a 600-hour clinical internship that leads to certification eligibility.

What Specializations are Available in a Master’s in Child Development Program?

Master’s in child development online programs usually offer specialized tracks to help students develop skills associated with a particular area. Specializations vary depending on the university's curriculum and resources. Students may qualify for the potential tracks below:

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Track

This mental health track prepares students to provide care to infants and toddlers who suffer from social-emotional development abnormalities. Courses include psychopathology, observation seminars, childhood assessment, and prevention. Students learn how to engage the child’s family members to ensure quality care is provided around the clock.

Child Life Track

This track examines coping methods used to treat children suffering from stress, injury, hospitalization, or a disability. Students rely on child development theory to create therapeutic activities or education plans that cater to their client’s developmental needs. Students also learn how to interact with medical teams to ensure the patient’s developmental, emotional, and cultural needs are met.

Child Psychology

This specialization provides students with a theoretical foundation in child psychology. Students learn how to diagnose and provide specialized treatment to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. Other coursework examines prevention and intervention methods. This specialization leads to licensure.

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

Earning a master’s in child development online provides graduates access to a variety of career paths that include advocacy, education, counseling, and administrative roles. Professionals work in various environments, including public and private educational facilities; community service organizations; and healthcare facilities. See below for five common occupations for graduates with a master’s in child development.

Many jobs in child development require candidates to have a master’s in child development at minimum. However, employers often require candidates to have additional credentials including experience, certifications, or licensure.

Child and Family Social Workers

Child and family social workers strive to protect vulnerable children and provide solutions for families in need. Child and family social workers also assist clients in coping with and solving everyday life dilemmas. Other duties include intervention when neglect or abuse is present. If the child cannot be reunited with family, social workers place the child with foster or adoption families. Professionals in this role benefit from a master’s in child development. Students must also obtain licensure to practice.

Health Educators

A master’s in child development prepares graduates to work as health educators. These professionals teach people about behaviors that lead to wellness. Health educators identify strategies to improve their target population's health. They often work one-on-one with children and their families in healthcare facilities. Many health educator positions require a bachelor’s degree. However, professionals must have a master’s degree for upper-level positions. Licensure may be required.

School Counselors

These professionals identify problems that impact student performance and attendance. Individual or group counseling may be required. School counselors also strive to develop skills that lead to academic success. These counselors identify behavior associated with abuse and neglect. Most states require school counselors to have a master’s degree at minimum. Additionally, students must complete supervised experience hours and licensure exams. Some states require teaching experience.

Child Life Specialist

These individuals help children and their caretakers cope with hospitalization experiences. Child life specialists use multiple strategies to support their clients, including assessments to identify both medical care and home care gaps. This role also requires administrative duties. Professionals often work on committees to develop best practices for topics including pain management and bereavement. While individuals qualify for some jobs with only a bachelor’s degree, most employers prefer a master’s in child development.

Preschool Director

These professionals supervise all staff members; hire and train new employees; design programming; prepare budgets; allocate funds; and ensure the facility meets state regulations. Preschool directors must meet with parents periodically to review student progress. Most states require professionals to have a bachelor's degree at minimum. A master’s in child development provides a competitive advantage. Additional licensure may be required.

Child development professionals at any stage of their career, including college students, can reap many benefits from joining a professional organization. These groups provide access to a network of working professionals who often provide mentorship. Many organizations offer scholarships and continuing education coursework to maintain licenses. Professional organizations also create networking opportunities though conferences and webinars.

Society for Research on Adolescence

Since 1984, this organization has focused on issues related to empirical, theoretical, and policy research of adolescent development. Members have access to a vast network through biennial meetings and blogs.

Society for Prevention Research

The SPR promotes wellbeing by advancing scientific investigation on prevention of mental, social, and physical health disorders. Members have access to leadership, volunteer, and professional engagement opportunities.

National Association for the Education of Young Children

NAEYC promotes early learning by creating a bridge between childhood research, practice, and policy. By joining this organization, professionals gain access to a 60,000-member network.

Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling

ACAC supports professionals who work with children and adolescents. Members include mental health clinicians and a variety of counselors. Members participate in networking opportunities both online and in-person at annual conferences.

The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues

Since 1936, SPSSI has worked with professionals who care about social and policy dilemmas. Members enjoy access to a diverse, international network. SPSSI offers free journals, newsletters, discounted books, and grants.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Child Development?

A master’s in child development prepares graduates for career opportunities in multiple industries that involve the development of children and adolescents. Students should note that not every career path leads to a pay increase. However, a child development degree provides students with a foundation of in-demand skills that technical and leadership positions require. In fact, according to the BLS, multiple child development-related occupations are projected to grow through 2026.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Child and Family Social Workers $29,560 $47,980 $79,740 16%
Health Educators $25,150 $38,370 $64,500 16%
School Counselors $32,660 $55,410 $91,960 13%
Child Life Specialist n/a $60,380 n/a 7%
Preschool Director $29,980 $46,890 $85,240 11%

Source: BLS 2018

As listed in the chart above, the BLS indicates job growth in all occupations related to child development. Child and family social workers and health educators are projected to expand by 16%, which is much faster than average growth rates. Similarly, as more children enter school, the need for skilled preschool directors is projected to rise 11% through 2026, while school counselor demand is projected to grow 13%.

Students should be aware that salary expectations vary by degree. For instance, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, social workers with a bachelor’s degree earn a median salary of $42,000, while a master’s degree yields $55,000 on average. The earnings gap slightly widens for early childhood education professionals. Practitioners with a bachelor’s earn roughly $39,000, while master’s degree holders earn around $53,000. Students should note that advanced degrees could increase earning potential.

Online Master’s in Child Development Program Accreditation

Students should examine program credentials to ensure coursework meets educational and professional standards. Accreditation remains a validation process used to assess individual programs at universities or the school as a whole. Subject matter experts who know what content should be included in a program operate accrediting agencies.

Students should also identify if a school has a national or regional accreditation. National accrediting agencies work with schools across the country. However, students find it difficult to transfer credits from universities with national accreditation. Students should consider schools accredited by one of the six agencies that focus on a specific region in the U.S. Regionally accredited universities represent 85% of all colleges in the U.S., which makes credit transfers much easier. Students should also consider programmatic accreditation, such as programs accredited by the National Association of Social Workers.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Child Development Degree

While an online degree remains a significant investment, students do not have to pay tuition completely out of pocket. Qualifying students gain access to financial aid from the government. Additionally, many organizations set aside money for students in the form of scholarships, grants, and fellowships. See below for four potential sources:

  • Federal Financial Aid

    Students enrolling in a master’s in child development may qualify for student aid through FAFSA. Government funding at the graduate level includes Direct Unsubsidized and Direct PLUS loans, which are not based off financial need. Students can also explore Federal Work-Study, which places them in a part-time position related to their degree.

  • Scholarships

    Many state departments and child development-related organizations reserve money for graduate students who need financial assistance. For example, the NAEYC sponsors the Diane Trister Dodge Scholarship. Graduate students earning a degree that can impact young children make ideal candidates.

  • Fellowships

    Master’s students can take advantage of fellowships, which are merit-based awards. While fellowships are offered by organizations that do not require membership, many child development-related professional organizations, including the SPSSI, offer awards to members.

  • Tuition Reimbursement

    Many employers offer tuition reimbursement as a staff benefit. Employers may cover a maximum of $5,250 annually. However, not all organizations offer the maximum amount. Employed students should contact their human resource department for requirement details.