Online Master’s Programs in Child Development and Family Studies

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What You’ll Learn and Career Potential

Students who pursue a master’s in child development and family studies online prepare for exciting and lucrative careers as therapists, counselors, social workers, researchers, and educators. In these specialized programs, students develop the necessary skills to provide diverse, valuable services to strengthen families and support children during important years of their development.

Affordable Colleges Online provides easy access to a plethora of useful resources that benefit individuals who currently work in child development and family studies, as well as prospective students. In the guide below, we offer insight into the steps you must take to complete a master’s in child development and family studies degree online. Furthermore, we consider potential ways for students to pay for their degree, common career paths for master’s degree-holders, and how much students can expect to earn upon graduation.

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

By earning a master’s in child development and family studies online, students develop the interpersonal, organizational, problem-solving, emotional, and communication skills necessary to work with children, parents, and families. Pupils in these graduate programs can move on to careers as parent educators, child development specialists, behavior specialists, and a variety of specialized positions as educators.

Graduate programs allow degree-seekers to focus on a specialized area in their field. Upon program completion, master’s degree-holders can obtain research-focused and hands-on careers, many of which center on specialized training. Alternatively, some master’s learners in these programs develop advanced advising and counseling skills to work with parents and students in school settings.

Online child development and family studies students receive the same type of training and complete similar coursework as on-campus students. Whether online or in-person, master’s students in this field typically complete an internship, practicum, or other hands-on experience to meet graduation requirements.

What Courses Are Offered in a Master’s in Child Development and Family Studies Program?

Required and available elective courses vary between child development and family studies master’s programs. All curricula, however, cover similar foundational classes for master’s students in this field. In the section below, we offer five course titles and descriptions to give prospective master’s students a general idea of the coursework they may encounter when pursuing this degree.

  • Cultural Awareness and Family Engagement: In this class, learners explore the ways in which community, culture, and family life influence child development. Pupils learn to understand factors that put children at risk and identify resources to remedy the situation. This class typically includes a field practicum for hands-on experience. Depending on the school, students may need to pass a background check to enroll.
  • Advanced Methods and Instructional Programs: In this class, professors teach master’s students about the historical, educational, and legal foundations of English immersion programs, as well as learning environments for native English speakers. Students examine theoretical principles of learning processes, language acquisition, and cultural influences on information retention. This class usually involves a hands-on practicum experience and requires students to pass a fingerprint or background check.
  • Early Learners, Health, and Safety: In this class, students explore child development processes and early physical, emotional, and cognitive growth. Master’s students discuss the nutrition, health, and safety needs of young children, as well as how teachers and authority figures can foster healthy and nurturing environments. Students typically engage with case studies and current academic research for the most up-to-date information and practices.
  • Family Studies and Practical Theory: Students in this course examine contemporary theoretical models of family life, learning, and problem-solving. Students explore popular case studies and critical reading assignments that help them evaluate theory-based research models on family studies. The class includes methods for applying theoretical research to family intervention practices and education.
  • Field Practicum and Student Teaching: Depending on the program, students may engage in hands-on learning opportunities in schools, community programs, or other settings. Such practicums may include supervised one-on-one meetings. Programs which lead to teaching licensure may require learners to complete student teaching sessions to gain in-person classroom experience.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Learners in master’s in child development and family studies online programs typically complete a traditional thesis or capstone project for graduation. Depending on the program, some schools require graduate pupils to complete a practicum or intensive internship. Alternatively, some schools require graduate learners to pass a comprehensive exam to graduate.

Child development and family studies master’s programs can also prepare students to sit for the Child Life Professional Certification Examination after graduation. This is not a required exam, nor is there one particular exam that professionals must pass to work in the field.

How Much Can I Make With a Career in Child Development and Family Studies?

Master’s of child development and family studies programs prepare students for a variety of careers in education, counseling, and social services. The below table provides job descriptions and median annual salaries for popular careers for degree-holders. A master’s degree does not necessarily guarantee a particular salary, as compensation varies between positions.

  • Social and Community Service Managers

    These professionals develop, coordinate, and supervise social service programs in their communities. They often work for nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, and government agencies. These managers must possess strong interpersonal and organizational skills to work with community members and oversee the administrative duties of various community projects. These professionals may also need to apply for grants and other sources of funding for social and community projects.

    Median Annual Salary: $65,320

    Job Growth 2018-2028: 13%

  • Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

    Directors in these roles typically supervise staff members, design student curricula and program plans, oversee daily school activities, and manage school or childcare center budgets. These professionals may also create school or center policies and serve as liaisons between parents and staff members. Directors need excellent communication and organizational skills.

    Median Annual Salary: $47,940

    Job Growth 2018-2028: 7%

  • Early Childhood Educators and Preschool Teachers

    Teachers in these roles educate and care for young students in preschool or kindergarten. They work in a variety of educational settings, including public and private schools and childcare facilities. Depending on a teacher’s graduate training and desired employment location, master’s degree-holders may need to obtain a state-certified teaching credential.

    Median Annual Salary: $29,780

    Job Growth 2018-2028: 7%

Online Master’s in Child Development and Family Studies Program Accreditation

Students interested in a master’s in child development and family studies should seek out schools with regional accreditation. Many state licensing boards, including for counseling and education, require candidates to have a degree from a regionally accredited school.

Programmatic accreditation applies to particular departments or degrees in a given school. Not all programs have programmatic accreditation, and it may not be mandatory for state licensing (depending on desired career and state of residence). Programmatic accreditation in this field may come from associations such as the American Psychological Association, American Association of Family and Consumer Services, Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, and the National Council on Family Relations.

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

Students in child development and family studies master’s programs can seek funding for their education both inside and outside their department. Some colleges and universities offer internal funding opportunities or stipends. Alternatively, graduate students can secure funding for their degree from outside sources in the form of grants, loans, and scholarships.

  • Employer Assistance/ReimbursementMaster’s degree-seekers can sometimes receive funding from their employer to put toward their education per year. The employer may exclude this amount from the employee’s income each year. Students must pay taxes on reimbursements greater than $5,250.
  • Federal Grants and LoansMaster’s students can apply for several federal grant programs, including the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant. Grant recipients do not need to repay the money they receive from the government. Alternatively, students can pursue federal student loans, such as the direct subsidized or unsubsidized loan or direct plus loan. However, students must repay the loan with interest.
  • Graduate AssistantshipsColleges and universities may offer graduate students assistantships that help students offset tuition and living expenses. Master’s students usually provide 10-20 hours of work for the university each week in exchange for this compensation. Master’s students interested in an assistantship might need to submit a separate application each academic year.

Scholarships for Master’s in Child Development and Family Studies Students

  • Jeanne Gilley Graduate Scholarship

    Who Can Apply:Established in 1994, this scholarship assists full-time or part-time graduate students majoring in early childhood education, child development, or a related field. Competitive applicants possess a 3.5 or higher GPA.

    Amount: $600

    Apply for Scholarship

  • Alice Teddlie Scholarship

    Who Can Apply:This graduate student scholarship benefits learners majoring in child development or early childhood education. Competitive applicants must be members of the Southern Early Childhood Association, or a similar student affiliation, and possess a 3.25 or higher GPA.


    Apply for Scholarship

  • National Association of Junior Auxiliaries Scholarship

    Who Can Apply:Graduate-level students studying counseling, childhood development, special education, speech pathology, or related fields who work directly with children can apply for this award. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, or Tennessee.


    Apply for Scholarship

  • Mister Rogers Memorial Scholarship

    Who Can Apply:Offered through the Television Academy Foundation, this award supports graduate and undergraduate students interested in child development, children’s media, and related areas. Recipients typically use this award money to fund research projects focused on childhood learning or children’s media.


    Apply for Scholarship

  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation General Scholarship

    Who Can Apply:Undergraduate and graduate students may apply for this merit-based, one-year award. Applicants should be full-time learners with a history of volunteer work and civic leadership. Competitive applicants possess a 3.0 or higher GPA.


    Apply for Scholarship

Professional Organizations and Resources

Students and professionals benefit from membership in academic and professional organizations. In many cases, these associations provide their members access to exclusive online resources, networking opportunities, and occasions to share research and publications. Members can take advantage of features such as online chat boards, mentorship programs, continuing education opportunities, and annual conferences.

  • Child Welfare League of America: Established in 1920, CWLA is a coalition of public and private agencies that serve children and vulnerable families. The organization creates programmatic standards of excellence and plays a role in shaping childcare and early education across the country. The organization offers conferences and training workshops for interested professionals who wish to improve their existing skill set to better serve children, families, and communities.
  • HighScope: This research-focused organization strives to improve early childhood education practices and policies that ultimately benefit families, children, and their communities. HighScope’s website features a free membership area that includes information on the best teaching practices and activities based on research from childhood development experts. Members also receive full-text access to archived articles and issues from HighScope’s Journal for Early Educators.
  • National Association for Family Child Care: Established in 1982, NAFCC is a national professional association that endeavors to improve early childhood learning experiences and family childcare programs. Registered members receive access to online webinars, professional development opportunities, monthly newsletters, and interactive online course materials.
  • National Black Child Development Institute: NBCDI is a national organization dedicated to the well-being and success of black children and their families. Members receive numerous opportunities to make a positive impact on children’s lives. NBCDI provides access to professional development resources, exclusive online articles, and leadership development opportunities.
  • Society for Research in Child Development: SRCD is a research-focused society that works to advance developmental science and research on childhood learning processes. Members gain access to professional advancement opportunities, awards, mentorship programs, and fellowships. Additionally, the society keeps its members up-to-date in the field with a peer-reviewed academic journal, biennial meetings, and online forums.

Online Master’s in Child Development and Family Studies Programs 2021

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  1. Touro University Worldwide

    Los Alamitos, CA

    A private university located in Orange County, California, TUW offers on-campus and online degrees. The online master's in marriage and family therapy emphasizes holistic treatment plans. The degree focuses on family system dynamics.

    Online learners study childhood and adolescent disorders, family dysfunction, and mental disorders. The child development and family studies degree encourages students to treat the family as a system. The program also addresses interpersonal relationships. Degree-seekers choose between a clinical and nonclinical track depending on their career goals. The clinical track includes 500 practicum hours, while the nonclinical track does not require a practicum.

    TUW does not need the GRE for admission and has no residency requirements. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA from an accredited institution. TUW is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

  2. Abilene Christian University

    Abilene, TX

    A private Christian institution with over 5,000 students, ACU offers over 160 study areas. The university grants degrees from its Abilene, Texas campus and through its online programs. At ACU, degree-seekers can enroll in the online master's in marriage and family therapy program.

    Learners can specialize their degree with various tracks. The child and adolescent therapy track offers a focused child development and family studies degree. The medical family therapy and military family therapy tracks lead to specialized roles after graduation. ACU also offers a unique treatment of trauma track.

    The flexible online program offers a Christ-centered approach to education. Learners in the 60-credit program study family theory, diagnosis and assessment, and cultural diversity in family therapy. The 33-month degree also includes a 500-hour internship to gain hands-on counseling experience.

    Applicants submit three recommendation letters and a purpose statement on their career goals. Learners must hold a minimum 3.0 GPA in the program's first 12 credits. ACU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. Palo Alto University

    Palo Alto, CA

    A private university, PAU offers an online master's in child development and family studies program. The counseling-focused program trains graduate students to work closely with children and families. Students who choose the online format meet for live, interactive classes in the evenings.

    PAU emphasizes recovery-oriented treatment methods in its master's programs. Graduate students learn how to help clients manage mental and emotional health issues. The program incorporates clinical training to help build career-ready skills. Degree-seekers complete an internship that includes at least 700 hours of counseling experience. PAU works closely with mental health agencies, school-based mental health organizations, and counseling centers to place distance learners in practicum sites.

    The master's degree meets the requirements for a marriage and family therapist license or a professional clinical counselor license in many states. PAU admits graduate students twice each year. The program requires official transcripts, a resume, and three recommendation letters for admission. PAU is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

  4. University of West Alabama

    Livingston, AL

    Located in Livingston, Alabama, UWA dates back to 1835. Today, the public institution offers more than 50 online programs. The university prioritizes flexibility in its distance learning courses and offers affordable degrees. At UWA, graduate students can earn their master's in family counseling online. The 33-credit program trains learners to work closely with families on many issues.

    The master's in child development and family studies program encourages systematic approaches to family counseling. Degree-seekers examine family dynamics and strengthen their ability to counsel families on challenges. The program includes 12 credits of required courses in educational research, marriage and family therapy, and systems theory in psychology. Students then customize the degree with electives in psychotherapy, lifespan development, and family counseling.

    Prospective students submit an online application. In addition, they work with an enrollment counselor to complete their admission requirements. The program uses an accelerated eight-week term. UWA is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. Amridge University

    Montgomery, AL

    A private institution founded in 1967, Amridge specializes in distance learning. The university offers an online master's in marriage and family therapy. The degree prepares graduates for clinical roles providing therapeutic services to children and families. The program incorporates a Christian perspective. Graduates can pursue careers in church settings, private practice, and community agencies.

    The program builds therapy skills and leads to licensure in marriage and family therapy. Graduate students complete comprehensive clinical training. Coursework trains learners to address client's cultural diversity needs.

    Classes in human development, family development, and family systems may appeal to students seeking a child development and family studies degree. Graduate students complete the 60-credit master's program in seven semesters. Distance learners meet practicum and clinical requirements locally. Amridge is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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