Best Online Child Development Programs 2021

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Child development programs cover the biological, cognitive, and social development of children, typically from infancy through adolescence. Drawing heavily from behavioral and social sciences, a child development degree prepares graduates to work in various professional arenas. Degree-holders may work in early childhood education, curriculum design, and career and technical program development.

Kindergarten and elementary teachers earn a median annual salary of $59,420, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These professionals typically only need a bachelor’s degree in child development or a closely related field. Child development specialists with a master’s or doctoral degree earn even higher annual median salaries, including postsecondary teachers ($79,540) and college administrators ($95,410).

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Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Like most educators, child development specialists believe that education plays a pivotal role in helping individuals reach their full potential. Child development experts believe that this process begins before a child enters preschool and continues through adolescence.

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  • What can I do with a child development degree?

    Professionals with a child development degree can pursue many roles, including school and career counselor, middle school teacher, and instruction coordinator.

  • Is child development a good career?

    A child development degree qualifies graduates for work in diverse career fields, many of which show steady growth and above-average salaries.

  • What is the difference between child development and early childhood education?

    Child development encompasses the development of children and adolescents. Early childhood education focuses on learning activities and educational institutions for children prior to entering kindergarten.

  • What do you learn in child development?

    A child development program covers topics such as language development in young children, social and emotional growth, and adolescent development.

Best Online Child Development Programs 2021

  1. Appalachian State University

    Boone, NC



    Appalachian State University's Bachelor of Science in child development - birth through kindergarten program is a part-time (6 to 8 hours per semester), year-round program. It's primarily online, combining both synchronous and asynchronous coursework, though Appalachian State cautions students that not all courses listed may be delivered to distance education students. The 7 semesters of coursework lead students to one final semester of student teaching. The degree is designed to prepare students for careers as teachers for children from infancy to kindergarten, such as those in preschool education and preschool special education.

  2. Concordia University-Saint Paul

    Saint Paul, MN



    Concordia University - St. Paul (CSP) is a private, liberal arts university that is part of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod-affiliated Concordia University System. CSP offers an online-only Bachelor of Arts in child development degree-completion program designed with busy adult students in mind. The program requires completion of general education coursework (through Concordia and/or other accredited institutions) and 42 credit hours in the major (offered fully online) for a total of 120 credits. Students must also complete fieldwork in licensed early childhood learning or child care centers. Graduates typically pursue careers in a variety of social work and education-related occupations in both public and private settings.

  3. Union Institute & University

    Cincinnati, OH



    Union Institute & University is a private, nonprofit research university with its main campus in Cincinnati, Ohio, and satellite campuses in California, Florida, and Vermont. UI&U's Bachelor of Science in child and adolescent development is offered in a hybrid format that combines online coursework with in-person classes at the school's Los Angeles and Sacramento, California, campuses. UI&U features a generous credit transfer policy that allows students to apply up to 90 credit hours from an accredited school to the total 120 hours required for this degree. The child and adolescent development program prepares students to work in a variety of occupations in the health, human services and education fields. UI&U also offers a Bachelor of Science in early child studies that can be earned entirely online.

What Are the Requirements for a Child Development Degree?

A child development degree typically maintains similar admission requirements as other bachelor’s programs. Applicants must submit a school transcript from every secondary school attended, a high school diploma, and at least one recommendation letter from a school staff member. Some programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Typical child development degrees require 120 credits, and major courses comprise at least half of those credits. Child development programs often include an internship for junior and senior enrollees. Culminating activities vary, with many schools requiring learners to complete a capstone project or pass a comprehensive exam. Some programs require degree-seekers to write a thesis to graduate.

Accreditation for Child Development Degrees

Accreditation refers to the process of evaluation that postsecondary institutions voluntarily undergo to demonstrate their commitment to quality education. Independent accreditors assess a school’s academic offerings to determine whether they meet recognized standards of excellence.

Nonprofit, degree-focused colleges and universities seek regional accreditation, while for-profit, career-centric vocational schools seek national accreditation. Since regionally accredited institutions maintain stricter admission requirements, regional accreditation is often viewed as the most prestigious.

Some accrediting bodies focus on specific programs instead of entire schools and issue programmatic accreditation. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the main accrediting agency in the child development and early childhood education field.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recognizes all three accreditation types. Learners who plan to apply for federal financial aid should only apply to accredited schools since the ED channels funds only to accredited schools.

Online Guide to Accredited Colleges and Universities

Certifications and Licensure for Child Development

Professionals who want to work in the classroom need licensure in the state where they plan to teach. Licensure requirements vary between states. Some states participate in reciprocity agreements, so students should check specific licensure requirements before completing a program. Child development graduates can also pursue the credentials below.

Certified Child Life Specialist

The Child Life Certification Commission requires candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree in a child-focused field, show completion of required coursework, and possess at least 600 clinical internship hours or work experience. Candidates must pass the Child Life Professional Certification Exam for initial certification. Renewal occurs every five years and requires the completion of professional development units.

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Child Development Associate

Nationally transferable and widely recognized in the early childhood education field, the CDA credential presents the holder as a professional trained to nurture children’s emotional, psychological, emotional, and intellectual development. Requirements include a professional portfolio, completion of at least 120 clock hours of professional education in all CDA subject areas, and 480 direct contact hours with young children.

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Special Education Teacher Certification

Candidates must pass three tests to earn this credential. They also need a bachelor’s degree or higher and must pass a national background check.

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Child Development Specializations

Many child development programs offer concentration areas or study tracks that allow students to focus on specific areas of professional or personal interest. Most schools offer concentration coursework only at the junior and senior levels.

Students enrolled in an online child development program may find that schools do not offer all specializations online. However, learners can still focus their studies by enrolling in a cluster of classes in a specific subject field. See below for three of the most common concentration options for child development majors.

  • Childcare Management

    This specialization focuses on how to run facilities that cater to children, including daycare centers and nursery schools. Childcare administrators ensure their facility offers age-appropriate learning activities, adheres to industry safety standards, and complies with relevant legal regulations.

  • Counseling and Family Services

    Enrollees examine the various issues and challenges that impact the stability of family structures, including addiction, mental health problems, and abuse. Courses cover topics such as behavior modification and personality disorder theories. Independent practice in this field may require licensure and additional education and training.

  • Early Childhood Education

    Child development majors who specialize in early childhood education focus on the social, emotional, and academic needs of children under age eight. Many early childhood education specialists work as teachers who directly monitor and further children’s growth and development. Some practitioners work in curriculum development or as child advocates within the social work arena.

Scholarships for Child Development

Students pursuing a child development degree can explore financial assistance from several sources, including professional organizations, federal agencies, and nonprofits. Most of these funding options accept applications from students pursuing an on-campus or online child development degree.

  • Bright Futures National Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Bright Horizons welcomes applications from undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in early childhood education or a related field, such as child development. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must have completed at least 30 credits of coursework in the field. The program gives preference to minority students and nontraditional enrollees.

    Amount: $250-$1,000

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  • Jack Kinnaman Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: The National Education Association administers this program and accepts applications from undergraduate students pursuing an education-focused degree. Child development majors who plan to pursue a career as an educator can apply. Applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA and must demonstrate financial need.

    Amount: $2,500

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