Study Child Development: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master degree and PhD programs in child development can lead to careers in education. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options and find out what you can do with your child development degree.
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Child Development Master's and PhD's: Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in studying child development, a master's degree program can open the door to careers as a community college professor or instructional coordinator. A steady employment growth of 17% and 20% was projected for these positions through the 2010-2020 decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Additionally, some programs can lead to certification as a kindergarten or elementary school teacher, a position that was projected to experience a 17% employment growth. However, this outlook could be tempered by local and state governments' budget cuts. You might also want to consider the fact that you can meet the minimal education requirements for these positions by completing a bachelor's degree and teacher training program. But if you're already working in this field, earning a graduate degree could help you advance.

PhD programs in child development can also qualify you to work as a postsecondary education teacher. You might work as an educational policy analyst as well.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Aspiring early childhood educators and those interested in advancing their careers Individuals who would like to teach in undergraduate and graduate programs
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Postsecondary education teacher ($65,000)*
- Instructional coordinator ($62,000)*
- Kindergarten teacher (excluding special education) ($52,000)*
- Elementary school teacher (excluding special education) ($55,000)*
- Postsecondary education teacher ($65,000)*
- Educational policy analyst (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time 4-6 years full time, post-Master's degree
Common Graduation Requirements-Approximately 30-36 course credits
- Master's thesis, project or internship
-Approximately 42-48 course credits
- Dissertation
- Internship and teaching requirements might also be included
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Field experience in an educational setting and prerequisite coursework in areas such as child psychology could also be required
Master's degree in education or a related field
Online Availability Online and hybrid options available Not at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011).

Master's in Child Development

Child development master's degree programs often allow you to choose between a research or applied track, depending on whether you want to pursue a PhD or work with children after graduating. Some programs even offer the option of preparing for certification as a kindergarten or elementary school teacher.

In addition to completing coursework, you could spend much of your time observing classrooms and individual children in a supervised internship setting. You might also research such topics as parent-child relationships, social policy and curriculum development, to name a few.

Pros and Cons


  • Possessing a master's degree can qualify you to teach at a community college
  • Opportunities to work as a lead teacher or mentor are available with experience
  • Some programs offer opportunities to specialize in an area such as language and literacy, early intervention and children with special needs


  • Many early childhood education positions only require a bachelor's degree
  • Some regions of the country have more qualified kindergarten and elementary school teachers than job openings*
  • A PhD could be required for postsecondary teaching positions at a 4-year school

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Master's degree programs can include around ten courses designed to provide you with an understanding of the factors affecting young children's physical growth and cognitive development. Examples of courses you might take include the following:

  • Human development theory
  • Language development and literacy
  • Social and intellectual development
  • Qualitative research methods

A master's thesis that coincides with your area of interest is a typical requirement among programs that include a research track. If you choose an applied track, you could be responsible for completing a final project or participating in an internship.

Online Degree Options

If you want to complete all of your coursework from home, online master's degree programs in child development are fairly common. Program curricula is often delivered via course management systems that allow you to access course materials and participate in discussion groups with your professors and peers. Hybrid programs requiring you to participate in on-campus meetings are also available, though less common. Because of their flexibility, online and hybrid programs can be ideal for working professionals.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

When selecting your program coursework, it can be helpful to choose an area of specialization. For example, the BLS stated that kindergarten and elementary school teachers who've been trained to teach students with special needs could face more favorable job prospects.

To stand out in this field, it's also important to be aware of national trends, best practices and current research regarding child development. Maintaining membership in a professional organization, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children, can help facilitate this.

PhD in Child Development

PhD programs allow you to focus on a specialized area of study, such as family studies, early intervention or cognitive development. While you'll spend part of your time completing coursework, the majority of your studies will be devoted to conducting independent research or completing internship requirements. There are even opportunities to assist faculty with their research.

Pros and Cons


  • Doctoral students who participate in internships often receive a great deal of mentoring from faculty, which helps provide direction for research
  • A PhD in Child Development can prepare you for a tenure-track position at a college or university
  • You might be able to offset the cost of your education by working as a paid research assistant


  • Coursework can be rigorous and take up to six years to finish
  • A limited number of additional career options are available to PhD program graduates
  • Strong competition is expected for tenure-track teaching positions*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

A PhD program in child development usually requires a handful of core courses covering some of the same topics as a master's degree program. Courses unique to a doctoral program include research methodology, program evaluation and statistics. These are usually completed within the first three years of study. You'll also need to conduct extensive research in order to write and defend a dissertation. There are even programs that include two semester's worth of teaching and research internship requirements.

Online Degree Options

Online PhD's in child development are not available. The hands-on components of these programs will require you to spend a great deal of your time at on-campus laboratory schools and research institutes or at affiliated day care centers and child advocacy organizations.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

It's also important to carefully consider the area of specialization you will pursue while enrolled in a child development PhD program. Keeping up with the trends in child development research and policy through membership in a professional organization can help you get an edge as well.

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