Preschool Teaching Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a preschool teaching graduate program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and doctoral degree and potential careers.
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Studying Preschool Teaching: Degrees at a Glance

If you want to study advanced techniques for teaching preschool-aged children, you can earn a master's or doctoral degree in early childhood education. Although an undergraduate degree is the basic educational requirement for most preschool teaching positions, a master's degree program can prepare you for positions as a preschool director, administrator or lead teacher. With a doctorate, you can become a curriculum specialist or postsecondary teacher.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that preschool teacher and director positions were expected to grow 25% from 2010-2020, which was higher than average ( Approximately 16,000 preschool director and 114,000 preschool teaching jobs were expected to open up during this time. BLS statistics showed that postsecondary teaching positions were predicted to increase 17% from 2010-2020, which was average growth. Instructional coordinator jobs were projected to increase at a faster-than-normal rate of 20%.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Those who are interested in teaching, administrating, consulting or directing at a preschool or child care program Individuals who want to work as postsecondary instructors, researchers or curriculum specialists
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Preschool administrator ($51,000* - Most administrators need prior experience as an early childhood educator)
- Junior college education instructor ($67,000)*
- Preschool teacher ($30,000)*
- Education professor and researcher ($65,000)*
- Curriculum or instructional coordinator ($62,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 2-5 years full-time after the master's degree or 4-7 years full-time after the bachelor's degree
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 10-12 graduate-level courses
- Master's thesis
- Possible practicum component
- About 10-15 graduate-level courses
- Ph.D. qualifying exams
- Submission and approval of a dissertation prospectus
- Dissertation
- Oral defense of dissertation project
- Teaching experience or observation requirement
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree with prior coursework in child development
- Early childhood education experience
- Possible teaching license
- Bachelor's or master's degree
-Professional early education experience
Online Availability Yes Rare

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

Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education

A master's degree program in early childhood education should cover teaching methods for infants, toddlers and youngsters, typically from preschool to the second or third grade. Programs that include a preschool education emphasis typically focus on children who are under the age of four. Programs can consist of 30-48 units, during which you can take a combination of lecture courses and practicum experiences in an early education setting.

Pros and Cons


  • Master's degree programs can teach the advanced leadership techniques needed to oversee child care facilities and enrich the learning of young preschoolers
  • Employers may prefer preschool teachers (particular lead instructors) to receive their master's degree
  • The employment of preschool directors was expected to grow at a higher rate than average*
  • There are extensive online opportunities for those seeking master's degree programs in early childhood education


  • Preschool administration jobs can also be secured with only a bachelor's degree, making a master's degree not always necessary
  • Programs can be quite intensive, since you must typically learn about child care and teaching from birth all the way to the age of eight or nine
  • Early education administrators earn less than elementary and secondary school education administrators (about $51,000 vs. $90,000 in May 2011)*
  • If you work as a childcare professional, many preschools may require you to be licensed
  • Working as a director or administrator at a preschool can come with a good amount of responsibility and stress

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

Commons Courses and Requirements

Early childhood education courses cover topics like child development and early literacy. Students can learn how to properly communicate with parents and assess progress in young children. You might learn about successful classroom management techniques, child nutrition, curricula for special needs children, language development and the role of play in learning. You can also explore the effect culture has on the learning process and how to adapt your teaching methods to children's potentially diverse backgrounds.

Some classes you can take during an early childhood education master's degree program include:

  • Optimal learning environments
  • Learning through play
  • Multicultural education settings
  • Staff development

You generally must work with an advisor towards your master's thesis. Many programs have a practical requirement that can allow you to complete a semester at a partnered preschool, working under the guidance of other teachers. You might assist them with curriculum, engage preschool-aged students and oversee their activities. You also might be able to videotape your interactions with children and discuss your performance with faculty members or classroom instructors. Programs often require you to keep a written account of your experiences and reflections.

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs are available in early childhood education, and some even offer a specialization in preschool education. You can take all classes online, but must typically complete an applied experience in the classroom, during which you can perform observations and assist other instructors.

You also might need to agree to attend a week of classes on campus each summer. During the school year, you can learn remotely through discussion boards, as well as live chats. All regular assignments can usually be completed and turned in from home.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

In addition to knowledge about child development and early childhood education, many employers expect preschool administrators to have excellent communication skills. You'll likely need to supervise any teachers or staff under you, so you should be able to lead and delegate tasks effectively. The practical portions of many early childhood education master's degree programs can help you practice communicating with parents, other instructors and children. Preschool directors may also need to oversee school budgets, collect tuition and determine school fees. Taking courses covering finance, cost control, budgeting, Excel spreadsheets and financial management might increase your marketability as a director.

If you continue to work as a preschool teacher, knowledge of instructional technologies are increasingly needed in the classroom. You might want to familiarize yourself with computer programs particularly aimed at toddlers, such as musical software programs and programs that help develop language and speaking skills. It's equally important to understand how to integrate face-to-face activities with computer time for maximum learning.

To further stand out as a preschool director or administrator, you might want to become credentialed as a preschool-level Child Development Associate (CDA) with the Council for Professional Recognition ( Your state might already require this certification, in addition to licensure, but if you live in an area that doesn't require certification, the CDA credential could increase your job prospects. The certification process involves providing proof of early childhood education training, professional experience with children ages 3-5 and observed interactions with preschoolers.

Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education

A Ph.D. program can prepare you to become an education professor, researcher, consultant or curriculum specialist. You must usually earn about 48-60 semester units beyond the master's degree, often by completing a combination of research and classwork. These programs often feature observation experiences in preschool or child care settings, where you can conduct the research that can help you eventually choose your dissertation topic. The program culminates in the completion of a dissertation on a unique early education subject.

Pros and Cons


  • Ph.D. programs can allow you to engage in cutting-edge research on early childhood development, behavior and learning
  • Earning a Ph.D. can lead to a variety of career routes as a college instructor, researcher, curriculum specialist, coordinator or consultant
  • Instructional coordinator jobs were expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate over the next decade*

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


  • Postsecondary teaching and research positions don't pay much more than administrator or director positions, even though you must earn a Ph.D. for these teaching jobs
  • Ph.D. programs require considerable time commitments, since students must pass comprehensive qualifying exams, perform advanced research and write a lengthy dissertation paper
  • There is increasing competition for tenured teaching positions at universities

Course Requirements

Many Ph.D. programs require that almost half of your units be devoted to research, with courses in research methods, analyzing data in early childhood education settings and the psychology of learning. Early childhood education courses that you might take cover topics in:

  • Scholarly writing
  • Educator-student relationships
  • Instructional technology
  • Role of community and family in early childhood education

The program often includes a residency experience in which you can help teach students while also conducting research in the classroom. This can help you discover and formulate your dissertation. A set of comprehensive exams usually must be taken midway through the program, and students must complete a final dissertation on an original topic that must be defended successfully in front of a committee of faculty members.

Online Options

Online Ph.D. programs in early childhood education are rarer than master's degree programs, but they are still available. However, most of the schools that offer these distance learning programs are for-profit colleges and universities. These schools usually require that you establish residency by attending some courses and research projects at the campus, typically during a week-long summer session. During this session, you can discuss your research plans with faculty members and network with other professionals in the field.

A few schools offer fully online programs with no on-campus requirements. In these programs, you can still receive a faculty mentorship and communicate through e-mail, live chat and online bulletin boards. To complete your classes online, you may need a CD-ROM drive, an external hard drive, a high-speed Internet connection, up-to-date antivirus software and access to a printer.

How to Get Ahead

If you wish to have the best job opportunities after completing your Ph.D. program, you may want to consider specializing in a particular aspect of early childhood education. Performing research on a needed educational topic might increase your chances of being hired by a university to explore and teach the subject further. Here are some important research specialties that universities increasingly include in their curricula; holding knowledge of one of these topics might help you on your job search:

  • Teaching innovations and technologies
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) education at the pre-K level
  • Adapting curriculum for autistic and other special needs children
  • Child development

Instructional coordinator employers often prefer applicants who have held prior teaching experience. You therefore might want to earn a teaching license and gather experience instructing preschoolers or other early elementary school children before applying for positions. Whether a coordinator or a teacher, technology can play a huge role in your daily tasks. Coordinators might need to demonstrate new teaching methods or educational platforms to other teachers, so having computer knowledge can be very important. You should also have technical expertise in data management systems, since you'll usually need to track student data, like grades or enrollment numbers.

Popular Schools

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    1. Regent University

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      • M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction
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    2. Saint Leo University

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      • MEd: Exceptional Student Education
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Featured Schools

Regent University

  • M.Ed. - Individualized Degree Program
  • M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction
  • M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction - Christian School

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Saint Leo University

  • MEd: Exceptional Student Education

What is your highest level of education completed?

Wheelock College

Westfield State University