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

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Master's and PhD degrees in child and family development can lead to careers as a child life specialist or professor, among others. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Child & Family Development: Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

Students in a child and family development graduate degree program receive extensive training in the theories of human development and their applications in social environments. In a master's degree program, students will typically select a thesis or coursework option; in a PhD program, students focus on independent research. Individuals interested in child and family development may also consider degree programs in human development and family studies.

Due to multiple career paths available to child and family development graduates, occupational data varies. The overall demand for post-secondary teachers is expected to grow by 17% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Despite this growth, schools are tending to move away from tenured positions toward adjunct or part-time faculty positions. Employment of social scientists such as sociologists is expected to grow 18% during the same time period.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? - Students with bachelor degrees in a social or natural science- People who want to teach at the post-secondary level
- Students who want to work in policy or research
- Master's degree holders with a relevant education background
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary) - Child life specialist ($44,000)**
-Early childhood administrator ($90,000)*
- Post-secondary social science professor ($73,000)*
- Social scientist ($79,000)*
-Clinical psychologist or counselor ($73,000)*
Time to Completion Typically two years (full time) Typically four to five years (full time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Complete coursework (minimum of 30 credits)
- Meet research or thesis requirement
- Maintain GPA standards
- Satisfy practicum requirements
- Maintain a period of residence for at least two semesters
- Maintain GPA standards
- Pass qualifying exams
- Research, write and defend an original dissertation
- Complete teaching or research assistantship, if applicable
Prerequisites - Undergraduate transcripts in a related field
- GPA standards
- Personal statement
- Recent GRE scores
- Prerequisite courses in psychology, if applicable
- All of the master's requirements
- Graduate transcripts, if applicable
- Samples of professional writing from master's thesis or other relevant work
Online Availability Yes Not available at this time

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 mean figures). **Salary.com median salary figures.

Master's Degrees in Child and Family Development

Students in a child and family development master's degree program gain academic knowledge both inside and outside the classroom. Generally, students will participate in apprenticeships or practicums to supplement their coursework. Due to the small class sizes and popularity of the field, admission into a graduate program may be competitive. A non-terminal master's can be considered as a milestone along the way to a more advanced degree (a PhD).

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The practicum requirement of a master's degree program provides inexperienced students with relevant on-the-job training.
  • If you plan to continue your studies in a PhD program, you will need a master's degree in a relevant field.
  • Though a master's degree is not required for all careers in this field, it can provide a significant edge to job applicants.

Cons

  • Careers in this field may not require a master's degree.
  • There can be some barriers to entry to employment; professionals in this field may need to complete background checks or drug screenings.
  • Students can expect strong competition for admission into master's degree programs due to the popularity of the field and promising career opportunities.

Common Courses and Requirements

To graduate with a master's degree in child and family development, you typically need to complete academic coursework, an assistantship/practicum and write an original thesis. For the coursework requirement, you will need to complete core courses, electives and select a research or thesis track. As a master's candidate in a child and family development degree program, you can expect courses on the following topics:

  • Advanced family studies
  • Theories of child development
  • Research methods
  • Life span development
  • Best practices in intervention
  • Statistical analysis in human development

Online Class Options

Similar to traditional on-campus programs, online programs may require you to have several years of relevant work experience and basic understanding of psychology.

It is becoming more common for academic institutions to offer online courses that can help you finish a degree on time or allow them to complete prerequisites. Some schools may offer a fully-online degree option while others provide a hybrid option with a mixture of online and offline courses. In these cases, you may need to coordinate a practicum to meet program requirements.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Some programs offer concentrations in populations (early childhood) or methods (statistical analysis). You may also consider specializing in a concentration with a promising employment outlook that can open more doors during your job search. Also consider learning new and relevant skills, including project management or case management, which can set you apart from other job applicants.

PhD Degrees in Child and Family Development

Graduates of a child and family development PhD programs typically pursue careers in academia (as researchers or educators) or in public policy. If you don't already have a master's degree in a related field, some PhD programs may require you to obtain one first. Once your prerequisites are completed, you will typically enroll in several courses tailored to your individual goals and circumstances. You will then work with an advisor or mentor to develop your scholarly interests, including research and apprenticeships.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some schools provide tuition assistance in the form of grants and assistantships to qualified students. (However, these opportunities may be selective and competitive.)
  • Due to the small class sizes in PhD programs, you will have close interaction with faculty members.
  • A PhD is widely considered the best degree option for a career in academia.

Cons

  • Acceptance into a PhD program can be competitive because only a handful of applicants are accepted each year.
  • You may be overqualified for careers outside of policy, research and academia.
  • Recent cuts in state and local budgets for secondary education funding may have an enduring effect employment prospects, particularly tenured positions.

Common Courses and Requirements

In a PhD program, you may or may not be required to complete academic coursework. Topics of study may include methodology and statistics, research apprenticeship, language and literacy, social-emotional development and contemporary scholarship in family studies. You'll likely perform academic research, take preliminary examinations and prepare a doctoral dissertation. Additionally, you will likely conduct research and attend seminars that shape your area of interest. Students who don't meet certain admissions requirements may have to take placement courses in theories of human development and diversity before beginning the program.

Online Class Options

Online PhD degrees in child and family development are currently not available. If you find an accredited online degree program, consider that that you may need access to an approved site where you can conduct research. However, if you plan to pursue a clinical career path, you may be required to complete continuing education courses each year; these courses are usually widely available online.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

If you plan to work in academia or research, you can gain experience through your school's scholarly journals to publicize projects and papers. If your school does not have scholarly journals, you may be able to secure a volunteer experience at a school, hospital or nonprofit organization in your local community.

Alternate Degrees

If you are interested in the psychological aspects of family and social dynamics, you may want to consider a PhD in developmental or applied psychology. Developmental psychology programs train you in theory and research. In an applied psychology degree program, you are taught to improve the design and administration of research methods.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. University of the Rockies

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Gerontology
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Child and Adolescent Family Therapy
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Child and Adolescent Therapy
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Couple Therapy
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - General Family Therapy
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - LGBTQ Couple and Family Therapy
  • Columbia, MO

    University of Missouri

  • Fargo, ND

    North Dakota State University

  • Hattiesburg, MS

    University of Southern Mississippi

  • Greensboro, NC

    University of North Carolina at Greensboro

  • Medford, MA

    Tufts University

  • Austin, TX

    The University of Texas at Austin

Featured Schools

University of the Rockies

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Gerontology
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Child and Adolescent Family Therapy
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Child and Adolescent Therapy

What is your highest level of education?

University of Southern Mississippi

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Tufts University

The University of Texas at Austin