Early Childhood Education Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Info

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Associate's and bachelor's degrees in early childhood education can lead to careers as teachers, family care providers, and social workers. Get the truth about the requirements, courses, and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Early Childhood Education: Degrees at a Glance

If you are invested in enriching the lives of children, then earning a degree in early childhood education may suit you. Those working with young children take on a plethora of roles - from nurturer to caregiver, from nutritionist to psychologist, and from playmate to teacher.A degree in this area will teach you the fundamentals of childhood development.

Early childhood education degree programs prepare students to work as preschool teachers, nannies and elementary school teacher. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2011 that preschool teachers and childcare workers were expected to see a faster than average job growth over the 2010-2020 decade, and elementary school teachers were expected to have an average job growth. If you are seeking to be an elementary school teacher, you will have to further your education beyond an associate's degree and become licensed by the state in which you work.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who Is this Degree for? People who are interested in working with children Individuals who are interested in becoming teachers or preschool directors
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Preschool teacher ($27,000)*
- Childcare worker ($19,000)*
- Teacher assistant ($24,000)*
- Kindergarten teacher ($50,000)*
- Special education teacher ($53,000)*
- Preschool/childcare center director (44,000)*
- Elementary school teacher ($53,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years or 2 years after associate's
Common Graduation Requirements - 30-45 semester hours
- Background check
- Observations
- Practicums
- Capstone
- 60 semester hours
- Observations
- Student teaching
- Capstone
- Interview with admissions
- Background check
- Letters of recommendation
- Interview with admissions
- Background check
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Associate's Degree in Early Childhood Education

Becoming an early childhood educator is more than just babysitting. Associate's degree programs in early childhood education teach students valuable skills, such as health, special needs and nutrition, needed to work with children from infancy to kindergarten age. Students in associate degree programs in early childhood education are encouraged to research new ways for children to explore their creativity while teaching them the fundamentals necessary for grade school and social life.

Pros and Cons


  • The skills that you learn can help you prepare to open an in-home family day care
  • You will be an integral part of a child's development
  • An associate's degree combined with some experience meets education requirements for teaching in Head Start programs, preschools and other childcare centers


  • Not all childcare positions require an associate's degree - some only require a high school diploma
  • Most programs will perform background checks on their students, so if there is something undesirable on your record, you will not be authorized to work with children
  • In order to seek a higher position in education, such as an elementary school teacher, an associate's will not suffice

Common Courses and Requirements

These programs require students to gain a comprehensive knowledge of early childhood development, including health, nutrition, special needs and creativity. Additionally, before graduation, students must complete observations, labs and practicums. Examples of courses you might take at the associate's level are:

  • Health, safety and nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Creative activities
  • Handling emergencies
  • Sociology
  • Principles for teaching young children

Online Degree Options

Online associate's degree programs in early childhood education are available. With the exception of required internship and observation hours, you can complete all of your courses online.

How to Stand Out

Some schools have on-campus childcare facilities or have affiliations with local childcare centers where you can volunteer, intern or potentially work. Take advantage of these opportunities to gain experience. Also, some employers, such as Head Start programs, require the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential for preschool teachers. You can start logging observation and experience hours required to earn the CDA while taking classes or volunteering in a childcare center.

Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education

A bachelor's in early childhood education can prepare you to become a teacher or for a leadership role in a childcare center or preschool. Certain Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education degree programs include preparation for state teaching certification. Earning teaching certification is no easy feat: you must submit to a background check, be finger printed and complete multiple state teaching assessment exams in addition to your required coursework.

Pros and Cons


  • You will be prepared to meet state licensure for elementary school teacher and teacher certification requirements
  • You will be able to teach children in schools up to grade three
  • Satisfaction of providing young children with foundational education


  • If you're interested in teaching children after grade three, or becoming an administrator or social worker, you will have to further your education
  • Juggling student teaching, state certification exams and undergraduate requirements may be difficult
  • You will have to regularly submit to background checks; if you have anything on your record, you may be deemed unfit to teach children

Common Courses and Requirements

Some bachelor's programs require you to have an interdisciplinary education, double majoring in education and another area of your choice. Before you graduate, you will have to complete a semester of student teaching and a senior project.

Examples of courses you might take at the bachelor's level:

  • Early childhood curriculum
  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Elementary art
  • Nutrition

Online Degree Options

There are quite a few online options. These programs are designed for people who are already working with children, as well as those who would like to change their careers. Coursework is conducted entirely online, with email, phone, and video conferencing options available in order to interact with faculty. Like on-campus programs, those conducted online carry identical requirements such as background checks and student teaching.

How to Stand Out

Working with young children requires a lot of energy, ingenuity and creativity. Faculty members look for students who willfully interact with children and their families in order to figure out that child's unique learning style. It is important to excel in this program because parents are putting their trust in you to care for their children. These programs require frequent background checks and state licensing exams which can be a rigorous process, but if working with children is something you're passionate about, these tasks will only seem like small things that you need to overcome in order to reach your goals.

Popular Schools

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Colorado Christian University

  • B.A. Elementary Education (Non-Licensure)

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Grand Canyon University

  • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
  • BS in Early Childhood
  • B.S. in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education

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Purdue University Global

  • BS in Early Childhood Administration

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Walden University

  • BS Elementary Education

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