Pre-K Teaching Degrees: Certification, Master's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a Pre-K teaching program? Read about certification and degree requirements, the pros and cons of certification and master's degrees, and potential careers.
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Studying Pre-K Education: Certification and Degrees at a Glance

If you are interested in teaching very young children and you already have a bachelor's degree, you might consider completing a postbaccalaureate certificate or master's degree program to prepare you for work as a Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) teacher. If you are already teaching, you can pursue a master's degree in a Pre-K specialization, such as special education, teaching English as a second language or reading and literacy. Education, experience, certification and licensure requirements for Pre-K teachers vary by state and place of employment.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects job growth for Pre-K teachers to be 25%, much faster than average, between the years 2010 and 2020. The average salary for Pre-K teachers in the U.S. in May 2011 was about $30,000, according to the BLS.

Let's compare programs:

Certificate Master's
Who is this program for? Individuals aspiring to teach or to obtain specialized or administrative positions in Pre-K schools Individuals wishing to obtain initial teaching licensure and certification to teach in Pre-K schools or teachers wishing to obtain specialization degrees in Pre-K schools
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) -Pre-K teacher ($30,000)*
-Pre-K and elementary special education teacher ($56,000)*
- Students obtaining their master's degree can also become Pre-K and/or special education teachers and may have better advancement opportunities in these positions
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full time Approximately 2 years after the bachelors, full time
Common Graduation Requirements -16-33 credit hours
-Student teaching requirements
-Praxis II exam
-Approximately 48 credit hours
-General studies requirements
-Successful completion of clinical placements (student teaching)
Prerequisites -Bachelor's degree
-Praxis I or other skills test
-Some preschool education coursework may be required for specialized certificates
-Bachelor's degree
-Praxis l or other skills test
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Pre-K Certificates

Graduate certificates in Pre-K education are often geared toward preparing you for initial teaching certification/licensure in a specific state. There are also graduate certificate programs designed for working preschool and elementary school teachers looking to develop a specialization. Some certificate programs will allow you to apply graduate credits earned in the program toward a master's degree if you decide to continue your education.

Pros and Cons


  • Certificate program can fulfill state requirements for teaching in a public Pre-K program
  • Regular day-time teaching schedules and summers off allow Pre-K teachers time to pursue further education or other interests
  • Working with children and watching them grow and develop can be rewarding


  • You could earn a master's degree, instead of just a certificate, with as little as 15 additional credit hours (depending on the certificate and master's degree programs you are comparing)
  • You will likely have to complete additional testing, certification and licensure requirements in order to teach in public schools
  • Requirements for Pre-K positions can vary by institution and state; the certificate program you completed for one position may not be sufficient if you change jobs or move

Courses and Requirements

Certificate program courses and requirements will depend on the type of certificate program. If you are completing a certificate program in order to obtain your initial teaching certification/licensure, you will also have student teaching requirements to complete as part of your program. For a general Pre-K certificate program, you'll likely take courses in:

  • Human growth and development
  • Educational psychology
  • Special education
  • Curriculum development
  • Classroom management
  • Linguistics
  • Language assessment

Online Degree Options

There are many online Pre-K certificate programs; however, these certificates are for current teachers who want to earn specializations or endorsements. There are not online programs for those who want to prepare for initial teacher certification.

Getting Ahead with This Program

To get ahead, you might consider earning a professional certification, such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) or the Child Care Professional (CCP). Each requires you to have a high school diploma, field experience and some postsecondary education. In some cases, obtaining certification may be required by your state or employer, but even if it's not required, it may help you demonstrate your knowledge in the field. You can begin earning these credentials while you are enrolled in certificate program.

Master's in Pre-K Education

Pre-K master's degree programs, also called early childhood or elementary education programs, come in various forms and with varying licensure, certification and credentials associated with them. Initial licensure programs are aimed at bachelor's degree holders who do not already hold teaching credentials and would like to become Pre-K teachers in public schools. Other programs are aimed at working teachers who wish to earn their master's degree in a Pre-K specialization. Examples of specializations include special education, reading and literacy and English as a second language.

Pros and Cons


  • Master's degree programs with teaching certification/licensure often qualify you to teach Pre-K through 5th or 8th grade, opening up more opportunities and future possibilities
  • A master's degree in early childhood education and experience can open up opportunities for promotion to an administrator position, such as an elementary school principal
  • Most teachers have summers and other school breaks off to pursue other interests, hobbies and to continue their education


  • Working with Pre-K children, who are often high-energy and emotional, can be exhausting
  • You will likely be applying for many of the same positions as those who only hold a bachelor's degree
  • Significant improvement in earning potential may not result with degree

Courses and Requirements

Your master's degree coursework will include curriculum and instruction training in both your graduate classroom setting as well as in field and clinical assignments and placements. Common Pre-K master's degree courses can include:

  • Elementary curriculum, instruction and assessment
  • Human growth and development
  • Emergent and early literacy instruction
  • Teaching comprehension strategies
  • Instructional media and technology
  • Classroom and behavior management
  • Exceptional students

Online Degree Options

Accredited master's degree programs are available online for both master's degrees with a teaching licensure option as well as master's degrees in Pre-K specialization fields. Degrees that include teaching credentials may require student teaching and field-work in addition to the online coursework.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

If you are enrolling in an early childhood education or elementary education master's degree program for the purposes of initial teacher licensure, you might consider selecting a minor in a specialization. Many programs offer specializations, like special education or reading and literacy. Keep in mind, there may be additional coursework required to earn the minor. However, augmenting your degree to include a specialization may set you apart and make you more valuable and appealing to potential employers.

Popular Schools

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    2. Saint Leo University

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      • MEd: Exceptional Student Education
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Regent University

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Saint Leo University

  • MEd: Exceptional Student Education

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Wheelock College

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