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Early childhood education (ECE) professionals guide young children through pivotal educational milestones, preparing them for a lifetime of learning. They collaborate with colleagues to design and implement an effective curriculum that addresses their students’ mental, emotional, and physical needs.

Careers in early childhood education are ideal for creative people who enjoy working with young children. In 2023, preschool teachers with ECE degrees earned a median wage of $37,130, preschool and childcare center directors earned $54,290, and occupational therapists with a postgraduate degree in early childhood education earned $96,370.

To join this fulfilling and in-demand career track, you must earn a degree in early childhood education. An associate degree in early childhood education costs $3,885 per year, while a bachelor’s degree costs $17,709. A postgraduate master’s degree in early childhood education averaged $20,513 annually.

How to Choose an Early Childhood Education Degree Program

Choose your area of study

The early childhood education degree program that you choose depends on your desired specialization and career goals.

Degrees from colleges of arts, such as Associate of Arts (AA), Bachelor of Arts (BA), or Master of Arts (MA) in early childhood education, include coursework based in the social sciences and humanities.

You can also earn an Associate of Science (AS), a Bachelor of Science (BS), or a Master of Science (MS) in early childhood education. These programs focus more on science-based coursework and data analysis based on observations and assessments.

For a more concentrated educational degree, choose a Bachelor of Education (BEd) or a Master of Education (MEd) in early childhood education. You’ll find these programs through colleges or departments of education, and coursework includes more educational research and time in the classroom. Some postgraduate early childhood education programs allow students to earn teaching credentials concurrently with their master’s degrees.

Look for a program that focuses on your specific area of study. Many offer general education classes alongside specialized courses in special education, child development, ECE administration, and other aspects of early childhood education.

Research schools and programs

Ensure that your school and early childhood education program are accredited by institutional and programmatic agencies approved by the Department of Education. Institutional agencies, such as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), ensure that schools meet academic and fairness objectives for admissions, coursework, and student life. Programmatic agencies, such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), assess individual education programs for their adherence to academic professional standards.

Prepare for tests and applications

Undergraduate programs for early childhood education typically require students to take entrance tests, such as the SAT and ACT, as part of the application process. Students applying to a master’s program may also need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and state-specific entrance tests.

In addition to entrance tests, prepare a letter of intent or personal statement that describes your teaching philosophy. Collect letters of recommendation from previous teachers or colleagues, and obtain sealed transcripts from previous schools showing completion of your program’s prerequisites. If you’re applying to a master’s program, you may need to provide evidence of classroom observation hours and a written statement of your teaching experience and philosophy. Prepare for an interview with the program’s application committee as well.

Select your program

The best early childhood education degree program is one that fits your needs. Once you’ve researched the program or programs you’d like to enter, take a virtual or in-person campus tour. If you have housing or scheduling requirements, inquire with a program representative or the school’s admissions office. Talk to graduates from your desired program, and if possible, ask to observe them in their current classrooms.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Find out how much financial aid you can receive with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Once you’ve applied, you can choose how much aid to accept and determine how much more assistance you’ll need. Ask your school’s financial aid office about scholarships, grants, and loan forgiveness programs available to teachers in specific areas.

Best 50 Accredited Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Best Early Childhood Education Degree Programs_2024 badge
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Indiana University Bloomington
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Purdue University
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The College of New Jersey
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University of Delaware
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University of Northern Iowa
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University of Arizona
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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
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Western Washington University
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Towson University
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NYU Steinhardt
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University of Maryland
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Arizona State University
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Salisbury University
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Frostburg State University
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University of Washington
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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
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Brigham Young University
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The University of Toledo
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Louisiana State University
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Iowa State University
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The University of Oklahoma
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University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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Central Connecticut State University
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Florida International University
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University of Central Florida
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University of Pittsburgh
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Pennsylvania State University
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Central Washington University
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SUNY Cobleskill
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The University of Texas at Austin
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Rhode Island College
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Clemson University
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University of Missouri
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The City College of New York
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Northern Arizona University
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Loyola University Chicago
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University of Dayton
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University of North Florida
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Illinois State University
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Wilmington University
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Millersville University of Pennsylvania
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The University of Kansas
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Concordia University, St. Paul
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The University of Vermont
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University of Michigan-Flint
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Shippensburg University
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Auburn University
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The Ohio State University
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South Dakota State University
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Utah State University

Discover More Options

How we rank schools

We reviewed many early childhood education degree programs that can be completed online, on-campus, or through a hybrid of the two. Online programs frequently require some in-person training so that students can get hands-on experience working with young children.

Our list includes associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees to meet students’ educational needs. Which level is most appropriate for you depends on your prior postsecondary education.

All of the schools featured in this guide are regionally accredited, and many of these options also have programmatic accreditation through the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) or the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). These two bodies merged in 2013, but some schools are still accredited by NCATE from before the merger.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

What Can You Expect From an Early Childhood Education Degree Program?

An early childhood education degree program blends educational theory with practical application. You’ll spend the first part of the program in lectures and discussion groups, then transition to more in-person work with children in infant centers or preschools, including teacher assistance, curriculum design, and classroom takeovers. Your school may even have a special center designed for students in education programs to observe and interact with young children.

Potential courses you’ll take in an early childhood education degree program

  • Early Childhood Education Foundations. An ECE foundations course introduces early childhood education by guiding students through the stages of child development and teaching them to observe and assess young children based on the expected milestones of their age.
  • Children’s Literature. Students explore classic and modern forms of children’s literature, including content and theme, and discuss how to integrate different types of literature in a class setting. A final project may require students to create their own children’s book in the style of a selected author or form.
  • Special Education. A special education course focuses on the needs of children who don’t hit developmental milestones at the same rate as their typically developing peers. Students in this course learn about developmental delays and learning disabilities and how to address the needs of all children in large class settings and one-on-one interactions.
  • Observation and Assessment. Equipped with the foundations of early childhood education and child development theory, students discover the best practices of observing and assessing groups and individual students. They perform in-person observations, craft formative and summative assessments, and evaluate the effectiveness of their evaluation to create a nurturing, supportive learning environment.

Early Childhood Education Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an early childhood education degree program?

Check your school’s website for the most up-to-date information on applying to their early childhood education degree program. You’ll find deadlines, application requirements, minimum test scores, and a sample of the coursework they offer in the program. For more information, contact the institution’s admissions office.

How much does an early childhood education degree cost?

The average annual cost of an associate degree program in early childhood education is $3,885. Bachelor’s degree programs in early childhood education cost an average of $17,709 per year, and master’s degree programs in early childhood education cost an average of $20,513 per year. The total amount increases with the addition of room and board, educational materials, and cost of living in your school’s city.

How long does it take to earn an early childhood education degree?

An associate degree in early childhood education requires 60 credit hours and two years, while a bachelor’s degree takes 120 credit hours over four years. A master’s degree in childhood education can take between one and two years and 30 to 60 credit hours, depending on whether the program offers students the opportunity to earn a teaching credential alongside their master’s degree.