Why This Matters


    Early childhood education programs have grown immensely, boosting the demand for preschool teachers. There were 540,400 preschool teacher jobs in 2019.


    Preschool and childcare center directors earn a mean annual wage of $48,210, compared to $30,520 for preschool teachers. A degree could help you become a director.


    Head Start is a nationally funded early childhood education program. Since 2013, federal regulations have required that half of Head Start teachers hold a bachelor’s degree related to early childhood education.

Our Research

We reviewed many early childhood education degree programs that can be completed online, on-campus, or through a blending 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 these programs are regionally accredited, and some have more specific accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, or the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). The latter two bodies merged in 2013, but some schools are still accredited by one or the other 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.

  • 51 hours to write this article
  • 173 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 342 education programs we compared

The Top 40 Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Best Early Childhood Education Degree Programs
loader Image

What You Should Know About This Degree

An early childhood education degree is intended to prepare you for work in Head Start programs, preschools, day cares, and private homes. It’s not meant to serve as a substitute for a teaching degree, and most early childhood education programs don’t lead to a teaching certification. Teaching certification is generally required if you want to teach in a public school setting, and some private elementary and secondary schools also ask for it.

All states set their own requirements for early childhood educators and directors. Some states require that educators obtain the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, which involves 10 hours of learning that cover eight distinct subjects. If your state asks for this, make sure to choose a degree program that includes the credential in its curriculum.

While online programs make it possible to complete coursework remotely, the vast majority of programs have a practicum portion that you must do in an early childhood education setting. How many practicum hours you’ll need varies, but you should consider this factor as you evaluate programs in light of your personal scheduling needs.

What’s Next?

Consider these factors when evaluating early childhood education degree programs:

  • How long does it take to complete this online degree? How long you’ll spend studying early childhood education depends on what level of degree you pursue. Most associate degrees require two years of full-time study, while bachelor’s programs require four years if you don’t already have an associate designation. Master’s programs are generally two years. Going part-time will extend the duration of any program.
  • What licensing or certifications are required? Some states require early childhood educators to have the CDA credential, which is helpful even when it’s not officially required. If your state requires the credential, look for a program that includes it in its coursework.

Once you have chosen programs of interest, check each program’s webpage or contact each school directly to learn more about its application process. You need to know what materials to submit and their deadlines.

Also, consider how you’ll finance your degree. Research scholarship opportunities and ask programs about available financial aid. If you work in the field, find out whether your employer has a tuition remission or reimbursement program.