Why This Matters

  • THE U.S. NEEDS 50,100 MORE OF YOU BY 2026

    Employment of preschool teachers is expected to increase by 10% in the next seven years, which is faster than average for all occupations. More children under age 5, and an emphasis on developmental programs are responsible for the increase.

  • EARN $18,160 MORE IN A DIRECTOR POSITION

    The average annual median salary for a preschool director is $47,940, compared to $29,780 for a preschool teacher. Having an advanced degree better prepares you for a leadership position. Employment in director positions is also expected to increase 11% by 2026

  • 50% OF HEAD START JOBS REQUIRE A DEGREE

    Head Start is a national government program aimed at supporting preschool-age children and their families. Individual agencies administer Head Start programs, and many of them require that individuals have an ECE degree in order to be eligible for employment.

Our Research

All coursework for listed programs can be completed online. However, most programs include a field experience component which must be completed in person. It’s important to review these requirements and ensure that you can fit them into your schedule.

This list also includes associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in early childhood education. Your current education level will guide which type of degree you are seeking. Some bachelor’s programs are specifically targeted at targeted at individuals who have an associate’s degree, or are transferring credits from another institution. At the master’s level, some programs require students to already have a degree or experience in education; others accept students from all academic and professional backgrounds.

Once we selected our top programs, we evaluated their reputation, course strength, flexibility and cost, and calculated the Intelligent Score of each degree on a scale from 0 to 100. Our top picks for the best online early childhood education programs are respected, affordable, and customizable. (For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 72 hours to write this article
  • 144 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 394 education programs we compared

The Top 60 Online Early Childhood Education Degrees

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What You Should Know About This Degree

While an online degree in early childhood education prepares you to work with young children in settings like Head Start programs, daycare centers and private homes, it is not the same as a teaching degree. Most early childhood education programs do not lead to teaching certification, which is usually required for teaching jobs in public and private schools. Consider what your ultimate career goals are, and if you need a degree program that will prepare you for teaching certification.

Each state sets its own requirements for being a preschool or early childhood educator or center director. Some states mandate that early childhood educators have the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, which requires a minimum of 10 instructional hours in eight distinct areas. It’s important to familiarize yourself with your state’s requirements, and make sure that you select a program whose curriculum aligns with those standards.

Although all the coursework for the listed programs can be completed online, most of them have a practicum component that involves working with children in an early learning setting. The number of hours and type of setting may vary by program, but you must consider how this requirement will fit into your schedule when researching programs.

What’s Next?

When researching online early childhood education programs, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • Does this program have the specialization I want? There are a number of areas of focus under the umbrella of early childhood education, including infant-toddler mental health; administration and leadership, and special education. If concentrating on one of these areas is important to you, make sure the schools you are researching offer coursework or a specialization in that topic.
  • Where can I work with this degree? Because individual states set their own requirements for early childhood educators, some programs only prepare graduates to work in the state in which their degree is granted, even if the program is available online. Be sure to identify where your degree makes you eligible to work post-graduation.

Once you’ve found the programs that interest you, research their application processes and requirements. This information is typically available on the program’s webpage; you can also contact the program directly if you have questions.

Financing your education is another important consideration. Research scholarship opportunities and financial aid deadlines. If you are currently employed, check with your employer to see if tuition remission/reimbursement benefits are available.