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For aspiring educators, beginning to earn a degree in early childhood education can be an exciting yet daunting endeavor. With numerous programs available, each claiming to be the best, it’s natural to ask: What should I look for? How can I be sure a program is legitimate? How do I choose the right program for my goals?

These questions can create uncertainty, especially when choosing the right path for your career in education. That’s precisely why Intelligent.com has compiled a comprehensive list of the top online early childhood education degree programs, tailored to be accessible for everyone, regardless of their desired degree level.

In this article, we’ll delve into the details of these programs, covering critical aspects such as typical curriculum elements, distinctions between early childhood and elementary education degrees, specialization options, state-level teaching certification, the latest career outlook, and potential career paths. By the end, you’ll have the knowledge and insights to decide on the ideal early childhood education program for your professional aspirations.

What Can I Expect from an Online Early Childhood Education Degree Program?

Online early childhood education degrees offer a flexible pathway for aspiring educators to embark on a rewarding journey of shaping young minds. Curriculums often focus on child development, curriculum planning, teaching strategies, assessment and evaluation, and classroom management.

While these programs provide the convenience of remote learning, the majority offer some in-person components, like student teaching, to provide a well-rounded education.

The difference between early childhood education and elementary education

While early childhood education and elementary education have some overlap, they are two distinct phases in a child’s educational journey. Early childhood education usually focuses on the formative years from birth to around eight, while elementary education typically begins around age six and continues through the primary school years.

Early Childhood Education Elementary Education
Age Group Birth to around eight years old Six to ten or eleven years old
Curriculum Focus Social and emotional learning, fine and gross motor skills, and early cognitive development Emphasizes academic subjects like math, science, and literacy

Types of degrees in early childhood education

  • An Associate’s degree in ECE provides foundational knowledge and practical skills for working with young children. It’s an entry-level qualification for roles like preschool teacher assistants or childcare providers.
  • A Bachelor’s degree in this field offers a deeper understanding of child development, curriculum planning, and classroom management. Graduates can become preschool or kindergarten teachers, program coordinators, or directors of childcare centers.
  • A Master’s degree in ECE is typically pursued by those seeking leadership positions, such as early childhood education administrators, curriculum specialists, or researchers. It allows for a more in-depth exploration of educational theory and practice.
  • Doctoral degrees in this field are geared toward those interested in conducting research, influencing policy, or teaching at the university level. Graduates often become professors, researchers, or early childhood education policy experts.

Specialization options in early childhood education

While earning a general in ECE is a surefire way to receive a comprehensive education, some students prefer to specialize in a particular area, aligning their academic experience with their career goals. These options may vary depending on the institution, but some common examples are listed below:

  • Language Development: Language is the key to communication and cognitive growth. Specializing in language development equips educators to nurture strong language skills in young learners, including bilingualism, speech therapy, and literacy enhancement, creating a solid foundation for future academic success.
  • Curriculum and Teaching Methods: Crafting effective curricula and teaching methods tailored to the unique needs of young children is an art. Concentrating in this area allows educators to design engaging, age-appropriate learning experiences that align with child development milestones and educational standards.
  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics): STEAM education fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. Focusing on STEAM in early childhood education introduces these disciplines through hands-on, play-based approaches, preparing them for a tech-driven world.
  • Special Education: Specializing in inclusion and special education equips educators with the knowledge and skills to support children with diverse abilities, ensuring that every child can thrive in the classroom.
  • SEL (Social and Emotional Learning): Emotional intelligence is a vital life skill. Concentrating in SEL helps educators create nurturing environments that promote self-awareness, empathy, and effective social interactions among young learners.

Obtaining a state-level teaching certification

A bachelor’s degree is typically required to become a licensed teacher in the United States. The specific criteria vary by state, as do certification criteria, including coursework, student teaching, and exams.

For these reasons, it’s generally best to attend a school in the state you eventually plan to teach in, as this will ensure that you meet your state’s criteria for teacher certification. However, some states have reciprocity agreements that recognize teaching credentials from other states. If you plan to attend an out-of-state institution, check with the program to ensure that your teaching certification will be valid in your state.

Best 50 Online Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Best Online Early Childhood Education Degree Programs
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Liberty University
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Northern Arizona University
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Northwestern College
01

Ball State University
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National University
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Boise State University
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Northwest Florida State College
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Florida International University
01

Mayville State University
01

University of Toledo
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University of North Dakota
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Lynn University
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Indiana Wesleyan University
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Wilmington University
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Carlow University
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Charter Oak State College
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Southwest Minnesota State University
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Chaminade University of Honolulu
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Concordia University Chicago
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Colorado Christian University
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Saint Cloud State University
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St. Catherine University
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University of West Alabama
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Fort Hays State University
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Western Governors University
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Eastern Oregon University
01

Central Methodist University
01

The University of Alabama
01

Granite State College
01

Iowa State University
01

Florida State College at Jacksonville
01

University of Missouri

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best online early childhood education degree programs in the U.S. All are offered at nonprofit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each degree program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, reputation, and student resources. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can I Do With an Online Early Childhood Education Degree?

Career outlook

Graduating with an early childhood education degree promises a bright career outlook, with steady demand for professionals dedicated to nurturing young minds. The opportunities span various roles and can vary depending on degree level. Those holding bachelor’s degrees can often secure positions with salaries regularly reaching around $60,000. For those with master’s degrees, the path is even more promising, with median salaries in the six-figure range.

Career paths

A degree in early childhood education offers several fulfilling career paths, each with a unique focus and opportunity to make a lasting impact on young learners. Graduates can pursue careers such as:

  • Classroom Teaching: Become a preschool or kindergarten teacher, nurturing young children’s intellectual and emotional growth through engaging lesson plans and play-based learning.
  • Educational Leadership: Pursue leadership roles as a school principal or director of a childcare center, shaping educational policies and ensuring quality early childhood programs.
  • Specialized Instruction: Focus on Special Education or English as a Second Language, tailoring your expertise to meet the diverse needs of young learners.
  • Curriculum Development: Create innovative curricula and teaching materials, influencing the educational direction of schools or organizations and ensuring age-appropriate conduct.

Kindergarten Teacher

Kindergarten teachers play a pivotal role in a child’s early education journey. They create a nurturing and stimulating classroom environment where young learners develop foundational literacy, numeracy, and social interaction skills through age-appropriate activities and play-based learning.

Childcare Center Director

Childcare Center Directors oversee the day-to-day operations of a childcare facility, ensuring a safe, nurturing, and educational environment for young children. They manage staff, handle administrative tasks, maintain compliance with state regulations, and establish policies to uphold the highest standards of care.

Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers support students with disabilities or special needs, tailoring instruction to their requirements. They develop and implement personalized education plans, provide accommodations, and work closely with other professionals and parents to ensure students receive the necessary support to achieve their academic and developmental goals.

Best States for Teaching Careers

Education career opportunities span all 50 states, although employment and annual salary vary widely.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s highest-paid teachers are in Washington, DC, with an annual median salary of $76,000. Meanwhile, the lowest annual median salary is in Mississippi, where teachers earn $46,240 per year.

The U.S. is currently experiencing a shortage of trained, qualified teachers, with some experts estimating as many as 55,000 open teaching positions in the country. The need is most acute in the South Atlantic and East South Central regions of the U.S.

State Annual median wage Employment per 1,000 jobs
Alabama $50,630 50.3
Alaska $61,660 63.1
Arizona $48,410 47.6
Arkansas $47,840 57.8
California $63,100 56.8
Colorado $50,180 52.9
Connecticut $63,680 73.5
Delaware $59,060 60.0
District of Columbia $76,000 43.3
Florida $49,790 42.9
Georgia $57,780 57.6
Hawaii $56,570 64.7
Idaho $47,200 55.8
Illinois $53,480 60.7
Indiana $47,880 50.0
Iowa $47,170 67.4
Kansas $47,650 64.2
Kentucky $50,240 50.0
Louisiana $49,090 57.8
Maine $49,120 64.2
Maryland $60,890 62.7
Massachusetts $64,390 64.3
Michigan $51,480 46.2
Minnesota $49,710 56.2
Mississippi $46,240 60.8
Missouri $47,940 55.0
Montana $47,630 58.4
Nebraska $50,290 58.3
Nevada $56,530 36.2
New Hampshire $51,390 63.4
New Jersey $62,640 68.4
New Mexico $55,210 60.1
New York $63,670 74.3
North Carolina $47,920 57.9
North Dakota $49,030 58.2
Ohio $60,470 58.0
Oklahoma $47,210 57.4
Oregon $60,720 53.0
Pennsylvania $60,930 56.6
Rhode Island $64,320 65.9
South Carolina $48,400 50.6
South Dakota $46,840 57.9
Tennessee $48,920 48.2
Texas $59,140 60.9
Utah $48,670 57.3
Vermont $49,720 87.8
Virgin Islands $47,790 66.3
Virginia $57,240 61.3
Washington $62,660 53.9
West Virginia $47,470 60.0
Wisconsin $49,580 55.1
Wyoming $49,930 72.6

**Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics

How to Choose the Online Early Childhood Education Degree Program That’s Right for You

Step 1: Choose your area of study

Earning an online degree in early childhood education is an excellent way to enter the field. Still, some students prefer to tailor their educational experience to their career goals by choosing an area of study or specialization. Start by thinking about your long-term goals. For those looking to become classroom educators, a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education can pave the way to becoming a preschool or kindergarten teacher. If leadership or specialized roles appeal to you, consider a master’s in early childhood education, which opens doors to positions like curriculum developer or program director. Doctoral degrees are ideal for those aspiring to research, lead educational institutions, or shape policies in the field.

It’s also essential to assess your learning style and scheduling needs. Consider whether you thrive in synchronous or asynchronous learning environments. Some online programs may offer a combination of both formats, while others may allow you to choose the format that suits you best. Additionally, evaluate whether full-time or part-time enrollment aligns with your work, family, and other commitments. Balancing these factors will help you find the ideal online degree program that matches your career goals, preferred learning style, and schedule.

Step 2: Research schools and programs

As you explore online early childhood education programs, it’s essential to start by checking each program is accredited. Beyond that, ask questions specific to online learning, such as:

  • What are the qualifications and experience of the faculty members teaching online courses?
  • What is the average class size for online courses, and will I have access to personalized instruction?
  • Is technical support available to assist students with online learning tools and platforms?
  • What online resources, such as libraries and research databases, are accessible to online students?
  • How does the program facilitate internships or practicum experiences, especially in an online format?

For the schools you’re most interested in, contact current students or alums for insights and attend virtual information sessions or webinars. You can also read program reviews and seek opinions on social media or education forums to cultivate a broader base for your research.

Step 3: Prepare for applications and tests

To prepare for applications, start by carefully reviewing application requirements and deadlines for the programs you plan to apply for — whether an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree.

While some elements of the preparation process will differ depending on what you are specifically applying for, it’s generally best to gather transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a well-written personal statement relatively early in the process. Additionally, consider enrolling in a test prep program for standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, or GRE, as solid test scores can enhance your application.

Step 4: Select your program

Once your acceptance letters have arrived, it’s time to select the program you will ultimately attend. Now is a great time to revisit each program’s available specialties to ensure that your chosen program has sufficient coursework to support your interests and propel you to the next stage of your career. Additionally, pay close attention to tuition costs and explore financial aid opportunities to make an informed financial decision.

Step 5: Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Regardless of tuition costs, it’s essential to prioritize financial planning when earning your early childhood education degree. Scholarships and grants should be your first choice. These forms of financial aid can be competitive but are worth it in the long run since they don’t require repayment. Be sure to file your FAFSA; this vital form determines your eligibility for federal loans and work-study programs.

Aspiring educators are in a unique position compared to most other degree seekers, as they may be eligible for federal loan forgiveness programs with enough experience in the field. For example, Teacher Loan Forgiveness is available for educators committed to serving high-need areas, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness is ideal for those planning to work in public schools.

By carefully strategizing your financial approach to paying for your degree, you can make your educational endeavors more affordable and manageable.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Online Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

What are the admissions requirements for an online early childhood education degree program?

Admissions requirements for online early childhood education can vary depending on the type of degree you’re pursuing. They typically include:

  • Associate’s Degree: High school diploma or GED and transcripts
  • Bachelor’s Degree: High school diploma or equivalent, application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and SAT or ACT scores
  • Master’s Degree: Bachelor’s degree in a related field, application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personalized statement, and GRE scores
  • Doctorate (Ph.D. Or Ed.D.): A master’s degree, application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and GRE scores

What is the average cost of an online early childhood education degree?

For the 2020-2021 academic year, undergraduate degrees in early childhood education averaged $25,910. Graduate degrees averaged $19,749 for the same year. While this figure is the average cost of all institutions, including private universities, it’s important to note that tuition at private schools is often significantly more expensive than public colleges. To save money on your online degree, you can:

  • Choose public institutions: In-state tuition at public universities is often significantly cheaper than out-of-state or private tuition. If possible, opt for an in-state public institution.
  • Explore financial aid: Look for scholarships, grants, and financial aid opportunities specific to education majors or online students.
  • Seek employer tuition assistance: If you’re currently working in education, inquire about tuition assistance or reimbursement programs from your employer.

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

The time it takes to complete an early childhood education degree depends on whether you’re pursuing an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. The table below details approximate completion times for each program based on typical enrollment patterns to help you plan your academic journey effectively.

Full-Time Enrollment Part-Time Enrollment Accelerated Programs
Associate’s Degree 2 years 3-4 years 12-18 months
Bachelor’s Degree 4 years 6-8 years 2-3 years
Master’s Degree 1-2 years 3-4 years 12-18 months
Doctorate Degree  3-5 years 5-7 years 3-4 years

 

Should I get an early childhood education degree in person or online?

The answer to this question differs for everyone and depends on your learning preferences and circumstances. In-person learning suits those with ample time to participate in traditional classroom settings. At the same time, online programs are ideal for individuals balancing their education with other responsibilities — like a full-time job or raising a family.

How hard is an online early childhood education degree?

While the complexity can differ between associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees, success largely hinges on having a genuine passion for early childhood education and dedicating plenty of time to your studies. These factors often outweigh any perceived difficulty, making it a rewarding journey for those enthusiastic about working with young children.

Is an online early childhood education degree worth it?

An online early childhood education degree is generally worth it if you are genuinely interested in the field and aspire to build a career based on that interest. However, it’s essential to consider the Return on Investment (ROI), which can vary based on the institution’s cost and your intended career path. For example, some careers in this field have relatively high salaries but may require a more advanced degree. Careful evaluation of these factors will ensure a favorable ROI upon graduation.

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