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The study of child development emphasizes the social, emotional, and physical changes that children experience as they age. This specialty spans several disciplines, notably psychology, education, and social services. Some professions, such as school counselors or social workers, require professional licensure to practice.

Education and mental health providers are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment opportunities for social workers, school counselors, and mental health counselors will increase at a faster-than-average pace over the next few years. These professionals make between $50,000 and $60,000 annually.

Positions in these fields require a master’s degree. Full-time attendees can graduate from most child development programs within two years. The average course of study is 32 credits (10 to 12 classes), and the total tuition ranges from $9,000 to $24,000.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Child Development Program

Choose your area of study

Depending on the school, child development specializations may fall under a few different degree programs. You could choose from a Master of Science in Psychology, a Master of Science in Behavioral Analysis, a Master of Education, a Master of Science in Counseling, and others. Only some programs provide the academic coursework and fieldwork for state licensing requirements; determine which career path you hope to achieve and whether a license is required to practice in your state before choosing a school.

Programs vary regarding the specific coursework they offer. Browse the different concentration and elective options; some degrees focus more on psychological research, whereas others focus on practical application within a school setting.

Research schools and programs

A nationally-recognized, third-party agency must accredit any institution you select. Each school’s website should feature its accrediting body prominently on the webpage. From there, consider whether your specific program has its own accreditation standards, especially those leading to professional licensure.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) are the leading organizations for master’s-level counseling programs. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) verifies standards for behavioral analysis degrees, and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) for teacher-specific degrees.

From there, research the following aspects of each program:

  • What is the online delivery format? Some online master’s programs have no scheduled class times. Coursework is available whenever it’s most convenient for you. Others are more structured with actual remote class times and group projects.
  • Does the program integrate hands-on practice? Counseling, social work, and education programs should include role-modeling exercises and fieldwork; graduates need time to develop the practical application of the skills they learn in the classroom. Seek master’s degrees incorporating internships, supervised fieldwork, or a practicum.
  • Does the program meet the academic and fieldwork qualifications to become a licensed provider or teacher? Not all child development programs lead to licensure. Some are designed for practicing educators seeking to enhance their skills with young learners, others for those interested in doctorate-level research. Determine whether your state requires licensure for your selected career.

Each website should share more information about each program’s online student support services and accommodations. For specific questions, contact a program advisor or admissions counselor.

Prepare for tests and applications

Before applying, make sure you’re eligible for the program. For a master’s degree in child development, no matter the field, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in a related subject (such as psychology). Most programs set a minimum undergraduate GPA.

Most master’s in child development programs don’t require GRE scores. Check the admissions requirements for each program to confirm. Regardless of standardized test scores, your application packets will include undergraduate transcripts, recommendation letters, and a personal statement. Be sure to gather these materials well in advance of deadlines.

Select your program

Ultimately, select a program that supports your chosen career path and leads to licensure if necessary. Child development coursework can apply to various employment settings, including education, healthcare, child and family services, nonprofits, social services, and law enforcement. Once accepted, you may need to submit an enrollment fee to hold your spot. Pay careful attention to deadlines.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

There are several avenues to consider for tuition. First, submit a FAFSA form. Regardless of how you’ll pay, the FAFSA can determine your eligibility for federal assistance and affordable loans. If you currently work in an education, counseling, or social services setting, speak to your employer about possible tuition assistance; some organizations have resources to invest in your continuing education.

From there, speak to a financial aid counselor for your school. These individuals can help you find scholarships or other funding for which you qualify, such as military discounts. Finally, work with an academic advisor to see if any prior coursework or professional experience could earn you transfer credit.

Best 50 Accredited Online Master’s in Child Development Programs

Best Online Master's in Child Development Degree Programs

University of Minnesota

University of South Florida

University of Missouri

University of Nebraska at Lincoln

Missouri State University

University of La Verne

University of Southern Mississippi

UNC Greensboro

Southern New Hampshire University

University at Albany

National University

Stephen F. Austin State University

University of Northern Colorado

University of Colorado

Texas Woman’s University

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How We Rank Schools

We researched multiple graduate programs related to child development, including Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), and Master of Education (M.Ed) programs.

We focused on programs delivered entirely or primarily online to ensure access for as many students as possible, regardless of their geographic location and availability. Some programs can be completed through a combination of online and on-campus coursework.

All of the programs on our list are regionally accredited, meaning they meet high-quality standards for postsecondary education. Additionally, some programs are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), a specialized accrediting body for education programs.

We evaluated each program based on cost, outcomes, faculty, flexibility, and reputation. Then we calculated an Intelligent Score for each on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in Child Development Program?

Child development applies human development theory to children’s specific experiences and needs. An online master’s in child development provides graduate students a foundation for many possible career opportunities. Some become early childhood education teachers, family advocates, or school counselors. Others might continue to a doctoral program for more in-depth research. Child development coursework helps graduates better support young classroom learners and develop strategies to assist families.

These degrees are typically meant for working professionals who require the flexibility that online coursework provides. Most programs are entirely online, though fieldwork or internships will necessitate in-person work at a local institution. Some online degrees integrate occasional in-person requirements, including residencies or specialized courses.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in child development program

  • Developmental Psychology. Participants learn about the fundamental theoretical frameworks for childhood and adolescent development, including cognition, physical biology, social factors, and emotional development. Students discuss how different approaches apply to real-world case studies.
  • Intervention Strategies. This course discusses standard best practices for intervention in child and adolescent development. Students discuss how to apply strategies to actual situations.
  • Play and Social World of the Child. Students examine how children establish relationships with family members, peers, and teachers. Coursework emphasizes strategies for more inclusive education settings.
  • Mathematics in Early Childhood Years. Participants concentrate on how young learners develop their mathematical concepts. Students learn how to apply philosophy and state standards to actual practice in the classroom.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in Child Development?

Career outlook

The career outlook for individuals holding an online master’s in child development is highly promising, driven by the increasing recognition of the importance of early childhood education and the overall development of children. With a focus on fostering positive growth, emotional well-being, and cognitive development, professionals in this field are in high demand.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities in child development-related fields are expected to grow by up to 22 percent through 2031. The median annual wage for preschool and childcare center directors was $47,310 as of the most recent data. However, salaries can vary based on factors such as experience, location, and specific job roles.

Career paths

Graduates with an online master’s in child development have many rewarding career paths to choose from, each focused on positively impacting the lives of children and families. As society places greater emphasis on early childhood education and intervention, the need for specialists who understand child development is on the rise.

Here are some possible career options for individuals with this degree:

  • School and career counselor or advisor — help students develop academic and social skills, explore career options or educational pursuits, and prepare for life after graduation
  • Social worker — work with individuals, groups, and families, helping them to troubleshoot challenges in everyday life; diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional problems
  • Parent educator — educate parents and caregivers on child development milestones, effective parenting strategies, and creating nurturing environments that promote healthy growth
  • Child development researcher — contribute to advancing the field by conducting research studies that inform educational practices, policies, and interventions aimed at optimizing child development outcomes
  • Child advocacy specialist — advocate for the rights and well-being of children in legal, social, or educational settings, ensuring that their best interests are prioritized

Early Childhood Educator

Earning Potential: $30,000-$60,000 annually

Education Required: Online master’s in child development or related field

An early childhood educator fosters the growth and development of young children during their crucial formative years. They create engaging and nurturing learning environments, design age-appropriate curricula, and facilitate social and cognitive development through play and exploration. Early childhood educators build strong foundations for lifelong learning, promote emotional well-being, and provide essential guidance to support children’s physical, social, and academic growth. Through their expertise, they shape the early educational experiences that lay the groundwork for future success and contribute significantly to children’s holistic development.

Child Life Specialist

Earning Potential: $40,000-$70,000 annually

Education Required: Online master’s in child development or related field

A child life specialist supports children and families in healthcare settings, helping them cope with medical procedures and challenges. Using therapeutic play, art, and communication techniques, they ease anxiety, provide emotional support, and explain medical experiences in child-friendly ways. Child life specialists create a comforting environment that promotes emotional well-being and understanding, ensuring children’s psychological resilience during difficult times. They collaborate with medical teams, advocate for the unique needs of pediatric patients, and empower children to express their feelings. Through compassionate care, child life specialists contribute to positive healing experiences and better outcomes for patients and families.

Program Coordinator for Child and Family Services

Earning Potential: $45,000-$75,000 annually

Education Required: Online master’s in child development or related field

A program coordinator for child and family services develops, manages, and coordinates initiatives that support children and their families. They collaborate with community organizations, government agencies, and social services to ensure access to essential resources such as education, healthcare, and counseling. Program coordinators design and implement programs that address family needs, advocate for improved services, and provide guidance to navigate available resources. They play a vital role in enhancing the well-being and stability of families by connecting them to support networks and services, ultimately contributing to healthier family dynamics and improved outcomes for children.

Online Master’s in Child Development Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master's in child development degree program?

You can apply to each program through the school’s admissions portal online. Some schools operate on rolling admissions, with several start dates throughout the year. However, most have firm submission deadlines. While specific requirements vary from school to school, most applications include the following:

  • A completed application form
  • Official transcripts from an accredited undergraduate program proving completion of prerequisite coursework
  • A personal statement
  • Letters of professional or academic recommendation
  • A background check (if applicable)
  • A processing fee

Contact an admissions advisor with any questions you have regarding the application process.

How much does an online master's in child development degree cost?

Online child development degrees cost around $17,000, on average. Many schools charge the same tuition, regardless of online or in-person format. The primary driver of cost is your residency; seek programs for which you’ll qualify for in-state rates.

In addition to tuition, the total cost for your master’s degree will include books, travel expenses for in-person residencies or fieldwork, and computer-related expenses.

How long does it take to earn an online master's in child development degree?

A typical master’s degree in child development is 30 to 36 credit hours. Full-time attendees can graduate within two years. Those who qualify for transfer credit or enroll in an accelerated option could finish their coursework in less time. Should you select a degree that meets the qualifications for professional licensure, you may attend longer, especially for those demanding extensive supervised fieldwork experience.

Is an online master's in child development worth it?

Pursuing an online master’s in child development offers a multitude of benefits for individuals passionate about promoting the well-being and growth of children. This degree prepares students for leadership positions that provide fulfilling work, often with more generous salary options than are available to bachelor’s-level candidates.

According to, for example, the median salary of a master’s-educated social worker is $64,029, with those in the top ten percent of the field making roughly $78,123 or more.

An online master’s in child development equips graduates with a deep understanding of developmental theories and best practices, information that is essential to creating nurturing and supportive environments for children. As society increasingly recognizes the importance of early childhood education and intervention, the demand for professionals with this expertise is expected to grow, leading to a diverse job pool with many rewarding opportunities available for graduates.

Earning a degree online provides increased flexibility, especially in programs that offer asynchronous classes, making them an ideal choice for adult learners with other personal and professional commitments.

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