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A master’s in early childhood education degree focuses on the lives of children from birth to age eight, the years that experts say have a profound impact on a person’s development into adolescence and adulthood. Early childhood education covers academics, social skills, cognitive abilities, and healthy habits.

Some people with this degree find work in education as teachers or administrators, while others pursue social work and policy reform. This degree takes about one to three years to complete. The average tuition cost is $12,596 per year at public institutions and $28,017 per year at private institutions.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Program

Choose your area of study

This degree is typically available as a Master of Education (MEd) or Master of Arts (MA). Also, some programs allow you to select a concentration and specialize in a particular niche, such as special education, school psychology, or educational policy. If you already know what you would like to do after you graduate, look for programs that match these career goals.

Research schools and programs

You should only apply to institutions that have been approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the New England Commission of Higher Education or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. These organizations evaluate schools to ensure they provide students with a high-quality education. Those who attend a school that isn’t regionally accredited may be unable to access financial aid or transfer credits to another institution if needed.

Ideally, your master’s in early childhood education program will also be accredited by a respected industry group like the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This accrediting organization has particularly high standards for early childhood education programs.

Also, look at whether the school has in-person requirements, such as working a certain number of supervised hours at a particular facility. Working with young children is essential for this degree, even for online learners. How does the school facilitate online students completing in-person field experience? Some schools have an on-campus childhood development center accessible for students who live nearby but also can approve other centers.

Remember to research what support services each school offers for online students and what networking opportunities are available. To learn more about any schools that you’re interested in, you can visit the school’s website, contact an admissions counselor, follow the school on social media, or attend an in-person or virtual open house.

Prepare for tests and applications

Each program varies in its application requirements and process. However, most online master’s degree programs in early childhood education require:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher, with a minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Transcripts from previous colleges
  • Letter(s) of recommendation from academic and professional references
  • A resume or record of your employment history
  • A personal statement or statement of purpose outlining your achievements and plans

You’ll also likely need to submit standardized test scores like those from the GRE. If you need to take the GRE, prepare and sit for the exam while researching schools.

Before submitting an application, always contact an admissions counselor to ensure you have the most accurate information regarding requirements and deadlines.

Select your program

Some students target a single program based on their needs and interests, while others submit multiple applications to boost their chances of acceptance. Whatever path you choose, remember that most schools charge application fees, which can add up if you apply to several schools. If you need financial assistance with these fees, contact the school to ask about a fee waiver.

Before making your final decision, review your needs and goals again. Do you plan to attend school full-time or part-time? Do you want your program to be as online as possible, or are you fine with a hybrid program that has a fair amount of in-person requirements? Some programs offer asynchronous courses, which can be completed at your own pace, while others only offer synchronous courses, which involve remotely attending lectures and completing assignments at the same time as other students — which of these two online learning formats do you prefer? Your school should accommodate your scheduling needs and learning preferences.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Every school with an online master’s in early childhood education program should specify the financial support students can receive, including scholarships, fellowships, grants, assistantships, and work-study. Several financial programs for prospective teachers, such as the TEACH Grant Program, offer aid to those willing to teach in high-need fields. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines eligibility for federal student loans and need-based institutional aid.

Employer tuition assistance benefits are also an option for students already working. If you have detailed questions about how to pay for your degree, talk with your school’s financial aid office.

Best 50 Accredited Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

Best Master's in Early Childhood Education Programs

Arizona State University

Concordia University, Nebraska

Portland State University

Kennesaw State University

Northwestern College

Mercer University

University of North Dakota

Liberty University

California Baptist University

Jacksonville State University

University of Toledo

University of West Alabama

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Champlain College

Georgia Southern University

Biola University

National Louis University

Northern Arizona University

University of Dayton

UNC Greensboro

Campbellsville University

Northwestern State University of Louisiana

New York Institute of Technology

University of Colorado

Stephen F. Austin State University

University of South Alabama

Valdosta State University

Alabama State University

Pacific Oaks College

Harding University

Clemson University

University of Mississippi

Fordham University

University of North Georgia

Arkansas State University

Mercy College

West Chester University

East Tennessee State University

University of Missouri

Missouri State University

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How We Rank Schools

This list features some of the best online master’s in early childhood education programs at top colleges nationwide. Each school featured is a nonprofit, regionally accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education. Many of these options also have programmatic accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which assesses the objectives, quality, and overall effectiveness of early childhood education programs.

We evaluated each school’s program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and the resources provided for online students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of online master’s in early childhood education programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like 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 You Expect from an Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Program?

Online programs for a master’s degree in early childhood education vary based on the school. Still, you can expect a core curriculum about child development, foundational skills, the principles of teaching, and developing a curriculum.

Although they have online components, early childhood education programs also often require in-person field training, which can be tough to balance with personal commitments or a full-time job. A program offering part-time enrollment or asynchronous courses might be a way for you to balance your education with your other responsibilities.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online program to earn your master’s degree in early childhood education

  • Childhood Learning and Development: Because this degree focuses on children’s lives up to age eight, expect to learn about all aspects of growth, from physical and cognitive to social and emotional. Such classes also cover the processes through which children learn and develop, which can improve your approach to teaching.
  • Curriculum Assessment and Design: Here, students evaluate educational materials and create their learning objectives. They’ll select appropriate instructional resources and develop methods for assessing students’ progress.
  • Family and Community Engagement: Families and communities are essential partnerships in early childhood education. Such a course would cover establishing these collaborative connections that support and enhance young children’s learning.
  • Early Childhood Education Policy and Advocacy: A course like this examines practices and policies that support quality education programs for young children. Expect to learn about obtaining enhanced training, securing funding, and improving accessibility.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education?

Career outlook

A master’s degree in early childhood education opens the door to various career paths in child development and education. Growth in this field is driven by an increased focus on early education in the U.S., the expansion of pre-kindergarten programs, and the recognition of the vital role that early childhood educators play in a child’s development.

Here are some potential career paths for those with an online master’s in early childhood education:

  • Preschool teacher — Teach language, motor, and social skills to children who are too young to enter kindergarten.
    • Median annual salary: $35,330
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 3%
    • New job openings projected: 56,300 annually
  • Special education teacher — Teach students who have learning, behavioral, or physical disabilities.
    • Median annual salary: $62,950
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 0%
    • New job openings projected: 33,500 annually
  • Instructional coordinator — Develop, implement, and assess the effectiveness of educational materials.
    • Median annual salary: $66,490
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 2%
    • New job openings projected: 19,200 annually

Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master’s in early childhood education degree program?

Check the application webpage for your school of choice. Some schools have online portals to accept applications, while others still use traditional mail. The Common Application, or Common App, is a streamlined admissions application system that enables students to apply to multiple schools.

Just be sure to have electronic versions of all the required information, such as test scores, college transcripts, work experience, and letters of recommendation. Talk with a school admissions counselor to verify you have everything the school needs and check that you have the correct submission deadlines.

How much does an online master’s in early childhood education degree cost?

Graduate tuition costs an average of $20,513 per year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Private schools are over twice as expensive as public schools.

The amount you pay for your degree will also depend on your program’s cost per credit, the number of credits required, fees, and other expenses. In addition to books, you’ll need to factor in any required hands-on experience, which might take away from your earning time at a job.

How long does it take to earn a master’s degree in early childhood education online?

The cost depends on the school and the curriculum. Most schools estimate their online master’s programs in early childhood education take about one to three years to complete. The total number of credits will impact the program’s length, as will whether you attend the program part-time or full-time.

Is an online master's in early childhood education worth it?

Overall, an online master’s in early childhood education is a valuable investment, allowing graduates to contribute to the growth and development of young children and opening doors to various professional opportunities in the field of education. Graduates with a master’s in early childhood education are well-prepared to make a positive impact on the lives of children and families, ensuring that young learners receive the best possible start in their educational journey.

Earning your degree online has several benefits. The flexibility of an online program far exceeds what you will find with an on-campus program, making it an excellent option for adult learners who may have other personal or professional commitments. Online programs are accessible to students no matter where they live, so they are not limited to only those programs that are locally based.

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