Child Development Degrees
Child development degrees focus on the physical, psychological, and emotional changes in a child from birth to the beginning of adulthood. Understanding these developmental milestones prepares child development professionals to help children confront individual challenges and succeed later in life.
Professionals may work with toddlers, adolescents, or teens, along with their families. Graduates with child development degrees may go on to work in schools, daycare centers, social service agencies, or research institutes.
If you’re interested in working with children and guiding them in their journey to adulthood, then a child development degree may be right for you.
Read on to learn about child development degrees, jobs and credentials; child development courses; online learning opportunities; and salary and career outlook for child development professionals.
How Are Child Development Degrees Different From Early Childhood Education Degrees?
Both early childhood education and child development focus on the support and welfare of children. Both are geared toward helping children unlock their potential and live full, productive lives. But while there may be overlap, the degrees differ in their area of focus.
Child development degrees concentrate on how children develop naturally. They identify developmental milestones and potential roadblocks to healthy development and teach strategies for navigating them.
A degree in early childhood education is primarily focused on the education of children, both formally and informally, from birth to about third grade. An early childhood education degree prepares you to teach young children.
What Can I Do With a Child Development Degree?
Child development professionals work in a wide range of environments and institutions. The type of career available to you will depend partly on the type of degree you have, your experience, and your areas of interest. You can get a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. in child development. You may choose to work with very young children or with teens, in a school environment, or for a social welfare agency. Following are examples of careers you may choose, based on the degree you get.
Those with a bachelor’s degree in child development should be prepared for the following positions:
Students interested in taking on leadership positions or becoming licensed social workers may want to pursue a master’s degree. Examples of careers a master’s degree should prepare you for include:
Those earning a Ph.D. in child development often go on to careers in research and academia or as leaders in their chosen specialization. Examples of careers for those with a Ph.D. include:
Salary and Career Outlook for Child Development Careers
There can be great variances in salaries for those in the child development field. There are many factors that play into this, including the degree held, years and type of experience, geographic location, sector, and more. Below you will find examples of the salary and career outlook for three child development careers.
Preschool or Daycare Center Director
The median annual wage for preschool and childcare center directors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $47,940 in May 2018.
Top paying states for this occupation:
|State||Hourly Mean Wage||Annual Mean Wage|
A review of job listings on large online job boards shows that in April 2019 those who hold a master’s degree and head preschool or childcare center programs could receive an annual salary ranging from $42,000 to $94,000 depending on the degrees held, years of service, and other factors. The beginning annual salary for those who hold a Ph.D. ranged from $89,000 to $175,000. Directors at this level often served as local, state, and federal officials.
According to the BLS demand for preschool and childcare center directors is projected to grow at 11% between 2016 and 2026, which is higher than average.
Postsecondary Teachers, University Instructors, and Professors
Most postsecondary positions require a Ph.D. However, a master’s degree may suffice to obtain a position as an instructor at the community college level. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in May 2018 the median annual wage for postsecondary teachers was $78,470 and projects job growth of 15% for this field, which is much higher than average.
Top paying states for this occupation as of May 2018 were:
|State||Annual Mean Wage|
Child Life Specialist
A child life specialist at a children’s hospital helps children and families understand and cope with a child’s hospital experience. They may also work as healthcare social workers in hospitals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2017 the median annual wage for healthcare social workers was $60,380 (which was significantly higher than the $37,690 median annual wage for all workers during that period of time). Job growth for child life specialists is projected to be 7%, which is about average.
BLS reports that in 2018 the top paying states for this occupation, including all hospital social workers were:
|State||Hourly Mean Wage||Annual Mean Wage|
|District of Columbia||$33.93||$70,580|
How to Get a Child Development Degree
There are several education paths you can take in order to work in the field of child development.
Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development
To be admitted into a bachelor’s degree program in child development, you’ll need to have completed your high school general education requirements. Some colleges may also require standardized test scores and a personal essay as part of the application process.
Completing a bachelor’s degree in child development usually takes a full-time student four years, although the timeframe may vary somewhat depending on class loads, schedules, and availability of courses. Some programs may grant a limited number of credit hours for life or work experiences relevant to a chosen field.
Child development courses at the bachelor’s level may include:
Master’s Degree in Child Development
A master’s degree in child development explores the physical, mental, and emotional elements in the growth and development of children. Some students choose to focus on a specific age group, such as infant, early childhood, or adolescence.
To apply for a master’s degree in child development you must hold a bachelor’s degree, and along with your application you should be prepared to provide:
A master’s degree typically takes a full-time student about two years to complete.
Many master’s degree programs allow you to choose an area of focus that interests you. You may choose to focus on a specific age group or on a field (such as education, psychology, or child growth and development), depending on your career interests.
Child development courses at the master’s level may include:
To complete the degree, graduate students may be required to complete a master’s thesis or capstone project. Both of these culmination activities require extensive fieldwork, data analysis, and the ability to make recommendations, draw conclusions, and articulate findings.
Doctorate Degree in Child Development
Admission into a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program in child development requires a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in child development or a related field. Most programs require transcripts from all institutions previously attended, GRE scores, a resume (or CV), and letters of recommendation. Applicants may also be required to sit for an interview.
Completing a doctoral program in child development generally takes three to six years. Timeframes can vary significantly depending on many variables, including one’s dissertation. Most doctoral students choose a focus area such as psychology, social work, or education.
The doctoral curriculum focuses on theories in emotional, social, and intellectual development and on developing the student’s ability to conduct sound, effective research. Courses might include:
By pursuing and completing this highest level of education, students prove they are goal-oriented, willing to work hard, and can persevere to reach an objective. These strengths can provide considerable advantage over other job candidates. Plus, many professionals who earn a Ph.D. will earn significantly more money over their lifetime than those who don’t hold advanced degrees.
Child Development Specializations
Child development students may choose to specialize at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Often students will choose to specialize in a certain age group, target population, or type of intervention based on their career interests. If you choose a specialization, you will usually be required to take a certain number of credits in that area.
Common child development concentrations include:
Online Child Development Classes
A degree in child development can be earned at both traditional colleges and online. There are also programs available that take a hybrid approach, combining online classes with some required time on campus. There are pros and cons to each of these approaches.
On the plus side, online courses provide flexibility — you can work at your own pace and according to you own schedule. The programs may also cost less: Even when tuition is the same, online programs let you save money on gas, automobile costs, parking, and eating out. And, you can complete classes (or re-watch lectures) when it’s convenient for you.
But taking an online course requires self-discipline and time-management skills. If you procrastinate, it’s easy to get behind and become overwhelmed. If you fall behind, it’s easy to give up. That’s one of the reasons some students don’t finish online programs. Also, some people are more successful when they have face-to-face interactions with the instructor and other students.
Choosing a Child Development Program
Committing to get a degree is a big decision. Deciding which school to attend is just as important. There are a number of things to think about. Before you apply for admission into a child development program, consider these important questions:
No matter what school you choose, your child development degree program should prepare you to understand the fundamentals of childhood growth and development.
Does a career in child development require a license? That depends. Licensing requirements vary depending on the job and the state you’re in.
If you want to be a teacher, you will likely need to be licensed or certified in your state. This can include completing a teacher education program in early childhood education and passing an approved Praxis examination. Check your state’s licensing and certification requirements.
If you are interested in becoming a child social worker in addition to getting your bachelor’s or master’s degree in child development, your state may also require you to pass a licensing exam.
What Is a CDA (Child Development Associate)?
The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is a professional designation. It’s the most widely recognized credential in early childhood education.
A professional credential like the CDA can be advantageous to your career. It can be a deciding factor when a potential employer is considering you and other candidates. Your credential gives an employer confidence that you have the knowledge and skills needed to do the job well and that you understand developmentally appropriate practices. It shows a commitment to your field.
Before you can apply for the CDA, you will need:
Once you meet all of the eligibility requirements, the CDA credentialing process will include:
The initial CDA assessment fee is $425 and renewals cost $150. If you apply online there is a $25 discount.
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