If graduate school is in your future, don’t miss our ranking of the Most Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in Child Development.
No matter which area of child development you work in, there’s a master’s degree program that aligns with your career goals as well as your budget.
What are the options for a master’s degree in child development?
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether you’ll pursue a traditional, residential program or an online program.
While either format can prepare you for the next phase of your career, distance education programs have the advantage in terms of flexibility and convenience. If you don’t wish to relocate, you’ll have a much larger pool of options if you’re willing to consider online programs. In many cases, you can complete an online degree even if you’re on the other side of the country from the school offering the program.
If you’re seeking a bachelor’s rather than a master’s degree, we invite you to visit our ranking of the Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Elementary Education Degrees.
What can you do with a master’s degree in child development?
A master’s degree will open up a number of career possibilities that may be out of reach with just a baccalaureate degree. Depending on the degree program you choose, you may be able to pursue a career as a director of a childcare facility, a program administrator for a nonprofit, or a psychologist specializing in play therapy or early intervention.
If you are, or plan to become, a classroom teacher, a degree in early childhood education or child development could qualify you for a salary increase.
How much can you earn with a master’s degree in child development?
Your salary will vary widely based on the certifications you earn and the area in which you choose to specialize.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the median salaries for some of the most common job titles for child development professionals.
- Psychologist: $77,030 per year
- Preschool or childcare center director: $46,890 per year
- Kindergarten or elementary school teacher: $56,900 per year
- Social and community service manager: $64,100 per year
What are the requirements for a master’s degree in child development?
Most master’s degree programs require between 30 and 36 credit hours, which are usually earned through 10 or 12 classes. Programs that lead to certification or licensure (such as for teaching or clinical counseling) may require significantly more.
What are the most affordable online master’s degrees in child development?
Our research team compiled this list using data from individual college websites, the IPEDS database, and U.S. News & World Report. We took into consideration the published tuition rates as well as average financial aid packages at each institution.
Whether you’re looking for a program that focuses on early childhood education, developmental psychology, or another aspect of child development, we hope that this ranking helps get you one step closer to your goal of earning a master’s degree.
1. University of North Carolina at Greensboro
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro was recently named to the Princeton Review’s ranking of “The Best 382 Colleges” for the 19th consecutive year. UNCG was also recognized on the “Green Colleges” ranking and the “Best Southeastern” ranking. UNCG offers an online program that will prepare graduates to serve as an early interventionist, early childhood consultant, or developmental specialist.
The program at UNCG leads to a Master of Education in Birth through Kindergarten Interdisciplinary Studies in Education and Development. Students can choose between an Advanced Teaching Licensure track, which is designed for students with an initial teaching license who are seeking an advanced certification, and a Program Administration track, which is intended for teachers as well as administrators, program directors, and other early childhood professionals. Required coursework for the Program Administration track includes:
- Inclusive Family-Centered Practices in Early Childhood
- Administration of Early Care and Education Programs
- Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Policy
- Diversity and Inclusive Early Care and Education
Applicants to this program should hold a bachelor’s degree in early childhood, or in a closely related field. A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 is required. Students typically work full-time while completing this program. Some courses for this degree are synchronous. Meeting times for synchronous online classes will be scheduled from 5:00 to 6:50 PM.
2. West Virginia University
U.S. News & World Report ranks West Virginia University among the top 100 public universities in the United States. WVU Online, the University’s online division, presents over 600 courses, eight certificates, and more than 30 degree options. One of these innovative distance learning programs leads to a Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling.
While the coursework for this degree is offered fully online, students will be required to complete two residencies through the WVU Morgantown campus. This program requires 60 credit hours and can lead to professional licensure in many states. Candidates can complete the program in two to three years. The following coursework is required:
- Cultural Issues in Counseling
- Theories of Human Appraisal
- Disability Across the Lifespan
- Diagnosis and Treatment Planning in Mental Health
Students must submit either GRE or MAT scores as part of the application process. Graduates of this program will be qualified to serve as a mental health counselor, school guidance counselor, or family therapist. The 2018 cost for this program is $561 per credit hour. On-campus students also have the option of an M.A. in Educational Psychology, which is available with concentrations in Child Development and Family Studies as well as Program Evaluation and Research.
3. University of South Florida
The University of South Florida is Florida’s first-ever “Emerging Preeminent State University,” a distinction awarded by the Florida Board of Governors. USF is ranked by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance as one of the “Top 100 Best Values in Public Colleges.” USF’s celebrated Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health (MSCABH) is a fully online program requiring 39 credit hours.
The MSCABH program will include four core courses shared among all MSCABH specialization tracks, seven courses within a student’s chosen specialization (including required and elective classes), and six credit hours in a culminating activity. Specializations are available in Developmental Disabilities, Leadership in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health, Research and Evaluation, and Youth and Behavioral Health. Electives for the Leadership in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health concentration include:
- Wraparound Interventions and Systems of Care
- Child and Adolescent Psychopathology and Resilience
- Children’s Mental Health Services
- Advanced Research Education in Adolescent Behavioral Health
Students have two choices for their culminating activity. One of these options is the Thesis track, where students will design and conduct original research. The other option is an Applied track, which requires six credit hours in a field experience. Through this option, students will work part-time in an organization or agency in a role that relates to child or adolescent behavioral health.
4. University of Southern Mississippi
The community of the University of Southern Mississippi includes over 14,500 students, representing every county in the state, all 50 states in the U.S., and more than 70 countries around the world. Founded as a teachers college, Southern Miss is now a comprehensive doctoral university. Southern Miss is home to a renowned Department of Child and Family Studies, which offers a number of graduate programs for child development professionals.
Southern Miss offers a 37-credit hour online program leading to a master’s degree in Child and Family Studies. Graduates of this program may go on to careers as a preschool director, nonprofit program manager, family program administrator, or another role serving children and families. The curriculum is based on a developmental lifespan approach and requires the following courses:
- Theories in Child and Family Studies
- Advanced Child Development
- Parenting Across the Lifespan
- Individual and Family Life Cycle Development
Based on current tuition rates, part-time students taking between one and eight credit hours in a given term will pay $426.12 per credit hour. Students taking between nine and 13 credit hours will pay a flat rate of $3,829.50 per term. Typically, candidates for the Child and Family Studies degree will take seven credit hours during the first semester and six credit hours in each subsequent semester.
5. Stephen F. Austin State University
Located in Nacogdoches, east Texas, Stephen F. Austin State University enrolls almost 13,000 students pursuing more than 120 academic programs. The Early Childhood Research Center at SFA is the only research center of its kind in the state of Texas. The trailblazing philosophy of SFA’s early childhood research is a key feature of the University’s graduate program in Early Childhood Education.
The self-paced Master of Education for Early Childhood Education is a 36-credit hour program. This degree is designed to prepare early childhood professionals to be specialists and leaders in their field. Students may pursue this degree through an online or on-campus format. Offered by the Department of Elementary Education, this degree will allow students to take courses such as:
- Curriculum in Early Childhood
- Language and Literacy in Early Childhood
- Early Childhood Creativity and Social Learning
- Leaders and Advocates in Early Childhood
Approximately 100 students are enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program each term. Most students earn this degree in two years. SFA also offers online programs leading to a Master of Education in Educational Leadership, a Master of Science in Human Sciences, and a Master of Arts in Teaching with Teaching Certification. The average financial aid package at SFA is $12,677 per student per year.
6. University of Northern Colorado
Established in 1890, the University of Northern Colorado is now a doctoral institution serving over 12,000 students. UNC is strongly committed to affordability and has awarded a total of $134 million in financial aid to its students. Education, Special Education, and Educational Leadership make up three out of five of the most popular graduate programs at UNC.
The Master of Arts in Special Education: Early Childhood is available as a traditional program through the Greeley main campus, as a hybrid program through the Denver Center at Lowry, and as a fully online program. This degree requires a minimum of 36 credit hours and is designed to be completed in two years. Coursework may include:
- Typical and Atypical Early Child Development: Application to Early Childhood Special Education
- Research, Policy, and Advocacy in Early Childhood Special Education
- Learning Environments and Cultural Considerations
- Assessment, IEP Development, and Instructional Planning
This program is available as a degree-only track or as a licensure track leading to certification in early childhood special education, or as a dual certification track for both early childhood special education and early childhood education. Candidates in this program may apply for the Clara Lloyd Early Childhood/Special Education Scholarship and numerous other institutional scholarships.
7. University of Colorado Denver
Part of the four-campus University of Colorado system, the University of Colorado Denver enrolls roughly 18,000 students in more than 100 academic tracks, including 52 master’s programs and 13 doctoral programs. CU Denver’s School of Education and Human Development is the largest graduate school of education in the state. It is also ranked among the best in the country for excellence in online programs, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The M.A. in Early Childhood Education prepares graduates to work in classrooms, childcare centers, and early intervention programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start. Most classes have a maximum of 25 to 30 students, allowing for a high level of personalized support and peer interaction. Students are encouraged to take courses both on campus and online according to their schedule and learning preferences. Coursework for this degree may include:
- Basic Statistics
- Research in Schools
- Language and Literacy in Young Children
- Curriculum in Early Childhood Education
CU Denver also offers a licensure-only program that can lead to initial certification, or an endorsement for licensed teachers, in Early Childhood Special Education Specialist birth to age eight. For Colorado residents, the 2018 tuition rate for this program is $373 per credit hour. For out-of-state students taking exclusively online courses, the rate is $448 per credit hour.
8. North Dakota State University
North Dakota State University is committed to offering accessible, affordable education in the social sciences, psychology, education, and more. Located in Fargo, NDSU also operates Extension Service and Research Experiment Stations all over the state. NDSU’s Distance and Continuing Education division offers programs leading to an M.S. or M.A. in Community Development, M.Ed. in Family and Consumer Sciences Education, and M.S. in Human Development and Family Science: Youth Development.
Offered through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA), the M.S. in Human Development and Family Science: Youth Development requires 36 credit hours. Candidates may choose to complete three credit hours through a master’s paper, or six credit hours through a master’s thesis. A wide variety of elective coursework is available within this program. Students may choose to take courses such as:
- Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy, and Parenthood
- Brain Development
- Grant Writing—Youth Development
- Promoting Positive Mental Health in America’s Youth
While students are encouraged to have taken undergraduate courses in foundational social sciences, applicants need not have a bachelor’s degree in any specific field to qualify for this program. For students taking six credit hours (two classes) per semester, the 2018 cost per term for this program is $3,270.
9. Missouri State University
Established as the Fourth District Normal School in 1905, Missouri State University gained its current name in 2005. Today, more than a century after its founding, Missouri State has grown into a comprehensive, doctoral-granting institution serving more than 24,000 students. Through Missouri State, students can enroll in a dynamic program leading to a Master of Science in Early Childhood and Family Development.
Students in this program may choose to take all of their classes online, or they may take some of their electives face-to-face. The degree can be finished in as little as three semesters. The curriculum for this degree is flexible, and students are able to choose one-third of their classes according to their interests and career goals. Available coursework includes:
- Inquiry in Early Childhood and Family Development
- Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
- Programming and Policy Issues for Early Childhood Settings
- Children and Families in a Diverse Society
Graduates of the Early Childhood and Family Development program will be qualified to serve as educational administrators, childcare directors, nonprofit consultants, and more. The current base tuition rate for graduate online programs is $295 per credit hour. This rate applies to both Missouri residents and out-of-state students. Each year, Missouri State awards more than $150 million in financial aid to its students.
10. Michigan State University
In a list of the “711 Best Colleges for Your Money,” Money Magazine ranked Michigan State University at number 30. This places Michigan State among the top 1.5 percent of the 2,400 universities assessed for the ranking. The University is also recognized for academic quality, earning a slot among the top 80 universities in the world according to the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings. Online programs at Michigan State can lead to a Master of Arts in Family Community Services and to a Master of Arts in Youth Development.
Michigan State’s College of Social Science works in collaboration with the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (a consortium of six total universities) to present the Youth Development degree. The curriculum features 36 credit hours, including a 28-credit hour core. Required coursework will include the following:
- Administration and Program Management
- Adolescents and Their Families
- Community Youth Development
- Youth in Cultural Contexts
Candidates for this degree will be expected to pass a comprehensive evaluation or examination at the end of their program. Fully online graduate certificates are available in Youth Development Specialist and in Youth Program Management and Evaluation. Through on-campus programs, Michigan State also offers a Master of Science in Child Development and a Master of Science in Human Development and Family Studies.
11. University at Albany, SUNY
As a leading research institution, the University at Albany, SUNY serves more than 17,000 students. According to U.S. News & World Report, the graduate school of education at UAlbany ranks first among SUNY institutions and fifth among all institutions in the state of New York. At UAlbany, graduate students can pursue online master’s degrees in both Early Childhood Education and Childhood Education.
When taken in an online format, the M.S. in Early Childhood Education is only available on a part-time basis: Online students may take no more than two courses per semester. An initial teaching license is a prerequisite for admission to this program. The curriculum features a total of 30 credit hours, including 27 credit hours in a required core and one three-credit elective slot. Required coursework includes:
- Classroom Literacy Instruction
- Language Acquisition
- Teaching Mathematics in Elementary Schools
- Literacy in Society
This degree program can lead to New York professional teacher certification in Early Childhood Education for birth through grade two. It is also available as a non-certification track. UAlbany offers several additional options for on-campus students, including an M.S. in Literacy (with certification tracks for birth through grade six, grades five through 12, and birth through grade 12) and an M.S. in Reading (which does not lead to any teaching certification).
12. University of Minnesota
The five-campus University of Minnesota system serves over 31,000 undergraduates and 16,000 graduate and professional students. The 3,800 members of the distinguished UMN faculty include winners of Guggenheim Fellowships, MacArthur Fellowships, and Nobel Prizes. UMN’s globally renowned Institute of Child Development, housed on the Twin Cities campus, presents an acclaimed program in Child and Adolescent Development.
The online Master of Arts in Applied Child and Adolescent Development allows students to choose a concentration in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Child Life, or Individualized Studies. The Individualized Studies option allows students to tailor their degree path with classes in fields complementary to child development, such as law, advocacy, parent education, the arts, and more. All students in the Individualized Studies track will take the following required courses:
- Current Issues in Applied Child and Adolescent Development
- Early Childhood and Public Policy
- Introductory Statistical Methods
- Research Methods in Applied Child and Adolescent Development
All three tracks for this degree require a minimum of 32 credit hours. Applicants are encouraged to have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. For part-time students, the 2018 tuition rate for this program is $1,394 per credit hour. For full-time students taking between six and 14 credit hours, the rate is $8,364 per semester.
13. University of Missouri
Located in Columbia, the University of Missouri is a nationally ranked land-grant research university with a diverse student body of over 32,000. More than 100 degree and certificate options are available through Mizzou Online. One of the highly acclaimed programs from Mizzou Online is designed to prepare students with the skills to write grants, develop policies for youth, and understand the cultural issues surrounding children and families.
Mizzou Online offers a Master of Arts in Human Development and Family Science with an emphasis in Youth Development. Typically, students take two courses each term. By following this schedule, students will earn their degree in two to three years. This academic track features 36 credit hours, including the following required courses:
- Administration and Program Management
- Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation
- Youth Cultures and the Cultures of Youth
- Federal and State Policies that Impact Youth Development
The Youth Development degree is presented in partnership with the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA). Graduates may pursue careers in juvenile correctional facilities, faith-based organizations, 4-H clubs, nonprofit agencies, and other youth and child-centered settings. Depending on a student’s transfer credits and individual degree path, the total estimated cost for this program is $20,340.
14. University of Nebraska Online
Offering world-class student support services and competitive tuition rates, the University of Nebraska Online provides more than 100 degree and certificate options. NU Online, which is a partnership of four NU institutions, builds on the University of Nebraska’s extensive and high-quality selection of distance education programs. Graduate options at NUO include an M.S. in Human and Family Services Administration, an M.S. in International Family Studies, and an M.S. in Youth Development.
Presented by the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, the Youth Development program requires 36 credit hours. Of these, up to nine may be earned in Contemporary Youth Issues, a rotating course that covers a range of topics such as violence, sexuality, and social issues faced by youth. Students will also complete eight credit hours in a practicum experience, capstone project, or master’s thesis. Required coursework for all degree candidates includes:
- Youth Professionals as Consumers of Research
- Adolescents and Their Families
- Administration and Program Management
- Youth Development
Students with a bachelor’s degree in any field are eligible to apply for this program. However, applicants should have a cumulative undergraduate GPA of at least 2.5 on a 4.0 scale. For both in-state and out-of-state students, the cost for this program is $565 per credit hour as of spring 2018.
15. Capella University
The practical, competency-based philosophy of Capella University is designed around the needs and goals of career-minded professionals. Founded in 1993, Capella now enrolls more than 41,000 learners in 53 degree programs. The Master of Science in Psychology program at Capella is available with a wide array of concentrations, including Child and Adolescent Development.
With Capella’s innovative GuidedPath and FlexPath format, students can choose between a traditional program with weekly deadlines and tuition priced per credit (GuidedPath) and a flexible, self-paced program with tuition priced per term (FlexPath). The Child and Adolescent Development program is available through both formats. This 53-quarter credit program requires the following courses:
- Quantitative Design and Analysis
- Human Prenatal Development
- Topics in Child and Adolescent Development
- Ethics and Multicultural Issues in Psychology
All candidates for this degree will complete an Integrative Project, worth five quarter credits, as their capstone experience. As of summer 2023, the tuition rate for the GuidedPath format is $510 per credit. For FlexPath, the tuition rate is $2,950 per 12-week billing session.