Online Masters in Early Childhood Education Guide

Early childhood education pertains to any jobs that deals with educating children younger than kindergarten-age. Many teachers in early childhood education work in preschool capacities, teaching children between the ages of three to five on a daily basis. However, each state has different guidelines on early childhood programs and some early learning programs work with children as young as the age of two. Given that toddlers develop cognitive and motor skills rapidly between the ages of two to five, the younger the students, the more skill is actually required of the teacher in order to be able to correctly address their needs. Similarly, many young children struggle to verbalize their needs, so teachers must know what signs to look for when their students need extra help. As such, the early child education field is particularly welcoming of those who attain a master’s degree in early childhood education, and even online master’s degrees will be well-received by care facilities looking to hire new teachers.

Is an Online Masters in Education Right For You?


The United States actually has a dearth of qualified early childhood education teachers. This is due to many state public schools and even daycare centers increasing their hiring standards to improve the abilities and qualities of the teachers that they hire. As such, completing a master’s degree in early childhood education can lead to a wide variety of gainful employment options, in any state in the country. This is a huge bonus for those who may not yet know where they want to settle post-graduation, and the flexibility can mean that, even if a need to move arises later, you will almost certainly be able to find another position in the field. The perks of studying for a degree online is the flexible timing, which is particularly useful for aspiring early childhood education teachers who have other family or personal obligations in which a physical university program may not be a good fit.


There are a few limitations that can come with earning a master’s degree in early childhood education. First, the financial return on investment may be limited compared to earning a graduate degree in other more lucrative professional degree programs. According to PayScale, the average salary for someone with a Master of Education, Early Childhood Education degree is $49,000 in 2020. The reward of studying this profession is clearly more tilted towards the satisfaction of working with children and helping families, rather than expecting a high monetary reward. While there may be better-paying career options, such as teaching at the college level, they are not the majority of open positions.

Finally, a particular limitation to the online master’s program is the lack of networking with peers that can happen during a standard university graduate program.

What Types of Masters Programs are Available Online?

There are several types of master’s degrees in early childhood education. The Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education is available as a more discussion-based graduate degree program. Students in Master of Arts programs will tend to be building on current expertise or a prior field of related study, and they will delve deeply into courses focusing on how communication, thinking skills, and curiosity develops in children before the age of eight.

Students can also choose to undertake a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education, which is focused more on the science behind early childhood education and understanding how children develop so that you can cater learning to their level. Graduate students in Master of Science programs will focus more on studies of learning environments, their effect on children’s cognitive development, age-level distinctions, and the emotional needs of children.

A third option is to pursue the Master of Education, Early Childhood Education. This program is a more teaching-focused program, with many graduate programs leading up to teaching licensure upon graduation. These types of graduate programs incorporate research-driven frameworks to understand how best to serve the learning and emotional needs of young children. There are other, more specialized graduate early childhood education programs, including a Master of Science in Speech Pathology and Master of Arts in Autism Spectrum Disorders for educators looking to tackle specific types of learning difficulties.

What are the Admission Requirements?

Admissions for an online master’s in ECE closely follow the requirements of any standard university graduate program, which ensure that admitted students are well-qualified for the rigor of the courses regardless of whether participation is in-person or remote. Many online degree programs will require that students have at least a 2.75 out of 4.0 GPA from an accredited undergraduate institution, though some will require a higher standard of 3.0 or higher in order to be considered. Students will oftentimes be required to submit a copy of their undergraduate transcript to ensure that the information they have reported is accurate and that their college studies were rigorous. International students will often be expected to meet minimum TOEFL requirements, and students may be asked to interview with the admissions committee before being admitted.

How long does it take to earn a Masters in Education Online?

In general, obtaining a master’s degree in early childhood education will take about two calendar years. Some programs, like the one offered by the American College of Education, can be completed in around 15 months. This graduate degree usually requires a minimum of at least 30 credit hours of coursework, with some schools requiring up to 36 credit hours. Most online graduate programs also have the same amount of credit hour requirements, so students will typically need to take the same amount of time to complete the degree regardless of whether they attend school in person or online. However, some online programs offer an accelerated timeline by allowing you to take more credit hours simultaneously than you would easily be able to do in an in-person format.

What Can I Do with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education?

- Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers will work with students, typically those between the ages of three and five, on a daily basis. This career path will utilize many of the theories in early childhood communication, as well as building emotional and cognitive skills. Preschool teachers will typically lead small groups of children so that they can learn through interactions and have enough one-on-one time with the teacher to ensure that their needs are promptly met.

Average Salary: $32,600

- Elementary School/Kindergarten Teacher

Typically, graduate programs in early childhood education will focus on the learning needs of children below the age of 8, which prepares graduates for teaching positions in many elementary schools as well. The same philosophies of building emotional, cognitive, communication, curiosity, and problem-solving skills still apply to children in kindergarten and elementary school, who are usually between the ages of 5-12. Class sizes will typically be larger, but teachers will have many of the same responsibilities as preschool teachers, such as making daily schedules and tracking student progress.

Average Salary: $46,150

- Nanny

Although many graduates may not think of it, becoming a nanny post-graduation is a viable career option and can be lucrative depending on who you are working for. Many families are looking to bring help into the home, especially when they have young children or when both parents are working, and having a highly educated nanny can be a real plus. Nannies will not only be expected to take care of a child’s physical needs, like keeping them fed and safe throughout the day, but highly skilled nannies can also teach children many skills in the home such as a second language, reading skills, and basic math.

Average salary: $33,400

- Childcare Center Director

Those who earn a master’s of early childhood education typically enjoy working with children, but will also tend to have a more well-rounded theoretical knowledge base than many of their coworkers who have not undergone the extra training. This is a helpful trait in a childcare center director, whose responsibilities include working on managing an early childcare center, communicating teaching philosophies with interested parents, and hiring new teachers.

Average Salary: $40,200

- Special Education Teacher

Some graduate programs in early childhood education focus on specific learning needs, like speech therapy or autism. Teachers with these types of specializations can be in high demand and will work with children who have mental, emotional, physical, or learning disabilities to ensure that they can achieve their maximum potential. Unlike the traditional classroom, where a standard lesson plan is implemented every day, special education teachers must continually assess their student’s needs and wants to ensure that they are successfully progressing.

Average salary: $48,700

How to Choose the Right Program for You

When choosing the correct graduate program in early childhood education, it’s important to ensure that it fits with your educational, personal, career, and financial goals. Specifically, the first thing that should be considered is the type of coursework that will be covered in the program. You can research programs, both online and in-person, to see what the degree mainly focuses on. Some, like a master of science, may tilt more towards the theories behind early childhood education while others, like the master of education, focus more on teaching methods. Look through the curriculum closely and reach out to the school for syllabi if they are not readily available online. Additionally, you should determine when you research programs whether or not they include licensure in their program. It would be terrible to go through a whole degree and realize halfway through that it will not convey state licensure so that you can teach as soon as you are done.

Afterwards, you can determine if it makes sense to physically move to campus. Many students will have obligations outside of their studies, and some may even have young children. For others, it may not make sense financially to move to another city or state for 15 months to two years for a graduate program. In these cases, online programs would be a better fit. Another important consideration is the financial aspect of the degree. Most online master’s ECE programs will cost a total of $8,500, and many offer financial aid. Depending on location, traditional graduate programs in the field may cost more, especially for out-of-state students, and some programs can cost up to $30,000 to complete.

Masters Program Sample Courses

Traditional and online Masters of Early Childhood Education programs offer courses like the following:

  • Foundations of Child Development
  • Child Growth and Development
  • Curriculum Development: Methods and Strategies
  • Trends in Early Childhood Education
  • Effective Programs and Practices
  • Building Research Competencies
  • The Exceptional Child
  • Observation and Assessment
  • Family, School, and Community
  • Child Guidance
  • Capstone Experience for Early Childhood Education

Online Colleges Offering a Masters in Early Childhood Education

Walden University

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Walden University is a for-profit, accredited online university based in Minneapolis. The school is part of Laureate Education Inc.’s global network of schools and was first established in 1970. The school enrolls more than 49,000 students from 145 countries and offers online degrees ranging from specialist certifications doctorate degrees.

Degrees Offered:

  • Education Specialist degree in Early Childhood Studies
  • Education Specialist degree in Early Childhood Education
  • Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Studies
  • Graduate Certificate in Teaching and Diversity in Early Childhood Education
  • Master of Science in Early Childhood Studies

American College of Education

Indianapolis, Indiana

American College of Education is a private, online, for-profit college based in Indianapolis and offering degree work in healthcare, nursing, and education. The institution was first established in 2005 and has more than 20,000 alumni. Currently, the school has about 6,000 students undertaking degree programs and offers degrees ranging from certificates to education specialist to doctoral programs.

Degrees Offered:

  • Early Childhood Special Education Micro-Credential
  • Master of Education in Early Childhood Education

Clemson University

Clemson, South Carolina

Clemson University is a public, land-grant research university in Clemson founded in 1889. The school has the second largest student population in South Carolina, enrolling more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate school students every year. The school offers a wide range of bachelor’s through doctorate programs spanning the agriculture, humanities, business, engineering, science, health, and education fields.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Education: Teaching and Learning (Online)
  • Master of Education: Special Education (Online)

Georgia Southern University

Statesboro, Georgia

Georgia Southern University is a public research university in Georgia with campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, and Hinesville. It was founded in 1906 as a land grant college and is the fifth largest institution in the University System of Georgia. It has an endowment of more than $53 million and enrolls more than 26,000 students every year.

Degrees Offered:

  • Education Specialist program in Elementary Education
  • Master of Education, Elementary Education (online)

Arizona State University

Phoenix, Arizona

Arizona State University is a public metropolitan research university with five campuses in the Phoenix area, first founded in 1885. Arizona State University is one of the United States’ largest higher education institutions by enrollment, with nearly 90,000 students attending in-person classes and more than 38,000 students attending online programs.

Degrees Offered:

  • Online Bachelors of Education, Early Childhood Education
  • Online Master of Education In Curriculum and Instruction (Early Childhood Education)
  • Online Master of Arts in Special Education (Applied Behavior Analysis)
  • Online Master of Arts in Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Online Master of Education, Curriculum and Instruction: Early Childhood Education

Liberty University

Lynchburg, Virginia

Liberty University is a private evangelical Christin university founded in 1971. It is in fact one of the largest evangelical Christian universities in the world and one of the largest private, non-profit universities in the United States, with more than 15,000 enrolled students and more than 94,000 online students.

Degrees Offered:

  • Online Masters in Education - Curriculum and Instruction

University of Missouri - Columbia

Columbia, Missouri

The University of Missouri - Columbia is the flagship of the University of Missouri System and its largest university. Originally founded as a public, land-grant university in 1839, the school enrolls over 30,000 students every year across 300 degree programs and 13 major academic divisions.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master’s in Early Childhood Education Online

University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

The University of Alabama was first founded in 1820 and is the University of Alabama public higher education system’s largest university. The school offers education specialist, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees across 13 academic institutions, enrolling more than 38,000 students a year.

Degrees Offered:

  • Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education
  • Master of Arts in Elementary Education

University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, North Dakota

The University of North Dakota is a public research university, first founded in 1883, six years before the state of North Dakota was even established. The school has an endowment of more than $280 million and enrolls around 13,000 students every year.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Science in Early Childhood Education Online
  • Master of Science in Special Education Online
  • Master of Education in Elementary Education Online
  • Master of Education in Special Education Online

West Chester University of Pennsylvania

Chester County, Pennsylvania

West Chester University of Pennsylvania is a public university first established in 1871. It’s the largest of 14 state universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, enrolling more than 17,000 students a year. In 2019, the school had an endowment of more than $20 million and was ranked 12th for Public Universities (North) by U.S. News & World Report.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Education in Early Childhood Education - Accomplished Teachers Track
  • Master of Education in Early Childhood Education - Program Administrators Track

Mercer University

Macon, Georgia

Mercer University is a private research university in Georgia, first founded in 1833. It’s the oldest private university in the state and enrolls more than 8,600 students across 12 schools. The school has three major campuses across Macon, Atlanta, and Savannah and boasts an endowment of $380 million.

Degrees Offered:

  • Education Specialist program in Elementary Education
  • Master of Education in Elementary Education
  • Master of Arts in Teaching in Elementary Education

Kennesaw State University

Kennesaw, Georgia

Kennesaw State University is a public research university in Georgia founded in 1963. It has two campuses, one in Kennesaw and another in Marietta. Every year, the university enrolls more than 40,000 students; the school is the third largest university in the state of Georgia by enrollment numbers.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Education in Elementary and Early Childhood Education

Auburn University

Auburn, Alabama

Auburn university is a public research and land-grant university in Alabama, first established in 1856. The university enrolls more than 30,000 students every year and is one of two flagship universities in the state of Alabama. The university changed its names several times throughout its history and currently has an endowment of $793 million.

Degrees Offered:

  • Education Specialist program in Early Childhood Education
  • Master of Science in Early Childhood Education
  • Master of Education in Early Childhood Education

University of North Carolina

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the flagship of the North Carolina public post-secondary education system first established in 1789. It is considered a public institution that offers an educational experience on par with Ivy League institutions. The university enrolls more than 30,000 students annually and has a $3.67 billion endowment.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Arts in Education - Early Childhood, Special Education, and Literacy
  • Master of Education in Early Childhood Intervention and Family Support

University of West Alabama

Livingston, Alabama

The University of West Alabama was originally founded in 1835 as a church-supported school for young women. Currently, the public university offers degree programs spanning associate to doctorate degrees and serves more than 5,000 students every year.

Degrees Offered:

  • Educational Specialist program in Early Childhood Education, P-3
  • Master of Education in Early Childhood Education, P-3
  • Master of Education in Early Childhood Development

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