Best Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Degrees

Oct 20, 2021

What is an Online Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education Degree?

An online Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education is a graduate level degree targeting experienced teachers or professionals for career enrichment. Early Childhood Education, or ECE, focuses on advanced training for the care and development of children from birth to age eight, both cognitively and socially. Typical candidates for this degree program hold a bachelor's in a related field, currently work with children under eight, often as certified teachers, and may be seeking to advance into leadership positions or to transition into specialty teaching roles in ECE while expanding their understanding of young minds. ECE coursework will reinforce bachelor level knowledge in childhood development from birth to eight while students learn curriculum development, current research techniques, and large scale administrative or policy practices that impact learning for young children.

The Best Online Masters Degree Programs in Early Childhood Education

School Tuition* Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 Northwestern State University of Louisiana $9686 82% 44% 97% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
2 Northeastern State University $5101 100% 33% 93% Yes Yes AP Credits
3 Concordia University-Saint Paul $8550 98% 51% 98% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
4 Arkansas State University $6422 80% 53% 97% Yes Yes AP Credits
5 University of North Carolina at Greensboro $8200 82% 59% 88% Yes Yes AP Credits
6 University of North Dakota $12058 81% 61% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits
7 University of North Alabama $7200 89% 49% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits
8 Troy University $8506 88% 47% 92% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
9 Liberty University $8400 51% 47% 99% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
10 University of Mississippi $8828 88% 66% 86% Yes Yes AP Credits
11 Western Kentucky University $12140 97% 48% 98% Yes Yes AP Credits
12 Northern Arizona University $11121 85% 57% 95% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
13 University of Mount Olive $17975 58% 55% 99% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits
14 Jacksonville State University $10600 55% 41% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits
15 University of South Alabama $8156 79% 46% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits
16 Portland State University $13218 96% 48% 82% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
17 Edinboro University of Pennsylvania $12246 83% 44% 92% No Yes AP / ACE Credits
18 Boise State University $9646 77% 51% 84% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
19 Mercy College $16806 82% 44% 96% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
20 Stephen F Austin State University $7273 68% 52% 86% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
21 University of West Alabama $6868 35% 35% 97% Yes Yes AP Credits
22 West Chester University of Pennsylvania $12340 75% 77% 81% No Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits
23 Texas A & M University-Commerce $6578 43% 43% 91% No Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
24 University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus $8069 67% 52% 82% Yes Yes AP Credits
25 Texas A & M University-Kingsville $5701 77% 39% 88% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
26 Alabama State University $10156 97% 33% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits
27 Alabama A & M University $11542 92% 30% 90% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit's ranking methodology page.

*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Why Should I Get an Online Early Childhood Education Master's Degree?

Earning an online master's in ECE allows professionals to specialize their knowledge and interest in early childhood development, opening future career opportunities in administration, research, or specialty teaching positions. Completing a master's program online enables working professionals to build their resume while they seek more advanced roles in administration, research, or specialized teaching positions.

After graduating, some of the most common job options for MA.Ed degree holders are childcare or preschool administrators. Earning a master's specialized in special education may also make applicants particularly attractive as K-3 special education teachers.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education?

It typically takes two years to complete an MA.Ed when taking classes full time, though it may be possible to complete some programs in 18 months. Most programs require completion of about 30-33 credit hours to earn a degree. Schools may offer teaching licensure or non-licensure coursework. Programs that prepare students for licensure upon completion usually entail more credit hours and require practicum or internships before earning licensure. The requirements for earning teaching endorsements or licensure will vary by state and may involve sitting for an exam after completing the program.

Some programs may also require a capstone project. A capstone project is typically a literature review or research project that students complete as one of the last core courses in their curriculum.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in Early Childhood Education

Typical curriculum for a master's in ECE will guide prospective students into greater understanding of appropriate coursework and curriculum for diverse student bodies with an emphasis on developmentally and age-appropriate teaching standards. Programs pair research-oriented pedagogy with learning community and family driven policy. Curriculum often includes some practicum, especially in the case of degree programs that provide licensing, which almost always require in-person student teaching. Many programs offer specialization in administration or special education for ECE majors.

Early Childhood Education Foundational Courses

Classes in ECE focus on developmental teaching strategies and the foundations of early childhood education. Some coursework targets equity in teaching to diverse students, with particular emphasis on race, class, and bilingualism. These courses help teachers develop comprehensive and inclusive teaching strategies focused on families and communities.

Typical online courses in early childhood education vary by program, but most programs also include core coursework that prepare teachers for providing special education instruction, including a history of special education, assessment techniques, and methods for managing different behavioral responses.

Research courses typically complete the core coursework required for ECE programs. In research courses, students learn to evaluate and understand the current research practices and standards for early childhood education.

Some common core courses may include:

  • Research in Education
  • Multiculturalism & Diversity Courses
  • Inclusion for Special Education
  • Language Development
  • ECE Foundations

Early Childhood Education Specialist and Elective Courses

With specializations, students can choose to concentrate on the field where they hope to work in the future. One common specialization for those pursing a master's in ECE is special education. Those interested in working as an early childhood special education teacher can work through courses on behavior management, assessment and curriculum development for children with special needs.

Other specializations may include additional research or coursework geared toward future administration roles. Students seeking to specialize in administrative advancement may take courses on policy, staff leadership and development, or family collaboration.

Some common specialist courses include:

  • Leadership & Advocacy Courses
  • Parents & Family Outreach Courses
  • Developmental Assessment

Licensure and Certification in Early Childhood Education

Licensure and certification for early childhood education vary by state. Different early childhood education certification programs can be pursued at all levels of education and may be earned independently or in addition to degrees in ECE.

At a master's level, students may seek additional credentials through degree programs with licensure or endorsements upon completion. Licensures or endorsements may require exams on completion of graduate course work. Licensure programs typically increase program length by 12-15 credit hours. Since each state varies, students will want to determine if their licensure will meet other state requirements should they consider working elsewhere after completing a licensure program.

Admissions Requirements for Online Early Childhood Education Master's Programs

Prospective students who are seeking a master's in ECE will need a bachelor's degree. While most schools accept candidates with a bachelor's in any field, some schools may require the bachelor's to be in a related field. Most schools require a minimum GPA, which may vary between 2.7 to 3.0. Some programs may require or prefer candidates who have a valid teaching certificate in their state or experience teaching, especially if seeking a degree with licensure.

Some schools may also require a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and a resume. Prospective students should be prepared to provide official transcripts and pay application fees.

What Can I Do with an Early Childhood Education Master's Degree?

MA.Ed degree-seekers will likely already have experience working with young children and may have pursued a master's to acquire the necessary skills to transition into specialized teaching roles up to third grade or to build credentials for roles in school administration. After earning a master's in early childhood education, many graduates choose to pursue roles in administration of preschool or childcare centers, such as preschool directors, while others may seek employment as K-3 teachers, especially special education teachers.

While schools do not usually require a master's to work as preschool directors or K-3 teachers, holding an MA may give graduates the opportunity to be more selective in where they work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2019, childcare administrators in New Jersey earned an average of $76,410 compared to a national average of $53,990. With more desirable credentials, job seekers may obtain positions in more competitive states or schools.

Job Outlook for a Master's in Early Childhood Education

The BLS reported in May 2019 that job growth for preschool teachers, with the exception of special education teachers, is projected at two percent, or slightly slower than average. Similarly, the BLS projects that employment for preschool directors will grow at one percent as more parents choose to keep younger children at home longer due to childcare costs.

While the need for general teachers for preschool-aged children may lag somewhat behind national averages, the growth outlook for special education teachers meets the national average at 3%. Most interestingly, BLS projects that employment for special education preschool teachers will grow at 8%, much faster than the national average for all occupations during the 2019-2029 period. In May 2019, the BLS also reported an average wage of $67,060 for special education teachers, making it a particularly attractive time to become a special education teacher.

How to Become an Early Childhood Special Education Teacher

Working in birth to third grade special education requires patience, teaching skills, an understanding of developmentally appropriate curriculum, and the ability to manage some behavioral challenges that may arise. Prospective teachers are required to hold a bachelor's degree for public school positions. Some schools do not require a master's degree for special education preschool teachers, but others may prefer one. Earning a master's with a concentration in special education may help prepare prospective teachers for assessing and responding to the needs of special education students. All public schools require teaching certification or licensure issued by the state where a teacher plans to teach.

The steps for certification vary by state but will typically include completing coursework or holding a degree in an appropriate field and may require passing an exam. Certification is provided or prepared in some master's programs when candidates do not already possess it. Once all the necessary steps are completed, candidates seeking certification will apply to their state certifying agency, usually the state specific Department of Education.

In all cases, schools will require a background check before working with children. Background checks will typically include fingerprinting.

How to Become a Preschool or Childcare Director

Moving into management as a preschool or childcare director can be a lucrative career move for those already working in early childhood education. In May 2019, the BLS reported that the average salary for all preschool teachers, except for special education teachers, was $34,650, a difference of $19,340 from the reported average for preschool and childcare administrators in the same year.

To become a preschool or childcare director, candidates usually need experience working in early childhood education. The extent of experience varies according to the school. Most schools require a bachelor's degree, though some may require or prefer master's degrees. Many schools prefer early childhood education for the degree type. While requirements vary by state, some form of background check is required, and safety coursework or certification, such as CPR or first aid certifications, may also be necessary.

Some schools may also prefer or require candidates with national certification, such as the Child Development Association certification. Those seeking CDA certification will need to have taken 120 hours of early childhood education, apply for certification, schedule an in-person classroom observation, and take an exam. CDA certification must be renewed after 3 years.

Early Childhood Education Professional Organizations

Early Childhood Education organizations offer professionals the opportunity to network with others in their field, as well as some discounts on books or conference fees, and the ability to stay up to date on issues as they develop in the field. These associations can help teachers or school administrators develop friendships and professional relationships that may benefit future career goals. Some of the best organizations and their membership requirements and benefits follow.

National Association for the Education of Young Children

This organization of almost 60,000 professionals in ECE was founded on the principles of increasing the quality of education for children from birth to age eight. Membership is paid with four tiers of benefits and can be applied for online. At entry level ($30), members have access to 20% discounts on merchandise through NAEYC's website, digital access to articles on ECE, discounts through partnership insurance and on school supplies through Office Depot, and access to members-only events.

Council for Exceptional Children

The Council for Exceptional Children connects professionals working with children who learn at a different pace due to disability or genius. CEC can help guide teachers working with students in special education or gifted programs to appropriate resources that may aid their students. Local units for the CEC can be found in all 50 states. Like the NAEYC, members may benefit from discounted insurance, discounts on books or resources through the CEC, and access to digital or community resources. There are three membership tiers, with annual dues between $75 to $210.

Childhood Education International

Childhood Education International is an international association with chapters in 35 countries focusing on the professional development of educators. With a membership of over 50,000, membership benefits include access to CEI publications. The CEI also features some free professional development courses as well as some paid courses. Individual membership costs $35 annually.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Early Childhood Education

Many schools do not require a degree in a related field; therefore, any bachelor's degree may be applied toward an MA.Ed for those programs. For schools that do require relevant work at the bachelor level for degree seeking students, preferred degrees for master's programs in ECE include bachelor's in education or any field related to children or child development. Holding a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education may make candidates for master's programs particularly desirable.

Post-Graduate Options After Completing a Master's in Early Childhood Education

After earning a master's in ECE, some students may seek a Doctor of Education (EdD) specialized in early childhood education or pursue a doctorate's in a related field, such as education leadership, or special education. EdD programs are research focused and may prepare students for future roles in research positions at universities or as early childhood policy experts. Programs at the doctoral level are currently limited and may take between 36 to 40 months to complete.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants for Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Programs

All students seeking financial aid should begin by completing a FAFSA application with their school's code. There are many grant or loan forgiveness programs that specifically apply to teachers. Below are some teaching specific grant or loan programs.

The TEACH grant program offers grants of up to $3,772 to students who agree to teach at low-income schools in high-need fields, such as special education, for at least four years within eight years of completing a TEACH grant eligible program. TEACH grant eligible programs include master's degrees in education, but only in institutions that do not award bachelor's degrees in education. Defaulting on the terms of agreement will require the grant to be paid back as a direct unsubsidized loan.

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program can forgive up to $17,500 of direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans or Stafford loans in return for teaching for five years in low-income qualifying schools. To apply for the forgiveness program, teachers must be considered highly qualified. Highly qualified teachers must hold a bachelor's degree and state teaching certificate which has never been waived. Other requirements vary according to a teacher's grade level. Elementary school teachers must pass a state test indicating proficiency in elementary subjects, and it may have been completed as part of a certification program.

Other options for financial aid may be available through various programs. Students seeking more information on financial aid should contact their school's office for financial aid to learn about school specific grants or scholarships.

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