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Should You Get an Early Childhood Education Degree?


If you love working with kids, an early childhood education degree might be for you. In this growing field, a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is becoming more and more necessary to get the job you want.

Read on to learn what an early childhood education degree entails, the main differences between an early childhood education associate degree and a bachelor’s degree, and whether you actually need a graduate degree in the field. We’ll also look at the seven best schools offering an early childhood education degree online.


What Is an Early Childhood Education Degree?

A subset of education theory, the field of early childhood education concerns specifically the education of children from birth to the age of 8, or around third grade. 

An early childhood education degree could be an associate, bachelor’s, or graduate degree. Its main focus is how to educate young children, with an emphasis on cultural sensitivity, child-centered practices, ethics, inclusivity, community, and family.

The overall purpose of an early childhood education degree is to prepare you for a career in early childhood education, which normally comprises the following types of jobs:

  • Teacher (preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school)
  • Teacher assistant
  • Daycare provider
  • Childcare center worker or director
  • Nanny
  • Special education teacher
  • English Language Learner (ELL) teacher
  • Child life specialist
  • Education consultant

Be aware that for some jobs, especially teaching ones, you might be required by your state to get additional certification or licensure.

Below is an overview of the median incomes, job outlooks, and typical minimum required degrees for various jobs in the field of early childhood education. Jobs are arranged from highest salary to lowest.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average growth rate for all jobs for the years 2016-2026 is 7%, so any percentage higher than this means the job's growing faster than average.

Job Title
Minimum Degree Required
2017 Median Salary
Job Outlook (2016-2026)
Bachelor’s degree
Bachelor’s degree
Bachelor’s degree
Bachelor’s degree
Bachelor’s degree
Associate degree
Some college, no degree
High school diploma

As you can see from this chart, there’s a clear connection between what kind of early childhood education degree one has and their salary. In general, the more advanced a degree you have, the higher the wages you’re likely to earn.

Also of note is that all of the above jobs in early childhood education are seeing average or faster-than-average growth. This indicates that this field is a good one to get into since there will likely be many jobs available over the next decade.


body_smiley_graduateMust ... keep ... smiling ... for graduation pictures.


Early Childhood Education: Associate Degree vs Bachelor's

How does an early childhood education associate degree differ from a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education?

The following table presents a brief overview of the main differences between the two types of degrees in terms of the time it takes to complete each degree, what types of jobs are available to each degree holder, and what the highest median earning potential is (based on BLS data).

Time to Complete
Degree Options
Jobs Available
Earning Potential
Bachelor’s degree
4 years (regular); 2-3 years (online)
Teacher (special education, kindergarten, elementary school); childcare center director; social worker; child life specialist
Associate degree
1.5-2 years
Preschool teacher; teacher assistant; nanny or other childcare worker

Since an early childhood education associate degree program is about two years shorter than a bachelor’s degree program, you’ll typically earn half as many credits doing an associate program than you would doing a bachelor's program.

Although there's often lots of overlap in the courses required for associate and bachelor’s degree programs, the latter typically requires a lot more courses that dive deeper into topics such as psychology, human growth and development, and creativity.


Do You Need a Graduate Degree in Early Childhood Education?

We've gone over the differences and similarities between an early childhood education associate degree and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. But is a master’s or doctorate in childhood education necessary for a great job?

As you probably noticed with the first table, most jobs in early childhood education don’t require more than a bachelor’s degree.

That said, having a master’s or doctoral degree in this or a related field can increase the job opportunities available to you by equipping you with high-level skills, practical experience, and leadership potential.

This difference is reflected in wages, too. According to 2013 BLS data, preschool and kindergarten teachers who have a master’s degree can expect to earn about $13,000 more per year than those with only a bachelor’s degree.

Here’s what US News says about the value of getting a master’s degree (bold emphasis mine):

"Along with an increase in pay, earning a master’s degree in early childhood education can make it possible to pursue high-level occupations in the field, such as elementary school principal or instructional coordinator."

So what kinds of graduate degrees in early childhood education are out there? Many, as it turns out.

UM-Dearborn offers an MA in Early Childhood Education program, whose three program options are tailored toward "teachers, administrators, other service providers and educators who wish to learn how to serve young children and their families."

Meanwhile, BU’s MEd in Early Childhood Education primarily targets aspiring teachers and "is recognized in the field for maintaining high standards for teacher preparation."

With a doctorate (usually a PhD or EdD) in early childhood education, your job prospects will extend even further to fields such as postsecondary teaching, policy-making, and researchmost of which typically come with higher salaries as well.

Noteworthy doctoral programs include Columbia’s EdD in Early Childhood Education, NYU’s PhD in Teaching and Learning with a focus on Early Childhood and Childhood Education, and Vanderbilt’s PhD in Early Childhood Special Education.

Ultimately, whether or not you decide to pursue a graduate degree in early childhood education will depend on the type of career you want and how much time and money you’re willing to put toward your education.




Getting an Early Childhood Education Degree Online: Top 7 Schools

These days, you can earn an early childhood education degree online, making it cheaper and more convenient than getting your degree the traditional way. Here, we introduce, in no particular order, the seven best schools where you can earn a bachelor's degree in early childhood education entirely online.


University of Nebraska at Kearney

The University of Nebraska at Kearney offers an online BA in Early Childhood Inclusive program. This program features not just instruction in early childhood education but also the opportunity for students to gain real work experience and a teaching endorsement.

The program focuses on learning about children from birth through the age of 8. Upon completion of this online bachelor’s program, you’ll be able to teach special education to children aged 0-5 and regular education to children through the third grade.


University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMassOnline offers not one but two online bachelor’s degree programs in early childhood education: a BA in Children’s Learning and Development and a BA in Early Care and Education.

In the former, students learn the skills they need to launch a career in education, child advocacy, administration, or youth and family programming. Students also have the option to design their curriculum and bring in credits from prior coursework.

The latter is more focused on career advancement within the field of early childhood education, including how to open your own childcare center.


University of Cincinnati

Through the University of Cincinnati’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services, students can earn a BS in Early Childhood Education (Birth to Age 5) completely online.

This program mainly prepares students to become teachers at places including preschools, public schools, and childcare centers. By completing this program and student teaching, students should be eligible for faculty recommendation for an Ohio pre-K teaching license.

Cincinnati also offers an online AAS in Early Childhood Care and Education. This associate degree program provides students with a background in education theory, curriculum development, and early language development.


University of Washington

Ranked in the top 60 universities by US News, UW offers a fairly flexible online BA in Early Care and Education program. This programoriginally called the BA in Early Childhood and Family Studiesis offered both full- and part-time and takes two to three years to complete.

You’ll learn about innovative research and educational strategies, and acquire the skills necessary for establishing a career in various related fields, such as teaching, early childhood administration, early learning coaching, and family support.

What's more, through the program’s use of the Intentional Teaching Framework, you’ll gain tons of practical experience by observing and working with real early childhood professionals.


body_univ_washington_campusThe only drawback with getting a degree online? You don't get to see the beautiful cherry blossoms on the UW campus. (Joe Mabel/Flickr)


Kansas State University

Approved by the Kansas State Department of Education, K-State’s online BS in Early Childhood Education program makes students eligible for licensure in early childhood unified (birth through kindergarten). The curriculum consists of courses in human development, teaching, family relationships, language development, and early childhood.

In addition, the program boasts above-average starting salaries for graduates and a 99% pass rate on licensure exams.


University of Dayton

At the University of Dayton’s School of Education and Health Sciences, students can earn an online (non-licensure) BSE in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy.

Unlike the degree programs listed above, which welcome newcomers to the childhood education field, this part-time program caters specifically to experienced early childhood professionals who wish to continue their work in advocating for children and their families.

Applicants should have an associate degree in early childhood education or a related field. Courses cover a diverse array of topics, such as American education, how to educate diverse student populations, and early childhood program management.


University of Missouri

Through Mizzou Online, you can earn a BS in Human Development and Family Science with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education.

With this program, students learn how to understand young children’s needs; create supportive, intellectually stimulating educational environments; and promote positive growth. Course topics include curricula-making, classroom environments, and child development.


Conclusion: Getting an Early Childhood Education Degree

Early childhood education is a growing field, so it’s important that you have the knowledge and credentials needed to get the job you want, whether that’s teaching, coaching, administration, etc.

One way of getting credentials is to earn an early childhood education associate degree, which will help you get entry-level jobs and prepare you for a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree in the field should you want to expand your knowledge in the future.

Another option is to get a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Nowadays, you can earn your early childhood education degree online without having to go anywhere, which can be super helpful if getting to a campus poses a challenge for you. Some online programs even offer licensure and teaching certification.

There are many online early childhood education degree programs available, but we’ve narrowed down your options to give you a list of seven top schools offering an online bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Here are the schools again, in no particular order:

  • University of Nebraska at Kearney
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Washington
  • Kansas State University
  • University of Dayton
  • University of Missouri

Overall, if you want to have a career that involves teaching and helping young children, an early childhood education degree might be the best choice for you!


What’s Next?

Dreaming of becoming an elementary, middle, or high school teacher? Then check out our career guide to learn how you can prepare for a career in teaching while still in high school.

Maybe you already have a bachelor's degree and are now considering grad school. Our expert guide can help you figure out whether a master's degree is right for you.

Not sure what you want to study in college? Our tips can help you choose the best major for you.


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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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