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Schools for Aspiring Child Life Specialists: How to Choose

Jan 04, 2020

Individuals interested in earning a child life specialist degree can find both undergraduate and graduate programs that will prepare them for child life specialist certification. Read on for typical course requirements and other details on these child life specialist schools.

What Does a Child Life Specialist Do?

A child life specialist works with children and families who are facing traumatic situations like illness, injury, or loss. These professionals use techniques like play therapy and patient education to reduce the uncertainty and anxiety related to these kinds of stressors. Students interested in becoming child life specialists can choose from a number of undergraduate and graduate child life specialist degree programs.

Schools Offering Child Life Programs

Below is a selection of colleges and universities offering academic options for aspiring child life specialists.

School Location Degree Program(s)
College of Charleston Charleston, SC Master of Science in Child Life
University of Missouri Colombia, MO Bachelor's, Mater of Arts, Master of Science in Child Life
Utica College Utica, NY Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Child Life
University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL Bachelor's in Human Development & Family Studies - Child Life
Grand Valley State University Allendale, MI Bachelor's in Psychology - Child Life
Texas State University San Marcos, TX Master of Science in Family and Child Studies - Child Life
University of New Hampshire Durham, NH Bachelor of Science in Human Development & Family Studies; Minor in Child Life
Loma Linda University Loma Linda, CA Master of Science in Child Life Specialist

Degree Programs

Bachelor's Degree in Family and Child Studies

Some universities offer child life programs within their departments of human development or family studies. These programs may be formal concentrations in child life or series of courses recommended for students who will seek certification, and they usually emphasize aspects of child and human development in both typical and atypical situations. In addition to an internship, students can expect to take classes like the following:

  • Early Childhood
  • Grief and Loss
  • Development in Adolescents
  • Family Development
  • Children and Hospitalization

Bachelor's Degree in Psychology

Additional degree options can be found in departments of psychology. These programs may be interdisciplinary, combining traditional psychology classes and classes that emphasize education and child development. As with programs in departments of human development, psychology programs may offer formal specializations in child life, or they may provide students with recommended course sequences to prepare them for the profession. Typical classes include:

  • Child Development
  • Health Psychology
  • Adolescent Development
  • Psychological Assessment
  • Families and Stress
  • Helping Professions

Master's Degree in Child Life

At the graduate level, programs often grant degrees specifically in child life. These child life master's programs often prepare graduates to work in pediatric healthcare settings with families facing challenging illnesses or medical procedures. Many work in conjunction with area hospitals or healthcare providers to offer graduate students internships and practical experiences during their studies. Students can expect to spend about two years completing these programs and take courses like the following:

  • Psychology of Illness
  • Play Therapy
  • Health Communication
  • Child Life Theory
  • Death and Grief
  • Family Theory

How to Choose a Child Life Education Program

Aspiring child life specialists will want to consider several points when choosing a child life specialist college.

  • Since different majors can prepare students for this career, think about whether a program in psychology, family studies, or a related field would best suit your goals and interests.
  • Investigate the practical experiences child life specialist programs offer. Many child life specialist schools require or encourage internships, and these can provide valuable real-world experience in the field.
  • Consider whether the program prepares students for child life specialist certification by the Association of Child Life Professionals.
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