Best Bachelor's Degrees in Child Development

Apr 29, 2021

Child Development Degrees

Degrees in child development lead to many different career options, such as preschool educators, special educators, social workers, or child life specialists. All of these careers serve vital purposes in society and can have a huge impact on the lives of children. Because of the many options for undergraduate concentrations, a bachelor's degree in child development prepares students to work in many diverse settings. To work in a field related to child development, students will need at least a bachelor's degree and a career-specific certification or license.

What Kinds of Child Development Degrees Are There?

Degrees in child development are offered at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. A degree in child development can land a student in numerous different positions, and each career path has slightly different requirements. Luckily for students interested in child development, many of these degrees require only a bachelor's degree. While taking classes and working towards their degree, students will have many opportunities to discover the specialties that are aligned with child development. Some resources even offer free online child development courses and learning material.

Associate Degrees in Child Development

An Associate in Arts in Child Development prepares students to work with young children and their families. Students interested in an associate degree in child development will receive the education and training to enter the workforce as a preschool educator. Student may also be able to attain their Child Development Associate (CDA) credential upon the completion of this program. Associate degrees in child development may be offered on-campus or online, so students should choose the program that best suits their learning style. Many of these programs are around 30 credits and take up to two years to complete. Upon completion, students may also choose to transfer to a 4-year degree program to become a special education teacher, social worker, recreational therapist, and more.

Bachelor's Degrees in Child Development

A Bachelor of Science in Child Development or a Bachelor of Arts in Child Development and Family Studies is generally 120 credits and takes four years to complete. Students in a child development bachelor's program will learn about the effects of development across the lifespan and be prepared to work with children and their families. Because a bachelor's degree in child development leads to various careers, many programs offer areas of concentration. Once students have completed the program, they will be ready to begin an entry-level position or continue on to higher education studies.

Master's Degrees in Child Development

For students interested in furthering their education, a master's program may be a viable option. A Master of Arts or Science in Child and Family Studies instructs students in child development and techniques to work with families to promote healthy development. Many programs focus on research and policy to prepare students for careers in administration, child life, and childcare center directors. Master's programs are typically around 30 credits and take up to two years to complete. The programs may be online or on-campus depending on the program. Some programs may offer part-time study, but this may affect the time it takes to achieve the degree. At the conclusion of a program, students will need to complete either a master's thesis or a final project.

Doctoral Degrees in Child Development

While a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Child Development is not a common degree name, there are many other doctorate level degrees in the field of child development. Students may pursue a Ph.D. in Human Development and Psychology if they are interested in working as university professors, child development researchers, administrators, and policy workers. Additionally, if students are interested in developmental research, they may be interested in a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology. Ph.D. programs in the field of child development are meant for students who have already completed master's coursework and are looking to become a leader in the industry. Students who pursue a Ph.D. can expect up to six years of coursework and must complete a dissertation.

Certificates in Child Development

Certificates in child development exist at all degree levels. Students may pursue certificates to showcase competence in certain areas. These certificates span from 9 to 36 credits and usually take one to two years to complete depending on the number of credits the student takes each semester. If graduate-level students are interested in expanding their competencies in early childhood, may pursue a Graduate Certificate in Early Childhood or Child Development. Some certificates that undergraduate students can work towards include:

  • Early Childhood Teacher Certificate
  • Infant-Toddler Teacher Certificate
  • Support for Students with Special Needs Certificate
  • Child Development Certificate

Child Development Bachelor's Degree Concentrations

Because a bachelor's degree in child development can lead to a multitude of careers, there are many options for concentrations at the undergraduate level. Students may pursue these concentration areas to gain knowledge in areas they wish to specialize in. While many of these concentrations do not lead to certification, they may satisfy requirements for state credentials, such as the Child Development Associate. A few common options for concentrations in child development may include:

  • Early Child Development
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Leadership and Administration
  • Family Support and Services

Curriculum for a Bachelor's Degree in Child Development

The curriculum for bachelor's degree programs in child development typically covers development across the lifespan and how it affects child growth and learning. Many programs teach their students how to work with young children and assess their social, physical, cognitive, and emotional wellbeing. Bachelor's programs in child development will require general education credits, major-specific credits, and have options for areas of concentration. Additionally, some programs will offer field experience opportunities for students to gain practical experience. Some common courses that students will take in a bachelor's program include:

Child Neglect and Resiliency

Students interested in child development should have a good understanding of the adverse effects of children who have undergone stress, abuse, and neglect. Programs in child development will have various names for this course but all will cover abuse, neglect, and resilience.


A large part of working in the field of child development is working with parents. Child development courses will cover the most recent topics in parenting theory and teach students how to best support parents.

Infant, Child, and Adolescent Development

Many programs will offer courses that delve into development across the lifespan. These courses will provide an in-depth analysis of the different stages of child development.

Cultural Perspective

While each program will have a different name for this course, such as Cultural Perspectives in Working with Children and Families, or Culture, Learning and the Young Child, nearly all programs will have a class on cultural diversity and perspective. These courses analyze the effects of culture on child development.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Bachelor's in Child Development?

Typically, it takes full-time students about four years to obtain a bachelor's degree in child development. However, the suggested four years may be longer or shorter depending on many factors, such as the number of credits taken each semester. If students enter into a child development degree program with qualifying high school credits, an associate degree, or transfer credits from another university, the bachelor's degree may take less than four years. Students may also have the option to take summer courses to speed up the time it takes to complete the degree or to compensate for attending classes part-time.

How to Choose a Bachelor's in Child Development Program

Once prospective students have made the decision to attend a child development bachelor's program, they are faced with the daunting task of choosing a program. Luckily, many schools offer this degree in various formats. Students must first decide whether an online or in-person program bests suits their learning style. While online schools offer flexibility, on-campus programs may be better for some students' learning styles. After deciding the format that they prefer, learners should compare the cost, length, and location of different programs. While tuition is bound to be the largest cost of the program, books, room and board, and school supplies will also cost money. Students should also decide if they are willing to relocate for a program or if they would prefer to stay local.

Aspiring child development students should be mindful of their program's accreditation. Accredited programs follow nationally set standards and are more likely to provide financial aid. While it may not be crucial immediately, learners should also begin thinking about the career they wish to pursue after obtaining their degree. Programs will offer different areas of concentration, so students should begin thinking about their career goals. Once students have these factors in mind and have chosen programs to apply to, they should contact current students, faculty, and admissions counselors to answer any questions about the program.

Accreditation for Bachelor's in Child Development Degrees

Accreditation is important for students interested in child development programs. Accredited programs are guaranteed to have nationally approved course content and follow guidelines set by regional and institutional agencies. Additionally, accredited programs are also guaranteed to have options for financial aid and will meet certification requirements. When searching for programs, students should look for programs that are accredited regionally, but also keep in mind programs that are accredited by institutions will adhere to career-specific standards.

The Council for Higher Education (CHEA) oversees regional accreditation, and students can visit the U.S. Department of Education's website for more detailed information on accreditation of certain regions. Depending on the career path chosen, students will want to look for institutionally accredited programs. For example, students who choose to study child development and education should look for accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and students pursuing careers in social work should look for programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). These organizations monitor programs and ensure that they offer course material that best prepares students for their careers.

Child Development Licensure & Certification

Licensure and certification will depend on the specific career. Whether students choose to become teachers, social workers, or child life specialists, an entry-level job will require at least a bachelor's degree. Further, teachers and clinical social workers must be licensed by the state and often need to have completed a supervised internship and have a passing score on a state exam. Childcare workers may also be required to get their Child Development Associate (CDA) credential from the Council for Professional Recognition. Additionally, those interested in child development may be interested in obtaining their cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid certifications. Many states also offer training and professional development to maintain licensure. Because the requirements for certification vary across different disciplines, students should make sure to research the requirements for their chosen careers.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor's Degree in Child Development?

There are many different career options for students with degrees in child development. Depending on the career path, students may choose from a wide variety of professional settings. Students who are interested in education may work in a school or childcare center as a special education teacher or as a child development teacher. Educators design curriculum and instruct children in math, reading, social studies, and science. While students who become a child development teacher specifically work with children under 5, special education teachers may work with children of all ages. Special education teachers adapt general education curriculum for children diagnosed with physical, mental, learning, and emotional disabilities. Students may also choose a career as a social worker and work in government agencies, such as child welfare and human services. Social workers work with children and their families to connect them with government services.

Occupation Childcare Worker Child Development Teacher Social Worker Special Education Teacher
Degree Level High School Associate Bachelor's Bachelor's
2019 Median Pay $24,230 $30,520 $50,470 $61,030
2019-2029 Job Outlook Increase 2% Increase 2% Increase 13% Increase 3%

Source: BLS

How to Become a Child Life Specialist

Students with a bachelor's degree in child development may pursue a career as a child life specialist and support children who undergo medical procedures. They are trained to understand the developmental impact that illness and injury have on the individual. Students who choose a career as a child life specialist will be prepared to help children and their families cope with the diagnosis of a chronic illness. They may also work with children who have had a severe injury, trauma, or have been recently diagnosed with a disability. Child life specialists require at least a bachelor's degree but are recommended to become certified by the Association of Child Life Specialists. To become certified, students need to complete the required coursework and a supervised internship. According to, child life specialists make a median salary of $54,235, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected job growth between 2016 and 2026 is 7%.

How to Become a Child Development Specialist

Child development specialists work with children and their families to design and implement therapeutic practices. Additionally, child development specialists use their expertise to evaluate the level of a child's language, motor, cognitive, and social skills. They work in a wide variety of settings, such as childcare centers, hospitals, and clinics. To become a child development specialist, students should begin by pursuing a bachelor's degree in psychology or child development. Child development specialists may also need a master's or doctoral level degree to attain certain roles. BLS does not have specific data on child development specialists, but does have information on psychologists, which is a similar profession. The 2019 median salary for psychologists as a whole was $80,370 and the projected job growth from 2019 to 2029 is 3%.

Financial Aid & Scholarship Information for Bachelor's in Child Development Degrees

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the application that students complete to receive financial aid from the federal and state government. Financial aid can cover the expenses of tuition, school fees, room and board, textbooks, school supplies, and transportation. Additionally, financial aid may even cover related expenses, such as childcare and a laptop. Scholarships, grants, work-study, and loans are all types of financial aid options.


Scholarships are often rewarded based on need or achievements. They can be offered by schools, employers, nonprofits, communities, religious groups, an individual, or an organization. Scholarships may also target specific groups of people, such as first-generation college students or veterans. Those pursuing a degree in child development may be able to find relevant scholarships online or through a school's financial aid office.


Grants are need-based do not need to be repaid. Pell Grants are specific types of grants awarded to students who have not received a bachelor's, graduate, or another professional degree. They do not need to be repaid and can be applied for by filling out the FAFSA form.


Work-study is offered as a job within the school to help the student make money while in school.


Loans are money that is borrowed and must be repaid upon the conclusion of a program. Students will need to repay the loans as well as the interest that accrues over time. There are three types of loans: subsidized loans are loans that do not acquire interest until after the student has graduated or left their degree program; unsubsidized loans are loans that begin accruing interest immediately after they have been disbursed, and private loans are loans that students can apply for and receive outside of the federal and state governments.

Professional Organizations in Child Development

Regardless of the chosen career path, there are many professional organizations that students can join. Professional organizations in child development fields offer benefits to their members and are an excellent way for new professionals to network. Some organizations have annual meetings, free resources, journals, and even job postings. There are many organizations that students with bachelor's degrees in child development may join:

Association of Child Life Professionals

The Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP) is a nonprofit that was established in 1982 to advance the field of child life specialists and maintain the standards of child life practice. The ACLP has over 5,000 members and represents about 600 different organizations around the world. Professionals who become members of the ACLP have the capability to become certified under the organization. Members also get discounts on the annual conference, access to webinars, a subscription to their newsletter, and become eligible to participate in their mentorship program.

National Association of Social Workers

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) was founded in 1955 and has over 120,000 members worldwide. The purpose of the NASW is to advance the social work profession and uphold professional standards. This organization also works to promote the contributions of social workers and aims to create change by affecting public policy. Members of the NASW have the opportunity to participate in professional development, gain access to resources, receive their monthly journal, and help advocate for their profession.

National Association for the Education of Young Children

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is an organization that promotes quality education for children birth to age 8. The mission of the NAEYC is to connect educators with the best practices and leading research in the education of young children. Members of NAEYC receive digital articles, online courses, and discounts on insurance.

Council for Exceptional Children

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) specializes in the education of students who have been diagnosed with a disability. Aspiring educators should join this organization to learn the best practices in educating exceptional students. Students, student teachers, and practicing educators are all eligible to join this organization to gain access to books, resources, professional development, and insurance discounts.

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