Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs

A PhD in early childhood education program teaches how to design and improve educational support systems for pre-kindergarten children. Courses will initially cover topics in child development so that you may better understand students’ educational needs. At the same time, classes may explore effective ways to conduct and analyze research. Then, during your dissertation, you could combine these skills and knowledge to complete your own research in the hopes of advancing early childhood education as a field.

Potential PhD in Early Childhood Education Courses

Early childhood education doctoral programs are designed to prepare students to take young children's emotional, social, physical, and cognitive abilities into consideration inside the classroom. However unlike bachelors and masters degrees in the field, doctorate in early childhood education programs focus less on teaching and more on taking a leadership role. Therefore, classes cover how to design curriculum and enforce policy that could positively affect students from birth until kindergarten. Courses could include some of the following.

  • Social & Emotional Child Development
  • Family Learning
  • Parent Child Interaction
  • Working with At-Risk Children
  • Childhood Literacy
  • Early Childhood Education Issues

This is just a sample of potential courses. Programs vary so check out a few class lists to find one that might meet your needs.

Research Courses While Earning a PhD in Early Childhood Education

Besides learning about children’s behavior, students may also be encouraged to conduct their own research and contribute to the field. To help students develop the skills and knowledge to do this, programs may offer research courses. For example, students could take some of the following classes.

  • Qualitative Research
  • Research Design and Analysis
  • Connecting Education Research to Practice
  • Program Evaluation
  • Education Research Methods

These topics could expand your research abilities and expose you to new methods. This may prove helpful as you conduct your dissertation, and as you pursue your career. Course offerings may differ by school. Be sure to speak with your school’s education department for more information.

Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Dissertation

Most early childhood education PhD programs require students to complete a dissertation before graduating. This may require students to conduct original educational research to address an obstacle in early childhood education.

For example, students may design a new curriculum that could potentially enhance pre-K classroom performance. Then, they could test their hypothesis using their new doctoral skills and knowledge to evaluate how effective their new curriculum was.

To complete this part of the degree program, students may be required to present their findings to the department faculty. Dissertations requirements vary by program.

Applying to Early Childhood Education PhD Programs

Since the PhD in early education program teaches advanced topics in the field, admissions requirements may ask for previous experience. Usually, programs require students to have earned a masters in early childhood education or a masters degree in a related field.

In addition, programs may require students to submit a 3.5 GPA as well as GRE or GMAT scores. Many schools may also require interviews with perspective students. The interview could be a chance for you to speak with department faculty members for the first time. And, it’s also an opportunity for the department to assess your academic goals like possible future research interests.  

Admission requirements may vary by school. Be sure to speak with potential schools for more details.

How Long is an Early Childhood Education Doctorate Program?

Earning your PhD in early childhood education could be a lengthier process due to its curriculum and dissertation requirement. Generally, programs require students to complete 60 to 80 credit hours of classes to apply for graduation. Depending on enrollment, students could therefore potentially earn a doctorate in early childhood education in 4 years. Program length may vary by school.

Early Childhood Education vs. Elementary Education Programs

For many, early childhood education and elementary education programs may sound like they cover the same material. But, the programs aim to address the needs of two different student age groups. Early childhood education courses are designed to teach techniques for working with students ages 5 or younger. Elementary education, on the other hand, focuses on methods to assist students from kindergarten to 5th or 6th grade.

Early Childhood Education PhD Program Types

There are a few ways to earn your doctorate in early childhood education degree. Which one you prefer may depend on your personal lifestyle and academic research goals. Below are a few options. Please be aware the program may differ by school.

On Campus Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs

Students may be familiar with campus PhD in early childhood education programs. These programs are conducted inside the physical classroom at set class times. This experience could be a great opportunity for students who want to jump into research earlier than their classes may schedule. Professors on campus may require student aids to help them with their own research. By being on campus, you could work alongside your professor to assist them.

Online Early Childhood Education PhD Programs

Online early childhood education PhD programs may be ideal for current educators looking to enhance their career. Teachers may be unable to attend typical class times. But with the online program, students might be able to log into their courses as their time allows. Additionally, students may have access to many of the same materials you could find on campus. For example, schools may make education research databases available to their online students.

Hybrid Early Childhood Education Doctoral Programs

Hybrid early childhood education doctoral programs are usually offered for students who want to the convenience of online classes but also want to conduct research on campus. While you may complete your classes online, you could also collect data, run experiments, or work with advisors at school facilities. Typically, the research portion of this program takes place during semesters you’re working on your dissertation. This program may have a low commitment to being on campus, making it another great choice for current professionals.

What Could I Do with a PhD in Early Childhood Education?

As mentioned above, early childhood education doctoral programs focus on teaching techniques that could be used in educational leadership positions. With this knowledge, you could potentially pursue some of the following careers. Also listed are their 2015 median salary.

  • Education Director, $38,780i
  • Education Administrator, $45,670ii

These positions typically require a bachelors degree for entry-level roles. But, employers may look for advanced, graduate coursework. A PhD in early childhood education may demonstrate more in-depth knowledge of childhood development and curriculum creation.

The advanced knowledge might also help you pursue a postsecondary teaching career. These positions typically require applicants to have earned a doctoral degree in their intended field.iii In 2015, postsecondary teachers earned a median salary of $72,470. And, the amount of available positions in the field are projected to possibly grow by 13% from 2014 to 2024.

Next Steps Towards a PhD in Early Childhood Education

Earning a PhD in early childhood education could help you make changes to how younger students receive their education. To begin your search for a perfect program, browse the list of programs on this page. Clicking a program’s link provides you with a brief description about it. While you’re there, you could also request more information. This could provide you with important information like admissions deadlines, course descriptions, and more. It could also be a great way to get in touch with admission advisors to help you on your journey. Good luck!


[i] onetonline.org/link/summary/21-2021.00 | [ii] onetonline.org/link/summary/11-9031.00 | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm

Find Schools