Graduate Early Childhood Education Degrees
What is a Master’s in Early Childhood Education?
A Masters in Early Childhood Education (ECE) studies how to teach infants to age eight. It often looks at how young minds learn, grow, gain language and social skills.
You may earn a master's degree in ECE even if your background isn't teaching. There are programs for current and pre-service teachers and administrators.
written by Rana Waxman
What Can I do with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education?
It's a unique time to pursue a master's degree in early childhood education. There are two reasons that make this so. One is opportunity. The other earning potential.
About opportunity. You’ll often need a master’s degree if you want to teach kindergarten or elementary school. In such roles, you’ll design age appropriate lessons. Ones that may help young children learn reading, writing and basic math.
If you'd like to make a positive impact this way, many of the current teachers are about to hit retirement. Per BLS.gov, over a 100,000 new kindergarten and elementary school teacher jobs are on the horizon to 2016.
For preschool teachers, expect over 50,000 new jobs as the number of children below the age of 5 increases. Here, you’ll help children learn through play and storytelling. Or, you may want to put your business skills to use by running a preschool or childcare center. Employment in this field is growing faster than average (11 percent) to 2026.
What if you've already been teaching preschool to grade 2 or 3? Another option is to pursue a leadership role. Elementary principals often start as teachers before taking the reins of a school. Jobs are also predicted in this field. The BLS.gov projects 8 percent growth to 2016.
On earning potential. Data shows that a master's degree may help in the field of education. One study looked at the average salaries of administrators and EC teachers. Then compared them for people with a bachelor's degree or a master's degree. They found a wage gap of between 28 and 44 percent. Let's look.
- Education Administrators with master’s degree: annual salary premium = $23,000 (44 percent higher than those with bachelor’s degree)
- Preschool and Kindergarten Teachers with master’s degree: annual salary premium = $13,000 (43 percent higher than those with bachelor’s degree)
- Elementary School Teachers with master’s degree: annual salary premium = $11,900 (28 percent higher than those with bachelor’s degree)
What Kind of Degree Do You Need for Early Childhood Education?
To teach young children, you may need a degree in ECE or child development to get started. You'll also likely need a license and certification.
Since each state sets its own rules for educators, checking what these are before you begin is wise. In some, teachers must complete a master's degree after they have a license and job. In others, a bachelor's degree and state-issued license may be enough.
If you didn't earn a bachelor's degree in the field, there are ECE master's programs to help you out. These programs often include teacher education, a requisite of licensure.
What Jobs Can You Get with a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education?
It comes as no surprise that early education jobs often need a high level of expertise.
Before the age of eight, the brain develops faster than at any other time. It is then that one forms social, cognitive and motor skills. Not to mention, self-esteem and moral outlook.
Pursuing a master’s degree in ECE may ready you for unique jobs within this growing field. There are over 5.05 million people in the early childhood education and teaching fields.
Of these, 41.8 percent have a master’s degree. Some work behind the scenes running schools, centers, districts and programs. Others are classroom teachers. For the following seven careers, it may be helpful (or required) to have a master’s degree in ECE.
- Preschool and Childcare Directors
- Elementary School Principals
- School Superintendent
- Education Specialist
- Kindergarten Teachers
- Elementary Teachers
- Community College ECE Teacher
Preschool and Childcare Directors
Unlike daycare centers, preschools are a child's first formal place of learning. Classrooms are often interactive, full of art, number tables and children's books. Preschool and childcare center directors are the ones who oversee and lead staff. It is their duty to plan programs, daily activities and budgets.
Some centers such as Head Start programs receive state and federal funds. As such, administrators make sure programs, staff, and facilities meet guides. There are also many private centers. In fact, industry experts say that 4 to 8 percent of employers offer on-site child care as a benefit.
Elementary School Principals
If taking charge is your endgame, there are other potential jobs. Elementary school principals interact with students, parents and policymakers. Many begin as elementary school teachers for several years first. Then may spend some time as assistant principal.
From there, some may reach for a higher level of leadership. School superintendents manage school districts (like CEOs). They report to local elected school boards. Their job is to apply policy, hire and oversee staff as well as keep a finger on the pulse of finances.
Others may craft school lesson plans and oversee teaching standards. Per BLS.gov 41 % of education specialists work in elementary and secondary schools.
Kindergarten and Elementary Teachers
Another way to put your understanding of early childhood to use is in the classroom. The most obvious paths are to teach kindergarten or grades 1 to 3. Teachers in these fields are responsible for impressionable young brains.
Community College ECE Teacher
Yet, helping new teachers adopt nurturing qualities is also a potential avenue. Some community colleges may also hire those with a master’s degree to teach ECE to incoming students.
Early Education Employment and Salary
Preschool and Childcare Center Administrators
Kindergarten Teachers (Except Special Education)
Elementary School Teachers (Except Special Education)
Education Administrators (Elementary School)
Top States for Employment: Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education
Annual Mean Wage
Top Metro Areas for Employment: Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education
Most kindergarten and elementary school teachers work a 10-month school year. Then have 2 months off in summer. Opportunities for kindergarten teachers vary by region and school setting. If you’re willing to teach in urban or rural school districts, there may be more job prospects.
Popular Early Childhood Education Master Degrees
Early Childhood Education degrees are reported by the National Center for Education Statistics under the category of Education.
In fact, in the most recent update of the data (2013), across the U.S, there were 13,960 degrees awarded to graduate students. The majority 99% of these programs were at the master’s level.
Master of Arts in Education/Child Development
This focus may help you gain a greater understanding of child development. It'll often explore the many influences on learning.
Specific topics may touch on the role of family and community engagement. Others may look at early learning and how to build a curriculum that suits children.
Master of Science in Early Childhood Studies/Teaching & Diversity
This focus may help you deepen your understanding of child development stages. You'll likely look at modern trends and theories as you learn how to foster learning and growth.
Other courses may look at specific special needs. You may thus study the impact of living in poverty and the effects of stress, violence, and trauma.
Master of Education in Early Childhood Education
This program may help you prepare young minds. It often stacks teacher preparation courses with topics in early childhood development. Studying infants through age eight, you'll often look at typical and atypical patterns. As such, a MEd may ready you to teach children across the learning spectrum.
Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction/Early Childhood Education
This focus may help teachers design curriculums for pre-K and the primary grades. You may become familiar with state standards.
Other topics may look at links between play and learning for young children. From there, your courses may branch out into lesson planning and how to make it playful and positive.
Education Specialist – Early Childhood Education
An EdS degree targets current educators who want to build skills and knowledge. It's a level of study beyond the master’s degree level but takes less time that a PhD or EdD.
A focus in early childhood will usually have you study growth and development. At the same time, you might look at research and assess how programs are working. Other themes may touch on how to manage programs and assess curricula.
PhD in Education – Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy
The PhD is a terminal research degree. Early childhood education leadership melds courses in development with administration. It may help build the knowledge and skills necessary to manage an EC facility.
You may also learn how to advocate for the needs of young children. This may mean looking at current policy. Expect to research and come up with new theory to foster social change.
Doctor of Education – Early Childhood Education
The Doctor of Education is a terminal degree for practitioners. It often helps build leadership skills. Whether you are a childhood teacher, teacher educator, researcher or policy maker.
Part of the program may take a deep dive into development. You may look at how family, culture, society and growth impact childhood learning.
Another part may look at case studies and research. These courses may help you build skills in analysis. You'll likely learn to measure programs for quality to see if they enable kids to thrive. Expect to research and problem solve to support and advocate for young children.
What is the Difference Between a Master of Education in Early Childhood Education or Master of Science (or Arts) in Early Childhood Education?
One may pursue either a MS, MA or MEd in Early Childhood Education (Birth to 8). While some courses may be similar there are key things that set these degrees apart. Such differences may show up in both in:
- Who the program is for (current teachers, pre-service teachers)
- The program goals (initial licensure, ECE certification, leadership)
Master of Science in Early Childhood Education (MS -ECE)
A MS in ECE often focuses on real world skills. It may suit elementary teachers who want to improve their methods. Many will already have an initial license (but not in ECE). They'll use the MS to work towards a second certification in ECE. Or, to move into leadership roles like teaching adults in the EC field.
You'll often study advanced educational theories, perform in-depth research and explore educational psychology. With its science focus, the courses often take a deep look at research and how to apply proven tactics.
Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education (MA-ECE)
A MA in ECE may focus on theoretical research. It may suit those who already have a bachelor's in ECE and want to hone expertise. For this reason, the MA is often a pathway to a research doctorate or PhD.
As such, the degree may feel academic. You'll likely study modern theories that support the ways young children learn. This may mean studying national trends, diversity, and family systems. Or - all the influences that affect the way infants, toddlers and young children learn and gain skills.
Another MA degree is the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree. These programs often focus on a specific content area like EC or ECE. These are often for the student who has a bachelor's degree in another subject. They may be a bit longer as they involve supervised teaching.
Master of Education in Early Childhood Education (MEd- ECE)
A MEd is often called a master's in education. Often there is less attention to subject-specific practical skills. Instead, a MEd may take a deep look at the practice of teaching. Along with this core, you may take extra courses in ECE. Or, you might look at how to design curriculums with young learners in mind.
As such, MEd students learn useful approaches to classroom instruction for children. They'll also investigate the theory and practice of teaching in a broader context.
Apart from courses, you'll likely be in for practice teaching. One may be in a birth through Pre-K setting. The other, in Kindergarten through third grade. Together, these may offer a non-teacher the path to pursue post-degree licensure.
Helpful hint – some universities (Grand Canyon is one) say ITL. This means the MEd targets initial teaching licensure prep.
Early Childhood Graduate Degree Guide
Master of Science
Master of Arts
Master of Education
Length of Program: about 2 years full-time or up to 7 part-time, 36 credits
Length of Program: 82 weeks, 36 credits
Length of Program: 1 to 2 years, 30 credits
This program is for persons who hold a valid elementary teaching license. It may ready graduates to pursue licensure for Birth through age 8 or Birth to K in Kansas State. The courses stress teaching methods for young persons with and without special needs.
This program offers a well-rounded teaching core with extra courses about the development of babies and preschool-aged children. While it does not prepare you for licensure, it may serve as a basis for other graduate work. In addition to classes, students may spend time on action research
This program may ready practicing and pre-service teachers to work with children birth to age 8. Students may also pursue Early Childhood certification (as an add-on or as an initial certification). Expect coursework, research and graduate field experience
Regional Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission.
Program accredited through the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
Regional Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
No specific program accreditation
Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Program accredited through National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
What Courses Are Needed for a Master’s in Early Childhood Degree?
At the master’s level an early childhood education degree program covers a wide range of topics. These often touch on three rather broad areas.
- Childhood development and learning
- Lesson planning and assessment
- Teaching tactics and class management
The type of degree you select (MA, MS or MEd) often impacts a syllabus. Teacher licensure tracks for instance often include an internship. Here you’ll practice teaching in a real preschool or K-8 classroom. Otherwise, you may conduct some research on your own.
Since ECE is a specific branch of education, expect to study development and how it ties to learning. These classes look at the period of time from birth through age eight.
These years are crucial as it is then we start to talk, think, feel, act and move. You'll often explore these issues to see how, as a teacher you could help nurture young minds.
Along the way, you may take courses that work on your style of communication. These may help you gain the skills to speak with families, colleagues and agencies.
Other classes may delve into teaching methods. How to create an inclusive classroom, manage a room of curious minds and plan lessons. If you're focusing on toddlers, you may also study play theory and the role of the family.
Within masters in early childhood education programs, you'll also find concentrations. We'll walk you through 3 common courses and several types of programs. See what interests you and what your goals are.
Into to Early Childhood Foundations
This type of class may cover a range of early childhood education theories. One example is the Montessori model. You'll often learn how to apply a specific theory in a real classroom. This involves understanding how to assess whether it is useful to children's growth.
Advanced Methods for Inclusive Early Childhood Education
This type of class looks at how to work with young children (birth to five) with special needs and their families. Some of the topics you may look at include IEPS/IFSPS. Others may look at teaching tactics, modern approaches, program models and more.
Management and Administration of Early Childhood Programs
This type of class may look at what you need to know and do to develop and manage an early childhood facility. It often helps you define your own ethical leadership style. You may also learn how to meet the needs of diverse children, families, and communities.
What Should I know About Accreditation for Early Childhood Education Degrees?
Education is a regulated field. As such, choosing an accredited ECE grad program is important. For one, your state teaching board may need to see where you earned your degree. Yet another is to make sure your program measures up to quality standards.
Two agencies who accredit early childhood education programs are the:
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
- Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education?
It may take two years of full-time study to earn a master's in early childhood education. Though the type of program and number of credits factor into how long you'll need. Most early childhood programs range from 30 to 39 credits.
Accelerated programs may help you complete the bulk of your courses online at your own pace. You may be also be able to reduce tuition and time to complete your degree with transfer credits.
Part-time programs may set limits (E.g. 4 years) but you'd be able to take your time.
# of Credits Required
Starts Per Year
Minimum Months to Complete
How Much Does It Cost to Get A Masters’ Degree in Early Childhood Education?
The average cost of a of a graduate degree from a public institution is $11,617 per year. This means you will be able to find programs both more affordable and more expensive than the average.
To give specific examples, this visualization shows graduate tuition costs of 4 institutions with Early Childhood Education Graduate Programs as reported by the NCES. We have then compared those costs to the typically most affordable and most expensive college options, also as reported by NCES.
What are the Costs per Credit for a Master’s in Early Childhood Education?
Cost per credit of course is different at every College or University. State Universities are also likely to have in state costs vs out of state costs. Below are a few examples of the cost per credit as reported by each one of these institutions.
# of Credits Required
Cost Per Credit
Total Tuition Cost
Grand Canyon University
Top 2 Early Childhood Education Programs
GCU offers a variety of M.A. and M.Ed. education programs designed for current educators looking to take the next step in their career. Earn your degree from an accredited non-profit university. No Application Fee!
Concordia University-PortlandMEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education
California State University, SacramentoEarly Childhood Education