Early Childhood Education Degree Programs: What are Your Options?

By Brian Jenkins

What types of early childhood education programs are available? Many colleges and universities offer accredited undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the subject. You may also have the option of obtaining a professional certificate at certain schools. Programs are available both on-campus and online. The preferred degree depends on your selected area of early childhood education. Let’s take a look at the various programs that are out there.

Early Childhood Education Certificate Program

These are short programs that introduce students to the basics of child development. The programs are designed for individuals seeking an entry-level assistant position at a preschool or a day care facility. Some schools also offer a certificate of Proficiency in Early Childhood Education.

Early Childhood Education Associate Degree Program

These programs cover a broader range of topics than do certificate programs. They include courses in childhood education as well as general liberal arts and science courses. Programs cover teaching methods for young children and child growth and development. Graduates are eligible for teaching positions at preschools and day care centers. Some schools provide an associate degree program with an emphasis on daycare.

Early Childhood Education Bachelor’s Degree Program

A bachelor’s degree is typically required for public school teachers. Students take liberal arts and science subjects before taking childhood education courses. Bachelor’s degree programs place an emphasis on elementary school instruction methods, classroom management skills, and literacy education. Some bachelor’s degree programs focus on infant and toddler development, whereas other programs focus on preschool-aged children.

Early Childhood Education Master’s Degree Program

The master’s degree is the typical requirement for positions as curriculum developers, childhood education administrators, and program directors. The degree is also obtained by teachers seeking to teach specialty areas like special education. Master’s degree programs cover childhood development and practical classroom teaching techniques. The programs also focus on research of child pedagogy. Students usually have the opportunity to specialize in an area of their choice.


The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides accreditation for high-quality associate degree programs that prepare early childhood educators. NAEYC sets the national standards for higher education programs for early childhood teacher preparation. The organization also provides accreditation for bachelor’s and graduate degree programs, as part of the accreditation system of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

You can visit the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education website and search for accredited early childhood education programs in your area.

Online schools

Numerous colleges and universities offer online undergraduate and graduate degree programs in early childhood education. If you think you might go this route, inquire if the schools your considering will help you find an externship at a preschool or daycare center.

Answers to these questions can help you choose a school:

  • School’s Reputation – Is the school recognized for its early childhood education programs?
  • Curriculum – If an area of specialization is desired, are there a substantial number of relevant classes available?
  • Job Placement – Are job placement services available?
  • Training – Does the program include an externship at a preschool or day care center?
  • Financial Aid – Is financial aid available? Is the school eligible to provide federal financial aid?
  • Accreditation – Is the school accredited by NAEYC or the NCATE?

Getting involved in early childhood education can be a very rewarding experience. If you’re seeking a degree, there are plenty of accredited early childhood education programs to choose from.

Brian Jenkins, a member of the BrainTrack.com writing team, writes about a variety of subjects related to higher education.