Hack College Presents: How to Earn Your Degree in Early Childhood Development

early childhood education

If you earned your weekly allowance by babysitting siblings, their friends, the neighbor’s kids — sometimes everyone at once — and have fond memories of the experience to this day, you may posses the makings for a career in early childhood development.

Students who decide to embark on a career in this field can take their studies in numerous directions. Some individuals want to work with children in a childcare setting, while others plan to work with children in a clinical psychology setting. As an academic field, early childhood development can be approached from an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree level. Moreover, some of the programs you will come across offer studies in childhood development from infancy to adolescence, while others offer specializations.

This career guide aims to give you a general overview of careers in early childhood development, how to find the right program for you, and to give you a few tips on how to prepare for the job search.

Part I. The Early Childhood Development Industry

The developmental phase known as early childhood relates to the stages of growth from infancy to adolescence. During this these phases, children change at what seems like lightening speed. They undergo physical, cognitive, and social transformations. In correlation with their steady growth, children’s needs change. But you will learn all about these developmental processes when you enroll in your ideal academic program!

Generally speaking, graduates of quality childcare programs will have little trouble finding employment after graduation. Some careers are seeing greater growth in response to an increasing demand for more childcare programs than others, but all in all, prospects look great.

An Overview of Early Childhood Development Careers

  • Childcare Workers: A typical day on the job for a childcare worker entails routine tasks like food and snack preparation, diaper changing, and scheduling playtime and naptime. Perhaps less common for childcare workers is job of informing parents of children who have demonstrated possible emotional or developmental problems. Workers may not see signs of developmental issues on a daily basis, but they need to monitor children to ensure that special needs can be met. For this reason, childcare workers keep records of children’s interests, progress, and routines. Though only a high school diploma is needed for employment in this field, some states require childcare workers to obtain a nationally recognized certification, such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) certification administered by the Council for Professional Recognition.
  • Preschool or Childcare Center Director: While childcare workers spend their day interacting with children, preschool and childcare center directors oversee all details of the program. Directors supervise their employees, and assess the activities and routines implemented by them to ensure that the program runs smoothly. They regularly meet with parents to discuss their child’s progress, plan budgets, and make certain that the center is well maintained and cleaned. In short, preschool and childcare center directors are the bosses! Because this roles requires managerial expertise, experience and education are important. As with childcare workers, directors may need to acquire the Child Care Professional (CCP) certificate through the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation.
  • Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: Most of us have a pretty good idea what kindergarten and elementary school teachers do at work, though only from our former perspective as students. We knew them as superstars, villians, or strange people who didn’t exist beyond the classroom. However, teachers’ responsibilities are many and the work hours long. They plan curriculum, meet with parents, instruct and advise students, all the while assessing their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. If you still look to the wisdom of your favorite, inspirational teacher and are eager to fill that role for young students, this may be the career for you.
  • Clinical Psychologist in Early Childhood Development: Highly driven students who dream of becoming clinical psychologists should know that the road is arduous, long, and rewarding for those who have the motivation necessary to attaining the doctorate. Individuals considering this career are usually already well-informed about what it takes, what psychologists do, and the demand for these professionals. But not everyone does, and some students may seek this degree later in life, after they have worked in childhood care, or in the course of their undergraduate education. In sum, a child psychologist assesses and treats a spectrum of range of interrelated psychological social, and biological problems that may arise during childhood development.

Career and Salary Outlook

As you can expect from the wide range of careers within the discipline and corresponding variety of educational requirements, salaries for professionals in the field differ considerably. Education is more important than experience when it comes to making a high salary in this field. In other words, childcare workers with decades of experience will never make as much money as clinical psychologists.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that in 2010, the median salary for childcare workers was $19,300 annually. In contrast, clinical psychologists earned a median wage of $68,640 in the same year. Still, wage increase does correlate with experience for any occupation.

Rest assured, as long as people proliferate, there will be a demand for childcare services. Of course, the reasons for growth in the industry are more complicated. Employment for childcare workers is projected to increase as the number of children in the age group is growing. Interestingly, the United States Census Bureau reports that by 2060, the nation’s population growth will have slowed. Still, there are many factors at play. Parents continue to work long hours and turn to childcare programs for support.

Likewise, the employment rate of kindergarten and elementary school teachers is expected, due in part to the fact that between 2010 to 2020, according to BLS, the nation will see declines in student–teacher ratios and increases in enrollment. Furthermore, students considering the doctorate in psychology can look forward to great career prospects as more attention is turned toward developmental and mental health issues in children and young adults.

On a side note, government support for childcare programs is likely to be cut due to recent developments due to the sequester. Reservation schools, for example, are already feeling the impact. It’s a good idea to keep informed on the impacts of the sequester, but remember to take it all in perspective.

Part II. Top U.S. Early Childhood Development Programs

If you’ve begun to conduct your own research, you’ve probably discovered that the number of online and offline programs in early childhood development is a bit overwhelming. It can be quite difficult to decipher high quality from the lesser quality programs. Factors such as accreditation and admissions requirements vary considerably among schools. With a closer look at some of the best programs out there, you should feel a bit more prepared to begin the application process.

Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)

Founded in 1873, Vanderbilt is a private, independent research university of approximately 12,000 students. Its 330-acre campus is located in the University Center section of Nashville.

The university comprises 10 schools, a distinguished medical center, a public policy center and The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, a forum for dialogue about First Amendment issues. The Peabody College of Education Early Childhood nationally-renowned program prepares students for work in nursery school, preschools, and elementary school.

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC)
  • Specialized Degrees: Bachelor’s in Early Childhood; Doctorate in Early Childhood Special Education, and Psychological Sciences (Developmental Science); M.Ed. in Child Studies
  • Industry Perception: Vanderbilt is ranked #1 of the Best Education Schools by the 2013 U.S. News & World Report. Only 16% of 24,837 applicants are admitted
  • Cost: Cost of attendance for undergraduates is $60,000 for one academic year
  • Financial Aid: Vanderbilt offers need-based grants and merit-based scholarships to its undergraduates. The university also participates in state and federal financial aid programs.

The University of Texas (Austin, TX)

The University of Texas (UT) in Austin was founded in 1883 as a public, comprehensive institution. The 307-foot tall UT Austin Tower catches visitors’ attention and serves as a symbol landmark that is said to denote academic excellence. UT boasts one of the most diverse student populations in the nation.

  • Accreditation: Accredited by SACSCOC
  • Specialized Degrees: Undergraduate degrees in Early Childhood – 6th Grade Bilingual Generalist, Early Childhood – 6th Grade, Youth and Community Studies; doctorate degree in Early Education
  • Industry Perception: U.S. News & World Report has ranked UT’s College of Education #4 among public university graduate education in 2013 The Princeton Review named UT one of the nation’s Best Value Colleges for 2012.
  • Cost: $5,000 per semester for residents, $16,000 for non-residents
  • Financial Aid: UT students are eligible for federal and state aid. Students are encouraged to visit TexasScholarships.org for scholarships specific to the university.

The University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK)

The University of Oklahoma (OU) lies on a 3,200-acre campus about 20 minutes south of Oklahoma City. The public university enrolls more than 30,000 students, and is #1 in the number of National Merit Scholars per capita among public universities. OU’s Early Childhood Education program prepares students for success by giving them hands-on opportunities and theoretical education. The first course new students take requires that they complete a minimum of 100 hours tutoring and observing in local elementary schools.

  • Accreditation: The Early Childhood Education program is accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education as well as the National Association for the Education of Young Children
  • Industry Perception: The Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education at The University of Oklahoma is ranked in the top 10 percent of all graduate colleges of education by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Specialized Degrees: Bachelor of Science in Education degree with the following concentrations: Early Childhood concentration, Special Education, Early Childhood: Birth through Third Grade (Tulsa only), and Elementary Education.
  • Cost: Non-resident undergraduate student tuition for 2012-2013 was $20,342.50; residents of the same year paid $8,705.50
  • Financial Aid: OU supports students with federal, state and institutional financial aid programs

The University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

The University of Florida (UF) is a public university that was founded in 1853 as a small seminary on a 2,000-acre campus. Today, UF comprises 16 colleges and more than 150 research centers and institutes, and has no fewer than 32,598 undergraduate students. UF is an NCAA Division I institution and is home the Gator football team. The university is highly competitive; in 2012 only 44% of 27,419 applicants were admitted.

  • Accreditation: The College of Education is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education; UF is accredited by SACSCOC
  • Specialized Degrees: Undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education (with Teacher Certification Program); Master of Arts in education, Early Childhood Studies concentration; and Doctorates in School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies
  • Industry Perception: UF’s College of Education was ranked #40 by U.S. News & World Report for 2013.
  • Cost: Price of attendance for n-state students is $20,843, and $43,120 for out-of-state
  • Financial Aid: UF offers grants, scholarships, loans, and part-time employment.

Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)

Arizona State University (ASU) is a public, comprehensive university founded in 1885. ASU’s multiple campus locations are located in the greater Phoenix metro area. Its 716-acre main campus is located near downtown Tempe, but the size for all campuses combined is 1,966 acres. Currently, there are 72,254 enrolled students, both graduate and undergraduate. ASU’s 2013 mission is to become a model for what they call, the “New American University,” a community-focused education that will benefit the public.

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the North Central Association Higher Learning Commission
  • Specialized Degrees: Bachelor of Arts in Education degrees for Early Childhood, and Early Childhood Special Education; and Education for Educational Studies. Master of Education (with certification) in Early Childhood Education, and Special Education (with certification)
  • Industry Perception: ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has been ranked #24 by U.S. News & World Report of the best education schools in 2013
  • Financial Aid: ASU offers merit-based scholarships, as well as federal and state aid
  • Cost: Undergraduate tuition costs vary according to campus location. The following costs are for the Tempe campus only: $23,958 for undergraduate residents, $37,211 for nonresidents; $28,923 for graduate residents, $37,336 for nonresidents

University of Missouri (Columbia, MO)

The University of Missouri (MU), also known as “Mizzou,” is public, comprehensive institution. MU was founded in 1839, and is known as the first public university west of the Mississippi River and first state university in Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase territory. But MU has more than rich history. It is one of 34 public universities selected for membership in the Association of American Universities. The university’s 1,377-acre campus is located in Columbia, 33 miles north of Jefferson City.

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Specialized Degrees: Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education (with certification), Doctorate in Early Education
  • Industry Perception: The MU College of Education is consistently ranked among the top colleges of education in the nation. In 2013, MU’s College of Education was ranked #51 among universities offering doctoral degrees by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Financial Aid: Funding is available through MU scholarships, federal and state loans, graduate assistantships, and fellowships
  • Cost: Price of attendance is $22,296 for residents, $35,464 for non-residents

Part III. Launching a Career in Early Childhood Development

If you’ve been considering going into early childhood development, then you don’t need encouragement to begin working toward the first step: liking children. That should go without saying. But what students do need to know is what employers look for in employees, how to become eligible for certification, and where to start your careers search.

Where to Start

Any kind of job or volunteer position that gives you experience working with children will be of benefit to you as you begin your career in early childhood development. Your may profit from working at summer and youth camps, reading to children at a local library, or even volunteering as a baby cuddler. Students looking to achieve the doctorate in childhood development should meet with a college career counselor. These professionals can assist you in outlining an academic plan that will ensure you meet the requirements for entering graduate programs. Already established graduate students know what they need to do: research, publish, and apply for grants and internships.

Certifications: As outlined earlier in this career guide, most states require that workers early childhood development are certified. Regulations vary according to state and occupation, so be sure to do some research. You may find it advantageous to look for academic programs like one at Mizzou that specifically prepares its students for both a degree and certification.

Experience: In addition to education and certification, experience is invaluable for students who want to enter the field. In fact, professionals need experience to be certified. For example, early childhood educators looking to become CDA certified need to have 480 hours of experience working with children within the past five years, and 120 clock hours of formal childcare education within the past five years among other eligibility requirements.

Advice from Childhood Development Experts

  1. How one handles success or failure is determined by their early childhood. – Harold Ramis
  2. Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world. – Maria Montessori
  3. If you’re going to equalize the academic playing field, you’ve got to get the kids in early childhood programs. – Paul Vallas

Hopefully this guide has given you some motivation, ideas on how to find the best program for you, and some clarity on the many career opportunities in the field. Your academic experience is sure to be challenging, but remember to have fun too! That’s a lesson every child can help you remember.