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Graduate programs in Early Childhood Education (ECE) are designed to train educators for work in preschool, kindergarten, and primary school settings. While pursuing a Master of Arts or Master of Science in ECE, students will gain a theoretical and practical understanding of the ways children develop, study the attributes and pedagogy specific to young children, learn strategies to optimize children's learning, and learn how to communicate with parents, colleagues, and other members of the school community.

Most programs approach ECE from a variety of vantage points. Coursework typically covers classroom instruction, curriculum development, and administration, as well as the basics of psychological, sociological, and cultural development of a child. In addition, research and field experience are key components to any graduate program. In a research course, students might study toddlers or children's playing habits. As interns, students might observe classroom environments, assistant teach, or work as advisors to new teachers, program administrators, undergraduate course instructors, child advocates and policy makers.

All ECE programs will include some of all the aforementioned material; however, they vary greatly in terms of philosophy, mission, and educational emphasis. While some programs are extremely research based, others focus on teaching methodology or administration. It is important to find a program whose educational mission is right for you. In addition, some schools offer specialty programs that compliment the ECE degree, such as English as a Second Language training, or the ability to complete coursework for a state teaching credential at the same time you are pursuing a MA/MS.

Programs usually require students to hold a teaching certificate prior to enrollment and most candidates have prior teaching experience. A graduate program in ECE is a required step for many educators, as many states require each teacher to earn a master’s degree.

Degree Information

Depending on the program, students may earn the Masters of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) in Early Childhood Education or the Master of Arts (M.A.) in Early Childhood Education after two years of graduate level study. These programs are usually designed for current or future teachers looking to specialize in care and education of the young. Some programs offer the Master of Science (M.S.) in Early Childhood Education. M.S. programs are the same length as M.A. programs but generally include more coursework in child development, human development, and family science. M.S. students are usually required to submit a research-based master's thesis in order to graduate.

Ph.D. programs in Early Childhood Education are designed for educators interested in research or teacher education, or in becoming master teachers, curriculum specialists, school directors and administrators. Doctoral students generally focus their studies on a specific area of development or research. While it is possible to earn a doctoral degree part-time, most students choose to complete their programs full-time since the doctoral program is substantially longer (by about 60 credits) than a master’s program.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • What is the program's educational mission or focus?
  • Does the core curriculum focus on teaching methods, administration, research, child development or sociology?
  • Does the school offer coursework and training in alternative teaching methodologies in addition to traditional methods?
  • How does the school integrate theory and practice?
  • Where is the school located? Where do most students get their field experience? What types of students will you be exposed to? Are there any schools or facilities affiliated with the program?
  • Can you take courses pursuant to a state teaching credential while enrolled in the master's program?

Career Overview

In addition to teaching in a preschool, kindergarten, or primary school, graduates of an M.A./M.S. program may work as teacher trainers, conducting classes and seminars for other teachers about classroom instruction. They may also work as curriculum developers, making important decisions about what children learn in the classroom and determining what level of skill must be demonstrated for a student to advance to the next grade level. Some graduates also go on to be school directors or administrators, overseeing all aspects of running a school or schools, from hiring to overseeing classroom instruction.

Ph.D. graduates may go on to work as educational researchers, investigating methods of tracking educational trends and movements, and developing new, more effective ways of educating children. They are also commonly employed as child development specialists, assessing child development and growth. These specialists may serve as counselors or behavioral monitors, and may work in a clinical or school setting.

Career/Licensing Requirements

Students who are pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education and plan to teach in a public school must also obtain a state teaching credential. Most ECE programs offer the option of completing course requirements for a teaching credential while enrolled in an M.A./M.S. program. In addition to meeting education requirements through the program, teachers must also pass their state's Teacher Certification Exam before they can be employed in a public school, though some states may allow a qualified applicant to teach with a provisional certification in some cases.

Salary Information

Graduates of a master’s program can expect to start at a salary of approximately $35,000, though the exact amount will vary based on geographic location, the school in which the graduate is working, and the graduate’s experience.

Related Links

National Association of State Boards of Education
The National Association of State Boards of Education will help you find information about state-specific school districts including links about certification requirements, teaching standards, and a section on early childhood education.

National Board of Professional Teaching Standards
The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards has information on National Board Certification, national teaching standards, and universities to which you may be applying.


  • Human Development

  • Curricular Activities

  • Developmental Assessment Of The Young Child

  • Evaluative Procedures

  • Foundations Of Reading Development

  • Helping Young Children In Crisis Through

  • History Of American Education

  • Infant/Toddler Research

  • Internship/Field Work* *Internships Are Required For Both Master And Doctoral Programs. Internships Typically Encompass Hands-On Fieldwork, Clinical Research, And Classroom Assignments.

  • Modern Practices In Early Childhood

  • Philosophy Of Education

  • Play And Human Development

  • Preschool And Kindergarten Methods

  • Research In Early Childhood

  • Social And Emotional Development

  • Social Foundations Of Education: An Introduction

  • Sociology Of Education Trends And Issues

  • Specialized Electives

  • Teacher-Parent Partnerships

  • Theories And Issues In Early Childhood

  • Thesis

  • Young Children's Thinking