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Best Online Master’s Degrees in Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Best Online Master’s Degrees in Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Aspiring kindergarten teachers, preschool instructors, and early learning professionals earn important qualifications in a convenient, flexible online master’s in early childhood. Learn the ins and outs of an early childhood education program and see if it might be right for you.

The curiosity of a child is unquenchable. So many questions, so much awe and wonder. Unlocking the secrets to what makes young minds work—and sparking a love of learning that will last a lifetime—is at the heart of an early childhood master’s degree online.

Early childhood education (ECE) spans topics from introducing STEM concepts to the foundations of literacy to peer-to-peer relations. For those wishing to make a career in early childhood education, an online master’s degree equips you with the specialized knowledge the field calls for—from the comfort of your own home. Read on to learn more about master’s degrees in early childhood education online and find the one that’s right for you.

Program Spotlights: Early Childhood Education (ECE) Master’s Degrees Online

Early childhood education is a popular topic of study. You’ll find many job opportunities in the field, especially in states with shortages of teachers. While a large number of public and private schools offer online early childhood education master’s programs, they differ in the classes offered, opportunities for research and specialization, and more. You’ll also want to keep practical concerns in mind, such as the mode of delivery for the classes and if the program is fully online or hybrid. While only you can choose which master’s in early childhood education online program is the best, here are a few standout programs to consider:

Fordham University

Program details: Private, Jesuit-affiliated university with a campus in New York and online programs. Fordham’s online Master of Science in Teaching offers a variety of specializations, called track options, including both ECE and Early Childhood Special Education. Whichever track you choose, you’ll complete online classes plus two full-time student teaching experiences at a site convenient to you. After that, you’ll be ready to take licensure exams in the state of New York or in other states as well. Check with your state licensing board for details.

  • Admissions requirements: Applications accepted twice per year for summer or fall start dates; applicants must hold an accredited undergraduate degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher and, if applicable, a graduate GPA of 3.5 or higher.
  • Cost: $1,638/credit
  • Length of program: 36 credits, which take roughly two years of full-time study to complete
  • Accreditation status: The program is accredited by the Association of Childhood Education International. Fordham University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of North Dakota

Program details: The University of North Dakota has a fully online master’s program in early childhood education. In addition to traditional coursework, students complete 60 hours of practical experience in an early childhood setting within their community. Nonthesis students also conduct an independent research project or scholarly project, and thesis-track students complete and successfully defend a thesis.

  • Admissions requirements: Applications are accepted three times per year. Applicants must have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75, with a GPA of 3.0 for their junior or senior years. Prospective students also must submit a two- to three-page personal statement.
  • Cost: $547.10/credit, regardless of residency
  • Length of program: 32 credits, which take roughly two years to complete
  • Accreditation status: The program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation and follows the guidelines of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Clemson University

Program details: Clemson University, the flagship school for the South Carolina state university system, offers a fully online MEd in Teaching and Learning with four specialization areas, including a specialization in Experiential Learning for Early Childhood. Students in the ECE specialization focus on evidence-based curriculum design and educational technology in an early childhood setting. Licensed early childhood educators are particularly encouraged to apply.

  • Admissions requirements: Students can apply until May 15 each year or until specializations are at capacity. Applicants should have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, GRE or MAT scores, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and current work experience in a formal or informal educational setting.
  • Cost: $515/credit
  • Length of program 30 credits, which take roughly two years to complete
  • Accreditation status: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

What to Expect in Your Online Master’s Degree Program in ECE

Once you’ve begun your online early childhood education master’s degree online, you can expect a broad, diverse curriculum. You’ll be learning about early childhood development and the foundations of teaching, learning, and curriculum design with an early years slant. You may also touch on the basics of special education, literacy education, and early years STEM education.

In addition to your classroom studies you may be completing practical experiences, such as supervised teaching assistantships in an early childhood educational setting. With online programs, typically your school helps match you to a site local to you for the practical experience portion of your degree. You may also be completing a master’s thesis with an original research element, although even nonthesis early childhood education master’s degree online programs often require a final essay or other original research project.

While every program is different, there are some courses you’re likely to encounter as you pursue your master’s in early childhood education online, wherever you choose to study. These are a few examples.

Common Online Early Childhood Education (ECE) Courses

Foundations of Early Childhood Education

This introductory course will potentially be one of the very first you encounter in your online master’s degree in ECE. In this class, you will learn the fundamentals of early childhood education from varied perspectives on teaching and learning. In some programs, this course provides the beginnings of an ECE specialization in the context of a more general education degree, such as an MS or MEd in teaching or a related field.

Introduction to Child Development

As an early childhood educator, you’ll work with children at a critical, fast-moving point in their lives. As such, this class grounds you in the scientific and sociological foundations of child development, including appropriate milestones, developmental delays, and other crucial elements to look for in your students. The material in this class will also be valuable during the practical portion of your master’s in early childhood education online degree, if applicable for your program.

Literacy Education in Early Childhood

Literacy is one of the most crucial skills children learn in their earliest years of school. While timing and methods in early literacy education vary and often the most effective path for one student won’t be the best for another, this class provides a thorough grounding in the principles of literacy and literacy education in the early years and exposes you to different literacy methods and philosophies.

Play in Early Childhood Education and Cognition

All work and no play? Not so fast! Play is a crucial tool for enabling students’ cognitive and social growth, particularly in the early years. This class highlights the benefits of play in student growth and cognition, including peer-to-peer relational skills, cognitive development, and more. Through this class, you’ll learn about constructive play and how to best incorporate both structured and independent play into your early childhood curriculum.

Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education

In cases where a student has special needs and would benefit from special education, early intervention has been proven to be an important and effective way of improving the child’s educational experience. This class lays out the basics of assessing and implementing early intervention in ECE and the fundamentals of special education in the early years.

How Much Does an Online Master’s Degree in ECE Cost?

A master’s degree online in early childhood education is not only a significant time commitment (typically two years of full-time study), but it’s also a major financial commitment, with tuition well into five-figure sums. It’s important to have a financial plan in place before you begin your graduate studies. This includes researching programs with affordable tuition and filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in time to qualify for federal student loans. Some schools also offer need-based financial aid for online graduate students. Further, you may be eligible for school-specific, state-specific, or private scholarships and grants, so be sure to check with your school of choice as well as researching local and national private scholarships.

With that in mind, school costs can still vary significantly from school to school—as you’ll see when you take a look at the programs below.

How Much Your Online Master’s in ECE Could Cost

SchoolNo. of CreditsCost per CreditTotal Tuition
New York Institute of Technology39$1,540$60,060
University of North Dakota32$547.10$17,507.20
Portland State University45$512 (in-state); $739 (out-of-state)$23,040 (in-state); $33,255 (out-of-state)
Clemson University30$515$15,450
Fordham University36$1,638$58,968

Job Outlook: What Can You Do with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education (ECE)?

Educators who’ve earned their online master’s degree in early childhood education may be looking toward a career in teaching at the preschool or elementary level in a public or private school. However, your options don’t end there. While teachers are often in high demand and can have long and fulfilling careers, your master’s in early childhood education online also opens doors to careers in curriculum and instructional design or educational consulting. Have a look at a few popular post-graduation options.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher

Elementary school and kindergarten teachers work with children ages 5-11. Your master’s degree will help you stand out as a teacher. In fact, some school districts and private schools require a master’s degree.

10th PercentileMedian Annual Pay90th Percentile

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023

Preschool Director

While many states require only an associate degree to teach at a preschool, working in a managerial position requires an in-depth knowledge of early childhood education, making master’s degree holders, who also have some knowledge of curriculum design, highly desirable for this role.

10th PercentileMedian Annual Pay90th Percentile

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023

Instructional Coordinator

Your online master’s degree in early childhood education gives you an understanding of curriculum design and implementation. This makes you a good fit for a job as an instructional coordinator, designing curricula and educational materials for use across a school or school system.

10th PercentileMedian Annual Pay90th Percentile

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023

FAQs About Online Master’s Programs in Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Now that you know a bit about the fundamentals of an online master’s in early childhood education, you may have some practical questions about your potential future degree. We understand–it’s a big step, and you want to be sure. We’ve got you covered. Take a look at some of the most common and pressing questions about online master’s degree programs in early childhood education, as shared by our readers:

  • Are online master’s degree programs in ECE fully online?

    Most online early childhood education master’s programs are fully remote but not necessarily fully online. Sound confusing? What this means is that many online ECE master’s programs have a practical component to them, often supervised teaching in an early childhood setting. However, rather than having to come to campus, your school will likely work with you to place you at a site in your local community.

  • What does the admissions process look like for this degree?

    The admissions process for your master’s in early childhood education online will most likely have fairly standard requirements, including an online application, a personal statement, two to three letters of recommendation from academic or professional sources, and official transcripts from your undergraduate degree. Many schools have a required undergraduate GPA, often 3.0 or higher, and some, though not all, require GRE scores and/or prior work experience in an education or childcare setting.

  • How long does it take to complete a master’s degree in ECE online?

    Typically, your master’s in early childhood education online takes about two years of full-time study. While there are part-time programs that may take several years to complete and accelerated programs that can be completed more quickly, these tend to be relatively rare for online master’s degrees in ECE. Most follow a standard two-year plan.

  • What academic and career support services are available to online students earning their master’s in ECE?

    Online ECE master’s students can take advantage of a variety of resources from their school, even if they never set foot on campus. In addition to online office hours for your professors and virtual study groups with your classmates, your school will partner with you for career services. Many schools work with individual students to place them in supervised teaching settings for the practical portion of their degree, in a location convenient to them.

  • Can I work while pursuing an online Master’s in ECE degree?

    It’s very possible to work while completing an online master’s in early childhood education—in fact, some programs particularly encourage applications from working teachers. Because classes are online with no need to relocate, it’s possible to keep an existing full- or part-time job while you study.

Other Master’s Degree Options in Education

If you’re interested in a master’s degree in education but are unsure what specialization to pursue, check out these other degree pages to learn about your options:

Master’s Degrees in Education – Curriculum and Instruction

Master’s Degrees in Education – Educational Leadership

Master’s Degrees in Education – Higher Education

Master’s Degrees in Education – Library Sciences

Master’s Degrees in Education – Music Education

Master’s Degrees in Education – Special Education (SpEd)

Master’s Degrees in Education – Teaching