Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Earning an early childhood education (ECE) degree will prepare you for a rewarding career teaching young children ranging in age from birth to eight or nine years old, which is traditionally about third grade. This page covers early childhood education degree levels, certification considerations, top-ranked programs, and additional requirements.

Table of Contents

Early Childhood Education Overview

Early childhood educators play a critical role in their students’ lives; they strive to lay the foundation for a lifetime love of learning. They may also be expected to identify and instruct children with special needs, learning disabilities, or developmental delays. You can learn more about how to become an early childhood educator in our career guide or continue to learn more about degree information.

Quick Facts

  • There are 1,133 not-for-profit colleges and universities with early childhood education programs.1
  • 356 schools offer a certificate in early childhood education.1
  • 517 schools offer an associate’s degree in early childhood education.1
  • 547 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.1
  • 294 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in early childhood education.1

Early Childhood Education Degrees and Certification

Most early childhood education degree programs are found at the bachelor’s level, though there are some associate’s degrees as well as graduate degrees available in early childhood education for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject. Early childhood education programs are typically geared toward new teachers interested in working with students in pre-K to third grade. This degree is a good fit for students who wish to teach at these grade levels and achieve state-level certification.

In many cases, early childhood education is the specialization of a degree in another subject (education, curriculum and instruction, special education, etc.). However, some early childhood education degrees may offer further levels of specialization (also called concentrations, specialties, or emphases), including:

  • Bilingual/ESL Education: Prepares graduates to teach English as a second language to young learners.
  • Gifted and Talented Education: Prepares graduates to teach young learners who have been identified as gifted.
  • Special Education: Prepares graduates to teach very young children with various disabilities.

Completing an early childhood education degree program will qualify you to seek positions in both public and private schools. Early childhood educators in public K-12 schools will need to have teacher certification. To get certified, teachers must ensure they attend an educator preparation program that is approved by their state’s board of education. Upon graduation, they must take their state’s exams to qualify them for certification as early childhood educators. Teachers in private schools or childcare centers may not need to hold state certification. For teachers who want to go above and beyond state certification, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers a voluntary Early Childhood Generalist Certificate for teachers of students from three to eight years old. To qualify for National Board Certification, applicants need an accredited bachelor’s degree or higher, at least three years of teaching experience, and a state teaching license where required. Due to the rigorous assessment they receive, National Board-certified teachers may be more competitive for early childhood education positions and command higher salaries than their peers.

Teacher Quote: “Regardless of where they work or what their specific job titles are, however, early childhood teachers are professionals. This means that they make decisions based on a specialized body of knowledge, continue to learn throughout their careers, and are committed to providing the best care and education possible for every child. The opportunity to make a difference in this exciting field has never been greater.” –Sue Bredekamp, Effective Practices in Early Childhood Education: Building a Foundation

Certificate in Early Childhood Education

ECE certificates can be helpful for prospective caregivers who wish to work in daycare or preschool settings. Since many caregiver positions at this level do not require a degree, ECE certificate graduates may be more attractive to potential employers than other candidates with no credentials. A certificate can also be a good introduction to the field of early childhood education for students who are not yet ready to commit more time and money to a degree. For graduates who decide to continue to a higher degree, some credits from certificate programs may transfer to an associate- or bachelor’s-level ECE program. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that 356 US schools offer early childhood education certificate programs.1

Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education

Some prospective preschool teachers pursue an associate’s degree in early childhood education, which is the minimum education required for many jobs at this level. Daycare workers may also seek an associate degree in early childhood education to earn higher pay or be more competitive in the job market, even though formal education may not be required. According to NCES, over 517 non-profit colleges across the US offer an associate degree in early childhood education.1 Associate degrees typically take two years of full-time study to complete and prepare graduates to teach and care for young children at daycares and preschools. An associate degree in early childhood education can also typically be transferred toward a bachelor’s degree in education; in fact, some associate degree programs are specifically designed for transfer in order to provide a more flexible pathway toward a four-year degree.

Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education

Since a bachelor’s degree is typically required to work in public schools and for teacher certification, the vast majority of early childhood education degrees are found at the bachelor’s level. A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education prepares an instructor to teach young children, including infants and children up to the third grade. Teachers at this level help children develop social, personal, and academic skills to properly prepare them for higher levels of education. These educators must align their teaching to education standards (which are constantly changing and improving) while also helping children meet their basic needs during the school day. Bachelor programs in early childhood education typically offer a licensure track for students who aim to teach in their state. Bachelor’s degrees typically take four years of full-time study to complete. NCES reports that over 547 public and non-profit colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education.1

Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education

Students graduating with a master’s degree in early childhood education are prepared to work as teachers or administrators in early childhood and elementary school settings. Many universities only offer early childhood education master’s degree programs to students who are already certified to teach in elementary settings, so earning a bachelor’s degree and state certification is typically the first step. Many online programs offer master’s degrees in early childhood education in addition to traditional on-campus degrees. Teachers who have earned a master’s degree often have higher earning potential than those with only a bachelor’s degree and can be more competitive candidates for administrative positions. NCES reports that nearly 294 non-profit institutions offer advanced degrees in early childhood education.1

Education Specialist Degree in Early Childhood Education

An education specialist (EdS) degree is often offered in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis or concentration in ECE. EdS degrees are usually for certified teachers and administrators who already have a master’s degree and wish to expand their professional growth opportunities and level of specialization. EdS degrees in early childhood education are offered on-campus in a traditional format or online. Online degree options typically include in-person teaching requirements which can be completed at the student’s local school. NCES does not differentiate between master’s programs and other graduate programs, so EdS degrees in early childhood education are included in the master’s degree estimate above.1

Doctoral Degree in Early Childhood Education

Doctoral level education degrees include the Doctor of Education (EdD) and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). While there is some overlap, EdD programs tend to be more practice-focused, and PhD programs tend to be more research-focused. EdD programs train students to enter leadership roles in administration or higher education. ECE PhD programs typically focus on theory and prepare graduates to enter careers as researchers, postsecondary educators, and policymakers. Major areas of study may include early childhood development and educational theories, curriculum development, learning technology, and education policy. A master’s degree may or may not be required depending on the program. Most doctoral programs in ECE will require substantial experience in the field.

Early Childhood Education Degree Online

Prospective pre-K to third grade educators can pursue an online degree in early childhood education. An online early childhood education degree program can offer additional flexibility compared to on-campus study for individuals who prefer this option. Online education continues to improve with innovations like live-streaming virtual classrooms with video conferencing and the use of interactive social technologies that allow collaboration and discussion with classmates. An increasing number of online programs are also offered asynchronously, meaning that students do not have to “attend” virtual class at a certain time, but can learn and complete assignments on their own schedule, providing they meet deadlines set forth by the teacher. This method allows even more flexibility for working and otherwise busy students who prefer to learn independently.

Teacher Quote: “You should only choose education as your career if you are willing to put your whole self into it; don’t do it if you are just halfway in. You will have a classroom full of children depending on you to teach and care for them. For some, you will be all they have. You must be willing to go the extra mile for them and you must love what you do in order to make that happen.” –April Larremore, Texas Kindergarten Teacher

Top-Ranked Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Niche’s Best Schools with Early Childhood Education Degrees 2024

Niche provides a national best colleges ranking, with the following ranked colleges offering early childhood degree programs:

  • Vanderbilt University (#14; on campus)
  • Boston University (#38; on campus)
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#43; on campus or hybrid)
  • New York University (#45; on campus)
  • University of Georgia (#49; on campus)
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (#50; on campus or online)
  • Florida State University (#53; on campus or online)
  • University of Washington (#60; on campus or online)
  • University of South Florida (#67; on campus)
  • Ohio State University (#68; on campus)2

Best Value Schools with On-Campus Early Childhood Education Programs

To help you find the best early childhood teaching programs, we have researched top not-for-profit teaching schools in the US offering a program in this subject. The schools on our best value list below have a graduation rate of 80% or above at the undergraduate level and a net price of less than $20,000 per year for undergraduates. A high graduation rate is typically an indicator of a school’s success and a low net price is important for students interested in finding the best bang for their buck. In addition to these, we have also included data such as percentage of faculty with tenure, degrees offered, and US News & World Report undergraduate teaching school and national rankings.

SchoolUndergrad Degree(s)Grad Degree(s)US News Undergrad Teaching Rank3US News National Rank4Grad Rate1% Tenured Faculty5Net Price1
University of Washington-Seattle CampusBA Early Care and Education (online);
BA Early Childhood & Family Studies
M.Ed./Certificate Early Childhood Special EducationNR#59 tie84%51%$9,443
University of North Carolina at Chapel HillM.Ed. for Experienced Teachers: Early Childhood Intervention and Family Support#34 tie#30 tie91%43%$11,100
Brigham Young University-ProvoBS Early Childhood EducationNR#66 tie83%46%$12,979
University of FloridaUnified Early Childhood ProTeach ProgramDoctoral Concentration Early Childhood;
Graduate Certificate Early Childhood;
MAE Early Childhood Emphasis;
Minor Early Childhood;
Unified Early Childhood ProTeach Program
NR#35 tie88%52%$15,283
University of GeorgiaBSEd Early Childhood EducationM.Ed. Early Childhood Education;
MAT Early Childhood Education;
EdS Education: Early Childhood Education;
PhD Educational Theory and Practice: Early Childhood Education
#34 tie#46 tie85%54%$15,934
University of DelawareBS Early Childhood Education;
4+1 BS/MS HDFS: Early Childhood Development and Inclusive Education

4+1 BS/MS HDFS: Early Childhood Development and Inclusive Education;
MA Early Childhood Development and Programming
NR#89 tie82%57%$16,286
Florida State UniversityEdS Curriculum and Instruction: Early Childhood Education;
MS Curriculum and Instruction: Early Childhood Education (online);
PhD Curriculum and Instruction: Early Childhood Education
#52 tie#70 tie80%43%$16,450
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignBS Early Childhood EducationM.Ed. Early Childhood Education#43 tie#46 tie85%51%$16,638
Clemson UniversityBA Early Childhood Education#16 tie#66 tie82%47%$18,757

Best Value Schools with Online Early Childhood Education Programs

The table below represents the best value schools with early childhood education programs that can be completed partially or fully online. Since early childhood education programs almost always have a practicum component for future teachers to gain real-world experience, these programs will rarely be able to be completed 100% online; but with teachers in high demand, many schools are offering online coursework to make becoming a certified teacher easier for busy students. The schools represented in our best value online table have a graduation rate of 65% or above and a net price of less than $20,000 per year at the undergraduate levels, which together are indicators of student success and overall value in education schools. We have also included other helpful information, including degrees offered, US News & World Report rankings, and percentage of tenured faculty.

SchoolUndergrad Degree(s)Grad Degree(s)US News Undergrad Teaching Rank3US News National Rank4Grad Rate1% Tenured Faculty5Net Price1
University of Washington-Seattle CampusBA Early Care & EducationNR#62 tie84%48%$9,765
University of FloridaGrad Certificate Early Childhood#49 tie#34 tie90%50%$11,313
Florida State UniversityMS Early Childhood EducationNR#57 tie83%44%$13,318
University of Missouri-ColumbiaM.Ed. Early Childhood EducationNR#139 tie69%33%$17,833
West Chester University of PennsylvaniaM.Ed. Early Childhood EducationNRNR75%40%$19,091
Clemson UniversityM.Ed. Experiential Learning for Early Childhood#34 tie#70 tie83%45%$19,508
Harding UniversityEarly Childhood/Special Education Integrated B-K EndorsementNR#240 tie67%0%$19,580
Fresno Pacific UniversityBA Early Childhood DevelopmentNRNR66%7%$19,965

Early Childhood Education Degree Requirements and Coursework

To be admitted into an early childhood education degree program, typically a minimum high school GPA is required, as well as qualifying exam scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Some common courses in an early childhood education program include:

  • Assessment in Early Childhood Education
  • Children with Differing Abilities
  • Developing Family and Community Relationships
  • ECE: Science and Social Studies
  • ECE: Art and Music
  • Early Childhood Curriculum and Methods
  • Early Language and Literacy
  • Education Practicum
  • Educational Psychology
  • Guiding Child Behavior
  • Infancy and Early Childhood
  • Introduction to Early Childhood Education
  • Introduction to Exceptional Children
  • Learners and the Diversity of Learning
  • Methods of Teaching Reading

Select Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Traditional Programs

Kent State University

Kent State University’s Early Childhood Education program leads to the award of a Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE) in Early Childhood Education (ECED). Field experience is heavily emphasized in the curriculum, with field placements and teaching experiences occurring in classroom settings at the pre-K and K-3 levels. The ECED program holds accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Ohio State Department of Education. The College of Education, Health, and Human Services at Kent State is also a member of the Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching, which offers overseas student teaching placements to qualified students. Program graduates may be interested in earning a second license or endorsement through one of Kent State University’s numerous other education programs. An Early Childhood Generalist Endorsement for Grades 4-5 may be added to the P-3 Teaching License after Block IV of the ECED program is completed; the Grades 4-5 endorsement is an online program.

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Interdisciplinary Studies (INST) with a certification in EC-Grade 6 Core Subjects/Generalist program. An intensive series of field placements that give students an active role in actual classrooms is built around blocks of methods-based learning for classroom and learning management. Students admitted to the program receive personalized advising throughout their studies, with one-on-one advising sessions scheduled at least once per semester. All College of Education students have access to financial assistance packages, global education experiences, and personalized learning communities, including an undergraduate peer mentor program for academically talented pre-service teachers. An Education Career Fair is held once per semester to allow students to network with potential employers. As the largest producer of teachers in high-demand fields in the state of Texas, Texas A&M University can give “Aggie” graduates a competitive edge in the career marketplace.

University of Central Florida

The College of Education and Human Performance at the University of Central Florida offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Early Childhood Development and Education that leads to teacher certification for pre-kindergarten through third grade. Two program tracks are offered in Education, Pre-Kindergarten-Primary (PK-3) and Early Childhood Development, as well as a minor and a Master of Science (MS) in Early Childhood Development and Education and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Early Childhood Education. Field experiences begin early in the course sequencing, integrating theory and practice learned in the classroom in real school settings. Student reflection is encouraged through a continuously faculty-reviewed personal professional portfolio. The program curriculum emphasizes the creation of safe and nurturing environments for all young children in education partnerships with family and the community. In addition to school-wide scholarships, the College of Education and Human Performance offers several scholarships that are only available to Early Childhood Development and Education students.

University of Delaware

The University of Delaware (UD) offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Early Childhood Education with dual certification in Early Childhood Special Education, a 4+1 BS/Master of Science (MS) in Early Childhood Development and Inclusive Education, and a Master of Arts (MA) in Early Childhood Development and Programming. The BS is aimed at those who want to teach in schools, child care, or other inclusive environments and requires practicum experience at UD and local schools, where students can learn first-hand about teaching methods and child development. Primary areas of study include child development, classroom management, inclusive curriculum, diversity and families, and literacy instruction. The 4+1 includes the BS plus an MS, offered through the College of Education and Human Development, which can be completed in just five years. The MA in Early Childhood Development and Programming can be completed in as little as one year and is focused on preparing those with undergraduate degrees in early childhood education for administrative roles leading program development for young children.

Online and Hybrid Programs

Florida State College at Jacksonville

Florida State College at Jacksonville’s online early childhood education teacher preparation program provides graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to educate children from pre-kindergarten through grade three. Most courses in the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Early Childhood Education program are available online, though students must complete an in-person field experience as well as a semester-long student teaching engagement in order to earn the degree. Students must have completed an associate’s degree from Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) or another school plus three prerequisite courses at FSCJ in order to be admitted. The core curriculum includes such courses as Integrated Science & Math for Young Children, Language & Literacy in Early Childhood Education, and Language Principles for Teachers. Once all degree requirements are met, students are conferred the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Early Childhood Education. FSCJ also offers an Associate of Science (AS) in Early Childhood Management which includes technical coursework that can be transferred to the bachelor’s program.

Kansas State University

Kansas State University’s Global Campus offers an online bachelor’s degree completion program that prepares graduates to seek licensure as early childhood educators in Kansas from birth to kindergarten (B-K). The blended curriculum includes study in general as well as special education. Online early childhood courses in the professional studies component of the program include Family Relationships & Gender Roles, Exceptional Development in Early Childhood, and Emergent Literacy. While most courses are offered online, students must complete a supervised field experience in a public or private school. To be considered for admission, students must have at least 50 college credit hours with a GPA of at least 2.75 and be formally admitted to the teacher education program. In addition to teaching in early childhood education programs, graduates of the program may find work in community agencies and other organizations that promote learning and development for children from birth through kindergarten.

University of Alabama

The University of Alabama offers an online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Early Childhood Education qualifying them to apply for the Birth to PreK Child Development Certificate in Alabama. The program curriculum focuses on growth and development in children from birth to age five as well as the design and evaluation of early childhood education programs in schools and the community. Up to 60 credit hours can be transferred from a two-year institution and all core courses are available online. Required courses include Child Development, Adolescence; Developmental Perspectives of Young Children with Disabilities; and Parent and Family Development. Students must also complete an in-person field experience, which may be arranged in the student’s local area, to meet the six-credit Human Development and Family Studies Internship requirement. Financial aid, including grants and scholarships specific to the early childhood education program, is available to distance education students.

Additional Resources

Interviews with Early Childhood Education Teachers

See our teacher interview series to read career interviews with current teachers who share their experiences, insights, and advice for early childhood education teachers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How long does it take to complete an early childhood education degree program?

Answer: Most ECE degree programs are four-year undergraduate degrees that lead to teaching certification. In most cases, these programs can be completed in four to six years. Students who already hold an associate’s degree in another field may be able to complete the degree in less time under a transfer program. Master’s degrees in early childhood education usually take around two years of full-time study.

Question: Can I earn an early childhood education degree online?

Answer: Early childhood education degrees typically involve intensive fieldwork to qualify students for state-level teacher education, but in many cases, some required courses are offered in online or hybrid formats to give flexibility to working professionals.

Question: What are the typical admission requirements for a degree in early childhood education?

Answer: At the bachelor’s level, students are usually admitted to early childhood education programs after completing one to two years of general coursework in the liberal arts and maintaining a minimum GPA. You can check with schools in your area and online for the best fit based on your past education and experience.

Question: What is early childhood education?

Answer: Early childhood education (ECE) is the teaching of young children, often including infants to children around the age of eight. Preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, elementary school teachers, nannies, and childcare providers are included under the ECE umbrella. School counselors and school psychologists at the elementary school level may also participate in the education of young children.

Question: Is teacher certification automatically awarded with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education?

Answer: No; teacher certification is not automatic, as it involves a licensure process with the state in which you wish to teach. In addition to earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a state-approved program, teacher certification is based on passing state-level certification exams and potentially meeting other requirements such as a background check. However, there are also alternative pathways to certification. The board of education for your state can provide answers on the best way to become certified in your circumstances.

Student Reviews

Note: Student Reviews are based on the experiences of a few individuals and it is unlikely that you will have similar results. Please review the “Data, Student Reviews and Other Information” section in our Terms of Use and Disclaimers.

Auburn University
Auburn, AL 36849
(334) 844-4000

Student Review: “The Teacher Education Program at Auburn University gave me a wonderful and very rewarding college experience. All of the classes leading up to being accepted in the program taught me so much about the teaching field and the classes taken after being accepted into the Early Childhood Education program gave me a plethora of classroom experience. I enjoyed being in a Cohort. This Cohort gave me the opportunity to go through my college experience with other students my age who had the same career goals as I did. Auburn University will not allow a student to graduate from the College of Education unless they have a certain number of hours in a public school classroom setting. I believe this is a great policy because I learned more from my student teaching than I did from my university classes. The supervisors were always helpful to me and my fellow students. Overall, Auburn University has made me very confident in my abilities to succeed as a classroom teacher. The only thing that could have been better was the communication between my adviser and myself. Sometimes there would be confusion and often the adviser would not clear the confusion.” -Jessica W., Early Childhood Education student at Auburn University

1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Niche Best Colleges with Early Childhood Education Degrees in America: https://www.niche.com/colleges/search/best-colleges-with-early-childhood-education/
3. US News & World Report Best Undergraduate Teaching National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/undergraduate-teaching
4. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
5. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/