Earning an Online Master's in Child Development and Family Studies

A master's in child development and family studies explores human growth and family dynamics to help candidates earn careers in counseling, social work, nonprofit organizations, and education. While some of these professions call for licenses or certifications, the knowledge from these programs can provide insights for treatments, interventions, and research.

Graduates often find careers in psychology and social services fields. According to World Education Services, a master's degree increases lifetime earnings in these fields. Specifically, master's degree holders in social services average over $500,000 more in a lifetime than bachelor's degree holders, and master's graduates in psychology average over $300,000 more than bachelor's graduates.

This page examines this degree in detail, covering possible careers, salaries, courses, and professional organizations.

Why Get a Master's in Child Development and Family Studies?

Pursue Deeper Knowledge and Specialization

Master's programs expand on bachelor's-level knowledge to provide an in-depth understanding of the field. Programs may also offer specializations for targeted study, such as thesis projects, where learners choose topics of interest for extended research and analysis. Enrollees can also perform any necessary fieldwork at organizations that relate to intended careers. Candidates who want to become school counselors, for instance, may fulfill practicums at local K-12 schools.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Some field positions require a master's, such as child life specialists. Other positions require a bachelor's, like childcare directors, but a higher degree indicates advanced knowledge that can increase employment odds. Additionally, companies may delegate more critical tasks, like management responsibilities, to candidates with higher degrees. Some related careers may require other credentials. For instance, an online master's in child development and family studies provides information for child psychologists, but these positions require each professional to earn a license and a doctorate.

Online Learning Technology

Learning online can train students to virtually communicate, research, and perform tasks. Candidates may explore learning platforms like Blackboard or Canvas and complete assignments that include group work. These elements provide a learning advantage for each student who earns an online master's in child development and family studies. Specifically, field professionals use the internet and technology for marketing, public relations, internal communication, research, and recordkeeping.

Prerequisites for Master's in Child Development and Family Studies Programs

Students should explore admission requirements for their programs to ensure that they meet all expectations. Learners should complete this step months before deadlines since some admission elements, like standardized tests and recommendation letters, require extended time. While each school requires unique components, the following list provides an overview of common admission materials.

  • Bachelor's Degree Admission often requires a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, programs do not always specify a field. Students may need to submit transcripts to verify their undergraduate education. Departments may also have a minimum GPA requirement, typically a 2.75-3.0 GPA.
  • Letter of Intent Students may need to provide a letter of intent that details professional goals. Departments may specify a page or word limit for these letters. Other written requirements may include a personal statement of ethics or interests and writing samples from previous courses. These requirements allow schools to evaluate applicants' principles and writing abilities through one document.
  • Recommendations Departments may require each student to submit 2-3 recommendation letters from academic and professional sources. Letters should illustrate behavior, knowledge, and skills that would benefit an applicant during the program.
  • Interview The application process may include an interview for each candidate who passes an initial screening. A department may conduct interviews in person, through video conferencing, or over the phone. Candidates should treat these interviews like professional job interviews, regardless of delivery method, by brainstorming answers to common interview questions, communicating with confidence, and dressing formally for visual interviews.
  • Standardized Tests Programs may require standardized tests for all students, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Other institutions may only require GRE, GMAT, or MAT scores for students with insufficient GPAs. International learners may also need to submit scores from English proficiency examinations, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

How Much Can I Make With a Master's in Child Development and Family Studies?

Salary expectations vary for child development and family studies careers, though average incomes are often between $45,000 to $50,000, other field professions may pay much higher. For instance, psychologists earn a median salary of $79,010 but require credentials beyond a master's degree. Salaries can also vary by industry. For psychologists, government workers earn a median of $96,410, while school psychologists obtain a median of $75,890.

Experience can also impact wages. Child life specialists average $60,000 with at least 20 years of experience, for example, while new candidates earn an average of $40,000. Candidates obtain this experience on the job while academic skills come from the master's program.

Potential Careers

Careers Stats Description

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

Median Annual Salary: $47,940

Preschool and childcare center directors make hiring and policy decisions for organizations and manage budget needs. Candidates must also build programs for the center, discuss rules and child progress with families, and maintain state standards within organizations. In many states, these positions call for a bachelor's degree; however, an online master's in child development and family studies indicates advanced field knowledge and can improve employment chances.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

Median Annual Salary: $46,270

Child, family, and school social workers may determine when children need assistance. Candidates may then communicate with families and external organizations to create assistance plans. Social workers may also visit homes, move children to foster care, and guide families through adoption. A master's verifies an understanding of children and families for success in these positions; however, a social worker may also need a counseling degree and a social work license.

Child Life Specialists

Median Annual Salary: $41,000

Child life specialists typically find employment in hospitals. Specialists may review cases for children who struggle with illnesses and construct plans for helping them handle extended treatments. This process may involve budget considerations and continued surveillance to determine when treatment needs alteration. Some organizations may require a candidate to possess a master's degree for these careers, along with child life certification.

Paying for an Online Master's in Child Development and Family Studies Program

While tuition varies among programs, certain choices can lead to lower tuition. For instance, learners can choose part-time paths for lower per-semester rates. This decision can increase overall program costs since tuition may increase each year. For programs without a tuition guarantee, studying full-time or at an accelerated pace can lower overall tuition. Some programs may charge overload fees for courses that exceed full-time expectations.

Essentially, a learner can explore all tuition details for their program and build a learning plan based on the cheapest option. Scholarships can help students pay expenses, though subject-specific options are less common than general child development funds.


Educational costs for a master's in child development and family studies include tuition, fees, and course materials. Students can lower expenses by choosing schools with cheap tuition and a low number of fees, along with applying for scholarships. These funds are based on factors such as academic merit, financial need, ethnic background, and major. Child development and family studies majors, in particular, can explore the upcoming opportunities.

What to Expect from a Master's in Child Development and Family Studies Program

Earning an online master's in child development and family studies often requires 30-36 credits. Students who graduate in two years would need to finish 18 credits per year. Programs often require core and elective online coursework in areas such as toddler development, research methods, and family dynamics.

Online courses usually require tests, papers, discussion forums, and group wikis. Programs may also require practicums or internships that learners can fulfill near their homes at related organizations, such as schools. Each candidate may also complete a thesis or portfolio and should expect to perform a significant amount of research.

Major Milestones

Program requirements for an online master's in child development and family studies may vary among departments but often include similar elements. The following list explores some of these common factors.

  1. Choose a Concentration

    An online master's in child development and family studies programs may offer specializations in areas such as human services leadership and inclusive education. In these situations, learners should choose specializations that prepare them for their career goals.

  2. Determine Other Career Requirements

    Students may intend to work as social workers, counselors, or teachers, careers that require certification or licensure. Professions may also mandate additional degrees, such as a doctorate. Researching professional requirements within the first year of a program gives learners sufficient time to complete all criteria.

  3. Internship

    Many programs require an internship or practicum, in which an enrollee can gain real-world experience. Often, schools must approve internship locations and award academic credit for these experiences. Students typically complete internships during the latter half of the program.

  4. Thesis

    Students can choose field-related research questions, research those topics, and write lengthy papers about their findings. Candidates may need to present their work orally. A thesis is typically the final requirement of the program.

  5. Apply for Graduation

    Some schools require students to submit a graduation application and fee during the final semester of the program. Candidates may also need to complete surveys as a part of this application.


Courses for an online master's in child development and family studies vary by school; however, programs often share common course themes, including some in the following list.

Families Across the Lifespan

This course may examine the family structure from various perspectives, including psychological and physical concerns. Students may learn how these factors can influence family interactions as family members grow and develop skills for building healthy family units.

Sociology of Poverty

These classes may address how poverty impacts families, along with statistical connections between poverty and factors such as age and race. Candidates may also examine choices and behaviors that perpetuate poverty.


These courses may examine techniques for counseling sessions in various settings, like schools and community organizations. Departments may also guide students on effective communication and cover certain types of counseling, such as substance abuse.

Research Methods

Students may learn to create research questions, collect relevant data, and analyze that data to determine treatment plans or solve problems within the field. This process may involve assessing the value of sources and interpreting statistics.

Crisis Intervention

Courses prepare learners to identify crises and counsel families through hardships. Degree seekers may also study common crisis-related behavioral patterns and techniques for dealing with various challenges, such as substance abuse, physical abuse, and grief.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations can deliver conferences, seminars, and workshops that explore current trends and issues in the field. These events also allow students and professionals to network with one another, which can lead to references and information regarding open positions. Organizations may also provide training or courses that fulfill continuing education requirements for certifications and licenses. Additional benefits may include job boards and webinars. Students pursuing or graduating with a master's in child development and family studies can explore the following organizations to obtain these benefits.

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children: NAEYC offers a yearly conference, a public policy forum that guides members on advocacy, and the Week of the Young Child, for which NAEYC chooses themes and provides resources. The association's Career Center also delivers information on field careers.
  • Learning Disabilities Association of America: LDA provides webinars on educating and parenting children with learning disabilities. Additional resources include the Learning Disabilities journal and booklets on topics such as ADHD and parental influences on special needs education. The association also hosts a yearly conference.
  • Child Development Council: This council offers a calendar for events on topics such as child health, childcare requirements, and play as a learning tool for children. Parents and professionals can also use the group's "Warm Line" for guidance over the phone.
  • National Black Child Development Institute: NBCDI concentrates on African American children who are under eight years old. The institute hosts a yearly conference and works with the organization Zero to Three to offer the Think Babies campaign.
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: AAMFT offers a yearly conference, the Leadership Symposium, and networks for specific areas of family health, such as school or trauma therapists. The group provides information on licensing, along with relevant webinars and Family Therapy Magazine.