Early Childhood Education

Should You Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education?

Should You Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education?
You may already know that you want to build a career working in child development. But what is the best path to get you there? Image from Unsplash
Alyssa Schmidt profile
Alyssa Schmidt December 12, 2019

Early childhood education establishes crucial learning behaviors that students carry with them throughout their lives. Start your career in this essential field with a bachelor's degree in early childhood education.

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Early childhood education, when effectively delivered, can literally change lives. Studies show that early childhood education can reduce the achievement gap, decrease the need for special education, increase the likelihood of healthier lifestyles, lower the crime rate, and reduce overall social costs.

You may already know that you want to build a career working in child development. But what is the best path to get you there? While you may eventually want a master’s degree or specialized certifications (perhaps in early childhood special education), your first step is clear: earning an undergraduate degree in early childhood education.

You have a lot of choices in pursuing your bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Possible fields and career paths if you have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education
  • Prerequisites for early childhood education degrees
  • Top schools for a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education

Possible fields and career paths if you have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education

Teaching __preschool or elementary school is a great career option when you have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education (ECE). You’ll interact with young students, work on building classroom culture, and develop curriculum for the youngest minds. Keep in mind state certification (which varies by state) is required for both preschool teachers and elementary educators in the public school system.

There is significant variety in preschool teaching roles, from daycare centers to public schools, so responsibilities and salaries vary greatly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual income for a preschool teacher is $29,780. That’s not a lot, but at least the job market is growing at a seven percent clip; there should be jobs out there, and demand may even drive up compensation a bit.

If you choose to work with elementary school students, you’ll develop a more involved, multidisciplinary curriculum that includes science, math, and literature. The added challenges at this level come with a substantial bump in income. The median annual income for an elementary school teacher is $57,980.

If you prefer a supervisory or organizational role, consider becoming a preschool and childcare center director. As a center director, you will be responsible for the daily business operations of running a preschool. Your responsibilities will include leading your staff and teachers, and designing, organizing, and overseeing broad curricular and extracurricular programs. You will also ensure the financial security of your center through budgeting and sustainable enrollment. Being a childcare or preschool center director will allow you to impact a greater number of students, but with the cost of less face-to-face time with children. The median annual income for a preschool and childcare center director is $47,490.

If your passion lies with curriculum, a job in curriculum development, editing, and publishing could be for you. With a bachelor’s degree in ECE, you will bring valuable knowledge and insight into addressing children’s academic and developmental needs. Your early childhood education experience can qualify you to advise on the content and curricula that directly impact young learners. The median annual wage for an editor is $59,480. You should be aware, however, the job market for editors is in slight decline.

This is just a short list of early childhood education career paths you can pursue with a bachelor’s degree in ECE. Keep your options open, and be sure to explore specialized ECE possibilities when you start student teaching.

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Graduate degrees for teachers fall into two categories: the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and the Master of Education (MEd). Many resources indicate that the MAT is the best master’s degree for teachers, while MEd programs are primarily for aspiring educational administrators, policymakers, and other current education professionals who aspire to work outside the classroom. In reality, it’s not quite that simple.

Both MAT and MEd programs tend to be concentration-based, and while there are more part-time and full-time Master of Arts in Teaching programs focused on advanced pedagogic theories and skills, there are also plenty of Master of Education programs with grade-level, subject-area, and student-population concentrations.

In some areas of the US, a teacher with a master’s degree at the top of the salary schedule can earn close to $40,000 more than a teacher with a bachelor’s degree. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that going to graduate school will lead to a substantially bigger paycheck. The only way to know how much you’ll earn after graduating with a master’s in teaching or master’s in education is to look at the salary schedule in your district. You should be able to see at a glance how your education and experience will translate into dollars. (source)

University and Program Name Learn More

Prerequisites for early childhood education degrees

A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is an undergraduate degree. Prerequisites are the same as for all undergraduate study:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • High school transcript
  • Standardized test scores (SAT or ACT)
  • Admission essay or personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation

Types of courses

Courses required for a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education can vary substantially, but there are many similarities among programs. You can expect to take courses in:

Some degree programs also require an early childhood special education course as well as an educational history course.

Most colleges will expect you to complete student teaching to earn hands-on experience in the classroom.

Length of Commitment

A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education usually takes three to five years to complete. This range is dependent on the number of credits you can take per semester or quarter. A standard course load will enable you to complete your degree in four years.

Exams and Certifications

You must earn a teaching license to teach public school in the United States. Qualifications for licensure vary from state to state. Nearly all bachelor’s of education programs prepare you for licensure in the state in which the school is located. Some states recognize each other’s licenses, allowing teachers to transfer their licenses across state lines, but this is not universally true. The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification maintains a database listing which states recognize each other’s licenses.

Top schools for a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education

Finding the best-fit early childhood education program isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. The list below is based on a variety of program-specific factors, including student reviews, cost of tuition, academic rigor, return on investment, and graduation rate. Use it as a starting point to explore childhood education bachelor’s degree programs offerings and help guide your search as you explore your interests in an early childhood education career.

Brigham Young University (Provo, UT)

Program: Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education

BYU’s program is designed to prepare you to teach students in preschool through third grade. Students in the program are required to maintain a 3.0 GPA and complete student teaching. You’ll also complete teacher licensing requirements for the state of Utah. BYU’s tuition for members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints is under $3,000 per semester. At $5,790 per semester for non-church members, this program is affordable to students of all faiths.

Clemson University (Clemson, SC)

Program: Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education

Clemson’s program emphasizes understanding the big picture, from familial issues to educational history. The program prepares you for South Carolina teacher licensure but does not require students to be licensed to receive a bachelor’s degree. Students earn 91 hours of fieldwork above South Carolina licensure requirements. The program is accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). In-state tuition of under $16,000 per year makes Clemson an affordable choice for South Carolina residents.

New York University (New York City, NY)

Program: Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education

NYU’s program prepares students to teach in either general education or special education settings. NYU also offers both research and study abroad opportunities through their program. Upon graduation, students will be eligible for dual-certification in New York (Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education). A private institution, NYU charges undergraduates $25,342 per semester in tuition.

University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

Program: Unified Early Childhood ProTeach Program

Florida’s program is a five-year program that concludes with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. After completion of the full five years, you acquire eligibility for the Preschool Certificate, Prekindergarten/Primary Certificate, the ESOL Endorsement, and the Prekindergarten Disability Endorsement; these certificates cover students aged 0 to 9 years. UF’s in-state tuition of $6,380 annually makes it an affordable option for Florida residents. UF ranks among the top 25 undergraduate education programs in the country, according to US News & World Report.

University of Georgia (Athens, GA)

Program: Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education

Georgia’s program requires over 400 hours of practicum experience. Students experience a full range of teaching scenarios, from simple observation to a full semester of student teaching. Completion of this program earns you a Georgia certification to teach students in preschool through fifth grade.

University of Illinois (Urbana, IL and Champaign, IL)

Program: Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education

This program is geared specifically toward preparing teachers for the classroom. If you meet the program requirements, including a minimum of 120 semester hours, a 2.5 GPA, clinical experience, and completion of required tests, you will receive your BS and meet all education licensure requirements for Illinois.

University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC)

Program: Human Development and Family Studies (pre-professional major)

This program has two optional concentrations: Child and Family Health and Family Life Education. Both allow you to focus on improving the well-being of young children. This program offers a study abroad program, internships, research, and service-learning. A program like UNC’s may best prepare you to “work in educational settings, nonprofit agencies, hospitals, and social services.” UNC ranks among the top 30 undergraduate education programs in the country, according to US News & World Report.

University of Washington (Seattle, WA)

Program: Bachelor of Arts in Early Care and Education (Online); Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood and Family Studies (On Campus)

University of Washington’s online program can be completed in two years (it requires that you begin the course with at least 70 academic credits, making it optimal for those who have already earned an associate’s degree). The online program is an excellent option for working individuals and for those seeking new job opportunities. The program site states that it prepares students for careers in “early learning, childcare, policy, parent and family support and education, and social/mental health services.” UW ranks tenth among undergraduate education programs in the country, according to US News & World Report.

Still not sure if a career in ECE is right for you? Read our Top 10 Reasons to Get a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. Teaser: You’ll have an enormous impact on children at a critical point in their lives. That’s better than a rock star (seriously).

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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