A doctorate in child development online opens doorways for many careers that encourage childhood and community development. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job markets for social workers, preschool directors, and school counselors are growing faster than the national average. With a doctoral degree, you have the theoretical foundation and necessary leadership skills to help children work toward positive emotional growth. You also delve into the biological and psychosocial stressors of childhood and young adulthood.
The Best Online Doctorate in Child Development Programs
Online Doctorate in Child Development Ranking Guidelines:
We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided as well as school awards, rankings and reputation.
Because numerous types of degrees fall under the umbrella of “Doctorate in Child Development,” the following sections display top-ranked programs from several related ranking articles on our website. To learn more about these different degrees, follow the link at the end of each section to their corresponding ranking article or jump to a category:
Child Development Program Categories
The Best Online Doctorate in Psychology Programs
Note: The following two schools in this section are for‑profit schools. If you have any questions about for-profit schools, check out our guide for understanding for-profit colleges and universities.
1. Capella University
Capella University is a private, for-profit university established in 1993. For students pursuing advanced childhood development careers, Capella offers an online Ph.D. in psychology with a specialization in developmental psychology. The program develops the necessary knowledge and skills for understanding and working with children at all developmental stages.
The online Ph.D. program requires 107 quarter-credits for completion and consists of the following:
- Seven core courses
- Six specialization courses
- Three dissertation research seminars
- Four emphasis courses
- A comprehensive exam
- A dissertation project
The program includes coursework in areas such as:
- Ethics and multicultural issues
- Research methods and applications
- Lifespan development
- Health care policy
- Prenatal development
- Child and adolescent development
Students emerge prepared for jobs in a variety of settings, which includes teaching, advocacy and counseling.
Capella University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
2. Walden University
Walden University, an online for-profit university established in 1970, enrolls around 50,000 students in a wide selection of undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Walden offers an online Ph.D. in developmental psychology with a specialization in child and adolescent development.
The online Ph.D. program requires 110 quarter-credits for completion, which includes 75 quarter-credits of core courses, 15 quarter-credits of specialization courses and 20 quarter-credits of dissertation work. Students in the program encounter key topics, which include child development, abnormal psychology, behavior analysis and health issues. Students prepare for a variety of positions that work with children and adolescents by blending theory, research and practice. In addition to online coursework, the program requires four on-campus residencies totaling 16 days.
Walden University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
The Best Online Doctorate in Counseling Degree Programs
1. Oregon State University
One of the state’s flagship universities, Oregon State University offers several of its programs online. One such distance option is the university’s online Ph.D. in counseling, which requires students to complete a total of 150 quarter hours to graduate.
The program runs on a cohort model where students receive one-on-one advising from a faculty member. Participants complete courses in a hybrid format, which combines online coursework with twice-quarterly residencies in Wilsonville. Wilsonville is accessible from the airport in Portland.
All applicants must already have a master’s degree in counseling (or an adjacent field) that was earned with a minimum GPA of 3.0. The program accepts students for the spring, summer and fall terms. Although Oregon State is a public university, all online students enrolled in the counseling program pay the same per-credit tuition regardless of their state of residence.
Oregon State University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (MWCCU). The counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
2. University of West Georgia
The University of West Georgia’s psychology department focuses on humanistic and transpersonal psychology; they define psychology as the “holistic study of human experience.” Students in this department follow an interdisciplinary, liberal arts approach to psychology that incorporates the following:
- Other disciplines
Learners at UWG can also opt to pursue a Ph.D. in counseling online.
The school’s 60-credit professional counseling Ed.D. program runs on a cohort model and it welcomes 12 students each summer. Learners complete two courses per term and only need to attend first-year orientation at the school’s main campus. All applicants must have the following:
- At least three years of counseling experience
- A master’s degree in counseling
- A counseling license
- A minimum verbal GRE score of 151
- A minimum quantitative GRE score of 142
The University of West Georgia is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
3. Mississippi College
Mississippi College is the state’s largest private college and one of the oldest Baptist-affiliated schools in the nation. The college hosts many popular distance education programs, which include online doctoral degrees in counseling.
The school’s 72-hour professional counseling program runs on a cohort model that combines practice, research and theory. Students complete theoretical coursework related to clinical assessments and group dynamics as well as 12 hours of doctoral internships. All students must undertake a capstone project and complete a series of competency assessments over the course of the program, which include qualifying and comprehensive examinations. Students must enroll year-round and take courses each term, which includes the summer term.
Applicants must have the following:
- Two years of counseling experience
- A minimum GPA of 3.25 in previous graduate work
- A licensed professional counselor credential
- Satisfactory GRE scores
Transfer students may transfer up to 21 hours into this program.
Mississippi College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
The Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs
1. Concordia University – Chicago
River Forest, Illinois
Concordia University – Chicago is a liberal arts school based in the suburb of River Forest. It originally focused exclusively on teacher education. The university remains true to its roots; it hosts online doctoral programs in early childhood education that rank among the best in the nation. Concordia offers both Ph.D. and Ed.D. degrees in its early childhood education programs; these programs consist of 61-67 credits. The curriculum includes early childhood-related studies in legal issues, trends and research methods. Learners also complete an internship, a dissertation and a comprehensive examination.
This online program has no in-person requirements, although students may complete some of their coursework on campus if they wish. Program applicants must have a master’s degree in a relevant field that was earned with a minimum GPA of 3.0. They must also submit MAT or GRE scores from the past three years.
Concordia – Chicago is regionally accredited from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Concordia’s college of education is nationally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
Note: The following schools are for‑profit schools. If you have any questions about for-profit schools, check out our guide for understanding for-profit colleges and universities.
2. Walden University
Walden University is an online for-profit university established in 1970; it enrolls around 50,000 students in a wide selection of undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Walden offers an online Ed.D with an early childhood education specialization. This degree prepares students for advanced careers that work with young children as they develop and learn.
The online Ed.D program requires 79 quarter-credits for completion, which includes a variety of core and specialization courses, a capstone project and a face-to-face three day residency. Students develop advanced knowledge in key areas, such as:
- Assessment models and practices
- Language and literacy from birth through childhood
- Promoting healthy development and learning
- Educational leadership
Students emerge ready to apply theory and research in practical, real-world settings.
Walden University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
3. Northcentral University
San Diego, California
Northcentral University is a for-profit university established in 1996 that offers an array of online undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs. These programs include an online Ed.D in Early Childhood Education for students who want to begin work with small children or advance their current child development careers. Students develop the knowledge and skills necessary to create curricula and lead educational programs for young children, which encourages healthy development and optimizes learning experiences.
The online Ed.D. program requires 54 credit hours for completion and includes courses in key areas, such as:
- Growth and development
- Childhood literature
- Program administration
- Curriculum and assessment
Students learn to blend theory, research and practice in order to ensure the effective and productive operation of early childhood education programs. Students benefit from frequent start dates, one-on-one support from doctoral faculty and flexible, asynchronous courses.
Northcentral University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
The Best Online Doctorate in Educational Administration Degree Programs
1. University of Nebraska – Lincoln
The Department of Education Administration at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln offers a variety of graduate and professional programs for educators interested in becoming school administrators, with specializations in everything from pre-K to higher education. The programs lead students to study problems and find solutions facing 21st century schools, which includes class, race, gender, access, and equity. Housed in the College of Education, online learning plays a big role in the learning done in the Department of Education Administration, with a majority of doctoral coursework offered online.
Through the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Online platform, the Department of Education Administration offers an online Doctor of Education in Educational Administration degree program that meets the needs of professional practitioners interested in obtaining credentials for P-12 administration. The curriculum focuses on understanding challenges and opportunities in a school or district setting, seeing the needs of students and adults, analyzing situations, and formulating approaches and solutions. Graduates complete the program ready for careers as school administrators skilled at building relationships with students, parents, teachers, and community members to cultivate success in their schools.
The online Doctor of Education in Educational Administration program requires 45 credit hours and includes the following core courses:
- Business Management of Schools
- Cross-Cultural Leadership Studies
- Issues in Governance of Educational Institutions
- Issues in System Level Administration
- Leadership in Educational Organizations
- Superintendent Academy I
- Superintendent Academy II
- System-Level School Improvement
Online Doctor of Education in Educational Administration student’s must also complete an internship, dissertation and three one-week on-campus residencies at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln campus in Lincoln, NE.
Applicants must either hold a current Standard Teaching Certificate from Nebraska or an equivalent credential to the Nebraska Standard Teaching Certificate. Applicants must have at least two years of full-time teaching experience at the grade levels relevant to their desired course of study.
The College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln is accredited by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC). The University of Nebraska – Lincoln is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
2. Ball State University
The Teachers College at Ball State University offers a number of undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs for educators looking to study, grow and succeed in their careers. Within the College, the Department of Educational Leadership offers programs ideal for students seeking leadership roles, such as:
- School superintendency
- School administration
- Charter school leadership
- Research positions within the educational field
Many of the programs offered by both the Teachers College and Department of Educational Leadership give students the opportunity to gain licensure and certification.
The Department of Educational Leadership offers an online Doctor of Education in Educational Administration and Supervision degree program through the Ball State University Online platform. The program caters to education administrators and professionals dedicated to advancing the profession through quality teaching, research and service. Students can customize their doctoral program to meet their specific needs through a variety of minors; students can also choose to pursue Indiana licensure for school superintendency as part of the degree program.
The online Doctor of Education in Educational Administration and Supervision program requires 90 credit hours and includes the following core courses:
- Advanced Educational Psychology: Learning
- Advanced Seminar in Educational Administration
- Educational Decision Making
- Methodology of Educational Research
- Research Colloquium
- Statistical Methods in Educational and Psychological Research
Students in the online Doctor of Education in Educational Administration and Supervision program must complete an internship and a dissertation.
Applicants to the program must hold a master’s degree.
The Teachers College at Ball State University is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Ball State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
The Best Online Doctorate in Educational Psychology Programs
1. University of Georgia
The University of Georgia’s online Ed.S. program offers an accelerated path to an advanced degree in educational psychology. Full-time students can complete the 31-credit program in about three years; this allows students to quickly transition to careers in higher education, classrooms and consulting. Distance learners can complete all of their courses online and asynchronously; however, the program requires a field experience.
The curriculum focuses on working with exceptionally gifted and creative young people. Students can choose from five concentrations:
- A social and emotional strand
- A diversity strand
- A creative strand
- A foundations of educational psychology strand
- A research strand
In addition to a field experience, all students must complete an applied learning project to cap off their studies. To apply, students must hold a bachelor’s degree earned with a cumulative GPA of 2.6 or higher.
The University of Georgia is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
2. University of Missouri – St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
The University of Missouri – St. Louis offers a research-intensive online Ph.D. in education with an emphasis in educational psychology. Students must earn a minimum of 90 credits, which include coursework on quantitative and qualitative research methods, a nine-hour research internship, and writing and defending a dissertation. Distance learners also take classes on developmental psychology, cognition and learning, and character education.
With the exception of the research internship, students can meet all of the requirements for this educational psychology Ph.D. online. UMSL delivers classes asynchronously, which allows students to conveniently complete coursework. Distance learners can choose between accelerated eight-week classes and more traditional 16-week classes. Students at UMSL can access web-based tutoring and an online mentor program.
UMSL is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
3. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
Students interested in applying technology to the study of educational psychology can enroll in The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s online Ed.D. program. Students who pursue this degree develop the knowledge and skills necessary to design, implement and evaluate new learning technologies. While faculty deliver most of this program online in an asynchronous format, students must attend two three and a half day residencies while enrolled.
Students pursuing an Ed.D. in educational psychology online have the option of pursuing one of three concentrations: instructional design, higher education learning and technology, or K–12 learning and technology. Every option requires 60 earned credits and a dissertation defense. Students must graduate within five years. Applicants should have a master’s degree in education or at least three years of professional experience in an educational setting.
The Chicago School is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
Best Online Doctorate in Reading and Literacy Programs
1. Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
Based in Boone, North Carolina, ASU offers a doctor of education in educational leadership with a literacy in exceptionalities concentration. Students who pursue this literacy doctorate take a minimum of 60 credits; these credits are split between 36 core education credits, 18 credits of literacy concentration courses, and a six-credit dissertation. The core credits cover major topics in education, which include educational organizations and technology, writing for the professional educator, and qualitative research methods. Concentration courses allow students to select from a variety of advanced electives, such as severe reading disability and literacy instruction for students with challenging behaviors. The concentration component also requires candidates to complete an internship worth 3–6 credits; this year-long practicum allows students to gain hands-on experience working at an approved education agency. However, students must visit campus for some required special internship seminars.
ASU is regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC).
2. Concordia University – Chicago
River Forest, Illinois
Concordia University – Chicago is a private, liberal arts school and an affiliate of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Concordia University – Chicago offers two online literacy doctorate programs: an Ed.D. and a Ph.D., each in leadership with a reading, language and literacy specialization. Both programs provide a theoretical and practical approach to literacy education by emphasizing strategies rooted in the latest research. Both degrees require 61–67 credits and offer similar curricula that includes the following:
- Core language and literacy courses
- Foundations, philosophy and ethics courses
- Research and statistics courses
- Dissertation and final exams.
The two tracks have different coursework. For example, Ph.D. candidates must complete a philosophy of scientific knowledge class, while Ed.D. candidates must complete coursework in the philosophical and theoretical foundations of leadership. The Ph.D. track is research-oriented; candidates take five research courses. The Ed.D. is practice-oriented; it includes just three research courses.
Concordia University Chicago is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
3. Indiana University – Bloomington
The largest university in Indiana, IU is home to an Ed.D. in literacy, culture and language education program that features a flexible curriculum intended for working teachers. The program’s cohort format encourages peer collaboration and builds strong peer relationships. The degree’s integrative focus also allows candidates to make connections between coursework and their own professional practice.
This 60 credit Ed.D. in reading and literacy is available almost entirely online; it has no required internship or practicum. However, students must attend at least one academic conference on the IU campus. These conferences are organized by the school’s literacy, culture and language education department, and they take place each spring semester. The degree typically takes about three years to complete, although online learners have up to seven years to fulfill all doctoral requirements.
Indiana University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Choosing a Program
The key to choosing the right program is understanding your own career goals. With so many possible applications for a Ph.D. in child development — such as counseling, education and government advocacy — you need to identify which programs offer courses oriented to your professional objectives. For example, if you want to work one-on-one with students as a school guidance counselor, you should study emotional development through infancy and early childhood. If you want to work as an information analyst that contributes to future government and community initiatives as an education analyst, you should develop your research skills.
Popular concentrations in child development include cognition and emotional evolution, which is particularly relevant to social workers and educators. The infancy and early childhood specialization, which covers birth through age eight, is valuable for preschool and elementary school educators, administrators and counselors. Likewise, the young adult development specialization covers junior high through high school, and it addresses issues related to puberty, mental health and substance abuse.
What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Child Development Program?
Child development doctoral programs online offer many courses to tailor your degree to your career objectives. Courses will vary between schools, so evaluate the curriculum for each school to ensure that it develops the skills you need for your future career.
Curriculum for an Online Doctoral Degree in Child Development
Fundamentals of Social and Emotional Development:
In this course, you track emotional development from birth through early education and the complex relationships forged through early education. Lectures discuss the psychological, social and biological influences that shape young minds and define early experiences.
Risk in Early Childhood Development:
Students in this course tackle the challenging issue of risk management and stressors faced by young minds in early phases of childhood development. Students study the mental health of children and primary caregivers, economic issues like poverty and chronic stress, and positive and negative coping mechanisms.
This course examines the history and evolution of effective teaching. Students learn to address the psychosocial effects that teaching and educational structures have on young minds; this helps students comprehend how children and young adults learn.
In this class, students discuss and define the tenets of communication in educational contexts. They learn how to both communicate and give constructive critical feedback.
Education Finance and Budgeting:
Every future administrator or community leader must be understand the financial and budgeting restrictions that underpin modern education. Through case studies and hypothetical educational frameworks, this course teaches students how to evaluate policy priorities, conduct cost-benefit analysis and manage performance.
Careers with a Doctorate in Child Development
A doctorate in child development online leads to a range of career paths, such as a community as a social worker, an educator or a school administrator.
As a social worker, you are a liaison between families, therapists, foster care, schools and government agencies. You advocate for school and community resources and track individual children’s recovery processes.
- Median Annual Salary: $47,980
- Projected Growth Rate: 16%
Professor of Child Development:
With a Ph.D., you can work as a professor who teaches future students about the diversity of social and cultural contexts that impact education and early childhood development. Professors create and deliver course materials while conducting their own research.
- Median Annual Salary: $76,000
- Projected Growth Rate: 15%
As a principal, you manage elementary, junior high or high schools. Duties in this position include discipline administration, instructional management and budget maintenance.
- Median Annual Salary: $94,390
- Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics