Best Online Doctorate in Child Development Programs 2021

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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 Child Development Doctorate

Fielding Graduate University true View School Profile Santa Barbara, CA 96% Fielding Graduate University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

A private university founded in 1974, Fielding offers an online doctor of philosophy in infant and early childhood development. Students complete courses online through synchronous delivery, with one four-day in-person orientation required.

Required courses include infant and early childhood mental health, language development, family systems theory and functioning, and sensory-motor development. Students complete the program with a dissertation and a comprehensive essay.

Applicants may apply for the program with either a bachelor's or master's degree. Students must possess a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission but do not need to submit standardized test scores.

Best Online Doctorate

Online Child Development Doctorate Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

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Featured Online Child Development Doctorate

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.
  • Pedagogical Theory: 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.
  • Educational Communication: 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.

true Social Worker $47,980 16%

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.

true Professor of Child Development $76,000 15%

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.

true Principal $94,390 8%

As a principal, you manage elementary, junior high or high schools. Duties in this position include discipline administration, instructional management and budget maintenance.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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