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If you're looking into a PhD or EdD in Early Childhood Education and Development, consider this: Professionals with doctorate degrees in the field are in greater demand than ever. Whether you're interested in a research or teaching career, or just enhancing the educational experiences of young people, you'll find that a doctorate in Early Childhood Education will position you to secure the job of your dreams.

If you've begun researching schools, you may be daunted by the number of options available to you. Don't despair; there are numerous tools available to help you sort through the possibilities and identify the best program for you.

The following guide will help you navigate your way through the information-gathering and application process. Follow the steps offered below, and you will have started down the path toward achieving a doctorate in Early Childhood Education.

Overview of a PhD in Early Childhood Education

The study of early childhood education is closely intertwined with psychology and the study of early childhood development. G. Stanley Hall, one of the discipline's pioneers, helped establish the Child Study Association of America in 1888, drawing on his expertise in child psychology. In 1894, his efforts led to the formation of the Department of Child Study within the National Education Association.

Since the early 20th century, two doctoral degree programs have emerged in the field: a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a Doctor of Education (EdD). In theory, the PhD is the researcher's degree, training professional scholars and researchers. The EdD, on the other hand, is the practitioner's degree, designed for working educators seeking to master the skill sets needed for effective educational leadership. The actual distinction between the two degrees is highly contested, however.

If you are researching doctorate degrees, you will find that some schools offer a PhD in Early Childhood Education, while others offer the EdD. The curriculum, specializations offered, and other program details will reveal more about the philosophy behind the degree than will the actual degree title.

From a Doctorate Degree to the Workforce: Career Opportunities

With more young children needing care outside the home during their preschool years, professionals holding a PhD in Early Childhood Education are in high demand--as teachers of professionals in a burgeoning field; as researchers and advisors, who can help shape the many government programs developing in the field of early childhood education; and as leaders in teacher training, curriculum design, and professional development.

For the Working Professional: Online PhD in Early Childhood Education

If you're committed to early childhood education, you may already be working in the field as a preschool teacher, child caretaker, or school administrator. Thanks to the number of schools offering PhD and EdD programs online, you may be able to combine your current career with a doctorate in Early Childhood Education.

Like other online PhD programs, an online PhD in Early Childhood Education typically offers a three-pronged approach, combining faculty-guided research based on your professional interests and background with face-to-face residencies and online courses. Many such programs enable students to study at their own paces and, at least in part, from the comfort of home.

Finding the Right Doctorate Program: The Research and Application Process

The following steps will walk you through the process of identifying and applying to the programs of your choice.

Step 1: Identify Core Criteria for a PhD in Early Childhood Education and Development

As you consider a doctorate in Early Childhood Education, you probably have a set of core requirements already in mind. Make a list of the non-negotiables for your campus-based or online degree program.

  • Accreditation. Accreditation means that a school has established a baseline of academic standards that meet criteria set by an authorizing agency.
  • Time commitment. Doctoral programs in early childhood education assume a variety of forms, from full-time campus-based programs to part-time online PhD programs. Think about what kind of time investment you want to make to help narrow your search.
  • Format. Do you want to work part-time as a preschool teacher while you pursue a PhD in Early Childhood Education? If so, you might want to consider online PhD programs, which are generally more flexible. If you're ready to drop everything to fulfill your academic ambitions, look into full-time campus-based programs.
  • Location. If you don't want to move, you will limit your options to schools within a particular geographical radius or to distance learning programs, such as an online PhD in Early Childhood Education.
  • Entry requirements. Do you already have a masters-level degree? If not, be sure to limit your search to combined master's/PhD programs.

Step 2: Assess Your Options for a PhD or EdD in Early Childhood Education

With your list of core criteria in hand, you're ready to begin researching programs.

Survey the Field

There are many sources for information about graduate schools in early childhood education and development. Use the following list to get started.

Use the results of your search to compile a master list of programs that meet your basic needs. Now it's time to hone in.

Step 3: Narrow the Field of Campus-Based or Online PhD Programs

This step is the most important--and time-consuming. In order to whittle down your list, you'll need to do some digging into the programs you've identified. There are several aspects you'll want to consider.

1. Specializations

Through a PhD or EdD in Early Childhood Education, you will become a specialist in the field. In particular, your dissertation, if required, will involve a significant commitment to researching and writing about a topic in depth. Specializations for a doctorate in Early Childhood Education include:

  • Curriculum development
  • Early childhood policy
  • Early childhood special education
  • Families as partners in children's schooling
  • Impact of language and literacy development on children's learning
  • Influence of culture, including multiculturalism, on teaching and learning
  • Multiple ways of knowing
  • Social contexts of learning
  • Uses of evaluation and assessment in teaching and learning

2. Quality of the Program

A program's quality depends on many factors. Consider some of the following criteria for campus-based and online early childhood education programs:

  • Faculty. As a doctoral student, you will work closely with one particular faculty member, who will act as your advisor. Be sure to investigate faculty expertise closely. Determine whether there is someone in the program who would be a suitable mentor for you throughout your graduate studies. Also consider the student/faculty ratio, as it can indicate the amount of attention each graduate student receives from his or her advisor.
  • History. Consider how long a program has been in existence. If it is new, make sure it is well-organized and seems comparable to other programs.
  • Reputation. Talk to professionals in your field to get their informed opinions about programs and schools.
  • Philosophy and orientation of the program. Some programs explicitly prepare students to become researchers, while others focus on developing the skills professionals need to advance to top administrative positions. Make sure that the program is going to point you in the direction that best meets your career goals.
  • Graduation rate. How many students who begin the program actually complete it?
  • Placement of graduates. Are graduates teaching at top universities? Are they holding important administrative positions?

3. Program Cost

Most doctoral programs will significantly drain your financial resources if paid out-of-pocket. Fortunately, many schools offer financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and teaching assistantships.

4. Admission Requirements

Carefully review admission requirements and ensure that you have what it takes to get in. The more stringent the admissions, the higher the caliber of doctoral student the program will attract. It's okay to aim high--many schools will consider work experience and other factors--but don't limit yourself to programs that may be too selective--or exclusive--for your qualifications.

5. School Resources

Other factors that may influence your decision include a school's library collection, campus facilities, and student/faculty networks relating to early childhood education and development.

Where to Get Information

Individual schools' Web sites vary in the amount of information they offer online, but you will be able to collect a surprising amount of detail just by perusing the Internet. Make a note of any gaps in information, and call the school directly to fill in the blanks.

When you've completed your Internet and phone research, be sure to visit campuses and talk to faculty and students, whether you're pursuing a campus-based or online PhD in Early Childhood Education. You'll be spending the next three to six years working toward your doctorate degree, so finding the best fit is essential!

Step 4: Get Ready to Apply

You've identified your top programs, and now you're ready to apply to a campus-based or online PhD in Early Childhood Education. Allow yourself plenty of time to undertake this process--a superb admissions essay could make the difference between getting into your first-choice program--or not. Carefully review each school's requirements, and gather your information.

  • Transcripts. Check to see whether you have the option of ordering transcripts online--this can save time and effort
  • Prerequisite courses and degrees. If you need to have a teaching certificate or master's degree to enter the doctoral program, you will likely need to send appropriate documentation
  • Letters of recommendation. Be sure to solicit letters from people who can attest to your ability to perform quality work and/or scholarship in the field
  • Qualifying exams. Most campus-based and online PhD programs require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Take the test several months before your application deadlines; it can take a while for the results to be processed and mailed to your schools. International students may also have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam
  • Application fees. Make sure you have sufficient funds to cover application fees, as most schools require them
  • Other requirements. Depending on the program, you may need to send a writing sample or sample curriculum you've developed

Submit your application materials well in advance of the deadline to spare yourself any unnecessary last-minute stress. While you're waiting for the results, follow these additional steps to get ready for your new life as a doctoral student.

Step 5: Know Your Academic Community

You can prepare for your PhD program by familiarizing yourself with experts and current research in the field. Get up-to-speed in early childhood education by

  • Subscribing to early childhood education publications, like Electronic Journal of the American Association of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Early Childhood Education Journal
  • Joining professional organizations and associations
  • Attending academic conferences

Step 6: Visualize Your Future Career

A doctorate in Early Childhood Education will entail a significant time and intellectual commitment. You'll get the most out of your degree if you have a clear career path in mind.

Whatever career goal keeps you motivated throughout your graduate work, remember that your work is essential: Experts in early childhood education and development help ensure that young people get the education and developmental support they need to live happy and fulfilling lives.


  • Columbia University Teachers College, EdD: Early Childhood Education
  • Early Childhood Education: An International Encyclopedia, Volume 1, by Rebecca Staples New and Moncrieff Cochran
  • Electronic Journal of the American Association of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Prevalence of Doctoral Programs in Early Childhood Education, by Dr. Diane Malaspina
  • Georgia State University, Early Childhood Education, PhD
  • Inside Higher Ed., Envisioning a New Ed.D., by Elizabeth Redden
  • Northern Illinois University College of Education, Ed.D. Versus Ph.D.: What's the Difference?
  • NYU Steinhardt: Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, Early Childhood & Childhood Education, Ph.D.
  • The University of Memphis, Instruction and Curriculum Leadership: College of Education, Early Childhood (EdD)
  • The University of Michigan School of Education, Early Childhood Education: Program Overview
  • Walden University, Early Childhood Education

EdD: Early Childhood Education