What are the differences between a certificate and a Master’s Degree in Child Development?

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First, we need to distinguish between the two words to avoid any confusion. Although many readers may know the differences. However, we will take the liberty of highlighting some of the features of both.


The word refers to a document presented to professionals who have attained the standards and requirements of the said certification. Typically, an organization or authoritative entity awards certification to those who have met specific qualifications. Many certifications require that the candidate pass an examination that is governed by the organization granting them. For example, individuals working in finance may opt to earn the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Certification. It can take 18 to 24 months to study to complete.


In academia, colleges, universities, and vocational schools award certificates to those who have taken courses in a particular field of study. It is similar to a degree or diploma, although usually with less coursework. A certificate can apply to a specific area, such as creative writing. There are also certificates for marriage, death, birth, or a club that may present a certificate to a member as a form of recognition.

This article applies the term certificate to a level of education – in this case, in child development or its cousin, childhood education.

Child Development Certificates

One notable certificate is the Child Development Associate Credential (CDA) granted by the Council for Professional Recognition. They are responsible for advancing the development of early childhood educators. Individuals involved in early childhood education (ECE) will benefit from meeting the Competency Standards of the credential. The CDA applies to the following four childcare settings:

  • Pre-school
  • Infant-Toddler
  • Family Child Care
  • Home Visitor

Applicants must have a high school diploma, complete 120 hours of CDA training, have 480 hours of experience working with children, and complete their Professional Portfolio.

There are online programs where you can complete the mandatory 120 hours in eight subject areas for your CDA. Penn Foster Career School, for example, offers a Child Development Certificate. Students can finish the coursework within five months.

A certificate, then, is a means to obtain valuable training in the material that you can apply directly to your job in child development. A GED or high school diploma affords opportunities to advance your education. Many of the certificate programs are available at local technical and community colleges. Accessibility to a large group of prospective students is attractive. Moreover, there are substantial cost savings associated with attending a community college.

Wiregrass-Georgia Technical College has four campus locations in the state. They have a Child Development Specialist Certificate open to students with an official high school transcript. There are fourteen credit hours for a total cost of $1,776, inclusive of tuition and fees.

The average length of a master’s degree is two years. The average cost of a graduate degree is $25,000. The tuition varies considerably depending on the school; however, a college degree is more expensive. Four-year schools charge tuition the same as most community colleges: by the credit hour. In the above example, Wiregrass costs $100 for tuition alone, inclusive of fees brings the total to $476 per credit hour.

To compete with the cost of a technical school, an online program is the best option. By studying from home, you save on fees (health insurance and parking), which add to the cost. You also avoid the expense of room and board. Another consideration, if attending a residency program, is to select an in-state learning institution. Colleges generally have higher tuition for out-of-state students. The University of North Carolina-Greensboro offers a Master of Education in Birth-Kindergarten Development. The in-state tuition is $8,412/year, and the out-of-state is $19,032.

Job Potential

A significant difference in a certificate and a master’s degree is in earnings and career opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median income for Childcare Workers at $23,240 per year (May 2018). With a certificate in child development or related discipline, your salary will be limited.

As your education progresses, the median wage should escalate. The BLS reported the average pay for Preschool and Childcare Directors at $47,940 per year (May 2018). That figure based on a bachelor’s degree.

There are graduate programs in child development that have a combination of early development with childhood education. A blend of these subjects may boost job openings and salary potential. An early childhood Special Education Teacher can earn $59,780 (BLS) with the advancement as high as $95,000 with a master’s degree.


The certificate is a quicker and less costly way to receive sufficient training to find entry-level employment in child development. You can always earn a bachelor’s degree online if you want to advance your marketability in the field. The next step is a master’s. Again, you can take classes online at your pace while continuing your job and personal life. You need to weigh the cost and time against the benefits proffered with a master’s degree.

Additional Resources:

Do different states have different versions of certification for jobs in Child Development?

How long does it take to get a Masters in Child Development?

What are the differences between an online and campus Master’s for Child Development?

What are some of the best schools for an Online Masters in Child Development?

What are the professional organizations for people in Child Development?

Are there Master’s programs in Curriculum and Instruction?