Early Childhood Certificate vs. Degree: Differences

Updated 24 September 2023

Working with children can be rewarding. If you enjoy working with children and have an interest in teaching, you may wonder how you can align your education with your career goals. Understanding the differences between the types of education and their advantages can help you decide which one to pursue. In this article, we discuss the differences between an early childhood education certificate and a degree.

Related: What Is Early Childhood Education? (Roles, Skills and Salary)

Explore jobs on Indeed
Part-time jobs
View more jobs on Indeed

Early childhood certificate vs. degree

If you want to work in education, it's beneficial to understand the differences between an early childhood certificate vs. a degree. Early childhood education is a professional career that centres around the education and development of children. It may involve teaching and caring for students in kindergarten and childcare centres. You can gain experience by obtaining a certificate or degree to help you advance in your career. Individuals who wish to pursue roles with higher requirements may wish to obtain a degree to increase their chances of securing a job. Here are more details on each qualification:

Certificate in early childhood education

A certificate is a viable option for those who can only commit to studying for a shorter period of time. You can typically obtain a certificate within a few months to a year. Many programmes offer flexibility for employed professionals. Certificate programmes may require students to follow a schedule to complete coursework. Other options may allow you to choose how many classes you'd like to take at once.

Many early education programmes expect head teachers to have a degree before they work alone in a classroom. A certificate benefits those who wish to work as a teacher's assistant or paraprofessional. Professionals who want to learn a new skill or develop their knowledge beyond a degree may choose to take on additional coursework through a certificate.


  • How to Become a Teacher's Aide (With Duties and Salaries)

  • 44 Paraprofessional Teacher Interview Questions and Answers

Degree in early childhood education

Many professionals who want to obtain a degree in early childhood education complete an application and admittance process for an accredited university. Many institutions offer programmes that last two to four years, though some offer the flexibility for you to take additional courses and graduate earlier or extend your education for longer. These courses tend to be intensive and may include in-class instruction in addition to coursework. Studying for a degree may also require you to develop several syllabi for classroom use.

You can consider higher-level options if you have already completed a four-year degree. A professional hoping to advance their career may choose to pursue a master's degree in education, which may take two or more years to complete.


  • What Is an Early Childhood Education Degree? (Plus Job List)

  • What Can You Do With a Master’s in Early Childhood Education?

Key factors to consider

There are several important factors to consider when planning to become an early childhood educator. Many people choose a programme based on the cost of the education. Others may select a programme based on how well it fits in with other commitments such as work. The following are some important aspects to take into consideration:


If you work or have family commitments, you may have less time to fit classes into your schedule. Taking a part-time course with only a few classes per week can allow you the flexibility to complete assignments on time. If you can dedicate more time towards your education, you can complete the programme quickly by studying a full-time course. A certificate course is less time intensive than a degree course.


Certificate programmes are typically more cost-effective for individuals who have a smaller budget for their education. Some programmes may even allow you to pay for one course at a time so that you can complete them at your own pace. Degree options typically work on a tuition scale, so you pay before beginning your studies. Universities may also offer financial aid for eligible students to defer payments or pay a certain amount of tuition fees.

Related: What Does a Teacher's Aide Do? (With Requirements and Skills)


Your ability to commit to specific coursework may differ. For example, a certificate may grant you more freedom and time than a typical degree programme, which may require you to attend classes in person, although many universities do also accommodate digital learning. Some courses include pre-recorded online materials, which give you the flexibility to study according to your availability.


It's important to consider which university or institution you'd like to graduate from. If a university's reputation or location is important to you, you can choose either a certificate or degree based on what that institute offers. Some locations may have extracurricular offerings and other benefits.


Some programmes may offer you additional experience before you graduate. This may be in-classroom teaching or voluntary opportunities. With extra work outside of the classroom, you can build your confidence before you officially enter the field. With degree programmes, it may be necessary to complete an internship at a kindergarten or childcare centre during the school vacation period or during one of the semesters.

Related: What Is a Primary School Tutor? Role and Responsibilities

Professional goals

Different types of education are beneficial to different career paths. For example, if you want to lead a classroom as a head teacher, you may require a four-year degree with classroom experience. Positions that work in conjunction with another teacher may only require a certificate. Consider what your long-term goals are and choose the option that aligns with them.

Related: How to Become a Primary School Teacher: Skills and Salary

Leadership expectations

You might choose your education based on your teaching preferences. Some teachers prefer to work on their own within a classroom. This usually requires a strong sense of organisation and the ability to manage children. Other professionals prefer to work alongside another teacher in a collaborative classroom to reduce the pressure of maintaining a classroom alone.


You might consider international opportunities. Some countries may have higher educational requirements than others. If you plan to work in a specific country in the future, it's beneficial to research institutions there that interest you. Once you understand their expectations, you can apply for your preferred programme.

How to choose your preferred option

While there are advantages to each type of programme, you may want to choose the one that best suits your lifestyle. Here are some steps to help you choose the best programme for you:

1. Seek assistance

You can seek advice from the admissions counsellors at each university. They can usually give you more insight into the courses and explain what to expect when they begin. They can also answer any other questions you may have.

Related: The Importance of a Mentor (And How to Find Your Own)

2. Discuss your options

You can also contact a university's financial advisors if you require financial guidance. These staff members can share the projected financial aid of the course and inform you of any available grants, loans and other tuition support options that you can take advantage of. Once you decide which programme you'd like to take, submit an application and fill out any necessary paperwork before it begins.

3. Consider the application process

The application process for certificates usually involves making a payment and setting up your student identification in the institution's system. For full-time degrees, institutions may require you to pay an application fee to submit required documents. They may also require new students to attend an orientation before the start of the semester. Many universities now offer the option to participate in a short orientation online for both certificate and degree courses as a way for students to connect with peers and faculty members.

Explore your next job opportunity on IndeedFind jobs

Explore more articles

  • How To Become a Microbiologist (Steps and Qualifications)
  • Mechanical Design Engineer Job Description (With Skills)
  • What Can You Do With a History Degree? (With Salaries)
  • How To Become an Environmental Engineer (With Career FAQs)
  • What Does a Finance Administrator Do? (Duties and Skills)
  • How to Become a Construction Project Manager (With Skills)
  • How to Become a Shipbroker (With Career Tips and Salary)
  • What Are HR Business Partner Responsibilities? (Plus Skills)
  • What Does an Executive Administrator Do? (Duties and Skills)
  • What Does an Equity Research Analyst Do? Skills and FAQs
  • What Does a Prison Warden Do? (With Duties and Salary)
  • How To Become a Hedge Fund Manager (With Skills and Tips)