College of Education and Human Development wordmark.
Institute of Child Development wordmark.

Online M.A.
Child life track

Child Life Specialists are trained professionals who help children cope with the stress and uncertainty of illness, injury, disability, and hospitalization. Drawing on child development theory, Child Life Specialists promote coping through play and therapeutic activities, and provide developmentally-appropriate preparation and education for children in health care settings. Child Life Specialists partner with medical teams to meet the cultural, emotional, and developmental needs of each child and family. The Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP) establishes and maintains professional standards for the child life field. We developed our program to be in line with ACLP’s best practice recommendations.

Find what drives you: Join us

  • Gain a strong education in child development, applied research methods, and child life practice.
  • Prepare to work as a child life specialist in a variety of health care settings.
  • Help children and families during life’s most challenging moments.

How to apply


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Core coursework

Take foundational courses in child and adolescent development:

  • CPSY 5301: Advanced Developmental Psychology
  • CPSY 5302: Cognitive and Biological Development
  • CPSY 5303: Social and Emotional Development
  • CPSY 5304: Research Methods in Applied Child and Adolescent Development
  • CPSY 5306: Ethics and Professionalism in Applied Child and Adolescent Development

Learn more about the curriculum

Track coursework

In addition to the program’s core courses, you'll take:

  • CPSY 5601: Child Life Theory, Practice and Program Development
  • CPSY 5602: Developmental Perspectives on Illness and Injury in Healthcare
  • CPSY 5603: Therapeutic Play in Child Life Practice
  • CPSY 5604: Therapeutic Relationships: Supporting Children in Healthcare
  • CPSY 5605: Childhood Death and Bereavement

View a sample degree timeline

Child life internship

To graduate, you must complete a 600-hour clinical internship within two years of finishing coursework. The internship is integrated into our program as academic coursework (CPSY 5996), so you'll continue to receive support from our academic and student services team as you fulfill the internship requirements.

  • Local students may qualify for a clinical internship position at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, a partner of the Institute of Child Development M.A. program, where we have internship openings available each year.
  • Students studying outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area will work with our child life coordinator to identify and apply for internships that are accessible to them.


With your degree in applied child and adolescent development with a specialization in child life, you’ll be prepared to pursue a career as a certified child life specialist.

The ACLP maintains professional standards for child life specialists. Visit ACLP's child life profession page to learn more about the field.

Salary outlook

A certified child life specialist's salary may vary based on region, medical environment, and number of years as a child life specialist. There is often a pay raise that comes with having a master's degree.

Salary information: Association of Child Life Professionals Child Life Profession Compensation Study (2012)

Tuition and funding

Since this is an online program, all students qualify for the Minnesota resident tuition rate. Tuition for our M.A. program follows the University’s general resident graduate tuition rates for the College of Education and Human Development. Full-time enrollment is 6 to 14 credits per semester. Each track in our M.A. program has its own course and credit requirements.

Are you interested in taking a graduate course but aren't a student at the University of Minnesota? Visit OneStop Student Services to learn more about how to register.

We're driven to make a difference

Sarah Wiebler
Developmental science helps us understand how best to communicate with and support children of all ages through traumatic or stressful experiences, such as illness, injury, hospitalization, or grief. Our students will graduate with a deep knowledge of how to best serve children and their families during life’s most challenging moments.

Sarah Wiebler, M.S.
Child Life Coordinator

Read how Sarah is helping children and families.