College of Education and Human Development

Institute of Child Development

Child life track

Online applied child and adolescent development MA

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.
  • Participate in a graduate program endorsed by the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP).
  • Prepare to work as a child life specialist in a variety of health care settings.
  • Already a practicing child life specialist? Pursue a flexible, individualized program option.

We're driven to make a difference

Quote from Cala Hefferan

Pursuing this program has equipped me with the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to the broader field of child life, along with communication skills and strategies to support patients and families through traumatic and stressful experiences in a variety of settings.

Cala Hefferan Online M.A. child life track alumnus and Certified Child Life Specialist at Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB)
ACLP endorsed
100% pass certification exam on first attempt.
96% of graduates were hired in the field

About this program

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

Practicing child life specialists

If you’re already a Certified Child Life Specialist, you won’t be required to complete an internship. You’ll work with an adviser to develop an individual academic focus and capstone project in a specialized area of child life, such as leadership, program development, or palliative care.


With your degree in applied child and adolescent development with a concentration in child life, you’ll be prepared to pursue a career as a Certified Child Life Specialist. If you’re already a practicing child life specialist, you’ll get the training you need to take the next step in your career.

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

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.

  • Students living in the Twin Cities 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.
  • 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.

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 2020 Salary Survey

How to apply

    Admissions requirements and deadline

    Deadline: February 15

    If admitted, you'll start the program in the summer semester. The summer semester begins in early June. View the University of Minnesota's academic calendar for specific summer session dates.

    We invite applications to our online MA program every year. You’re eligible to apply if you’ve completed:

    • a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, earned prior to the summer start of the MA program. Preferred GPA: 3.00.
    • at least one psychology course (lifespan, child, or developmental psychology preferred) or human development course, grade B or higher. If you're a student at the University of Minnesota (U of M), we encourage you to take CPSY 2301: Intro to Child Psychology.

    There are additional admissions prerequisites for the child life track. Please visit Application instructions-child life for details. 


    Review application instructions before beginning your application. To apply for our program, submit all materials electronically through the University’s online application system. Please don't submit materials via mail. We can't review your application until you submit all of the materials listed.

    Test scores

    We do not require GRE scores.

    Information for international students

    • English Language test scores (TOEFL): For students whose first language is not English, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required. The exception is for non-native English speakers who completed their undergraduate degree in an English-speaking country within the last five years. For the TOEFL, we require a score of 79 or above, with section scores of 21 on writing and 19 on reading. We must have an official copy of your scores on file. Send test scores to institution code 6874. View the U of M’s TOEFL score guidelines and expectations.
    • Visas: This program is designed to be completed entirely in your home country. This program does not provide visas to come to the United States to study or complete internship requirements.

    For any questions, please contact

    Tuition and funding

    Students who take all their courses online qualify for the Minnesota resident tuition rate. Tuition for our MA program follows the University’s general resident graduate tuition rates. Full-time enrollment is 6 to 14 credits per semester. Each track in our MA program has its own course and credit requirements.

    Additional resources

    Child life track application instructions

    Additional prerequisites

    During your application submission, please upload your ACLP child life course verification form and add your 100 hours of experiences with children, youth, and families.

    • Introduction to child life course: All applicants must complete or be enrolled in a child life course taught by a Certified Child Life Specialist. Complete the ACLP child life course verification form, get it signed by your Certified Child Life Specialist instructor, and upload the form in the program materials section.
    • Experiences with Children, Youth, and Families: In the program application, you will need to add experience with details of at least 100 combined hours of direct interaction with children, youth, and families experiencing health-related services in a healthcare and/or community-based setting.

    Required materials

    Before you begin the online application, gather the following materials:

    • Unofficial transcripts: You must submit an unofficial transcript or academic record for each institution you’ve attended.
    • Resume or CV (do not fill out the employment section in the application, you’ll be asked to upload a resume/CV later in the application.)
    • Personal statement: Address our personal statement prompts in your statement. 
    • Diversity statement: Enrolling and graduating a diverse student body is central to the U of M’s mission. Complete a one-page statement that identifies the distinctive qualities, characteristics, and life experiences you would contribute to your graduate program. Include examples that address your contribution to the diversity of the student body and illustrate your motivation to succeed. Please do not exceed one page in length.
    • Three letters of recommendation: Identify and get contact information for three people who will serve as your recommenders.  One of your three letters of recommendation should be from someone who can speak to your direct interactions with children and families. Share our letter of recommendation prompts with them. We suggest that you seek additional recommendations from the following:
      • College instructor, advisor, or mentor
      • Employer
      • Another academic reference or, if that’s not possible, a personal reference from someone who has known you for five years or longer but is not a family member
    • Application Fee: $75 ($95 for international applicants). Must be paid online with credit card.


    Email our admissions staff at

    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.