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Is Earning a Child Development Associate Credential Worth It?

early childhood teacher playing with young girl

Are you interested in caring for young children or even running a childcare center? As you advance through this appealing career path, it helps to understand the landscape of potential education and credentials needed to thrive.

Pursuing an Early Childhood Education (ECE) degree program isn’t feasible for everyone—and it’s not always the right choice either. For some, the best option for boosting your ECE resume is to obtain a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential

The CDA credential covers many of the components that research and subject-matter experts have deemed critical in both ECE curriculum and experience. Since 1975, this nationally-recognized credential has stood as the foundation of professional development in the ECE field. Preparing for and obtaining this credential can help you grow in your career and develop your ECE skills and knowledge. 

Still not sure if a Child Development Associate credential is worth it? Keep reading to see what it takes to earn your CDA credential and how it can further benefit you and your career goals.

Important info about the Child Development Associate credentialing process

Before you commit to anything, you’ve got a few important questions. Let's dig into the details of what goes into earning a CDA credential.

CDA credential settings

Child Development Associate credential applicants have the option to choose between four ECE settings to become certified in. The CDA credential settings are as follows:1

  • Preschool: A state-approved, center-based preschool setting. Candidates work with a group of at least eight children between the ages of three to five years old.
  • Infant-Toddler: A state-approved, center-based child care setting. Candidates work with a group of at least three children under three years old.
  • Family Child Care: A home-based child care setting. Candidates work with at least two children under the age of five years old who are not related to the candidate. Setting must meet the minimum state and/or local regulations.
  • Home Visitor: An established home visit program that supports parents in meeting the needs of their young children. Candidates for a Home Visitor CDA credential follow a slightly different assessment process (more information here.)

CDA subject areas

The Child Development Associate credential emphasizes training in eight key areas. This ensures that individuals are well-rounded professionals equipped to thrive in many ECE environments. The CDA subject areas are:1

  • Planning a safe and healthy learning environment
  • Advancing children’s physical and intellectual development
  • Supporting children’s social and emotional development
  • Building productive relationships with families
  • Managing an effective program operation
  • Maintaining a commitment of professionalism
  • Observing and recording children’s behavior
  • Understanding principles of child development and learning

CDA applicant requirements

There are a few important criteria you’ll need to meet in order to apply for a CDA credential. Here are the basic CDA requirements:1

  • You must have a high school diploma OR be a high school student in an early education career program.
  • You must have completed 120 total hours of formal ECE training, including at least 10 hours in each of the eight CDA subject areas (outlined above.)
  • Within three years before applying, you must obtain 480 hours of experience working with young children.
  • Within 6 months before you apply, you must prepare a CDA professional portfolio according to the requirements outlined in the CDA Competency Standards book.

CDA evaluation components

The Child Development Associate credentialing assessment process evaluates candidates based on multiple sources of evidence besides just the CDA exam. Applicants must also undergo an observation period, submit a professional portfolio, competency statements and other resources.

Professional portfolio

Every applicant must compile a portfolio to be reviewed as part of the CDA credentialing process. This is composed of: education documentation, family questionnaires, six reflective statements of competence, 10 resources and a professional philosophy statement.

Family questionnaires

Parental involvement is an important element of the CDA credentialing process, which is why family questionnaires are a required component of the professional portfolio. Candidates must issue questionnaires to the families they’ve served, allowing them to review and respond to their feedback to aid in their professional development.

Verification visit

This portion is based on the R.O.R. Model®, which stands for Review-Observe-Reflect. During this process, a CDA Professional Development Specialist evaluates the candidate’s competency. First they review the professional portfolio, training transcripts and family questionnaires. Then they observe the candidate working with children and reflect with them on areas of strength or growth.

CDA exam information

The Child Development Associate exam is administered at a testing center and is comprised of 65 multiple-choice questions (60 standard questions and five scenario questions). Candidates will be given one hour and 45 minutes to complete the exam. Applicants do not receive a pass/fail score. Instead, they are cumulatively evaluated on all areas of the exam along with their verification visit to reach a credentialing decision.

CDA credential cost

There are fees associated with applying for and renewing your Child Development Associate credential. The fees for online applicants are $425 for initial application and a $125 for renewal cost. Those submitting paper applications will be charged a $500 initial application fee and $150 renewal fee.1 All payments are due in full at the time of application.

Why earn a CDA?

Now that you have an in-depth look at the CDA requirements and evaluation process, you’re probably wondering if it’s really worth it for you to earn the credential.

In a nutshell — the answer is yes! So what makes a CDA credential worth pursuing? We enlisted Rasmussen College School of Education Department Chair Mary Muhs to weigh in on the significance of earning this credential. Read up on some of the benefits of acquiring a CDA credential.

Confidence

The CDA credential requires you to not only learn about ECE best practices, but also gain hundreds of hours of hands-on experience and valuable feedback from expert observers. After being armed with this knowledge and experience, imagine the confidence you’ll have walking into a classroom full of young learners.

“The CDA credential shows that you already know so much about quality childcare and education before setting forth into a more formal higher education degree,” Muhs explains. “It gives you encouragement and a step up.”

Competence

There’s no denying that early childhood education is important. As the research supporting the importance of ECE increases, so does the demand for accredited and competent individuals with both academic training and applicable experience. Having a CDA credential helps qualify you for more jobs by showing potential future employers that you have reached a professional level of skill and knowledge.

Muhs explains that while a CDA credential may not always be required by employers, it holds great value. The fact that the credential is recognized nationwide means that it can serve an individual well in the future. “It is highly respected and shows that you are committed to quality programs for children,” Muhs adds.

Credits

Perhaps you’re hoping that your childcare experience acts as a stepping stone toward a more advanced early childhood education career. Think of the Child Development Associate credential as a ticket into the ECE world. The hours of education and hands-on experience you gain with your CDA credential could help you solidify your career goals.

If you decide to advance your education further in the future, many degree programs will offer credits for individuals who have acquired the CDA credential.

“We know the importance of the CDA Credential as the foundation for future education,” Muhs says.

Because of this, Rasmussen College allows up to 12 credits to be waived for verification of a current CDA credential—and for those who’ve completed the three-course, fully-online CDA Prep training through Rasmussen College the transition is seamless.2

Take the first step toward earning your CDA credential

So is earning a CDA credential worth it? We can’t give you an answer—only you can determine if this industry-trusted qualification aligns with your career goals. But its value and relevancy can help you begin your journey into the field of early childhood education, and that is just the beginning.

If you’re ready to earn your Child Development Associate credential, the Rasmussen College CDA Prep training—offered fully online in English and in a bilingual Spanish/English format—can help get you there. Visit the Rasmussen College CDA Prep training page to learn more.

1Council for Professional Recognition; Child Development Associate (CDA) Council, cdacouncil.org, 2017
2See Rasmussen College course catalog for transfer policies.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2018. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.

Callie Malvik

Callie is the Content Manager at Collegis Education, overseeing blog content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about creating quality resources that empower others to improve their lives through education.

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