Child Life Track—Master of Arts in Family and Consumer Sciences

child life track

Admissions requirements

  • Bachelor's degree with GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • Evidence of undergraduate coursework in child development.
  • Experience working with children, youth, and/or families.
  • One page statement explaining applicant’s interest in this master’s degree program.
  • Three professional letters of reference.

Student success

  • "It [the program] allowed me the flexibility as a single parent to work, attend classes and meet the needs of my sons,”"Mark Ybarra, alumni feature

Program description

This program is offered in-person.

The Master of Arts in Family and Consumer Sciences (Child Life track) prepares students to pursue a career in the child life profession. This 32 credit hour track (or 34 credit hour track if a Child Life practicum was not completed prior to entrance) involves course work aligned with recommendations and requirements of the Association of Child Life Professionals, the primary professional organization of child life specialists. The curriculum provides classroom and field experiences enabling students to build on skills and knowledge key to working as a child life professional.

Knowing that illness, injury and hospitalization can negatively impact the life of a child and their family, child life specialists attend to the patient's developmental, psychosocial and emotional needs. Through interventions such as play, education, preparation, procedural support and emotional support, child life specialists work with the patient and family to create and embrace positive coping practices. Research shows that the interventions done by child life specialists help to minimize the stress of the medical environment, which therefore promotes healing. Child life specialists advocate for the unique and individual needs of patients and families and work alongside physicians, nurses, social workers and other staff members to ensure those needs are met. Child life specialists have a strong educational background in child development and have significant experience in being able to recognize and combat stressors of the hospital setting. Child life programs can be found in a variety of settings all across the world. Whereas most child life programming serves children within the hospital, other child life specialists work in places such as outpatient medical areas, bereavement programs and schools as well as other facilities that support children facing challenging events.

The child life track provides students with the necessary educational foundation to pursue a career in child life or a related field. Upon graduation, students may wish to continue on and seek certification as a child life specialist through the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP). Upon graduation, the student is eligible to sit for the child life certification exam.

For more general information on the field of child life, and an overview of professional opportunities, please visit

Why this program at Western Michigan University

  • First Child Life graduate program in Michigan and only Child Life graduate program at a Michigan Public University
  • Over 93% of students are working in child life positions within a few months of graduation
  • Prepares graduate for pursuit of Child Life Specialist certification
  • Option of Accelerated Graduate Degree Program for current WMU undergraduate students
  • Active and engaged child life registered student organization (instagram)
  • Child life advisor offers workshops each semester to help students secure practicum and internship
  • All WMU programs offer an optional WMU Signature Designation, which helps students degrees stand out through an integrative learning project in one of several pathways including: Teaching & Student Success, Leadership, Health & Wellbeing, Diversity, Inclusion, Equity & Justice, and more! 

Who should apply

Child Life Club

Individuals passionate about the well-being of children who hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited school with a major closely related to the selected track AND current WMU undergraduate students eligible for the accelerated graduate degree program.

Currently certified child life specialists - Certified child life specialists interested in pursuing a master’s degree are encouraged to contact Karin Rourke, CCLS, to discuss program options.

Undergraduate students and recent graduates - Current undergraduate students and recent graduates who have taken a Department of Family and Consumer Sciences child life course are encouraged to contact  Karin Rourke, CCLS, to discuss program options.

WMU undergraduate students, begin your master's degree while completing your undergraduate degree - Qualifying WMU students can accumulate up to 12 credit hours toward the Master of Arts in Family and Consumer Sciences (child life, family science and services, or youth and community development tracks) through the Accelerated Graduate Degree Program while enrolled as undergraduates in the child and family development, family studies, youth and community development or family science and human development major. Students accepted into the AGDP take designated 5000- and 6000-level courses that are counted in both the bachelor’s degree and the master’s degree. For more information, visit the AGDP program page.

Career opportunities

Our graduates are employed as:

  • Child Life Specialists
  • Specialists in social service organizations


Coursework for the Master of Arts in Family and Consumer Sciences: Child Life Track

(32 credit hours; 34 credit hours if adding a Child Life Practicum):

1. The Child Life Track includes a minimum of 32 semester hours, half or more of which must be in courses at the 6000-level or higher, and at least two hours of FCS 7100, Independent Research.

2. Students who have taken undergraduate or graduate coursework that meets the ACLP academic eligibility requirements for certification as a child life specialist may select alternate graduate courses with the approval of the Graduate Advisor.

  • FCS 5510: Families and Hospitalization I, three credit hours
  • FCS 5520: Families and Hospitalization II, three credit hours
  • FCS 5530: Advanced Child Life Practice, three credit hours
  • FCS 5540: Therapeutic Play for Pediatric Populations, three credit hours
  • FCS 6510: Child Development Theories and Practice, three credit hours
  • FCS 6530: Families, Loss and Bereavement, three credit hours
  • FCS 6600: Studies in Family Relationships, three credit hours
  • FCS 5680: Gender, Culture, and Families, three credit hours
  • FCS 6010: Basic Research (3 credit hours)
  • FCS 7100: Independent Research, two credit hours
    or FCS 7000 Thesis, six credit hours
  • FCS 6220: Practicum/Internship in FCS (child life), two-six credit hours
    (Child Life Practicum - two credit hours; Child Life Internship - three credit hours)

Students typically apply to competitive internships sites though acceptance into competitive internship site is not guaranteed
Download the rotation of graduate courses to plan your schedule.


For more information and to schedule an advising appointment contact:

Ms. Karin Rourke, Child Life advisor