Child Life Concentration Graduate Program

Child Life Concentration Graduate Program

The Child Life Graduate program at the University of Alabama provides graduate students with high quality training in the theory, skills, and scope of practice essential to becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist. The curriculum consists of a comprehensive foundation of courses related to child development, family systems, and play, as well as coursework specific to children in the healthcare setting. Practicum experiences, along with the conceptual information, provides the foundation necessary to support children and their families in the healthcare setting. Graduates can become eligible to sit for the Child Life Professional Certification Examination administered by the Child Life Certification Commission of the Association of Child Life Professionals.


Child life specialists are members of the multidisciplinary team who minimize the stress and anxiety of difficult experiences, often healthcare experiences, for children and families while promoting typical development. Children of all ages experience difficult events, such as the loss of a loved one, a diagnosis of a serious illness, caregiver divorce, or the need to visit the emergency room. During difficult times like these, children and their families need information, ways to cope, and normative activities like play. Child life specialists recognize the needs of children and families during stressful events and provide support that is resilience focused, individualized, developmentally grounded, trauma informed, relationship oriented, and play based as a way to decrease stress in children and families and positively engage them in the experience.


  • Gather information about children and families, such as their developmental age, cultural preferences, coping strategies, individual needs (e.g., sensory processing), family structure (e.g., siblings), and other variables to advocate and provide for care that is based on the specific needs of the child and whole family
  • Provide children and families with developmentally appropriate information about diagnoses, procedures, and transitions (e.g., back to school, to an adult unit)
  • Support patients through events/procedures using coping skills and distraction activities
  • Promote play as a way to normalize settings and promote development
  • Advocate for children and families and a family centered approach to care

​For more information on the role of child life specialists, check out Child Life in Action to read about child life specialists working in various settings.  


​To be eligible to sit for the Child Life Professional Certification Examination, a person must the following:

  • Minimum of a bachelor’s degree
  • Specific course work: development, play, family systems, child life, research, loss and bereavement, and 3 electives related to child life
  • A 600 hour child life clinical internship under the direct supervision of a Certified Child Life Specialist

Students enrolled in the Child Life Graduate program can become eligible to sit for the Child Life Professional Certification Examination upon completion of the program. The graduate coursework provides a foundation in development, play, loss and bereavement, research, family systems, and child life that encompass the course requirements. Some students, such as those transferring from a completely different field, may need to take additional coursework, and the coordinator of the child life program is happy to help students identify if additional coursework is needed.

Students have the option to complete an internship as their Capstone Experience Project during their last semester. Child life internships are unique in that students apply and compete for an internship at a clinical program of their choice. Students choosing to not pursue eligibility or who have previously completed an internship in child life have the option to pursue an alternative Capstone Experience Project such as a research project.  


  • Coursework and Internship supervision needed to complete the eligibility requirements for the Child Life Professional Certification Examination
  • Access to multiple pre-internship opportunities throughout coursework, including child life practicum. Graduate students are able to complete practicum at a small regional hospital in Tuscaloosa and at the large freestanding children’s hospital of our area. Students are also able to experience child life through high-fidelity simulation in partnership with our nursing school.
  • Research mentorship for students interested in research related to child life
  • Faculty support for advising through the different stages of becoming a child life specialist
  • Instruction and engagement from faculty actively engaged in the Association of Child Life Professionals, evidence based practices of the field, and writings of the field.

Application Information

The child life concentration has highly competitive admissions. Because of the sequencing of required courses, students are only admitted to begin study in the fall semester.


We will continue to accept applications until March 1, but there is no guarantee that applicants will receive full consideration if they are received after January 7.
Top applicants will be invited to interview for acceptance into the Child Life Program.

As part of the online application, all applicants will need to submit/upload the following items:

  • Official academic transcript(s) 
  • Resume or CV 
  • Contact information for three individuals who can each provide a letter of recommendation
    • At least one letter (preferably two letters) should be written by college instructors/professors  
    • Additional letters should be written by supervisors or administrators from professional settings 
    • Please do not include letters from family members, friends, or other individuals with whom you have a personal (non-professional) relationship 
  • Statement of Purpose
    • The Statement of Purpose should:
      • Be free of typos and grammatical errors 
      • Discuss how your background/experience influences your desire to pursue a master’s degree in HDFS-Child Life
      • Discuss how a master’s degree in HDFS-Child Life aligns with your future goals 
      • Discuss the skills and knowledge you display that will support success in a graduate program 


HDFS Departmental Office (205) 348-6158
Dr. Sherwood Burns-Nader (205) 348-6269