I’ve seen a lot of Facebook posts and emails on the Child Life forum about the steps to becoming certified as a Child Life Specialist. Everything is explained in detail on the Association of Child Life Professional’s website but here’s a brief overview of the steps to becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist.
Volunteer! If you think you might be interested in this career, start by volunteering in the field. The key to building your resume is having a wide variety of experiences. Check out my page about “Getting Volunteer Experience” if you are looking for new ways to strengthen your resume. But probably the most important volunteer experience to get is the 100 volunteer hours under the supervision of a child life specialist. While the ACLP doesn’t require these 100 hours for certification, most practicum and internship sites require this experience. So without the 100 hours in a child life department, you can’t complete the steps required by the ACLP.
Class Requirements. Once you decide that this is something you are interested in, you will need to think about your major and the college classes that you’ve taken/are taking. Currently the education requirements are a bachelor’s degree in a related field and 10 courses in specific areas. Visit the Association of Child Life Professional’s Course Requirements to learn more about these classes. If you need somewhere to take these classes, the University of California Santa Barbara offers a Child Life Certificate. This certificate does not substitute a bachelor’s degree but can be a great supplement if you are looking for more Child Life specific classes. I completed UCSB’s certificate program after graduating with my BA in Psychology and loved it. The program is a great addition to your undergrad education if you aren’t majoring in Child Life as they provide Child Life Specific classes that are very relevant to the career.
Practicum. The practicum is another step that is not required by the ACLP, but most internship sites require/highly encourage that applicants first complete a practicum. A practicum is a great introduction to the field of child life. It gives students an opportunity to observe and learn from child life specialists through hands on learning. A child life practicum is usually just 100 – 150 hours and focuses on teaching the student about child life whereas an internship’s goal is to make the student independent. If you’re still on the fence, check out my 3 Reasons to do a Child Life Practicum!
Eligibility Assessment. The eligibility assessment is used by the ACLP to identify which students have finished the required steps before they can sit for the exam. The eligibility assessment is $75 but that’s a one time fee. So you can start it even if you don’t think you have all the required classes because you can just update it with more classes as you continue in your child life journey. Most internship sites ask that you send along a copy of your eligibility assessment with your application, so make sure you start it before internship applications. It can take a couple weeks for the ACLP to receive your transcripts and then approve your classes.
Internship. The Association of Child Life Professionals requires that students complete a 600 hour internship before they are eligible to sit for the exam. As I’m sure most of you know, these internships are very competitive. When preparing to apply, think about the experiences that make you unique from other candidates. Most of the people who are applying for internships have all done their hospital volunteer hours, practicum and required courses. So try to make your application stand out! When internship sites look at applications, they are not only looking for a qualified candidate but for someone who would be a good fit with their team. So applying to more hospitals just increases your chances of an offer. The recommended number I’ve heard mentioned is that students should apply to 20-30 hospitals. I applied to 15 hospitals, interviewed with 4 and received 2 offers. There were also two hospitals that I applied to and never heard back from. So the more open you are to relocating and moving from home for a semester, the better your chances are of an offer. And remember that it often takes people more that one round of applications before they receive and internship offer, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get an offer the first time.
Certification Exam. The last step is the certification exam. After this exam, you can put the letters CCLS after your name and you will be certified! The exam can only be taken in March, August and November. It’s 150 multiple choice questions that covers the domains of professional responsibility, assessment and intervention. Read the ACLP’s exam content outline to see what’s all on the test. Check out these blog posts to prepare for the exam; Fabulous Find Friday: Child Life Secrets Exam Study Guide and 3 things to know before the Exam.
Any other questions, feel free to send me a message. I was an independent students and created many opportunities for myself, so I’d love to help you out! I know how confusing the process can be when you’re going at it alone.