Volunteer & Work Experience
Begin with the end in mind.
The internship application asks you to document your experiences with infants, children, youth, and families in the following areas:
- Healthcare: Experience in healthcare could be in either inpatient or outpatient environments. Many people choose to volunteer in a child life program within a hospital and complete a child life practicum.
- Stressful situations: Experience in stressful situations could be time with children with special medical needs or developmental differences. Many people choose to volunteer or work at therapeutic camps serving children with medical diagnoses and/or other stressful circumstances.
- Well children: Experience with well children is necessary to learn how to identify typical development. Some examples of volunteer or work experiences are: after school programs, preschool, daycare, church nursery, tutor, nanny, sports coach, summer camp.
- Give attention to the depth and diversity of your experiences.
- Be able to articulate what you learned from your experiences.
- Look for opportunities to gain experience with a variety of ages and/or developmental levels.
There are two academic requirements to become a Certified Child Life Specialist.
1. Bachelor’s degree
2. Coursework (
- Option #1:
Graduation from an ACLP-endorsed child life academic program
Endorsement is a voluntary process of self-study and external review intended to evaluate, enhance, and publicly recognize academic programs which meet the standards prescribed by ACLP. The purpose of this process is to promote the interests of students through improving the quality of teaching, learning, and professional practice.
You can locate a list of ACLP-endorsed child life academic programs here
- Option #2
: 10 college courses* in the following content areas:
1 Child life course taught by a CCLS
2 child development courses
1 Family systems course
1 Play course
1 Loss/bereavement or death/dying course
1 Research course
3 additional courses in related areas
*For each of the 10 required courses, it is recommended that students take a 3-credit course or the equivalent to have an appropriate depth of instruction.
*For a course to count, the required content must be the primary focus of the course.
will explain the details of the specific course requirements.
will help you understand the specific course requirements.
You can find a list of academic institutions offering the child life course here
Some academic institutions have had courses pre-approved by the ACLP. These programs are identified on this list
The more you learn about becoming a child life specialist, you will begin to hear the term “affiliation
” and this term is defined in the glossary available on this webpage. We will also discuss this in the child life practicum and internship sections.
A child life practicum is an introductory experience for individuals interested in pursuing a career in child life.
Though not required by the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP) for exam eligibility, a child life practicum provides:
- Valuable knowledge of evidence-based, developmentally-appropriate child life interventions.
- Enhanced knowledge of the child life profession through exposure to the clinical work of a Certified Child Life Specialist.
- A supportive environment for a prospective child life specialist to investigate the process of applying developmental theory to child life practice.
A child life practicum helps to prepare students for a future child life internship.
While the ACLP does not require specific practices or protocols for child life practicums at this time, and child life practicums are not currently accepted to establish eligibility for the Child Life Professional Certification Examination, ACLP encourages child life practicum programs to follow the recommended standards
set forth in 2013 by the ACLP Practicum Task Force.
Important considerations when determining if a child life practicum is the right choice for you:
- The child life practicum is mainly an observational experience.
- Many clinical child life internship sites require applicants to have completed a child life practicum.
The Eligibility Assessment is a process by which...
... prospective child life specialists submit their coursework information and clinical experiences for verification by the ACLP, and is required for the common application and to sit for the exam. Think of this as a virtual filing cabinet.
The Eligibility Assessment is a process that can be done all at once, or in phases. There is a one-time fee* when initiating the Eligibility Assessment.
Important points about the Eligibility Assessment:
- All courses must be completed, with a grade before they can be approved.
- It is the responsibility of the student to comply with each child life practicum/internship site’s application requirements.
- Some academic programs are endorsed by the ACLP. Click here
for more information on these programs. Students enrolled in an endorsed academic program should work with the program leader to complete the Eligibility Assessment process.
There is a webinar outlining this process here
*If the eligibility requirements change before eligibility has been established, applicants may be required to resubmit a fee for a new eligibility assessment.
Internship (Clinical Hours)
Students pursuing certification as child life specialists must complete a (minimum) 600 hour clinical internship in child life under the direct supervision of a Certified Child Life Specialist.
Internships differ in a few ways from practicum experiences in child life. Internships are typically full-time, hands-on, and are required to meet the eligibility requirements for the child life certification exam. Most internships are unpaid at this time.
Internships are experience-based and are designed to teach and develop independent skills of child life practice. Individuals are expected, by the conclusion of the internship, to be able to function as job-ready, competent child life professionals. Practicum experiences are shorter than internships, also unpaid, and, while not required for certification eligibility, are often a prerequisite for many child life programs’ internships.
Although not required, one way to guarantee your internship experience will meet all requirements for certification eligibility is to be accepted to an ACLP accredited internship
. ACLP Clinical Internship Accreditation assures that an internship program meets the minimum standards and requirements established for clinical preparation programs. More information regarding the benefits of participating in an accredited internship program is available here
Internships are very competitive. Applicants are not always offered placements the first time they apply. In fact, it is common for applicants to apply to more than one internship program and for more than one semester/application cycle before receiving an offer. There are far more applicants than there are available internship placements in any given semester. It is not unusual for an applicant to relocate temporarily to accept an internship offer. Asking for feedback, incorporating that feedback, and applying again are all typical parts of the professional development of future child life specialists.
The internship application process guide
will be helpful resources in guiding you through the details of the application process.
In order to become a Certified Child Life Specialist, you must sit for and pass the certification exam.
Some hospitals will hire a new child life specialist before they sit for the exam provided they have established eligibility for the certification exam and become certified within a specific timeframe. All requirements must be completed
to sit for the exam:
- A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any field of study, completed and documented by the registration date for the exam.
- Completed coursework in the content areas outlined here
- Completion of a 600 hour clinical internship, supervised by a Certified Child Life Specialist.
- Detailed instructions on how to complete and submit your Eligibility Assessment can be found here
- The Eligibility Assessment verifies completed courses and clinical experiences, as well as the required degree.
- Once all requirements in your Eligibility Assessment are approved, you can register for an upcoming exam.
Registration for the Exam
There are three testing times throughout the year (March, August, and November), and each has an associated registration deadline
. We recommend registering as soon as you are able.
More details about registration, testing locations, fees, and special accommodations can be found here
Taking the Exam
The Child Life Professional Certification Examination consists of 150 multiple choice questions, and you have 4 hours to complete the exam.
- You can find a breakdown of the subjects of those questions here
- For recommended readings in order to study for the exam, click here
- The ACLP has also created a webinar discussing how to best prepare for the exam, a study guide booklet, and a 50-question practice exam with answer key that you can find here
These are the only resources endorsed by the ACLP, and all other study materials available have been created by independent retailers.
- For more information on what to expect on exam day, click here
- You will find out if you passed the exam once you have completed it.