Recipe to Becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist

After receiving multiple direct messages on my Instagram page from a variety of students in different walks of life, I realized everyone was asking for the same thing – DIRECTION. This one is for you!

Where To Begin: Volunteering

First and foremost, get into a volunteer position under a Certified Child Life Specialist at a local hospital as soon as possible. If possible, keep that position all throughout your undergrad. This consistency will help you gain additional hours while also showing dedication to a facility. Additionally, whoever ends up writing you a letter of recommendation will be able to write one with flying colors as they’ll be super familiar with you and can adequately speak to your strengths!

You will need additional volunteer experiences working with children in “stressful situations,” and working with well children.

Some examples of working with children in stressful situations may include:

  • A summer camp for children with a variety of diagnoses or disabilities
  • Special Olympics
  • Foster Care
  • Domestic Abuse Shelters

Click here to be redirected to my blog regarding volunteer positions and how to stand out!

What’s Next: Practicum

Once you have completed at least 50 hours of hospital-specific volunteer work (typically it’s 50 hours but every hospital varies) + completed at least one class taught by a Certified Child Life Specialist, you will be ready to apply for practicums. This can happen as early as your sophomore year of undergrad if you’ve been diligent in your volunteer efforts and feel prepared for this next step.

Most practicums require traveling since there may not be opportunities at your local children’s hospital. It is important to start saving money for AirBnBs/ other forms of housing now. Practicums (unpaid) can range from five weeks to four months. My personal recommendation are those five week ones, as they get everything jam-packed, with 40-hours per week which mimics that of a CCLS’ regular schedule. This allows for observations with better continued care and is also less expensive for housing! Win/win! Click here to learn more about practicums and the importance of finding out if they’re play-focused versus procedure-based.

I’m Ready: Internship

Usually within your senior year of your undergrad, you could possibly start applying for internships with the hopes that you’ll graduate and then move immediately into an internship. However, there are less opportunities for non-affiliated students, it is still possible to secure an internship without being affiliated. It’s a matter of digging deep and finding out which hospitals accept those without affiliation.

I highly recommend HPSO Insurance for those who will need professional insurance if offered a practicum or internship while unaffiliated. Click here to pay a low cost of $40 for a year of liability insurance!

I also recommend that you apply to 25-30 hospitals. It is a lot but it can be done! Obviously the best-case scenario is that you’ll be offered an internship your first round. However, keep in mind that most students need to apply multiple times in order to secure an internship due to the scarcity of internship positions. Most children’s hospitals only take one or two interns for each season (Winter/Spring, Summer and Fall).

Again, these 600-hours are also unpaid and will require you to be somewhere else for four months. Start saving now for those housing/living expenses so it’s not as overwhelming when the time comes. 

Finally: Certification Exam

Once you’ve completed your 600-hour internship, you’ll be ready to sit for your 150-question certification exam. While a lot of students stress about this exam, if you’ve completed the 10 courses for eligibility, a practicum and internship you truly should be more than ready for this exam. Like any exam, studying is required.

The following questions are not endorsed or validated by the Association of Child Life Professionals and Child Life Certification Commission.  The following questions are not verified to be related to the ACLP exam content outline, and references are not authenticated.

Click here for 300 practice test questions.

Click here for the answers to those 300 questions.

Please Note: Everyone is Unique

Some may pursue their Master’s in Child Life or another related field.

Some may complete not one but two practicums.

Some may take a few years off after school or their practicum and pursue a different career entirely before coming back to child life.

Wherever you find yourself, please know that everyone has their own unique journey to child life and it’s not wrong! These are just some general benchmarks that people flow through in order to qualify to sit for the exam.

Best of luck to you & as always, if you need further direction please feel free to reach out to me on Instagram, Facebook or Email!

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