Education Specialist Degree Programs

An education specialist degree, abbreviated as EdS, provides specific preparation for advanced careers in the education field, including administration, curriculum and design, instructional technology, and more. An education specialist degree is considered to be a level between a master’s and a doctoral degree since it is similar to a master’s degree in length and a doctoral degree in depth. Continue reading to learn more about EdS degrees.

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Education Specialist Degree Overview

Education specialist programs are usually designed for people who already have a teaching certificate or license in a classroom subject who wish to qualify for an administrative or support credential or another advanced career path. There are many on-campus education specialist degree programs available and a growing number of online programs in a variety of specialties.

EdS programs usually require 30 credit hours of study beyond a master’s degree in education. Some programs, even if they are not designed for non-master’s students, may allow you to earn the additional credits required as part of the EdS or in a dual program. Other EdS programs are specifically designed in longer formats–commonly 45 to 60 credit hours–for those who do not have a master’s.

Reasons to Pursue an Education Specialist Degree

Among the reasons to pursue an EdS degree are three primary reasons:

1. To move into a leadership or administrative position. An education specialist degree is a good fit for someone who already has a bachelor’s or master’s degree and a teaching credential and wants to embark on a career in another area of education. Many of the fields that an EdS can qualify you for, such as school administration, require an advanced degree with specific field-related study. In many cases, a master’s degree is sufficient for these credentials. However, due to the more in-depth nature of the EdS, someone holding this degree can be more competitive for leadership and administrative positions such as school principal than someone with a master’s degree.

2. To improve in your field. An education specialist degree is also a good choice for individuals seeking advanced mastery in their chosen field. An education specialist degree is generally held to provide a deeper background than a master’s, approaching that of an Doctor of Education (EdD) degree. This breadth of focused study can help EdS graduates become more effective teachers and administrators.

3. To transition to another area of teaching. An EdS can also be used by individuals who wish to transition to another area of teaching. For example, an experienced classroom teacher in a traditional subject who wishes to transition to special education teaching may be able to do so with an EdS, depending on the program and state requirements.

Education Specialist Degree Majors and Areas of Study

An education specialist degree can lead to careers in education outside of traditional classroom teaching or advanced careers within the classroom. An education specialist degree program will offer one or more specialization areas aligned with a specific career track in education. As a result, the possible specializations for an EdS degree are as broad and varied as the specializations in the education field as a whole. However, EdS programs usually do not lead to first-time classroom teaching certification. Instead, EdS programs tend to prepare students for other endorsement areas, such as:

You can also find EdS degree programs in subjects like special education, early childhood education, elementary education, and secondary education. However, these programs are typically designated as non-licensure programs–designed for professional development and in-depth study of a topic for currently licensed teachers, and not designed to meet the requirements for first-time classroom teacher licensure.

Education Specialist Degree Program Options

As noted above, education specialist degree programs will have one or more specialty areas, so it is important to choose a program that offers a specialty that aligns with your desired career track. For example, if you wish to become a school principal, a program in education administration or school leadership would generally be the most appropriate choice.

Another important factor to consider is the program format. Education specialist programs can be on campus, online, or a combination of both (hybrid). As is common with graduate degree programs, once you’ve begun a program, the ability to transfer credits to another institution is generally limited; a six- to nine-credit cap is common.

Online Degree Program Formats

Like their on-campus counterparts, online education specialist degree programs have one or more specialty areas that will be conferred as part of the degree title. Some online programs require in-person experience. For example, if you are a licensed teacher pursuing a new education credential in school administration, you should plan to complete in-person student teaching experiences as part of your online degree plan. If you choose a nonlocal online school for your EdS, such in-person requirements can usually be arranged in your local area. Check with individual programs and your state’s board of education for detailed requirements.

Admission Requirements

To qualify for admission to an education specialist program, you typically must have:

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • A minimum GPA (3.0 or above is common)
  • A current teacher certification plus classroom teaching experience
  • Minimum scores on graduate admissions exams such as the GRE

Many schools require letters of recommendation as well as a professional portfolio of teaching-related work. An EdS degree program might or might not require you to already have a master’s degree in education; this will vary by individual program.

Core Concepts for an Education Specialist Degree

The courses for an education specialist degree vary depending on the specialty field. However, most EdS programs have some coursework in common. In addition to courses in their core area, all students should expect to take graduate-level courses in research methods. EdS students will also typically need to complete one or more field experiences, particularly if they are seeking an additional endorsement. Since most EdS students are working professionals, such field experiences are generally completed within the school district where the student is already employed. EdS degree programs also typically include coursework in leadership, student assessment, and advanced teaching skills, such as:

  • Assessment and Early Intervention
  • Directed Teaching/Field Seminar
  • Educational and Assistive Technology
  • Principles of Testing and Measurement
  • Public Policy and Education
  • Research Design and Methodology

An EdS program also includes courses focusing on your area of specialization and/or concentration, such as:

  • Analysis and Evaluation of Teaching
  • Curriculum Development and Evaluation
  • Foundations of STEM Education
  • Early Childhood Behavior Analysis
  • Early Years Child Development
  • Information Technology for Educators

Top-Rated Education Specialist Degree Programs

US News & World Report provides an annual ranking of the top education schools with graduate-level degree programs. For 2024, the following top-ranked schools offered education specialist degrees:

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison (#3 tie; on campus)
  • Stanford University (#7 tie; on campus)
  • University of Washington (#11 tie; on campus)
  • University of Oregon (#14 tie; hybrid)
  • University of Virginia (#16 tie; on campus or online)
  • University of Florida (#18 tie; on campus or online)
  • University of Kansas (#18 tie; on campus)
  • Florida State University (#21 tie; on campus or online)
  • Michigan State University (#21 tie; on campus)
  • Ohio State University (#25 tie; on campus)1

Select Education Specialist Programs

Traditional Programs

Ohio State University

At Ohio State University (OSU), students can earn an Education Specialist (EdS) degree in a variety of subject areas, including Adolescent, Post-Secondary and Community Literacies; Literature for Children and Young Adults; and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This EdS program is designed for educators who already hold a master’s degree and are interested in professional development towards an advanced Ohio education credential or endorsement. The program is designed to be completed in two semesters of full-time study. Funding assistance through associateships and fellowships is offered to students who qualify. GRE scores are required as part of the program application package. The EdS is housed within the OSU Department of Teaching and Learning, which is regularly recognized for its research contributions.

University of Michigan-Dearborn

The University of Michigan-Dearborn is home to three Education Specialist (EdS) programs, in Educational Leadership (general or with a Central Office Administration concentration), Metropolitan Education, and Curriculum and Practice. All three programs are designed for those who already hold a master’s degree and take 30 credit hours to complete. The Educational Leadership concentration prepares graduates to become teacher-leaders, and the Central Office Administration (CAO) concentration qualifies graduates for the CAO certificate through the Michigan Department of Education. The Metropolitan Education concentration takes a unique focus on urban education in a community context. The Curriculum and Practice concentration can be focused on any disciplines offered as content area specialties in the College of Education, including mathematics, science, and literacy.

University of Missouri-Kansas City

The University of Missouri-Kansas City offers three Educational Specialist (EdS) programs, in Curriculum and Instruction; Language and Literacy; and Educational Administration. The Curriculum and Instruction program prepares graduates to work in curriculum design and lead learning practice in K-12 school settings. The Language and Literacy program, which can be completed online, prepares educators for Missouri K-12 Special Reading certification. The Educational Administration program prepares graduates to become teacher leaders, and can also be used as a professional development program for current administrators who already hold a master’s degree. For all three programs, it is strongly recommended that applicants already hold a master’s degree, but a master’s might not be required for candidates who have a teaching certificate and at least two years of teaching experience with an otherwise strong application. All applicants must have a GPA of 3.25 or above for the last degree completed.

Online and Hybrid Programs

Georgia Southern University

Georgia Southern University is home to an Education Specialist (EdS) in Special Education program that can be completed fully online. Students choose between a concentration in Adaptive Curriculum or General Curriculum in this 33-credit hour degree. Courses in the program include Research on Current Trends and Issues; Transforming Learning with Technology; and Field-Based Educational Research. Georgia residents who are currently certified educators who complete the program successfully will qualify for a certificate upgrade and the corresponding public school pay increase. To be considered for admission to the EdS, applicants must already have a master’s degree, possess a Georgia Level Five teaching certificate in special education, and meet other requirements. Georgia Southern also offers online EdS programs in Elementary Education; Instructional Technology; Middle Grades Education; Reading Education; and Secondary Education.

University of Florida

The University of Florida offers an Education Specialist (EdS) degree program that can be completed with one of 10 specializations, including Educational Technology; ESOL/Bilingual Education; Mathematics Education; and Teacher Leadership for School Improvement. Select concentrations, including Educational Technology and Teacher Leadership for School Improvement, can be completed online. All specializations provide thorough preparation in using technology as a tool in the modern school environment and developing leadership skills. The curriculum is also designed to help accommodate the needs of working professionals. Students have up to seven years from the date of starting studies to complete degree requirements, including any transfer credit accepted by the student’s supervisory committee. To be considered for admission, students must have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above (last 60 credits), submit three letters of recommendation, and provide a statement of purpose.

University of Virginia

Through the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and Human Development, students can earn an online Education Specialist (EdS) in Curriculum and Instruction. A minimum of 30 credit hours is required to earn the degree, depending on the candidate’s educational background. Students meet with advisors prior to and during the course of study in order to personalize the degree through electives and supplementary education options, allowing flexibility to enhance skills and knowledge in order to pursue a variety of career goals. While a thesis is not required, students will need to pass a comprehensive exit exam to earn the degree. By taking two courses a semester–fall, spring, and summer–the degree can be completed in two years. There are no residency requirements for program admission; prospective students must have a master’s degree, competitive GRE scores, and an acceptable GPA.

Employment Opportunities for an Education Specialist

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How do I become an education specialist?

Answer: “Education specialist” as a term for a career refers to someone who has advanced knowledge in a specific area of education. A few states recognize this area of proficiency by issuing specific Education Specialist certificates or licenses. “Education specialist” can also refer to a job title; Health Education Specialist is a common example. To become an education specialist, you typically must earn an advanced degree in your chosen specialty as well as several years of experience.

Question: How long does it take to earn an education specialist degree?

Answer: An education specialist degree typically takes 30 credit hours beyond the master’s degree to earn. Since a typical master’s in education is 30 credit hours, those who are planning to complete an education specialist degree should plan for at least two years of postgraduate education. Note that some education specialist programs require candidates to already have a master’s, while some programs include master’s coursework in the degree plan; the latter of these options will typically be longer, around 60 credit hours.

Question: What is the difference between a master’s degree and an education specialist degree?

Answer: A master’s degree is sometimes called a fifth-year degree, meaning that it takes at least five years of full-time college study to complete (four years of undergraduate plus one year of graduate study). An education specialist degree, by comparison, is a sixth-year degree, taking at least four years of undergraduate plus two years of graduate study to complete. Based on the additional coursework, an education specialist degree is more in-depth than a comparable master’s degree. Because of the additional program length, the coursework in an EdS program is also more advanced compared to a master’s because students will have deeper foundational knowledge upon which to build–similar to how a master’s program builds upon the foundational knowledge of a bachelor’s program. Additionally, depending on state requirements, an EdS may be the minimum education required for some endorsement areas. For example, prospective school psychologists typically need at least an EdS or a doctoral degree.

1. US News & World Report Best Education Schools, 2023-24: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/edu-rankings