Elementary Education Degree Programs
An elementary education degree prepares teachers for the most common education job with children in kindergarten through the fifth (K-5) (or sometimes, sixth (K-6)) grades. This page explores undergraduate and graduate degree paths, program requirements, certification, and top national programs.
Table of Contents
- Elementary Education Degrees and Certification
- Top-Ranked Elementary Education Degree Programs
- Elementary Education Degree Requirements and Coursework
- Select Elementary Education Degree Programs
- Additional Resources
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Student Reviews
- There are 1,221 not-for-profit colleges and universities with elementary education programs.1
- 53 schools offer a certificate in elementary education.1
- 195 schools offer an associate’s degree in elementary education.1
- 942 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.1
- 483 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in elementary education.1
Elementary Education Degrees Overview
There are approximately 1.5 million elementary school teachers in the United States, earning an average annual salary of $61,620.2 Employment of elementary teachers is expected to grow 1% from 2021-2031, though over 10,000 openings per year are expected due to replacement needs.5
The curriculum for an elementary education major provides a practical understanding of child development and psychology balanced with teacher education. Prospective elementary school teachers learn how to work with parents and other caregivers to provide the academic, social, physical, and emotional support needed for child development and growth. A successful elementary school teacher should also be caring with a genuine passion for educating children. Learn more about how to become an elementary school teacher through our elementary teacher career guide.
Elementary Education Degrees and Certification
Elementary education degree programs can be found at both the undergraduate and graduate levels either on-campus or online.
The most common bachelor’s in elementary education degrees are available for people new to teaching. Here are highlights of this path:
- Degrees include Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees typically comprised of 120 credit hours that can be completed in four years of full-time study.
- Includes fieldwork or practica (putting classroom theory into practice) in the classroom.
- With fieldwork, this path should qualify for certification after graduation.
- Requires passing state testing, such as the Praxis exam in elementary education, depending on the state.
- State certification is required to teach in public schools.
Master’s in elementary education degrees are available for existing teachers who would like to specialize in elementary education and for career switchers who already have a bachelor’s degree outside of education. Career switchers must pursue state certification (or licensure) via an alternative route. Master’s degrees typically comprise 30 credits or more and can be completed in one or two years of full-time study, depending on the program.
In addition to master’s degrees, many states also offer alternative certification programs leading to teacher certification that are typically more affordable than master’s degrees. Alternative certification programs require a bachelor’s degree.
For those planning to teach at the older end of elementary school, some schools offer an interdisciplinary academic major to complement your degree, focusing on subjects such as English language arts/reading, art, physical education, mathematics, or science.
Elementary education degrees may offer further levels of specialization (also called concentration, specialty, and emphasis). Some common ones include:
- ESL/Bilingual Education: Prepares graduates to teach English as a second language to elementary-aged students.
- Gifted and Talented Education: Prepares graduates to teach elementary-aged learners who have been identified as gifted.
- Lower Elementary (K-3): Prepares graduates to teach younger elementary school students.
- Special Education: Prepares teachers to work with learners with a range of learning and emotional disabilities.
- STEM: Prepares teachers of STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
- Other Subject Area: Prepares educators to focus on a particular subject area, such as social studies, physical education, art, language arts, music, or math.
- Upper Elementary (3-6): Prepares teachers of higher elementary grades, focusing on the third through sixth grades.
Top-Ranked Elementary Education Degree Programs
US News & World Report’s Best Graduate Elementary Teacher Education Programs 2023
- Michigan State University (#1; on campus)
- Teachers College, Columbia University (#2; on campus)
- University of Michigan—Ann Arbor (#3; on campus)
- University of Wisconsin—Madison (#4; on campus)
- University of Washington (#5 tie; on campus)
- Vanderbilt University (#5 tie; on campus)
- Ohio State University (#7; on campus)
- Arizona State University (#8 tie; online)
- Indiana University-Bloomington (#8 tie; on campus)
- Stanford University (#8 tie; on campus)3
Best Value Schools with On-Campus Elementary Education Programs
To help you find the best elementary education program for you, we have put together the table below of the best value not-for-profit schools offering such programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. We looked for schools that had a high graduation rate (85% or greater at the undergraduate level) and a low net price (below $20,000 per year for undergraduates). To further help in your comparison, we have included factors such as percentage of faculty with tenure status, degrees offered, and US News & World Report rankings.
|School||Undergrad Degree(s)||Grad Degree(s)||US News Undergrad Teaching Rank4||US News National Rank5||Grad Rate1||% Tenured Faculty6||Net Price1|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||—||MAT Elementary Education||#34 tie||#30 tie||91%||43%||$11,100|
|University of Florida||BAE Elementary Education-Proteach||M.Ed. Elementary Education||NR||#35 tie||88%||52%||$15,283|
|University of Wisconsin-Madison||BSE Elementary Education||Post Baccalaureate Middle Childhood through Early Adolescence Program||#43 tie||#49 tie||87%||49%||$15,910|
|University of Georgia||—||PhD Educational Theory and Practice (Elementary Education)||#34 tie||#46 tie||85%||54%||$15,934|
|University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||BA/BS Elementary Teacher Education||MA Educational Studies/Elementary Teacher Certification||#19||#27 tie||92%||35%||$16,408|
|Stanford University||—||MA Education: STEP Elementary;|
PhD Curriculum Studies and Teacher Education (CTE): Elementary Education
|University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||BS Elementary Education||EdM Elementary Education Plus Teaching Licensure||#43 tie||#46 tie||85%||51%||$16,638|
|University of Maryland-College Park||BS Elementary Education||M.Ed. with Elementary Teacher Certification (MCERT)||NR||#63 tie||85%||44%||$17,241|
Best Value Schools with Online Elementary Education Programs
While the majority of elementary education programs require at least some in-person time, there are some schools that offer these programs either partially or fully online. We have put together the table below showing the best value not-for-profit schools offering an online program at the undergraduate and/or graduate level. We looked for schools with an undergraduate graduation rate greater than 65% and a low net price (below $20,000 per year for undergraduates) since these are common indicators of quality and value. We have also included factors such as percentage of faculty with tenure status, degrees offered, and US News & World Report rankings to help you in your search.
|School||Undergrad Degree(s)||Grad Degree(s)||US News Undergrad Teaching Rank4||US News National Rank5||Grad Rate1||% Tenured Faculty6||Net Price1|
|Florida State University||—||MS Elementary Education||NR||#57 tie||83%||44%||$13,318|
|North Carolina State University at Raleigh||—||MAT Elementary Education||#61 tie||#84 tie||81%||52%||$14,771|
|State University of New York at New Paltz||—||MAT Early Childhood & Childhood Education||#10 tie||NR||76%||32%||$14,882|
|University of North Carolina Wilmington||BA Elementary Education||—||NR||#185 tie||73%||37%||$17,771|
|Appalachian State University||BS Elementary Education||—||#2 tie||NR||72%||39%||$10,491|
|Niagara University||—||MAT Elementary Education||NR||NR||71%||27%||$19,106|
|University of Missouri-Columbia||—||M.Ed. Elementary Education||NR||#139 tie||69%||33%||$17,833|
|Salisbury University||BS Elementary Education||—||NR||NR||68%||35%||$18,163|
|Oregon State University||—||MAT Clinical Elementary Education||#76 tie||#139 tie||67%||37%||$18,625|
Elementary Teaching Degree Requirements and Coursework
To start coursework in an undergraduate elementary education program, you will typically need to complete one to two years of prerequisite courses and gain acceptance into the college of education at your school. To earn your degree you will need to complete the required education courses. Many schools require that students maintain a minimum cumulative GPA to remain enrolled in the program and graduate.
Additionally, a teaching internship or fieldwork with a specified number of hours in the classroom is a common requirement for education majors. Master’s in elementary education programs require a bachelor’s degree, and if the degree was in a subject other than education, you will likely have to complete prerequisite coursework in general education before beginning the specialized courses in elementary education. Some examples of common classes in the curriculum of an elementary teaching degree program include:
- Art in the Elementary School Classroom
- Assessment of Learning
- Child Development and Early Childhood
- Communication in Cross-Cultural Classrooms
- Foundations of Literacy Development
- Health and Physical Education in the Elementary Classroom
- Introduction to Elementary Education
- Literature for Children
- Managing an Effective Classroom
- Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers
- Music in the Elementary School Classroom
- Teaching Elementary School Science
- Teaching Elementary Social Studies
- Teaching Practicum
Select Elementary Education Degree Programs
Indiana University at Bloomington prepares aspiring teachers for careers in elementary education with its four-year Bachelor of Science in Education (BSEd) degree program in Elementary Education. Graduates of the program will have the education to qualify for elementary teacher certification in Indiana. In addition to core courses in elementary education, students can also specialize in reading or English as a second language, which can allow for additional license endorsements. Concentrations are also available in fine arts, language arts, math, science, or social studies. The program offers students the opportunity to participate in field experiences before the final semester of student teaching. The early field experiences require between three and 10 hours each week. The semester of student teaching is based on placement in local schools that allows students to earn hands-on experience. The Indiana University at Bloomington School of Education also features the Teaching All Learners (TAL) BSEd in Special Education/Elementary Education program, which prepares prospective educators to teach both exceptional students and students with special needs.
Michigan State University’s (MSU) unique five-year elementary education undergraduate program provides students with the education and teaching experience necessary to earn teacher certification in Michigan. The elementary education major prepares students to teach all elementary grades from kindergarten through fifth and to teach a single subject in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Students will spend the first two years of study completing general college requirements before applying for admission to the teaching program, which commences in the junior year. After earning their bachelor’s degree, students will spend a fifth year in the classroom during a yearlong internship. Interested applicants to the teaching program must have completed at least 56 credits at MSU and must first pass the math, reading, and writing portions of the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification Professional Readiness Exam, also known as the MTTC Basic Skills Test. Eligibility does not mean automatic admission into the program.
Stanford University offers a graduate-level teacher education program called STEP (Stanford Teacher Education Program), a 12-month full-time program that has two concentration options: Elementary Education and Secondary Education. The STEP program in Elementary Education is a rigorous program that leads to a Master of Arts (MA) in Education and a preliminary California Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. With a small average class size of only 20 students, individual attention is given by top faculty. Hands-on teaching experience is coupled with intense instruction in the STEP program and a minimum of 45 units are required for the master’s degree and teaching credential. Students are taught through observation, planning, and practice, with three field placements in local elementary schools. A Bilingual Authorization in Spanish is offered for Spanish-proficient students. Coursework includes classes such as The Creative Arts in Elementary Classrooms, Development of Scientific Reasoning and Knowledge, Elementary Teaching Seminar, Becoming Literate in School, and Integrating the Garden Into the Elementary Curriculum.
The elementary education undergraduate program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison places importance on diversity, both in aspiring teachers and their future students and the role that diversity plays in the classroom and education as a whole. Students generally spend the first two years completing general college requirements before applying for the Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE) in Elementary Education program during the second year. To be eligible for the program, students must maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.5 and must have completed at least 40 credits before submitting their application. Students who do not have a 2.5 GPA must successfully pass the Pre-Professional Skills Test. Elementary education majors can focus on one of four concentrations: Early Childhood/ English as a Second Language, Middle Childhood-Early Adolescence/English as a Second Language, Middle Childhood-Early Adolescence/Special Education, or Middle Childhood–Early Adolescence/Content Focused Minor. Across their studies, students will complete field experiences that expose them to culturally diverse student populations. The program culminates in a semester-long student teaching experience.
Online and Hybrid Programs
Mississippi State University (MSU) offers an online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Elementary Education that can lead to endorsements in the elementary grades plus either early childhood or middle school teaching. All courses in the program are completed entirely online, with the exception of student teaching and internships which must be completed in-person. Teacher education courses are offered during the fall and spring semesters, while core curriculum courses are offered year-round. Professional education courses required for both the early childhood and middle school concentrations include Individualizing Instruction for Exceptional Children, Early Literacy, and Social Foundations. Distance education students living in other states receive the same tuition rates as Mississippi residents. Prospective students should check with their state board of education for certification and education requirements. Note that Georgia state residents will not be eligible to teach in Georgia with this program.
The online Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Education program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College offers concentrations in Kindergarten to Grade Six/Mild Intervention (special education) and Preschool to Grade Three/Mild Intervention. Admission to the program is selective and requires students to have completed at least 40 credit hours of college coursework with a minimum GPA of 2.75. Students must also complete a pre-admission field experience and present an initial portfolio during a formal interview. Admitted students will follow a focused curriculum designed to prepare them to teach in the concentration of their choice. A clinical capstone experience is included in the degree plan, which culminates with the submission of a final portfolio demonstrating teaching proficiency. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College also offers add-on endorsement programs for current teachers as well as alternative route licensure programs for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree.
The University of Wisconsin-Superior’s online elementary education major prepares students for teacher certification and elementary school teaching careers in the state of Wisconsin. Students in the Bachelor of Arts (BA)/Bachelor of Science (BS) in Elementary Education program additionally take a minor in a specific area of education, with options including Adaptive Education/Special Education, Early Childhood, and Social Studies Teaching. While the majority of courses are completed online, some courses require in-person student teaching and fieldwork, and a limited number of campus visits are required to fulfill orientation and teaching seminar requirements. Students are eligible to apply to the program after completing at least 40 credit hours of college coursework, including five core general education courses, with an overall GPA of at least 3.0. The elementary teacher education program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior is approved by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC): Professional membership organization that supports educators of children ages birth to age eight to ensure that young learners can thrive.
- National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ): Review evaluations of teacher education quality for 2,500 teacher preparation programs.
- National Education Association (NEA): The largest teacher organization in the US, providing educational and networking opportunities for its members.
- Elementary Teacher Career Interviews: See our interviews with elementary teachers describing the challenges and rewards they face as teachers.
- Elementary Teacher Blogs: See our list of top by current teachers who share their experiences and tips for effective teaching in an elementary school classroom.
- Top Elementary Teachers on Twitter: See our list of teachers who share their thoughts, recommended articles, and experiences on teaching.
- Homeschool Blogs: If you are interested in home education, see our list of our by homeschool teachers who share insights on the ups and downs of homeschooling.
Advice from Elementary Teachers
“Keep in mind that the beginning of the year is tough for all teachers. It can be overwhelming, but this too shall pass. Whatever you do, don’t give up! It will get better and, before you know it, you will be in the groove.” –Diane Hubacz, Texas Third Grade Teacher
“The best advice I could give any new teacher is to be flexible and be willing to roll with the inevitable change. Also, be willing to do what your administrators ask you to do and be willing to think outside the box when they do!” –Heather Mathews, Wisconsin Fourth Grade Teacher
“Be prepared to work a lot! This is a great job to have but there is always something else to be done. Working with kids is an awesome gift and will definitely be the best part of your job.” –Lindsay Noren, Texas Third Grade Teacher
“I’d also recommend getting into the classroom early and often. It’s very different being the teacher than it was being a student. Your heart has to be in teaching. Above all, you have to just love kids…even the challenging ones, because they often need it the most.” –Christi Fultz, Former Indiana Third Grade Teacher
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How do I find an approved elementary teacher preparation program?
Answer: Each state’s board of education provides a directory of approved programs for certification. It’s important to ensure that the program you are considering is approved by your state’s board of education; if it is not, you might not qualify for certification after graduating.
Question: How do I find out if a teacher preparation program is accredited?
Answer: The US Department of Education provides a list of recognized accrediting bodies, and your school should be able to confirm which accreditations it holds. In particular, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the national accreditation organization for teacher education programs in the United States. Accreditation by CAEP is held as a marker of quality in educator preparation.
Question: What are the requirements of an elementary degree program?
Answer: To graduate, students typically need to complete the required core classes, a specified number of electives, and pass a teaching practicum. You can check a school’s website for specific credit requirements.
Question:What if I already have a bachelor’s degree in another field?
Answer: Many schools offer degree programs for career switchers who hold an undergraduate degree in another field. Check your state’s alternative routes to teacher certification for requirements and approved programs.
Question:Are there online master’s in elementary education degrees?
Answer: Yes, there are many schools that offer master’s in elementary education online for students who need more flexibility than a traditional program offers. For the most part, master’s degrees in elementary education require at least some in-person work, as a practicum/internship component is required. Online master’s degrees in elementary education can be a good way for busy students to complete their degree.
George Mason University
4400 University Dr
Fairfax, VA 22030
Southern New Hampshire University
2500 N River Rd
Manchester, NH 03106
1. National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
3. US News & World Report Best Graduate Elementary Teacher Preparation Programs: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/teacher-education-rankings
4. US News & World Report Best Undergraduate Teaching National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/undergraduate-teaching
5. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
6. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/