General Education Degree Programs

While the majority of teaching programs are focused on specific subjects within a grade or age range, other general education degree programs can prepare educators, such as early childhood and elementary teachers, to teach multiple subjects. This page focuses on degree paths, certification, top-ranked programs, program requirements, and related topics.

Table of Contents

General Education Degrees Overview

Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step toward obtaining a teaching certificate since all states require a bachelor’s degree to teach in K-12 public schools. A bachelor’s degree in education is typically focused on a specific major, such as elementary education or secondary education, in order to prepare graduates to teach children in specific grades and subjects. For those who already have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than education, there are plenty of master’s in education programs available.

Quick Facts

  • There are 816 not-for-profit colleges and universities with general education programs.1
  • 50 schools offer a certificate in general education.1
  • 158 schools offer an associate’s degree in general education.1
  • 333 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in general education.1
  • 467 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in general education.1

General Education Degrees and Certification

An education degree can prepare prospective teachers to instruct across multiple grade levels, making it a flexible foundation for seeking positions in areas where highly qualified teachers are in demand. The most common ranges in the US are early childhood (preschool through third grade), elementary school (kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade), middle school (sixth through eighth grade), and high school (ninth through twelfth grade). These grade ranges may differ by state.

Early childhood and elementary school teachers typically complete general education programs that prepare them to teach all core subjects, particularly math, science, social studies, reading, and language arts. This leads to what is known as a multiple-subject teaching credential in most states. Future educators who want to teach the middle or high school grades, or teach a specific subject across multiple grade ranges, will typically major in a specific subject (such as biology or English) and take courses in education and teaching that correspond to the grade level(s) they want to teach, which leads to a single-subject teaching credential.

Teacher Quote: “Every teacher has a classroom to manage. One may guide a class of five girls studying advanced Latin around a well-lit seminar table while another may teach 16 biology students in a laboratory with sparse or obsolete equipment. A third may greet 20 bouncy kindergartners every morning. I’m convinced that these three teachers—and indeed, all teachers—do the best they can when it comes to classroom management. After all, a teacher’s classroom management sets the stage for student learning…How do the best teachers approach classroom management? What do they do differently? Here’s the answer in a nutshell: Great teachers focus on expectations. Other teachers focus on rules. The least effective teachers focus on the consequences of breaking the rules.” –Todd Whitaker, What Great Teachers Do Differently: Seventeen Things That Matter Most, 2nd ed.

Elementary Education Degrees

Unlike most middle school and secondary school education programs, elementary education degrees are designed to prepare educators to teach all parts of the core curriculum–English, reading and writing, science, and math–in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade. An accredited elementary education degree leads to a multiple-subject teaching license once the teacher has passed the required state exams for educators.

Middle Grades Education Degrees

Although many prospective middle school teachers major in the subject they wish to teach, some schools offer middle-grade education programs that can qualify graduates to teach more than one subject. A middle grades education program typically focuses on the developmental and learning needs of students in grades four through eight (though this definition varies by state and program) and prepares graduates to pass the tests for certification and become a middle school teacher.

Early/Middle Childhood Education Generalist Degrees

Some schools offer programs that allow teachers who are already licensed in one or more areas to return to school and complete coursework to qualify (in some states) for a multiple-subject credential in early childhood (birth through third grade) or middle childhood (grades four through eight, though the definition of the middle childhood range can vary). In states offering a generalist endorsement, the teacher must typically be licensed in at least two subjects at the applicable grade level.

Secondary Education Degrees

The majority of prospective high school teachers major in the subject(s) they wish to teach and complete a teacher preparation program that provides the knowledge needed to work with high schoolers. However, a select number of schools offer general secondary education programs that can be a good option if you know you want to teach high school but aren’t sure which subject. As opposed to most secondary education programs in which you are accepted to the school of education as a major in your teaching subject, a generalized secondary education program allows you to pick a core content area of focus during the teaching program. After completing this type of program, you will graduate with a bachelor’s in secondary education with a concentration in the subject you will teach. After taking the appropriate exams, you will be licensed and ready to begin a career as a high school teacher.

Top-Ranked Education Degree Programs

US News & World Report’s Best Graduate Education Schools 2024

  • Teachers College, Columbia University (#1 tie; on campus or online)
  • University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (#1 tie; on campus or online)
  • Northwestern University (#3 tie; on campus or hybrid)
  • University of Pennsylvania (#3 tie; on campus or online)
  • University of Wisconsin–Madison (#3 tie; on campus or online)
  • Vanderbilt University (#6; on campus or online)
  • Stanford University (#7 tie; on campus)
  • University of California–Los Angeles (#7 tie; on campus)
  • Harvard University (#9 tie; on campus or online)
  • New York University (#9 tie; on campus or online)2

Best Value Schools with On-Campus General Education Programs

If you are interested in pursuing general education, you may want to consult our best value table as a starting point. The colleges and universities on our list are either public or private nonprofit US schools offering an education or teaching program at the undergraduate or graduate level, which have a graduation rate of at least 85% at the undergraduate level, along with a net price of under $20,000 for undergraduate students. A high graduation rate tends to be an indicator of success at a school, while a low net price is important as you consider the investment a four-year degree represents. We also included data such as applicable degrees offered, percentage of tenured faculty, and rankings from US News & World Report.

SchoolUndergrad Degree(s)Grad Degree(s)US News Undergrad Teaching Rank3US News National Rank4Grad Rate1% Tenured Faculty5Net Price1
University of North Carolina at Chapel HillUNC Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching (UNC-BEST)MA Education;
Master of Teaching (MAT);
M.Ed. for Experienced Teachers;
PhD Education
NR#29 tie91%43%$11,100
University of California-IrvineBA Education Sciences;
Minor Educational Studies
MAT + Teaching Credential;
PhD Education
University of California-San DiegoBS Education Sciences;
Minor Education Studies
M.Ed. with Teaching Credential;
PhD Education
NR#37 tie86%51%$13,452
University of California-Los AngelesMinor Education StudiesM.Ed. Teacher Education Program (TEP);
PhD Education
#76 tie#2091%48%$14,760
University of GeorgiaBS Education (BSEd)Master of Education (M.Ed.);
MA Education;
Master of Teaching (MAT);
Educational Specialist (EdS);
EdD Learning, Leadership, and Organizational Development;
PhD Educational Theory and Practice
#40 tie#50 tie86%53%$15,539
University of Michigan-Ann ArborBA Education;
BS Education;
Minor Education for Empowerment
MA Educational Studies;
MS Educational Studies;
PhD Educational Studies
#13#25 tie92%35%$16,856
University of California-DavisMinor EducationMA Education General Track;
MA with Credential;
PhD Education
#61 tie#3985%57%$16,446
Stanford UniversityMinor Education;
Honors Program Education
MA Education/MBA;
MA/JD Law and Education;
MA/MPP Public Policy and Education;
PhD Education;
PhD Minor Education;
Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP)
#14 tie#6 tie94%76%$16,562
University of Virginia-Main CampusMinor Global Studies EducationMaster of Teaching (MT);
Educational Specialist (EdS);
Doctor of Education (EdD);
PhD Education
#23 tie#2894%52%$17,845
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignBS Learning and Education StudiesCertificate;
MA Education;
MS Education;
Master of Education (EdM);
Doctor of Education (EdD);
PhD Education
NR#48 tie85%51%$16,638
Harvard UniversityEdM Learning and Teaching;
Teacher Education Program (TEP);
Doctor of Education (EdD);
Doctor of Education Leadership (EdLD);
PhD Education
#34 tie#298%45%$17,590
University of Maryland-College ParkBA Education;
BS Education;
Minor Education
MA Education;
Master of Education (M.Ed.);
PhD Teacher Education and Professional Development
NR#64 tie86%44%$16,790
University of California-BerkeleyUndergraduate Minor Education (UME)MA Education with Teaching Credential: Berkeley Educators for Equity and Excellence (BE3);
MA Education;
PhD Education
#34 tie#22 tie91%51%$18,178
University of ConnecticutBS/MA Teacher EducationCertificates;
BS/MA Teacher Education;
MA Teacher Certification;
NR#64 tie85%37%$19,650

Best Value Schools with Online General Education Programs

The table below identifies the best value public and private not-for-profit US colleges and universities offering general education programs that can be taken at least partially online. We have included the same data as in the table above, and to make our list, schools must have an undergraduate graduation rate of 84% or higher and an undergraduate net price of below $20,000.

SchoolUndergrad Degree(s)Grad Degree(s)US News Undergrad Teaching Rank3US News National Rank4Grad Rate1% Tenured Faculty5Net Price1
University of Washington-Seattle CampusM.Ed.NR#62 tie84%48%$9,765
University of California-San DiegoM.Ed.NR#37 tie86%51%$13,452
University of GeorgiaBSGraduate Certificates;
#40 tie#50 tie86%53%$15,539
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignM.Ed.NR#48 tie84%50%$15,829
University of Maryland-College ParkM.Ed.NR#64 tie86%44%$16,790
University of Michigan-Ann ArborMA Educational Studies#13#25 tie92%35%$16,856
Harvard UniversityGraduate Certificates#34 tie#298%45%$17,590
James Madison UniversityGraduate Certificates;
#4 tieNR84%41%$17,753
University of Virginia-Main CampusGraduate Certificates;
#23 tie#2894%52%$17,845
Ohio State University-Main CampusGraduate Certificates;
#23 tie#54 tie84%45%$18,694
University of ConnecticutGraduate Certificates;
MA/Sixth Year Certificate
NR#64 tie85%37%$19,650

General Education Degree Requirements and Coursework

Applicants to bachelor’s degree programs typically need a high school diploma or GED and to meet minimum GPA requirements and standardized test (ACT or SAT) scores. After they have completed at least one semester of coursework at their college or university, students can apply for admission to their school’s department of education for entry into the teacher preparation program. Most bachelor’s degree programs in education comprise at least 120 total credit hours of coursework, but not all of those credit hours will be in education; students will take general requirements and electives as well.

The number of credits devoted to each area of study will depend on the endorsement a student is seeking. Elementary education candidates will typically focus the majority of their education courses on subjects like child development and take additional courses in all areas of the core curriculum. Secondary education students will typically choose a content area to major in and complete at least 32 credit hours in that subject (depending on state certification requirements) while taking additional courses in teaching methods and theory. Regardless of the subject, education majors should expect to complete experiential learning through classroom internships and fieldwork. Common courses in an education program include:

  • Becoming a Teacher: Understanding Professional and Educational Issues
  • Child Development and School Structure
  • Curriculum and Instruction: Mathematics
  • Education and Culture
  • Human Learning
  • Learning Across the Lifespan
  • Practicum/Field Experience/Student Teaching
  • Principles of Teaching and Learning
  • Special Educational Needs in the Classroom
  • STEM Disciplines
  • Teaching Middle Grades

Select General Education Degree Programs

Elementary Education Degrees

Missouri State University

Missouri State University maintains a bachelor’s degree in elementary education that can lead to certification in grades one through six. This certification-focused Bachelor of Science in Education (BSEd) degree program includes study in core subject areas as well as professional training in teaching methods and practice. As part of the four-year degree plan, students complete a professional portfolio that is guided by teaching faculty. Specialist certification in various subject areas can be included in the individualized curriculum according to individual student interests and career goals. Diversity training and educational field experiences are highlighted throughout the program. Graduates of the program are prepared to pass the Missouri state teacher certification exams. Career placement assistance is also available to graduates.

Northeastern Illinois University

Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) awards the Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Elementary Education to students who complete its 120-credit hour program. To be admitted to the program, students must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5, pass the Illinois Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP), and provide at least one letter of recommendation from an instructor. The curriculum includes 100 clock hours of fieldwork as well as a dedicated student teaching experience. Placements are arranged in consultation with the school’s dedicated Office of Clinical Experiences and Student Teaching. Students also take such professional education courses as Methods of Teaching Inquiry-Based Social Studies; Elementary and Middle School Math Methods; and Instructional Design in the 21st Century Classroom. NEIU also offers bachelor’s degree programs in other teacher endorsement areas, as well as master’s degrees in early childhood education, teaching in language arts, and teaching and inquiry.

University of Maryland

The University of Maryland offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Elementary Education that can be completed in four years. Upon graduation, students can become certified for teaching at the elementary level in the state of Maryland. Emphasis is given to planning classroom-based instruction; gaining in-depth knowledge of the applicable subject matter; assessing students’ learning and the ability to adjust instruction when needed; and working with students, their families, and communities in a professional manner. Applicants should have a minimum GPA of 2.75 (3.0 preferred), minimum scores on a Basic Skills Test, satisfactory completion of prerequisite and “gateway” courses, a resume showing experience teaching children in your target age range, a written statement of goals, three letters of recommendation, and a rating of satisfactory on the College of Education Foundational Competencies.

Middle Grades Education Degrees

Eastern Kentucky University

Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Middle Grade Education for which students choose two concentration areas from among English, science, social studies, and math. Graduates of the program are prepared to sit for the Kentucky teacher licensing exams in their concentration areas to teach children in grades five through nine (ages 10 to 14). The curriculum includes multiple school-based field experiences and internships and is designed to be completed within eight semesters with full-time study. Students are supported by a dedicated advising office within the College of Education, the Center for the Preparation of Educational Professionals, which includes specialist advisors for licensure and certification, clinical experiences, and academics. The Middle Grade Education program at EKU is accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). EKU also offers various master’s degrees in education as well as online teacher endorsement programs for currently licensed educators interested in advancing their credentials to teach gifted education and/or literacy.

High Point University

Located in North Carolina, High Point University offers a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Middle Grades Education that prepares students to teach two subject areas to students in grades six through nine. The subject concentrations offered are social studies, language arts, science, and math, and students must complete 24 content hours in each subject chosen as well as 45 credit hours in teacher education. Teacher education courses in the required curriculum include Introduction to Educational Technology; Interdisciplinary Methods of Instruction for Middle Grades; and Discipline and Classroom Management Issues. Students also complete at least two internship segments, which provide hands-on teaching experience in supervised settings. Among its many other teacher education programs, High Point University also offers a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Educational Leadership program.

Early/Middle Childhood Education Generalist Degrees

Baldwin Wallace University

The post-baccalaureate middle childhood teacher licensure program at Baldwin Wallace University prepares students to teach two subject areas in grades four through nine (ages 8 to 14). The subject areas available are reading and language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. A reading endorsement is also available to students who choose the reading and language arts content area. The program is available to students who already hold a bachelor’s degree and a current teaching license in at least two subjects. Professional courses in this curriculum include Teaching Strategies and Management Skills; Media Resources for the Education Professional; and Education of Children with Special Needs. Students who do not hold a teaching license but do have a bachelor’s degree may be interested in the school’s license plus master’s program, which qualifies students to pursue initial licensure in the elementary, middle, or high school grades in Ohio.

California State University-Long Beach

The College of Education at California State University-Long Beach offers a unique Urban Dual Credential Program (UDCP) that prepares students to teach the general curriculum in the elementary grades as well as in elementary/middle special education settings. Academic and professional skills and knowledge are emphasized in the program, which also carries a strong fieldwork and student teaching component. Two professional placements, at least one of which occurs in a public school setting, are arranged for student teaching: one placement in a K-2 classroom and a second placement in either grades 3-6 or grades 6-8. The general education curriculum includes core class sequences in language arts, mathematics, natural science, history and social science, arts and humanities, and teaching methodologies. Graduates will earn both a Preliminary Multiple Subject and Preliminary Educational Specialist credential in two years of study. California State University-Long Beach also offers other programs in elementary, middle, and secondary education in a wide range of specializations.

University of California-San Diego

The University of California-San Diego offers a Master of Education (M.Ed.) program with a credential in Preliminary Multiple Subject (for teaching at the elementary school level) or Preliminary Single Subject (for teaching at the middle or high school level)). The Multiple Subject Credential program takes 13 months to complete, while the Single Subject Credential program takes 22 months. Applicants to either program should have clear career goals and good subject matter preparation. Applicants should also have experience working with children and providing services to the public, along with excellent undergraduate and graduate grades. Students seeking the Single Subject Credential can choose between the content areas of English, Mathematics, Science, or World Languages. Those seeking the Preliminary Multiple Subject Elementary Credential must prove they possess subject matter competence, basic skills (usually proven through a standardized exam), an understanding of the US Constitution, a 3.0 or greater GPA, official GRE scores, sensitivity to second language learning, and completion of the prerequisites for the Multiple Subject Credential. Both credential programs prepare graduates to teach English language learners in integrated classrooms as part of the program.

Secondary Education Degrees

Kansas State University

Kansas State University offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Education: Secondary Education program that allows students to complete the requirements for a secondary grades teaching license in multiple fields. As students plan their course of study they receive support from the Center for Student and Professional Services, which provides advising on course requirements for each content area the student wishes to teach. Teacher education courses include Educational Technology for Teaching and Learning, Educational Psychology, and Content Area Literacies and Diverse Learners. Students also complete a practicum in the content area(s) for which they intend to pursue licensure. Many professional education courses are offered in block format and may only be taken concurrently; students must earn a grade of at least a “C” in each course in a block in order to proceed to the next block of professional education courses. Completion of all program requirements, which comprise a minimum of 126 credit hours, leads to the award of a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Education and qualification to take the teacher licensing exams in Kansas. Kansas State University also offers multiple post-license endorsement programs as well as master’s and doctoral programs in education.

Stanford University

Stanford’s Graduate School of Education offers the proprietary Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) degree, a program that can be completed in just 12 months and prepares future teachers at both the elementary and secondary levels. The STEP Secondary program leads to a Master of Arts (MA) in Education with a preliminary California Single Subject Teaching Credential. Only 70 candidates are in the program at one time, giving students individualized access to faculty and hands-on teaching experience. Students are given opportunities to observe, plan, and practice different approaches in clinical pedagogical contexts. They will spend one summer at a local middle school and also year-long field placements in local high and middle schools, for four hours a day along with a weekly seminar for support. Courses include Adolescent Development and Learning, Secondary Teaching Seminar, Designing Equitable Groupwork, and Elective in Curriculum & Instruction in Computational Thinking.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

The Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Secondary Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) allows students to concentrate in up to two teaching fields. Teaching fields available include Biology, English, General Science, Math, Physical Science, and Social Studies. Students must complete a minimum of 36 credit hours in each teaching field selected in order to be eligible for licensure in that content area. The program includes in-depth, real-world teaching experience, with all students completing two practicum blocks in addition to a semester-long student teaching block. Other core requirements include courses in Valuing Cultural Diversity, Educational Psychology, and Students with Disabilities in General Education Settings. Across the curriculum, students learn how to design and apply evidence-based, data-driven evaluations and assessments and integrate technology in the modern classroom. Upon graduation, students are eligible to sit for the teacher licensing exams in Nevada and become certified to teach in their content specialties in grades six through 12.

Additional Resources

  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD): Organization supporting teachers of all experience levels and positions, committed to helping them enhance their roles by supporting education of the whole child.
  • Association of American Educators (AAE): The largest non-union organization for educators, with a mission to advance non-partisan educational advocacy by representing all teachers.
  • Scholastic: The largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, offering resources to teachers such as teaching tools, book clubs, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Which grade levels does a general education degree prepare me to teach?

Answer: An education degree typically prepares graduates to teach specific grade levels, such as K-3 or 6-12. Some content areas, such as art or physical education, are more commonly offered as K-12 programs. Because certification requirements may vary by state, it’s a good idea to check the requirements published by the board of education in the state where you wish to teach.

Question: Can I complete the required field experiences for teaching certification with an online degree program?

Answer: Yes, most online general education degree programs offer field placement advising and assistance to find the required field experiences for teaching certification in your local area. However, a program offered in one state might not meet all requirements for teacher certification in another state, so you should research your state’s requirements for the area(s) you wish to teach.

Question: Do I have to pass the Praxis exam before applying to a general education degree program?

Answer: For undergraduate programs, many schools only require that students pass the Praxis tests prior to beginning field placements or certain teacher education courses. The advising office of the school you are considering attending can provide further information on admission requirements.

Question: How do I know if a general education degree program is accredited?

Answer: The board of education for each state typically maintains a list of approved schools and degree programs for state certification. You can also research programs that hold national accreditation through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP); some states will recognize degrees from schools accredited by CAEP as meeting certification requirements.

Question: Do I need a master’s in general education to teach?

Answer: While a state-approved bachelor’s degree is typically required to become certified as a teacher, master’s in general education degrees can be useful for already-certified teachers and people who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports 462 schools with master’s in general education programs and 302 with bachelor’s in general education programs.1

1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. US News & World Report Best Graduate Education Schools: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/edu-rankings
3. US News & World Report Best Undergraduate Teaching National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/undergraduate-teaching
4. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
5. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/