Best Education Master’s Degrees: Teacher Prep and Admin

This page covers the master’s degree in teaching or education for teachers, administrators, and those switching careers to become teachers. We will review admission requirements, types of master’s degrees in education, common coursework, job outlook, and the top master’s programs in teaching/education.

Table of Contents

Master’s in Education and Teaching Overview

There are many different types of master’s degrees in education or teaching. The type of program you choose will be largely related to your career goals.

  • Teachers can earn advanced degrees to fulfill continuing education requirements, add endorsements, renew their licenses, or increase their level of expertise. These are often Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degrees.
  • Teachers can pursue programs to enter education administration. These are often Master of Education (M.Ed.) degrees.
  • Administrators can advance their careers by expanding their skills and credentials. These are usually M.Ed. degrees and can be more advanced degrees too.
  • Career switchers with a bachelor’s outside of education become certified teachers through an alternative route. These are typically Master’s of Teaching (MIT) or MAT degrees.

Reasons for Earning a Master’s in Education

There are numerous reasons to pursue a master’s degree in education. Among them are these six primary reasons:

1. For a pay increase. A growing number of states are mandating higher salaries or advanced licensure for master’s-level teachers and administrators, which is one reason why many seek a master’s degree in education. States that specifically recognize teachers who earn a master’s degree include Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia. According to the New York City Department of Education, new teachers in NYC public schools with a bachelor’s degree and no experience earned a starting salary of $62,902 in 2023-24, while those with a master’s degree and no experience earned $70,711 during the 2019-20 school year.1

2. To gain an additional endorsement. Earning a master’s in education or a teachable academic subject can lead to additional teaching endorsements (the subjects in which an educator is certified or licensed). For example, it is common for teachers who have their initial certificates in a certain level (such as elementary education or middle school education) to add a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or literacy endorsement through a master’s in education program in order to qualify them for more specialized teaching within their level or area of expertise. It is important to note that not all states require an endorsement to be able to teach a subject, so check with your state’s board of education first.

3. To obtain a position of leadership or administration. Many positions of leadership in education require a master’s degree to be considered. Positions such as curriculum and instruction specialist, educational technology specialists, principal, school counselor, and school administrator typically require at least a master’s degree. Leadership endorsement areas and careers typically associated with a master’s in education can also lead to higher salaries. For example, instructional designers and technologists earned a median salary of $66,490 per year in 2022, while education administrators in kindergarten through secondary schools earned a median of $101,320.2,3 By comparison, those in jobs that typically require an undergraduate degree tend to earn lower median salaries; for example, elementary school teachers earned a median of $61,690, middle school teachers earned a median of $61,810, and secondary school teachers earned a median of $62,360 in 2022.4-6

4. To improve your skills as a teacher. Additionally, a master’s credential can help individuals improve their skills, keep abreast of the latest research, and become more effective teachers. Since master’s degrees in education are typically designed to be more in-depth and focused than bachelor’s degrees, graduates of these programs may learn new skills that will help them become better teachers.

5. As an alternative route to licensure. If you already hold a bachelor’s degree but not in education, a master’s degree from a state-approved initial licensure program (sometimes called a “career switcher” program) can provide a path to becoming a teacher. You can read more about these types of programs through our guide to alternative teacher certification.

6. To maintain your license (in some states). Some states outright require a master’s degree in order to advance or renew a teaching certificate. States that have adopted this requirement include Massachusetts, Maryland, and South Carolina.

Quick Guide

Common Entry Requirements for Master’s Programs in Education

While admission requirements vary widely by degree type and school, they typically include:

  • A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above
  • GRE scores (sometimes with a minimum score)
  • Letters of recommendation, personal essays, and/or statements of purpose
  • A professional teaching resume or portfolio

For master’s degrees in content areas, candidates may be required to have a bachelor’s degree in that academic field–for example, a master’s program in science education will typically prefer students who have a bachelor’s degree in science or science education.

Programs such as Master’s in Teaching (MIT) degrees, which provide a path to initial certification, will generally accept candidates who have an undergraduate degree in any academic subject. Programs that do not lead to teacher certification tend to give admission preference to students who are currently certified to teach and have some teaching experience.

Types of Master’s Degrees in Education and Teaching

There are numerous types of master’s degrees in education. The right degree for you will depend on your goals and area of interest. The two most commonly known graduate degrees in education are the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and the Master of Education (M.Ed.). There are also other types of master’s degrees in education, including the Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) and the Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.), among others.

Master’s programs can focus on a specific area of teaching practice like elementary or secondary education, a particular academic subject, or put a graduate on a track towards school administrator jobs or curriculum and instruction jobs. While these degrees have similarities and are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some significant differences between programs. As a general guideline, master’s in education programs tend to focus on educational leadership and support, whereas master’s in teaching programs tend to focus on the development of direct teaching skills. The various types of master’s in education programs can be found in traditional, on-campus formats as well as in online and hybrid formats.

Master of Education (M.Ed.)

Master of Education degree programs, abbreviated as M.Ed. or EdM degrees, are graduate programs typically focused on preparing students for education careers outside of classroom teaching, like in:

Master of Education programs do not usually qualify candidates for initial teacher licensure. In fact, most programs require candidates to have a teaching certificate. One of the leading reasons teachers pursue an M.Ed. is to gain certification in endorsement areas that require a graduate degree. M.Ed. programs will have a specialization, typically in the endorsement area the student is seeking, with degree titles such as M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction or M.Ed. Administrative Leadership. Most Master of Education degree programs take at least 30 credit hours to earn. Though the curriculum will vary by specialty area, the topics covered in typically concentrate on the theoretical aspects of education. These theoretical studies often include the areas of education research, education policy and reform, and educational leadership.

Common courses in an M.Ed. program include:

  • Educational Leadership
  • Planning and Resource Management
  • Human Resources Administration in Education
  • Instructional Supervision

Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) and Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.)

Like the M.Ed., Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) and Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.) degree programs often focus on building leadership skills to help current educators move into administrative leadership positions. This focus on leadership is one way that M.S.Ed. and M.A.Ed. programs differ from other master’s degrees. However, M.S.Ed. and M.A.Ed. programs may also have an academic focus; science and math teachers, for example, commonly earn an M.S.Ed. in their content specialization, such as a Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) in Mathematics. These types of programs are generally for professional development within classroom teaching, rather than a stepping-stone to administrative careers. M.S.Ed. and M.A.Ed. programs commonly take between 25 and 30 credit hours, though both shorter and longer programs are available. To be eligible for admission to an M.S.Ed. or M.A.Ed. program, you must have a bachelor’s degree and typically must also be a certified teacher. While there may be some exceptions it is uncommon for these programs to lead to initial teacher certification.

Typical coursework includes:

  • Instructional Theory and Design
  • Curriculum, Assessment, and Management
  • Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics
  • Students with Special Needs

Master’s in Teaching (M.I.T.)

Master’s in Teaching (MIT) programs are designed for career switchers or individuals who have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than education and have little or no experience in teaching. Such programs are centered on educator preparation to help students transition to teaching careers and meet teacher certification requirements. As a result, earning an MIT is a relatively common way to transition to a teaching career. An MIT program typically includes a concentration in the grade level of certification, such as elementary or secondary education. Topics covered in MIT programs include teaching skills and practices (pedagogy), the use of technology in the classroom, and basic education theory. MIT programs that lead to teacher certification also typically include student teaching field experiences. In addition, because they are designed to provide teaching education and experience to those from other educational backgrounds, MIT programs tend to be longer than other master’s programs, with formats ranging from 45 to 60 credit hours. MIT programs are commonly offered as hybrid online teaching degrees, in addition to on-campus programs.

Courses typically include:

  • Philosophy of Education
  • Child or Adolescent Development
  • Classroom Management
  • Teaching Seminar or Practicum

Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.)

The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree is a popular option for prospective or current teachers who want to develop instructional strategies and skills and/or build their content-area expertise, such as in math or English language learning. Some MAT programs provide a path to initial certification and are specifically intended for career switchers who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject. Whether they are designed for initial teacher certification or professional development, MAT degree programs almost always include a focus area such as elementary, middle, or secondary education and usually an academic content area such as mathematics or English. The degree conferred might be a Master of Arts in Teaching-Secondary English as a Second Language or a Master of Arts in Teaching-Elementary Education, for example. The MAT can often be found in a hybrid or online format. The time it takes to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching can vary widely, though 25 to 45 credit hours is common.

MAT programs include coursework such as:

  • Graduate level courses in academic content area (e.g., English, Mathematics, Biology)
  • Strategies for Creating an Effective Learning Environment
  • Psychology of Learning
  • Reading Instruction and Development

Master’s in Academic Content Areas or Master’s Plus Degrees

Another common graduate degree in education is a master’s program in a teaching specialty area. Example programs include a Master of Arts in English, a Master of Science in Mathematics, or a Master of Arts in History. These programs, which are typically 30 to 45 credit hours in length, are designed to give current classroom teachers advanced knowledge in their subject to enhance their teaching of that subject. Such master’s programs can also be a path towards, or parts of, doctoral degrees such as the Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education, which can lead to positions in administration as well as in higher education. There are also master’s programs in an academic content area that can lead to first-time teacher certification. Programs in this category are commonly referred to as “Master’s Plus” programs, indicating “master’s plus licensure,” and can be abbreviated as MAT+, MA+, or MS+, depending on the degree type. Master’s plus programs are typically 45 to 60 credit hours in length. Select master’s plus programs can be found online, though they are more commonly found in traditional on-campus or hybrid formats.

Some common courses found in these programs are:

  • Graduate-level courses in academic content area (e.g., English, Mathematics, Biology)
  • Technology in the Classroom
  • Development of Reasoning
  • Curriculum Planning

Top Online Master’s in Education Programs

masters degree educationAn online master’s can offer great flexibility to students who wish to advance their careers or achieve teacher certification through a state-approved program. Online Master of Education programs often mirror the on-campus experience; classes may include live-streamed instructor lectures and real-time interaction with the class through chat or video conferencing. Some programs also utilize social technologies that allow students to collaborate with classmates online.

Teacher Certification Degrees’ Best Online Master’s for Teacher Certification

Teacher Certification Degrees has developed a list of over 30 of the top master’s in teaching and education programs designed to lead to first-time teacher certification, using our own proprietary ranking that takes into account academic factors as well as factors measuring student success.

  • University of Virginia (#1)
  • North Carolina State University (#2)
  • University of Alabama (#3)
  • Saint Joseph’s University (#4)
  • Creighton University (#5)
  • Kansas State University (#6)
  • Arizona State University (#7)
  • Western Oregon University (#8)
  • University of Tennessee Martin (#9)
  • Mayville State University (#10)8

To see the full list and learn more about earning your master’s online, see our guide to the Top-Ranked Online Master’s in Education Programs.

Teacher Certification Degrees’ Best Online Master of Education Programs

Our rankings of the best online M.Ed. programs by state are based on academic quality, affordability, and the variety of M.Ed. degrees offered. The top schools from each state are:

  • Azusa Pacific University (#1, California)
  • University of Florida (#1, Florida)
  • Georgia Southern University (#1, Georgia)
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (#1, Illinois)
  • Michigan State University (#1, Michigan)
  • University at Buffalo (#1, New York)
  • University of North Carolina at Greensboro (#1, North Carolina)
  • Ohio University (#1, Ohio)
  • Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania (#1, Pennsylvania)
  • University of Houston (#1, Texas)

Find out more about hybrid and online M.Ed. programs that can help you develop your skills, add teaching endorsements, and transition to administration careers by clicking on a state below.

US News & World Report’s Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

  • Clemson University (#1)
  • University of Florida (#2 tie)
  • University of Virginia (#2 tie)
  • University at Albany-SUNY (#4)
  • San Diego State University (#5 tie)
  • University of North Texas (#5 tie)
  • Arizona State University (#7 tie)
  • Michigan State University (#7 tie)
  • University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign (#7 tie)
  • Auburn University (#10 tie)
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison (#10 tie)7

Job Outlook for Teachers and School Administrators

The job outlook for teachers over the next decade is strong due to several factors, including the expected retirement of a large number of teachers and a stronger emphasis from state and federal governments on improving student achievement. Teachers with qualifications in teacher shortage areas such as mathematics, science, reading, and English as a Second Language (ESL) will be in the strongest demand. For more information on the job outlook for teachers and administrators, including a state-by-state guide to the best states to be a teacher, see our careers page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I get a master’s in education without a bachelor’s in education?

Answer: Though admission policies vary between master’s programs, most programs accept students who have bachelor’s degrees in other subjects. The main admissions criteria for most programs include a strong academic background in any subject and teaching experience that can be applied to the master’s learning experience.

Question: How long does it take to get a master’s degree in education?

Answer: The majority of master’s degrees in education and teaching take between one and two years to complete. One-year master’s programs are common in states that recognize master’s degree programs as a pathway to alternative teacher certification. The time it takes to get a master’s degree also depends on whether the student is taking courses on a full- or part-time basis.

Question: Can I teach while getting my certification and earning a master’s degree?

Answer: If you are working to become certified as a teacher through an alternate route master’s degree program, you may be able to teach while you earn your certificate. The requirements for this approach vary by state. Most states will issue a temporary or provisional teaching credential if you have at least a bachelor’s degree and are enrolled in a teacher preparation program.

Question: What are the concentrations or specializations for a master’s in education?

Answer: The specializations available for a master’s in education are driven by the specializations available in the education field itself, largely based on the available career tracks and licensure endorsements. There are over 40 common endorsement areas in education, and most states have more than this. Endorsements that commonly correlate with specializations in master’s in education programs include bilingual education, elementary education, gifted education, mathematics, reading specialist, secondary education, and special education–just to name a few.

Question: What is the difference between a master’s and an educational specialist program?

Answer: An education specialist degree (EdS) is a step above a master’s degree in terms of program length and requirements. While a master’s in education is sufficient to earn many endorsements or certifications, some choose an education specialist degree because it offers deeper preparation due to the additional coursework. Some EdS programs require prospective students to already have a master’s degree in education, while others accept students with a bachelor’s plus teaching experience. See our education specialist degree guide to learn more.

Question: What is the difference between master’s and PhD in Education or EdD in Education programs?

Answer: While both are graduate degrees, a Master of Education is considered an advanced education degree, while a PhD in Education and Doctor of Education (EdD) are considered terminal education degrees as they are the most advanced degrees possible to earn in this field. PhDs in Education tend to be centered on research and teaching, while EdDs in Education tend to be centered on administrative career tracks.

1. New York City Department of Education, About Our Schools, Salary and Benefits: https://teachnyc.net/about-our-schools/salary-and-benefits
2. O*NET OnLine, Instructional Designers and Technologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-9031.00
3. O*NET OnLine, Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/11-9032.00
4. O*NET OnLine, Elementary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2021.00
5. O*NET OnLine, Middle School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2022.00
6. O*NET OnLine, Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2031.00
7. Teacher Certification Degrees’ Best Online Master’s in Education Programs: /degrees/masters-degree/online/#ranking
8. US News & World Report’s Best Online Master’s in Education Programs: https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/education/rankings