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Master’s in Education Programs Resource

A master’s degree in education is an advanced degree for teachers or administrators that typically requires one to three years of study, depending on whether the program is full-time or part-time. Existing teachers also commonly earn advanced degrees in order to fulfill continuing education requirements to renew their teaching certificates and develop their teaching skills. While a master’s in education is not a requirement to earn initial teacher certification, teachers in some states must earn a master’s after a certain number of years of holding an initial certificate in order to advance the certificate and continue teaching.

A master’s in education can also be for career switchers, people who have been in other fields and wish to transition to a teaching career. These types of master’s degrees (commonly Master’s in Teaching (MIT) programs) qualify those with other backgrounds to become certified teachers through an alternative route. Use the directory below to navigate this page and find the relevant section for your questions about earning a master’s degree in education.

Table of Contents
Reasons for Earning a Master’s in Education
Common Entry Requirements
Types of Master’s Degrees in Education
Top Master’s Programs in Education
Job Outlook for Teachers and School Administrators
Frequently Asked Questions


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 in education degree. 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 $57,845 in 2019-20, while those with a master’s degree and no experience earned $65,026 during the 2019-20 school year.1

2. To gain an additional endorsement. Earning a master’s in education or in a teachable academic subject can lead to additional teaching endorsements (the subjects in which an educator is certified or licensed). Oftentimes, schools have a need in a particular subject, so existing teachers may wish to add an endorsement in order to help fill these gaps and be qualified to teach in more than one area. 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 it is wise to check with your state’s board of education before enrolling in master’s programs leading to endorsements.

3. To obtain a position of leadership or in administration. Many positions of leadership in education require a master’s degree to be considered, or at least to be competitive. 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 compared to regular classroom teachers. For example, instructional designers and technologists earned a median salary of $66,970 per year in 2020, while education administrators in kindergarten through secondary schools earned a median of $98,490.2,3 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 $60,940, middle school teachers earned a median of $60,810, and secondary school teachers earned a median of $62,870 in 2020.4-6

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

Admission to master’s programs in education can be competitive. Programs such as a Master’s in Teaching (MIT) that provides a path to initial certification will generally accept candidates who have an undergraduate degree in any academic subject. Programs that are not geared towards providing a path to teacher certification tend to give admission preference to students who are currently certified to teach and have some teaching experience. 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. Many master’s programs also set a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above, and may also require minimum scores on the GRE. Other common admissions requirements are letters of recommendation, personal essays or statements of purpose, and a professional teaching resume or portfolio.

Types of Master’s Degrees in Education

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.

While these degrees are similar in some respects and many programs use the various terms interchangeably, there are some significant differences between programs. 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. 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.

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, such as in administration, instructional technology, school counseling, or curriculum planning and design, just to name a few possibilities. Master of Education programs usually do not qualify candidates for initial teacher licensure–in fact, already possessing a teaching certificate is a common admissions requirement. Gaining certification in endorsement areas that typically require a master’s degree is, therefore, a leading reason to pursue a Master of Education. An M.Ed. program 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 30 credit hours to earn. Though the curriculum for an M.Ed. will vary according to the specialty area you choose, the topics covered in M.Ed. programs 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. M.Ed. programs can be found in traditional, on-campus formats as well as in online and hybrid formats.

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 can 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 such as school principal. 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; it is not common for these programs to lead to initial teacher certification, though some programs may offer this route.

Master’s in Teaching (M.I.T.)

Master’s in Teaching (MIT) programs are designed for 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 in order 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 will typically have a concentration in the grade level(s) for which the student is seeking certification, such as elementary or secondary education. Topics covered in MIT programs include teaching skills and practices, the use of technology in the classroom, and basic education theory. MIT programs that lead to teacher certification also typically include classroom internships and 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 others, with formats ranging from 45 to 60 credit hours. MIT programs are commonly offered as hybrid online teaching degrees, and there are many competitive campus-based Master’s in Teaching programs.

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. On the degree conferred, this might be represented as a Master of Arts in Teaching-Secondary English as a Second Language or a Master of Arts in Teaching-Elementary Education, just to take two examples out of many possibilities. The MAT is commonly encountered as an online master’s in education program. The time it takes to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching can vary widely, though 25 to 45 credit hours is common.

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 as well as advanced skills in the teaching of that subject. Such master’s programs can also be a path towards, or parts of a dual program with, 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.

Top Master’s Programs in Education

Following is a selection of programs that offer master’s degrees in education and have received top ratings from US News & World Report and the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).7,8

City University of New York-Hunter College

  • #3 in Graduate Special Education Programs, NCTQ
  • #8 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ
  • #92 in Graduate Elementary Education Programs, NCTQ

Ohio State University

  • #18 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education
  • #3 in Graduate Elementary Education Programs, NCTQ
  • #19 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ

Stanford University

  • #1 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education

University of California-Los Angeles

  • #11 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education
  • #5 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ
  • #188 in Graduate Elementary Education Programs, NCTQ

University of Maryland

  • #14 in Graduate Special Education Programs, NCTQ
  • #60 in Graduate Elementary Education Programs, NCTQ
  • #178 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ

University of Pennsylvania

  • #6 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education

University of Washington-Seattle

  • #8 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education
  • #2 in Graduate Special Education Programs, NCTQ
  • #103 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ
  • #113 in Graduate Elementary Programs, NCTQ

University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • #4 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education

Coursework for Master’s in Education Programs

Master’s degree programs emphasize intensive coursework in a given area of focus and often include more theoretical approaches or advanced practical approaches than are encountered in undergraduate coursework. For both on-campus and online teaching degrees, a teaching internship or fieldwork is commonly required, as is a master’s thesis, capstone, and/or comprehensive examination.

While courses may differ based on focus area (Curriculum and Instruction or Special Education, for example) and there is some overlap, typical examples of courses in teaching and education master’s programs include:

Master of Education (M.Ed.)

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

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

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

Master’s in Teaching (MIT)

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

Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

  • 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 Plus Programs

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

Online Master’s in Education Degree 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 emulate the on-campus experience; lectures may involve live streaming videos of the instructor with real-time interaction with the class through chat or video conferencing. Some programs also provide social technologies that allow students to interact with classmates in a collaborative online environment.

TeacherCertificationDegrees.com 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. Top-ranked schools include:

  1. University of St. Francis
  2. Mayville State University
  3. Kansas State University
  4. Arizona State University
  5. North Carolina State University

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. To read about getting a master’s of special education degree online, see our special education online master’s page.

Job Outlook for Teachers and School Administrators

The job outlook for teachers over the next decade is strong due to several factors, including a large number of teachers expected to retire in the coming years and a stronger emphasis from state and federal governments on improving student achievement. Teachers with qualifications in high-needs areas such as mathematics, science, and English as a Second Language 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: What is the difference between a Master of Education and a Master’s in Teaching?

Answer: While both types of degrees can lead to an initial teaching license and both are often offered as online teaching degrees, the Master’s in Teaching tends to focus on the method and practice of teaching (pedagogy), while the Master of Education tends to focus more on theory, research, and administration.

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 is an EdM degree?

Answer: EdM is an alternative way of abbreviating Master of Education both in the US and abroad. An EdM degree program is typically the same as an M.Ed., although curricula may vary from school to school (or country to country, depending on which abbreviation is more prevalent locally).

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 or 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.

References:
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. US News Best Online Graduate Education Programs: https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/education/rankings
8. National Council on Teacher Quality, Graduate Programs by Outcome: https://www.nctq.org/review/home