Secondary Education Degree Programs

A degree in secondary education prepares a teacher to work in grades seven to 12. Secondary teachers typically focus on specific content areas such as math, science, history, or English. This page covers degree options, certification, top-ranked programs, program requirements, and coursework.

Table of Contents

Secondary Education Degree Overview

In 2021, there were 23,519 public secondary and high schools in the US.2 Most secondary education degree programs offer students the ability to receive teaching credentials (upon passing required state exams), which is needed to teach in K-12 public schools. There are also options for those who wish to study for a secondary education degree online. To learn more about the secondary school teacher career, read our high school teacher career guide.

Quick Facts

  • There are 703 not-for-profit colleges and universities with secondary education programs.1
  • 41 schools offer a certificate in secondary education.1
  • 95 schools offer an associate’s degree in secondary education.1
  • 323 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in secondary education.1
  • 399 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in secondary education.1

Secondary Education Degrees and Certification

Most secondary education degrees are found at the bachelor’s or master’s level. Bachelor’s degrees require 120 credit hours and four years to complete and master’s degrees require between 30 and 60 credit hours and about two years to complete.

Once the qualifying degree is obtained, most graduates seek state certification if they plan on teaching in the public school system. With certification, they will qualify for middle or high school jobs in the state in which they are certified. For example, those who major in secondary education with English as their content area will take the corresponding state exam(s) for the job they are targeting and apply for jobs as a high school or middle school English, literature, speech, or writing teacher. A middle school endorsement will qualify a graduate to teach grades six to eight (depending on the state).

Most secondary education degrees offer further levels of specialization (also called concentration, specialty, and emphasis). Some common specialization areas include:

  • ESL/Bilingual Education: Prepares graduates to teach English as a second language to this age group.
  • Gifted and Talented Education: Prepares graduates to teach learners in this age group who have been identified as gifted.
  • Middle Grades: Prepares graduates to teach at the middle school level (commonly grades six to eight).
  • Special Education: Prepares teachers to teach learners with learning, physical, and emotional disabilities.
  • STEM: Prepares graduates to teach STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
  • Other Subject Area: The most common specialization for secondary education degrees, this prepares educators to focus on a teachable area at the middle or high school level, such as English, biology, history, government, or a foreign language.

Top-Ranked Secondary Education Degree Programs

US News & World Report’s Best Secondary Education Programs 2023

  • Michigan State University (#1; on campus or online)
  • University of Wisconsin—​Madison (#2; on campus)
  • Teachers College, Columbia University (#3; on campus)
  • University of Michigan—Ann Arbor (#4; on campus)
  • University of Washington (#5; on campus)
  • Ohio State University (#6; on campus)
  • Stanford University (#7 tie; on campus)
  • University of Texas-Austin (#7 tie; on campus)
  • Vanderbilt University (#7 tie; on campus)
  • University of Georgia (#10 tie; on campus or online)
  • University of Virginia (#10 tie; on campus or online)3

Best Value Schools with On-Campus Secondary Education Programs

The table below represents the best value non-profit colleges and universities offering secondary education programs in the United States. Our list includes schools with graduation rates (at the undergraduate level) of 80% and above and undergraduate net prices of under $20,000. A high graduation rate is typically correlated with student success, and combined with a low net price, indicates a good value. In addition to these data points, we have also included information about these schools’ percentage of faculty with tenure, related degrees offered, and US News & World Report rankings.

SchoolUndergrad Degree(s)Grad Degree(s)US News Undergrad Teaching Rank4US News National Rank5Grad Rate1% Tenured Faculty6Net Price1
Brigham Young University-ProvoBA/BS Secondary EducationNR#66 tie83%46%$12,979
University of Michigan-Ann ArborBA/BS Secondary Teacher EducationMA Educational Studies with Secondary Teacher Certification (SecMAC)#19#27 tie92%35%$16,408
Florida State UniversityBS/MS Secondary EducationBS/MS Secondary Education#52 tie#70 tie80%43%$16,450
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignMinor Secondary EducationEdM Secondary Education#43 tie#46 tie85%51%$16,638
University of Maryland-College ParkMinor Secondary EducationM.Ed.: MCERT with Secondary EducationNR#63 tie85%44%$17,241
Clemson UniversityBA Secondary Education#16 tie#66 tie82%47%$18,757

Best Value Schools with Online Secondary Education Programs

Below is our list of best value non-profit colleges and universities offering online secondary education programs at the graduate level in the United States. This list uses the same criteria as the above, but we used a minimum undergraduate graduation rate of 70% and an undergraduate net price under $23,000. In addition to the undergraduate net price, we’ve also included the in-state cost per online graduate credit hour for reference.

SchoolGrad Degree(s)US News National Rank5Grad Rate1% Tenured Faculty6Cost per Grad Credit HourNet Price1
University at BuffaloMultiple Degrees#79 tie76%36%$565$15,895
Towson UniversityM.Ed. Secondary Education (hybrid)#197 tie73%24%$439$16,148
University of Maryland-College ParkM.Ed. Teaching and Learning Mathematics in the Middle Grades#64 tie86%44%$717$16,790

Secondary Teaching Degree Program Requirements and Coursework

To start, coursework in a teacher preparation program typically requires the completion of specified prerequisites and acceptance into the college of education. To graduate, students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA (typically 2.0 for undergraduate and 3.0 for graduate) and complete the required coursework. Student teaching is also a common requirement for graduation. Some examples of common classes in the curriculum of a secondary teaching degree program include:

  • Adolescent Growth and Development
  • Applied Learning Theory
  • Classroom Management
  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
  • Educational Technology
  • Field Experience/Student Teaching
  • Introduction to Teaching and Learning
  • Special Topics in Secondary Education
  • Teaching English in Secondary Schools
  • Teaching Mathematics in Secondary Schools

Select Secondary Education Degree Programs

Traditional Programs

Clemson University

Clemson University offers both a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Secondary Education and a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Literacy with a Secondary Strand. Its accredited BA program prepares students to be teachers of English, math, or social studies (history) in ninth through 12th grades with over 100 field hours plus 72 days of student teaching. Students are encouraged to earn a second major in their selected content area, and most students complete this within four years. Student teaching experiences focus on a diverse group of students from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Coursework varies by content area, but may include Orientation to Education, Adolescent Growth and Development, Principles of American Education, and Educational Psychology. The M.Ed. in Literacy with a strand in Secondary Education can be completed fully online and offers South Carolina endorsements in Read to Succeed, Literacy Teacher, and Literacy Coach. The M.Ed. comprises 36 hours of coursework which can be completed in about three years with part-time study. Clemson also offers a bachelor’s to master’s teacher residency program with a combined Bachelor of Arts (BA)/Bachelor of Science (BS) in Secondary Education and a Master of Teaching (MAT) in Secondary Education; it also offers a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Teaching and Learning online with a specialization option in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) for K-12 teachers.

College of William & Mary

William & Mary’s prestigious Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) in Curriculum and Instruction: Secondary School Teaching allows students to obtain the necessary educational qualifications and classroom experience to earn their teaching certification. All secondary education majors will follow an educational path that includes completing a concentration in the area or areas in which the aspiring teachers want to teach and earning an endorsement. The Secondary English program requires 44 semester hours, while the Secondary Mathematics, the Secondary Science, and the Secondary Social Studies programs require 41 semester hours. Each endorsement area includes a field experience and student teaching. All areas are designed to be full-time, 12-month programs that are completed in a cohort. A secondary education major who wants to earn certification in Virginia must also complete mandatory Child Abuse Recognition and Reporting training.

Florida State University

A four-year combined Bachelor of Science/Master of Science (BS/MS) in Teacher Education is offered at Florida State University (FSU) in Secondary Teaching and a subject area in English Education or Social Sciences Education. For students interested in teaching a STEM subject, double majors are available in Chemistry, Biology, Environmental Science, Geoscience, Mathematics, and Physics. Graduates of the program will be eligible for a Florida Professional Educator’s Certificate to teach their subject area in grades six to 12. The degree program includes ample hands-on experience, with field experiences each semester and one semester-long internship. FSU’s teacher education program offers small class sizes and individual faculty attention. Courses such as Educational Psychology: Developing Learners, Literacy Across the Content Area, ESOL Instruction in the Content Area, Including Students with Disabilities in the General Education Curriculum, and Developing a Global Perspective are offered.

Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays State University offers students the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Secondary Education through its prestigious teaching program. All students are required to enroll in a double major: secondary education plus a specialty area such as biology, history, agriculture, or journalism. Aspiring special education teachers at the secondary level may also want to minor in special education. All secondary education majors must complete a student teaching component, which generally occurs in the final semester of the senior year. Graduates of the teaching program are eligible to apply for certification by the Kansas State Department of Education, provided they meet all requirements, including maintaining a minimum 2.75 GPA during the program.

Michigan State University

Michigan State University (MSU) features a five-year secondary education teacher program that prepares students to become both educators and leaders in the classroom. The first four years of the undergraduate program consist of completing general college and major requirements. In addition, all teaching students must have a secondary teaching major and a teaching minor, choosing from a long list of subjects, including Chinese, earth science, English, journalism, and Spanish. Teaching majors must apply for a year-long teaching internship in the fall of their senior year and will begin interning the fall semester of their fifth year. Graduates of the secondary education program will be prepared to apply for provisional teacher certification from the Michigan Department of Education.

Online and Hybrid Programs

DePaul University

The DePaul University College of Education offers a Master of Arts/Master of Education (MA/M.Ed.) program in Secondary Education designed for those who earned a bachelor’s degree in a subject outside of education. The program leads to a secondary education teaching license in Illinois, with endorsements available in subjects from Biology to Environmental Science to Visual Arts. Students may also take additional courses to earn a middle school endorsement in their content area of emphasis. While courses are available online and in a hybrid online/on-campus format, students must plan to complete field experiences and student teaching engagements, which can be arranged in their local school district. Students may choose to pursue the program on a full-time or part-time basis, though the 10-week student teaching experience is full-time; students should plan their schedules accordingly.

San Diego State University

San Diego State University (SDSU) offers a fully online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT): Elementary Education and Secondary Education that is designed as a professional development program for currently licensed teachers. The focus of this program is on inquiry education, a method of teaching that helps students become independent learners. The 24 credit hours required for most students to earn the MAT can be completed in one year across three consecutive semesters, with most students taking four courses during the summer term and two courses each in the fall and spring semesters. The curriculum culminates in a capstone experience that is based on the values of social justice. The College of Education at SDSU also offers various preliminary teacher credential programs on-campus. The school also offers an online induction program for general education teachers.

University of New Mexico

The University of New Mexico (UNM) offers a Master of Arts (MA) in Secondary Education with a focus on Teacher Leadership that can be completed online. The program is designed for currently licensed teachers and can be completed in two years with full-time study. Core courses include Research Applications to Education; Principles of Curriculum Development; and Educational Leadership in a Democratic Society. Admission is competitive and requires that students have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 in the last two years (60 credit hours) of undergraduate study and in their major field overall. UNM’s College of Education places a strong emphasis on multicultural education and takes pride in preparing teachers who are ready to work with diverse learners and cultures. UNM also offers a wide variety of on-campus teacher preparation programs for both traditional and alternative route teacher certification candidates.

Additional Resources

Advice from Secondary Teachers

“Surround yourself with positive people. Keep learning, improving and striving for better. Make sure you take time for yourself and don’t burn out.” – Shireen D., Texas High School Math Teacher

“Be prepared for anything. While my best friend was getting her degree, she swore she would never need geometry because she would never teach it. Her first teaching assignment included three geometry classes. Anything can happen and it’s best to be ready.” – Sharon Taylor, Former President of the Georgia Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators

“I think that teaching, in many ways, is a calling, and despite the fact that American society has been undervaluing their teachers, I would encourage them to keep at it because the rewards are great when working with others. But, most importantly, we need them.” –Jon Bergmann, Co-Author of Flip Your Classroom

“Don’t become a coaster. Every year look at your curriculum. Update it, change it, add to it, delete the bad stuff and always make it better for your students.” –Meg Jacobson, Former President of the Colorado Association of Science Teachers

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What if I already have a bachelor’s degree in another field? Do I need to get another bachelor’s degree in secondary education?

Answer: Most states offer alternative routes to obtaining teacher certification or licensure for individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree in another area so that they do not have to get a second bachelor’s degree. This may involve taking additional courses at an approved teacher education program or acquiring a master’s in secondary education. There are also national organizations like Teach for America and Troops to Teachers that help career switchers get into teaching. Check with your state’s department of education for specific requirements.

Question: Do you need a master’s degree in secondary education to teach at the secondary level?

Answer: It depends on your state’s policies, but most states require a bachelor’s degree from an approved teacher education program to become certified. Some states require teachers to earn their master’s within a specified time period (usually five years) in order to become fully licensed or to continue licensure through advancement. Many states also offer a salary incentive for having a master’s degree even if they do not require one.

Question: What is a secondary education certification?

Answer: Secondary education certification is granted by the state board of education to qualify teachers to teach at the secondary level (high school or middle school). If you want to teach students of this age in a public school setting, you will likely need to seek state certification in secondary education (with a high school or middle school teaching endorsement) and/or in the subject you wish to teach.

For further information on careers in secondary education, visit our table of top teaching careers and salary information, which provides a breakdown of common specializations by grade and the education required.

1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. National Center for Education Statistics Fast Facts, Educational Institutions: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=84
3. US News & World Report Best Secondary Teacher Education Programs: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/secondary-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/