Getting a Master’s Degree in Education

| Staff Writers

A master of education (M.Ed.) can be a great option for individuals looking to pursue a career in education, or for experienced teachers who want to move into administration. An M.Ed. can also prepare graduates to work in education policy or specialize in special education or educational technology.

As you explore education master’s programs, make sure you prioritize accredited degrees, such as those accredited by the Council of Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Earning an unaccredited degree may not qualify you for teaching licensure or even a career in the field.

The job outlook for M.Ed. graduates varies considerably, depending on what career path you choose. As an example, many M.Ed. graduates go on to become principals at elementary and secondary schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the number of principals to grow by 4% from 2019-29.

This guide outlines what you can expect in a master’s in education program, including admissions requirements, common coursework, and possible career paths.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can you do with a master's in education?

    A master’s in education commonly prepares graduates to specialize in a certain area of teaching. However, the degree can also lead to careers in other areas, such as education administration, school counseling, special education, corporate training, curriculum development, or educational consulting. Some graduates even become educational coordinators in non-school settings, like museums or zoos.

  • What is the difference between an M.Ed. vs. an MA in education?

    Students who pursue a master of arts in education (MA) in education often consider the degree as a stepping stone to a Ph.D. With an emphasis on research, graduates of doctoral programs usually accept positions as university faculty members. Students who pursue an MA in education, on the other hand, typically prioritize a career within the education profession, such as an education administrator or consultant.

  • How long does it take to get a master's in education?

    That depends on the program. Most last 1-2 years, but some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to graduate more quickly. Online programs also tend to offer more flexible timelines. Degree-seekers who enroll part-time should expect to spend an extra semester or two pursuing their degree.

  • Can I be a teacher with a master's in education?

    Yes. You can become a teacher with either a master’s in education or an MA in teaching. These degrees can prepare experienced teachers to specialize in a specific area. However, they can also provide opportunities for professionals looking to gain entry into the field of education.

Admission Requirements for a Master’s in Education Program

Admission requirements for education master’s programs vary, depending on the school. Most require applicants to possess the minimum of an undergraduate degree. Many admissions committees prefer to see applicants with a degree within the field of education. However, not all schools require a bachelor’s degree in education or teaching.

Experience requirements vary, too. Some programs require that applicants hold some teaching experience, while others consider candidates with no teaching experience at all. Prospective students without teaching experience can always boost their applications by volunteering at schools or participating in fellowships.

Graduate programs require applicants to submit supplemental documentation, including undergraduate transcripts, recommendation letters, and admissions essays. Programs also frequently require test scores from the GRE or MAT tests. Applicants often need to meet a minimum GPA and test score. The higher the scores, the more competitive they rank in the application process.

Core Concepts in a Master’s in Education Program

Broadly speaking, a master of education offers an advanced curriculum that covers concepts like human growth and development, how students learn and absorb information, classroom instruction and instructional design, and teaching diverse and multicultural students.

Degree-seekers may also take foundational courses like childhood development, instructional leadership, and childhood development. They usually need to complete a capstone project toward the end of their degree, which serves as a culmination of everything students learn over the course of the program. These capstones may include a research project or participation in student-teaching.

Each program offers a unique curriculum, though, so students take a variety of different courses. Many M.Ed. programs also offer specializations, such as education policy or instructional leadership. In addition to foundational courses and a capstone experience, students can add a concentration, such as those listed below.

Concentrations Offered for a Master of Education Program

A master’s degree in education prepares graduates for a variety of different careers through several possible concentrations. The specializations below are only a few examples of the many available concentrations students can find through M.Ed. programs.

  • Special Education

    A special education program prepares teachers to work with students with special needs, including those with behavioral problems, speech impediments, or learning disabilities. This concentration introduces special teaching strategies to assist these learners. Degree-seekers can focus on young children, middle school students, or high school learners, or they can find a special education track that encompasses grades K-12.

  • Multicultural Education

    This concentration prepares graduates to work with students from various multicultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. This can include helping students overcome various linguistic or cultural barriers, and enact curricula in the classroom that accounts for an ethnically diverse student body.

  • Instructional Leadership

    A concentration in instructional leadership can either teach coaches and teachers how to become leaders in their classrooms, or it can prepare them for an administrative career as principal or superintendent. This specialization might focus on using data for school improvement or inquiry-based classroom instruction.

  • Teaching Education

    An M.Ed. in teaching education focuses on the craft of teaching at an advanced level. Students may learn about education policy, teaching strategy, or curriculum building. Within the teaching education concentration, students can often specialize their degree even further in areas like elementary teaching, secondary teaching, special education, mathematics teaching, or teaching the humanities.

  • Sports Coaching and Leadership

    This concentration prepares learners to lead students in the classroom and on the field. Coursework may include coaching pedagogy, sport performance, and sport psychology and student wellness.

  • Education Policy

    Education policy determines a school’s priorities and what students learn each grade level. Individuals at the local, state, and government levels all have a hand in setting education policy. Lobbyists and professional associations also try to influence education policy. This concentration prepares degree-seekers for a career in education policy, and focuses on concepts like school improvement, student success, and educational equity.

Online Master’s in Education Programs

For degree-seekers who work full time or live far from campus, an online master’s degree in education can provide a certain degree of flexibility that traditional on-campus programs lack.

Many schools offer asynchronous programs, where students can log in and watch lectures at their own convenience. Some programs consist of synchronous components, too, so distance learners might need to stream a lecture or participate in a class discussion at a certain time; usually these requirements occur outside of normal work hours.

Students may prefer online programs for the flexibility and convenience. Distance learning programs tend to come with less expensive tuition costs.

Comparing Graduate Education Degrees

When pursuing a graduate degree in education, keep in mind that you can choose from several different types of master’s programs. The M.Ed. focuses on training students with advanced knowledge and practical skills that they can use within the field of education. Graduates might teach in classrooms, or they could work in administration, special education, or education policy.

An MA in education is similar to an M.Ed. This degree concentrates on skills-based coursework to prepare graduates for teacher roles.

In contrast, a master of science (MS) in education usually focuses on education research or careers in academia. Students must complete a research project or thesis, and much of their research uses quantitative analysis techniques, such as statistical calculation. Many MS graduates go on to earn a doctorate, eventually carrying out research and working as faculty members at universities.

Licensure Requirements for a Master’s Degree in Education

All teachers working at public schools need a teaching license or certification recognized by their state government. Most states also require public school principals to earn licensure in school administration.

To earn licensure, candidates usually need at least a bachelor’s degree and supervised student-teaching experience. They must also pass a teaching certification test. School administrators, instructional coordinators, and special education teachers may need a master’s degree to qualify for licensure.

Not everyone who earns a master’s in education needs licensure. Teachers who find jobs at private schools don’t necessarily need the same credentials as public school teachers, although this varies greatly. Individuals who go into education policy or consultancy do not necessarily need licensure either.

What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in Education?

M.Ed. graduates can choose several different career pathways. Many become classroom teachers at the elementary or secondary level. The BLS determined that teachers made median salaries ranging from about $59,000$62,000, depending on their grade level.

Other graduates become special education teachers who instruct children with unique needs. Special education teachers earned a median pay of about $61,000 in 2019, according to the BLS.

Still other graduates go into school administration. Working in roles as principals or superintendents, these professionals are in charge of entire schools or even school districts. The median pay for school principals reached $96,400 in 2019, according to the BLS.

M.Ed. graduates may also become instructional coordinators, who determine curriculum and teaching standards for schools or school districts. These professionals earn about $66,290 in median wages, BLS figures show.

In addition, several M.Ed. graduates might work in other areas not directly connected with specific schools, such as educational policy, corporate training, or educational consulting.

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