Education Careers

Updated on April 20, 2023
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Education professionals can find work in schools of all levels, including pre-K and postsecondary institutions. On this page, readers can explore different career paths for education professionals and discover the educational requirements necessary to pursue them. Readers can also learn about licensure and continuing education requirements.

Career Paths in Education

Professionals with an education degree can pursue careers as teachers and administrators. These careers deal with different aspects of education, allowing people to choose an area that best suits their interests. For example, some professionals prefer working directly with students, while others would rather shape educational initiatives outside the classroom.

Below, readers can find information about several education careers. These career paths explore different aspects of the education field, including childhood development, educational leadership, teaching, and higher education.

Childhood Development

Childhood development professionals typically work with young children, from birth through pre-K (and sometimes beyond). This field helps children develop the language, physical, and emotional skills they will need later in life. Depending on the career, professionals in this field may need an associate degree or higher.

Explore Childhood Development Careers

Educational Leadership

Educational leadership provides essential tools to educators, helping them succeed in and out of the classroom. Educational leadership professionals bring new techniques to teachers, offer administrative skills to principals, and develop initiatives to aid other education professionals. They typically need a bachelor's degree or higher.

Explore Educational Leadership Careers

Higher Education

Professionals in this field serve students at the highest levels of education. Colleges offer vocational programs, undergraduate and graduate degrees, and continuing education opportunities for working professionals. Colleges employ both professors and administrators. In general, professionals need a master's or doctorate to work in higher education.

Explore Higher Education Careers

Special Education

Special education professionals serve learners with additional needs or disabilities in the classroom. Careers in this field include teaching specialist, instructional assistant, and curriculum developer. Many special education positions require state licensure and a bachelor's degree or higher, although some only require an associate degree.

Explore Special Education Careers


Professionals can find teaching careers at all levels, from pre-K to postsecondary education. Each career offers its own set of challenges and rewards. Teachers need state licensure to teach in public school classrooms and must complete regular continuing education requirements. Most teaching positions require at least a bachelor's degree.

Explore Teaching Careers

Education Career Outlook

Most education careers require a degree in education or a related field. Of the 13 careers on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) list of education, training, and library occupations, 10 require an associate degree or higher. Additionally, three of the listed careers typically require a graduate degree.

Readers who wish to pursue a career in education should strongly consider earning a postsecondary degree. Some careers, like preschool teachers, only require an associate degree. This job offers a median annual salary of $30,520.

At the other end of the spectrum, postsecondary teachers typically need a doctorate in their field to teach at a university. These professionals earn a median annual salary of $79,540. The BLS projects that the number of postsecondary teacher positions will grow by 11% between 2018 and 2028.

Education Employment by State

Employment opportunities and salary potential differ by state for careers in education. California employs the most education professionals, followed by Texas and New York. However, education professionals earn the highest mean annual salaries in the District of Columbia, New York, and Massachusetts.

Readers should always research job opportunities and salary outlooks for their specific career.


How to Start a Career in Education

Careers with an education degree maintain different requirements depending on the specific job and location. Different states mandate different educational requirements for teaching careers. For other education professions, readers should conduct more individualized research.

In most cases, education careers require a postsecondary degree, varying from an associate degree to a doctorate. Jobs that offer higher salaries typically require a higher level of education.

Jobs in postsecondary and secondary education usually require a graduate degree. However, jobs in elementary or early childhood education may only require an associate or bachelor's degree. Most teaching positions also require state licensure.

No matter their target job, aspiring education professionals should consider earning at least a bachelor's degree. Advanced degrees offer more options for career advancement.


Below, readers can learn about the different types of degrees they can pursue, including information related to typical program lengths and formats. This guide covers associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees.

Associate Degrees

An associate degree takes full-time learners about two years to complete and requires around 60 credits. Some students can finish their degrees more quickly if they have transfer credits or related work experience. Students can pursue online, in-person, and hybrid associate programs, depending on their educational needs.

Associate degrees teach basic skills for aspiring educators, such as those related to communication and critical thinking. These skills serve as important building blocks for more advanced knowledge.

A few education careers only require an associate degree, including preschool teachers and teaching assistants. States may require students to earn additional licensure or training before they can work in a classroom setting.

Prospective students can often choose an education specialty for their associate degree. Readers can find more information about the best schools for associate degrees in education, child development, early childhood education, and elementary education.

Bachelor's Degrees

A bachelor's degree takes around four years to complete and requires about 120 credits. However, program length and credit requirements may differ depending on the college. Students who have already completed an associate degree in the same field may typically apply these credits toward a bachelor's degree.

Colleges offer bachelor's degrees through in-person, online, and hybrid formats. Students can also find accelerated bachelor's programs that allow full-time learners to overload credits and/or take classes throughout the year to graduate in less than four years.

Most careers in education require at least a bachelor's degree. Graduates can find jobs as adult literacy educators, career and technical education teachers, elementary teachers, and librarians with a bachelor's degree. These jobs typically pay significantly more than careers that only require an associate degree.

Bachelor's degrees also allow for more specialization than an associate degree. Readers can find more information about bachelor's degrees in early childhood education, health education, elementary education, and secondary education.

For more information about bachelor's degree specialties not listed above, readers can follow this link to find more options.

Master's Degrees

Master's degrees usually take 18-24 months to finish, depending on the program and its pacing. Master's program credit requirements vary more widely than associate or bachelor's programs, although they typically feature 36-54 credits.

Students can find online, in-person, and hybrid master's programs. These programs usually offer a high level of specialization, allowing students to delve deeper into the topics that interest them. Most programs require a capstone project or thesis.

Most classes in an education master's program teach high-level skills in curriculum development, educational leadership, and communication. Students also develop critical and analytical thinking skills and learn how to conduct research.

Instructional coordinators and some secondary school positions may require a master's degree. However, many employers find graduate degrees desirable, even for jobs that do not explicitly require them. A master's degree can give applicants an edge in the field and may qualify them for higher salaries.

By following these links, readers can learn more information about master's degrees in child development, curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, and educational technology.

Doctoral Degrees

A doctoral degree can take anywhere from 4-8 years to complete, depending on the program and dissertation requirements. Students must research, write, and defend a comprehensive dissertation to graduate from a doctoral program.

Traditional doctoral programs meet in person, but some colleges offer online programs in certain subjects. Prospective students should always research their program options before applying.

Doctoral programs in education require intense focus and dedication, requiring students to take high-level classes in their area of interest. Students examine both the theoretical and practical aspects of education, engaging with their peers and experts in the field.

Doctoral candidates develop skills in oral and written communication, critical and analytical thinking, and leadership. Additionally, these programs typically examine educational ethics and leadership responsibilities.

Readers can find more information about online doctoral degrees in education, higher education, reading and literacy, and special education.

Certifications and/or Licensure

Almost every public school teaching position requires some form of state licensure. Some states require aspiring teachers to pass one or more PRAXIS exams, and most states require an endorsement from an approved teacher preparation program.

Licensure does not last forever. Educators must renew their license periodically — usually every 3-5 years. Licensure renewal usually requires a set number of continuing education credits and a fee.

Librarians only need a license if they want to work in a public school. Alternatively, librarians who enter the public library system usually do not need to pursue licensure.

In some cases, professional organizations may offer certification opportunities for education professionals. These organizations can also help educators find continuing education resources.

Continuing Education

Education professionals can find continuing education opportunities through colleges and professional organizations. Professionals can take courses and workshops to stay current on emerging theories and technologies in their field. These opportunities can also help professionals earn or renew their teaching licenses.

Some postsecondary institutions also offer online free courses, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs). MOOCs allow students to take a class or series of classes free of charge. Professors develop and teach these classes.

Professional organizations also offer continuing education courses, workshops, and resources. In general, only members of the organization can access these continuing education options.

Next Steps

Through professional organizations, educators can network with their peers and stay abreast of changes in their field. Many professional organizations also offer conferences, job boards, and other online resources.

Readers should strongly consider becoming a member of a professional organization in their field, either as a college student or as a working professional. These groups often provide access to continuing education opportunities, scholarly publications, and online workshops and courses.

Frequently Asked Questions About Education Careers

Is education a good career?

Every state needs education professionals. Whether they pursue careers as teachers, curriculum specialists, or librarians, professionals can find careers in education that suit their interests.

Some careers are expected to benefit from rapid growth in the near future. For example, the BLS projects 7% job growth for preschool teachers between 2018 and 2028.

How do I start a career in education?

Aspiring education professionals should consider earning a postsecondary degree in education or a related field. Almost every career in education requires at least an associate degree. More advanced positions, such as postsecondary teachers, require more advanced degrees.

What are the highest-paying jobs in education?

The BLS reported that postsecondary teachers earned a median annual salary of $79,540 in 2019. Instructional coordinators also earned relatively high wages, with a median annual salary of $66,290 in the same year. Education professionals with more advanced degrees typically earn higher salaries than their counterparts.

Is an education degree worth it?

Almost every career in education requires a degree in education or a related field. Graduates can use their degrees to pursue many different education careers. An education degree can also open the door to work in other fields, including communications, human resources, and the nonprofit sector.

Read More About Education on BestColleges is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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