How to Get Into a Master’s in Education Program: 10 Essential Tips
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With the growing demand for qualified teachers, now is a great time to think about getting a master's degree in education. Graduate teaching programs' admissions teams understand it's vital to attract more students — and to ensure those students succeed.
Research shows there are currently at least 36,500 teacher vacancies in the U.S. There are also more than 163,500 teaching jobs filled by those who aren't fully certified by the state's standards or aren't certified in the subject area of their teaching assignment.
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Ready to Start Your Journey?
If you want a master's in education, make sure you follow these 10 essential tips when applying.
Tip 1: Don't Count Yourself Out Too Soon
Your undergrad GPA matters, of course, but it's not the be-all and end-all of your application.
Many education master's programs publish their average GPA for admissions, and that's a good barometer to help you determine where to apply. But don't assume those are hard cutoffs.
Programs may have the flexibility to admit students who don't meet the posted benchmarks, said Jillian McGraw, Ed.D., director of teacher education at University of Virginia's School of Education and Human Development.
Although we have GPA guidelines, our program looks holistically at each student's transcript.
Many master's in education programs focus more on how students have improved and less on how
perfect their undergrad career may look.
We consider how students have progressed over time, and a strong finish to an undergraduate program can say more than a simple GPA figure, said McGraw.
We also work with students who have been out of college for quite a few years, and successful work experience can provide more dimension to an application than grades from many years ago.
Tip 2: Personalize Your Personal Statement
One mistake many admissions officers mentioned is a lack of depth in personal statements.
Beware of coming across as too generic in your responses. Instead of giving obvious answers about why you want to teach, such as
I enjoy working with kids and
I want to educate the next generation, think deeper about things like:
- Which populations you wish to serve
- Your philosophies on education
- How you feel about current hot topics in education
- Who has inspired you and how
- Particular goals you have
A statement of purpose isn't just a list of all the great things you've done or awards you've won — it's a look forward, not a look back. Your statement should provide insight into what you hope to achieve and how the program you're applying to can play a part.
Tip 3: Mention Why the Program Is Right for You
Admissions officers like to know you've thought beyond
It's a pretty campus and
Tuition is reasonable. They want to know what it is specifically about their master's in education program that fits what you're looking for.
Teacher preparation programs vary widely, and we hope to see that applicants have considered why the structure, curriculum, and values of the program will help them to meet their professional goals, said McGraw.
Use your statement to show you've put in the time and effort to do research. You want to emphasize how you're a good fit for the school's needs as well as how they're a good fit for your needs.
Tip 4: Research Faculty
A great way to personalize your statement is to mention specific faculty members you'd like to work with and why.
Read faculty pages and course descriptions on the university's website. Then, go further with online searches to find out more about a particular professor's work.
Has that faculty member done something innovative you hope to emulate? Built gardens at a school to stock its cafeteria? Revamped outdated curricula to great results?
Connect with faculty at information sessions and learn more about their courses and philosophies. It's great if you've already corresponded with a professor you'd like to work with before you submit your application, but it's still OK to name-drop even if you haven't.
Tip 5: Letters of Recommendation Should Be Mostly Academic
Students sometimes try to get letters of recommendation from people with impressive-sounding titles, like politicians and CEOs, even when those people know nothing about the applicant's academic potential.
But that's not the prize many students assume it will be.
Letters of recommendation should be written by those who know the student well and can provide relevant examples of the student's work, said Jonathan Jenkins, associate director of college counseling at Solomon Admissions.
It's also not always essential to get letters of recommendation from teachers who've given you the best grades.
Oftentimes, professors who have graded the student lower than an 'A' can provide examples surrounding the student's work ethic, classroom participation, and working to learn … not working for a grade, said Jenkins.
Tip 6: Limit Your Number of Recommendations
Most master's in education degree programs ask for 2-3 recommendation letters and expect these letters to come from professors and academic advisors.
You may also submit a letter from someone who can speak to your professional ethic, like a supervisor from a job or volunteer work. In all cases, your recommenders should be people who know you well in an academic or professional sense.
Just make sure you don't go overboard and submit more letters than you really need.
I had an applicant a few years ago submit 10 letters of recommendation, said Ana Valenta, M.Ed., program advisor at the University of Illinois Chicago's College of Education.
The admissions committee is looking for quality letters of recommendation, and quantity is not always better.
Tip 7: Apply Where You're Needed
If you're willing to consider not just your professional desires but also where there's the greatest need for qualified teachers, you may have a better chance of getting into the master's in education program of your choice.
Graduate education programs are looking for a diverse group of students that are reflective of the nation's classrooms, said Kate W. Brittain, assistant vice president of admission and enrollment management at Columbia University's Teachers College.
Teachers in the sciences, mathematics, special education, social studies, English as a second language, and early childhood education are especially in demand, added Brittain.
Tip 8: Include Your GRE Score Only if It's Above Average
As of 2022, many graduate teaching programs no longer require GRE scores for admission.
Nevertheless, it's worth taking the test because it can't hurt in those cases — it can only help. A high GRE score could be the boost you need if your GPA isn't a slam dunk or if your resume is a little thin.
The only times you should submit your GRE scores are when they're above the average for a program or if a program requires them.
Tip 9: Work Experience Counts
By graduate school, you're expected to have a better handle on your professional goals than you did as an undergrad. That means you should have a relevant work history, whether it's teaching, tutoring, or working at a daycare center or camp.
Having experience — whether through volunteering or paid work — is extremely valuable in an application, said McGraw.
These experiences are an opportunity for applicants to learn and develop professional skills, such as communication, collaboration, and adaptability.
Relevant experience also reaffirms your passion for the education field.
We encourage applicants to spend time working with youth because it helps them to refine their professional goals and confirm that teaching is a pathway they wish to pursue, said McGraw.
Tip 10: Apply Early (Usually)
In general, applying early to master's in education programs with rolling admission gives you the best chance of acceptance, not to mention better odds of getting scholarships and aid money.
But there are circumstances in which it benefits you to wait, such as if you're raising your grades and would likely have a better GPA with your senior grades on your transcript.
In those cases, focus on doing everything you can to prove you're a great candidate before you submit your application.