Earning a bachelor's degree in elementary education primarily prepares you for a career as a kindergarten or elementary school teacher, though graduates may also find work as middle school teachers or special education teachers.
Most undergraduate elementary education programs consist of 120 credits and require about four years of full-time study. In addition to coursework in subjects like educational assessment, instructional planning, and elementary reading methods, students in these programs typically must complete a period of supervised classroom experience, commonly known as student teaching.
This page provides an overview of bachelor's programs in elementary education, including information on admission requirements, foundational classes and electives, and earning potential in various teaching positions.
What Is Elementary Education?
Elementary education is the first stage of formal education, generally encompassing kindergarten through sixth grade. Elementary-age students learn basic concepts and skills that lay the foundation for more advanced study. For example, they learn to read and write, apply critical thinking skills through science experiments, and solve basic math problems. Early education also provides an opportunity for children to develop various social and emotional skills.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for kindergarten and elementary school teachers will increase by 3% from 2018 to 2028. Rising student enrollment should contribute to continued demand for these teachers, though employment growth will vary depending on state and local budgets.
All states require public school teachers to hold a license. To qualify for licensure, you typically must have at least a bachelor's degree, complete a student teaching program, and pass both a certification exam and criminal background check.
To help you decide where to earn your bachelor's degree, we have compiled a list of the nation's best online and accredited programs in elementary education.
What You Can Do With a Bachelor's in Elementary Education
While an elementary education degree prepares students for classroom teaching, it also qualifies students for other interesting roles within primary education. For instance, educators may work in support roles, such as teacher assistants or preschool directors. An elementary education bachelor's degree also prepares graduates to be effective communicators, which can lead graduates to become special education teachers at the primary level who present material in alternative ways that meet student needs.
- Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher
Primary education teachers create lesson plans for multiple content areas and observe students as they complete tasks to identify academic strengths and weaknesses. These teachers communicate with parents about student progress. Elementary educators also manage classrooms and student behavior. This profession requires a bachelor's degree and a teaching license.
Median Annual Salary: $57,980
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 3%
- Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers work with students at primary age levels to provide additional assistance to general education teachers. Students often require alternative teaching strategies due to leaning, mental, emotional, or physical disabilities. Special education teachers must hold a bachelor's degree and a state-issued license to qualify.
Median Annual Salary: $59,780
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 3%
- Preschool Teacher
Preschool educators work with young children to prepare them for kindergarten. Preschool teachers provide students with foundational information and skills related to numbers, letter recognition, sight words, colors, and shapes. Teachers also assist children with adapting to routines outside their homes and screen children for developmental issues that may begin to present themselves.
Median Annual Salary: $29,780
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 7%
- Preschool and Childcare Center Director
Directors hire, train, and provide professional development for all staff members. These professionals outline all policies and communicate them to parents and staff to ensure instructional excellence and safety for students and teachers. Most states require candidates hold a bachelor's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $47,940
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 7%
- Teacher Assistants
Teacher assistants review material one-on-one or in small groups to reinforce learning. Assistants also manage grades and maintain student records. Classroom teachers may also reach out to teaching assistants to supervise students between classes or on field trips. Students with at least two years of completed college coursework in a related area qualify for this position.
Median Annual Salary: $26,970
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 4%
Our comprehensive career guide for elementary education majors includes information on licensure and certification requirements, earning potential across the country, and alternative career paths.
What to Expect in a Bachelor's in Elementary Education Program
What you learn while pursuing an online bachelor's in elementary education depends on the program you choose. For example, some programs may emphasize working with diverse and exceptional learners, while others feature more coursework in instructional and distance education technologies. The following sections highlight some of the most common classes and concentrations available in elementary education programs.
Concentrations Offered for a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education
- Special Education
- A concentration in special education prepares teachers to provide specialized care for mentally, socially, physically, or emotionally delayed children. Due to the amount of students with special needs, this concentration provides a competitive advantage over teachers who do not specialize in this area.
- Gifted and Talented
- Students who display high achievement in intellectual, creative, or academic fields require educators who can provide services and activities not typically provided by the school to develop their capabilities. Gifted and talented students often suffer from lack of engagement if professionals do not provide them with challenging educational experiences.
- Curriculum and Instruction
- Students learn the newest theories of instruction, how to diversify teaching methods for any content area, and gain exposure in curriculum development for any subject. Emerging professionals with this concentration position themselves to take on head teacher or administrative roles.
- Grade Level Specialization
- Students majoring in elementary education can choose two grade levels to specialize in. This provides graduates with additional techniques and tools for managing students at that grade level.
- English Language Learners
- Students minoring in ELL learn foundational information and skills that help students who do not speak English as their first language. Students living in an area with a high immigration population should consider this minor.
Courses in a Bachelor's in Elementary Education Program
Bachelor's in elementary education coursework differs by state requirements or the development level of the school's education program. However, elementary education programs all work to prepare teachers for future classroom encounters.
- Child Development Psychology
Students examine theories that influence developmental research, covering children's biological, emotional, social, and cognitive development. Students also evaluate current and classic research to identify both normal and abnormal aspects of child development. This course is mandatory for teaching at all age levels.
- Curriculum Development
Students learn methods to determine curriculum priorities, scope and sequence, objectives, and organizational patterns. Examining standards, benchmarks, and curriculum assessments help students understand how curriculum design facilitates student learning. Students also get exposure to how local and state governments impact school culture and diversity.
- Educational Technology
In a digital era, teachers must encourage media literacy in the classroom. In this course, students explore how electronic and digital technology can assist with class engagement. Students also learn fundamental theories of communication, evaluation, and research that help teachers compose lesson plans.
- Classroom and Behavior Management
This course prepares students to manage behavior in appropriate ways through time management, organization of class materials, classroom culture, transitioning techniques, and classroom arrangement. Effective implementation of classroom and behavior management ensures classrooms are productive and harmonious learning environments. This course also helps teachers advancing to administrative roles.
- Evidence Based Methods for Students with Disabilities
Students develop a framework for understanding instructional strategies that help students with special needs understand educational content. This course provides students with interdisciplinary learning tools and instructional methods for small and large group learning environments.
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Elementary Education Program
Given how many colleges and universities offer online programs in elementary education, it can be difficult to decide where to earn your bachelor's degree. Start your research by considering the five factors listed below.
- First, make sure your program holds some form of accreditation. Schools that participate in the accreditation process demonstrate that they have met certain academic standards and adequately prepare students for careers in education. Future employers may not recognize degrees earned at unaccredited institutions, and you may also miss out on state and federal financial aid opportunities.
- Coursework and Concentrations
- Next, select a program that offers classes that align with your academic interests and professional aspirations. For example, if you hope to become a science teacher, you may benefit from coursework in laboratory instruction and scientific inquiry. If you instead want to continue your education at the graduate level, you should find a program that offers classes in research methods and design.
- Student Teaching
- In most states, you must have student teaching experience to apply for licensure. The vast majority of online elementary education programs provide students the opportunity to meet this requirement as part of their undergraduate curriculum. Check with an admissions officer to learn more about student teaching opportunities in your area.
- Delivery Method
- Online programs may offer their courses synchronously or asynchronously. With synchronous classes, you must log in at set times each week to interact directly with your instructor and classmates. In asynchronous classes, you can watch lectures, contribute to discussion boards, and complete assignments at whatever time is most convenient for you.
- Cost and Financial Aid
- Remember to consider the overall cost of your education. Attending a state college or university generally costs less than attending a private school, especially if you qualify for in-state tuition and public grant programs for aspiring teachers. The federal government's TEACH program also provides up to $4,000 in annual aid to students who commit to teaching in low-income areas after graduation.
Bachelor's in Elementary Education Program Admissions
While exact admission requirements vary from school to school, the sections below will give you a general idea of what you need in order to apply to undergraduate programs in early education.
- High School Diploma/Equivalency: You typically must have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate to apply to a bachelor's program. Most schools do not require you to complete any specific coursework during high school, though you may need to maintain a minimum GPA, often 2.5 or higher, to qualify for unconditional admission.
- Entrance Exam: Some programs may also require applicants to submit results from a standardized test like the ACT or SAT. While schools generally do not set minimum scores for these entrance exams, you may consider retaking your test if you scored lower than 20 on the ACT or lower than 1000 on the SAT.
- Criminal Background Check: Finally, because elementary education students must work with young children in classroom settings, these programs often require prospective students to pass a criminal background check. States usually charge a small fee, typically no more than $50, to conduct a background check. The process may take several weeks, so make sure to plan accordingly.
How to Apply
- As part of your application package, most schools require you to submit either official copies of your high school transcripts or proof of your GED certification. You can contact your high school guidance counselor or GED provider for this documentation. Make sure to request your transcripts at least one month in advance of your program's application deadline.
- Personal Statement
- Many programs also require applicants to write a personal statement that explains their motivations for becoming a teacher. You can also use this essay as an opportunity to highlight strengths in your application materials and provide context for any weaknesses, such as a low high school GPA. Personal statements are usually between 500 and 1,000 words in length.
- Letters of Recommendation
- To apply to some elementary education programs, you must submit one or two letters of recommendation from former teachers, supervisors, or community service leaders. Try to find individuals who can vouch for your academic achievement and passion for education. Avoid asking family or friends, and give your references at least two months to write your recommendation.
Although admission deadlines may vary, you should begin preparing your application materials at least one year before you hope to enroll in your first class. Entering a program in the fall semester, for example, usually requires meeting a December or January deadline.
Start by preparing a list of all of your program's application requirements. Next, schedule a time to take either the SAT or ACT, if needed. Try to give yourself one month to study and sufficient time to retake the exam if you receive an unsatisfactory score.
At the same time, reach out to your former teachers and supervisors for letters of reference. You should also update your resume, begin the criminal background check process, and brainstorm ideas for your personal statement.
Aim to submit your application at least two weeks in advance of the deadline. This gives you the opportunity to find missing materials or deal with any technical issues you may encounter. Starting on October 1 of each year, you can also begin working on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Resources for Bachelor's in Elementary Education Students
Teach.org gives students a glimpse into the teaching profession, including interviews with current teachers and information on salaries and benefits. The website also provides a guide to each state's licensure requirements, tips for choosing a teacher training program, and advice on applying for public and private sources of financial aid.
In addition to administering the FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education also offers tips for budgeting for college and repaying student loans. Aspiring teachers may also qualify for the department's Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, provided they serve as teachers for at least ten years after earning their degree.
Usable Knowledge is an online library of research conducted by Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty and advanced doctoral students. Research briefs and policy guides on the website cover a wide variety of topics, including the importance of preschool to long-term academic achievement, inequalities in access to special education services, and tips for reducing student stress related to assessments.
The NEA represents more than 3 million teachers, school administrators, and education professionals across the country. Members can access free lesson plans, classroom management tools, online professional development opportunities, and articles on topics like using social media and student discipline. The NEA also awards scholarships to both future teachers and current educators.
You must know how to write well to succeed as both an elementary education student and professional. The Purdue OWL offers a variety of resources to help you learn how to properly cite academic sources, shape a research argument, craft an effective cover letter, and write clear and succinct Individualized Education Program (IEP) memos.