Throughout the U.S., millions of teachers with bachelor's degrees strive to educate the next generation of students, and many aspire to one day work as administrators. Likewise, some college graduates with a bachelor's in a field unrelated to teaching hope to enter the education field. If you belong to either of these groups, consider earning a master's in education.

Accredited programs prepare graduates for a wide variety of careers in the classroom and the district office. In a master's program, students can learn the knowledge and skills necessary to become an instructional coordinator, a career that boasts a median salary of $63,750. Other potential career paths, such as principal, offer even higher median salaries to professionals who possess a master's degree. In this article, you can learn more about master's programs in education, associated careers, the application process, and resources that help you on your education journey.

Should I Get a Master's in Education?

Master's in education programs appeal to two groups of professionals: teachers planning to become administrators and college graduates interested in changing careers. For both groups, on-campus programs offer many advantages over online programs. Recent college graduates without other responsibilities can dedicate themselves to a program that prepares them for teacher licensure in their home states. Full-time or part-time teachers also benefit from on-campus programs, as many of these programs offer evening courses and accelerated summer sessions.

Beyond preparing students for licensure or certification, on-campus programs offer a host of other benefits. Students can more easily network in person than online, and professors and instructors tend to hold teaching experience in the same state, making them a valuable resource to students. Learners nearing graduation can use their university's career center to make contacts in local school districts. Finally, students who graduate from on-campus programs enjoy an advantage when job hunting in the local community; principals desire graduates from reputable schools that know how to work with that area's student population.

In master's in education programs, all students take foundational courses in pedagogy and childhood development. At the master's level, these courses typically require students to perform action research at their schools or in their communities. Master's programs also include a student teaching component for students who do not hold a state teaching license or credential. Depending on the program, students may complete a capstone project or write a thesis.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Education?

Students enter master's in education programs for multiple reasons. As a result, graduates go on to work in different education jobs. Some of these careers require that students concentrate in a specific field or gain relevant professional experience after graduation. As you begin researching master's programs, ensure that each program on your shortlist possesses courses and concentrations relevant to your career goals. Each of the careers below represents a different specialization track pursued by graduate students.


Principals at the elementary, middle, and high school levels act as their schools' chief executives. They implement policies adopted by their districts and act as middlemen between districts and their schools' teachers and staff. Other responsibilities include acting as their schools' public face. The majority of school districts throughout the country require that principals possess an advanced degree and boast extensive teaching experience.

Median Annual Salary: $94,390

Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators typically work at district offices reviewing the curriculum for their assigned subjects. They routinely meet with teachers and other administrators to create a curriculum that best matches their states' academic standards. An advanced degree and teaching experience prepare graduates for this position.

Median Annual Salary: $63,750

Projected Growth Rate: 11%

Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers work on behalf of students with disabilities. On the job, they coordinate their efforts with classroom teachers to ensure that students spend most of their time in the general education classroom with peers. Special education teachers often meet with students, teachers, and administrators to create and modify Individualized Education Plans. A master's program with a concentration provides graduates with the essential background knowledge to improve academic outcomes for students with disabilities.

Median Annual Salary: $58,980

Projected Growth Rate: 8%

High School Teacher

High school teachers focus on one or more academic subjects. Most high school teachers also coach a sport or lead a student club. Unlike teachers at the middle and elementary school levels, high school teachers often mentor college-bound students and write letters of recommendation. An advanced degree prepares graduates to become department heads or teach advanced classes such as advanced placement.

Median Annual Salary: $59,170

Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Middle School Teacher

Like high school teachers, middle school teachers focus on one or more academic subjects in addition to leading clubs and coaching sports. Along with these responsibilities, middle school teachers also focus on promoting positive social and academic behaviors to prepare students for success in high school and beyond. A master's degree satisfies state requirements for teacher licensure. Also, most districts offer higher starting salaries to middle school teachers who possess an advanced degree.

Median Annual Salary: $57,720

Projected Growth Rate: 8%

How to Choose a Master's in Education Program

The first step toward selecting the right master's in education program involves deciding what you want to do with your degree. After that, you can focus on programs that offer a relevant specialization or concentration. Keep in mind that all programs do not provide specializations or concentrations. Consider how long you can afford an education. Part-time students take more time to complete their degrees. Selecting an online program may help you save money. Many excellent online universities offer rigorous education master's programs.

Once you consider your career goals, the cost, and whether to attend an online or on-campus program, you can more closely examine each program on your shortlist. Start with how each program handles practicums, student teaching, and other practical experiences where students can apply the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom. While comparing different programs' academic requirements, take note of whether they require a final project, and if so, what it entails.

If you select an on-campus or hybrid program, research how the campus' location might affect your quality of life. If you must move to attend school, determine how that change might impact your cost of living. If you plan to commute, calculate the amount of time you might commute each day in addition to transportation costs such as gas or bus fare.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Education Programs

Before researching a master's in education program, look for a school's accreditation status, which shows that it meets certain academic standards. All programs on your shortlist should possess regional accreditation from an agency approved by the Department of Education. Online programs should also possess national accreditation. Once a program satisfies these requirements, determine if the program holds programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accreditation agencies grant accreditation to only the best programs in a particular academic subject. These agencies exist for many academic disciplines. In the U.S., the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) accredits bachelor's and master's programs that prepare students for a state teaching license or certificate; most employers and state licensure boards do not recognize degrees from universities that lack CAEP accreditation.

Master's in Education Program Admissions

Applying to graduate school shares many of the same steps that you completed when you applied to your bachelor's program. Programs ask you to submit an application portfolio. Application requirements vary only slightly between programs. However, online programs may ask for more information about your personal and professional past; many applicants to online programs need one or more years of professional experience. Also, online programs appeal to students who work full time or part time. As you take note of different programs' requirements, estimate how long it might take to complete each application. You do not want to rush through an application because you ran out of time.

You should plan to apply to three to five schools that meet both your personal needs and professional goals. Then, you can begin curating your admission materials. In the two sections below, you can learn more about the prerequisites and admission materials that the majority of master's programs require from applicants.


  • Bachelor's Degree: College seniors or those who already possess a bachelor's degree may apply to master's in education programs. Some master's programs require that applicants hold a bachelor's in education.
  • Professional Experience: Some specialized programs require that applicants boast experience as teachers or other education professionals. However, the majority of master's programs do not require professional experience.
  • Minimum GPA: Many master's programs require that applicants earn a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. In some cases, programs make exceptions for applicants who meet other criteria, such as a high score on a standardized test.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Most applications for master's programs are different. However, they typically contain similar questions, shortening the amount of time required to complete them.
  • Transcripts: For each program you apply to, send them a copy of your undergraduate transcript. Requesting transcripts may involve a small fee. Also, your request may take up to one month to process. The earlier you request transcripts, the better.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Each application may require two to three letters of recommendation. If possible, all letters should come from your college professors. If you possess significant work experience in education, ask whether one or more letters can come from a manager or colleague.
  • Test Scores: The majority of graduate programs require that students submit either GRE or MAT scores. Applicants can take either of these tests at local testing centers. Programs may waive testing requirements if applicants possess work experience.
  • Application Fee: Expect to pay $50-$65 for each program to which you apply. Some programs offer fee waivers to students who can show financial need. If you think you qualify for a waiver, inquire with the university as soon as possible.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Education Program?

Although master's in education programs share important similarities, such as preparing graduates to work as teachers or administrators, all programs offer different courses and concentrations. Expect the time to complete a degree and the tuition to vary. If you need questions answered about a program, call either the university's admission office or education department.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Education
Concentration Description Careers
Special Education This concentration prepares students to work with some of the most vulnerable students, such as those with mental or physical disabilities. Coursework centers on the history of special education, the most common disabilities, and the latest best practices. Practicums and student teaching take place in special education environments. Special education teacher, instructional coordinator
Sport Coaching and Leadership Sport coaching and leadership students learn the knowledge and skills necessary to coach and mentor young student-athletes at the middle and high school levels. This concentration focuses on the coaching profession from multiple angles, such as the psychological and administrative factors that influence coaches' decisions. Middle school coach, high school coach
Technology and Learning A concentration in technology and learning prepares teachers to use the latest technology to enhance their students' learning experience. This concentration also prepares students to act as technology leaders at their schools. Middle school teacher, high school teacher, instructional coordinator, technology coach
Literacy Education Millions of children at all grade levels lack essential literacy skills. To help these children, graduate programs offer concentrations in literacy education. Students in this concentration learn how to help struggling readers catch up with their peers, increasing their chances of finishing school and leading successful, productive lives. Middle school teacher, high school teacher, literacy coach, instructional coordinator
Science and Mathematics Education The science and mathematics education concentration prepares teachers for careers in STEM education. Courses stress teaching science and math fundamentals. Students in this program also learn how to integrate technology into their classrooms and perform action research. Math teacher, science teacher, instructional coordinator

Courses in a Master's in Education Program

The majority of master's degree in education programs offer a similar core curriculum that hones students' knowledge and skills in foundational topics such as childhood development and leadership. Classes focus on specific material when programs offer concentrations. In the course list below, you can learn more about common courses.

Instructional Leadership

Instructional leadership courses prepare students for careers as school administrators. Course topics include management styles, administration skills, and interpersonal skills. Students who take this course generally specialize in administration. This course also helps students prepare for the PRAXIS certification exam.

Childhood Development

All teachers and administrators should understand the biological, psychological, and social changes children undergo from infanthood to early adulthood. This information helps education professionals interact with the children in their care. Depending on the concentration, this course may require students to focus on a particular age group.

Technology in the Classroom

As technology advances, teachers must know how to instruct their students on the proper use of technology in the classroom. Course topics include using cell phones, tablets, and laptops as educational tools; the latest educational software; and instructional best practices. This course prepares students for careers as technology coaches and classroom teachers.

Introduction to Special Education

All teachers, not just those concentrating in special education, should understand disabilities and their effects on children's learning. This course provides an overview of prevalent disabilities and best practices. Students in this course also learn how to follow individualized education plans and track students' progress throughout the year.


Nearly every master's program in education program includes a capstone course, the content of which differs among programs. Students may complete an action research project at the school where they work or at another student-teaching location. The product of their research might involve a thesis or detailed presentation to university faculty. As the name suggests, students complete their capstone courses just before graduating.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Education?

For most master's in education candidates, their status as full time or part time ultimately determines the amount of time needed to earn their graduate degrees. Full-time students typically earn their degrees in two years, while part-time students require three years or more. Some full-time students may elect to earn their degrees in 18 months if their universities offer accelerated master's programs. Nearly all master's degrees in education require that students earn between 36 and 45 semester credits.

Even if you work full time or part time, consider taking a full course load each semester. Many universities charge a flat tuition rate to full-time students; if you take more credit hours above the minimum threshold, you do not pay a higher tuition. However, most part-time students pay tuition based on the number of credit hours they take. If the university you attend uses this system, studying part time might cost thousands of dollars more than studying full time.

How Much Is a Master's in Education?

If you attend a public university in your home state, you can expect to pay upwards of $10,000 a year in tuition to earn a master's in education degree. If you attend a public university in another state, expect to pay double, as you will not qualify for in-state tuition in most cases. If you decide to attend a private university, you might pay as much as $40,000 a year in tuition. Your education's cost may increase or decrease depending on factors such as if you retake a course, your status as a full-time or part-time student, or if your program allows you to apply your professional experience towards degree requirements. With such a wide range of tuition rates, it pays to research which school can give you the best deal.

Beyond tuition, keep in mind that graduate school includes many related costs. If you attend an online program, you may need to invest in a new computer and a faster internet connection. You can expect to spend hundreds of dollars each semester on textbooks in addition to various student fees if you attend school on campus. Do not forget about transportation or child daycare costs if they apply to your situation.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Education Prepares For

Teacher License/Certification

The majority of master's programs qualify students for teacher licensure or certification in their home states. With a teaching license or certificate, students can teach in their states' public schools. To earn additional endorsements, teachers may need to earn continuing education credits or complete professional development courses.

National Board Certification

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards awards national board certification to teachers who go above and beyond their peers. Teachers with three years of experience may start the certification process, which in itself requires one year to complete. Earning national board certification qualifies many teachers for an automatic pay raise. Also, districts and schools value applicants who possess this certification.

Post-Master's Certificate in Education

With a master's degree, graduates can go on to earn a post-master's certificate in education. This program, which usually lasts one to two years, allows students to go more in-depth with their educations. Students who earn this certificate often do so to prepare for a doctoral program in education. Many school districts provide pay raises to teachers with these certificates, as earning one involves completing 10 or more hours of graduate-level coursework.

Instructional Leadership Certification

Many students who earn their master's degree aspire to work as school administrators. After graduation, they possess the necessary education; however, they may still need to take exams, such as the PRAXIS, to earn instructional leadership certifications in their home states. Once certified, they can begin applying for open administrative positions.

Special Education Endorsement

Classroom teachers who return to school to earn their master's degrees typically specialize in a particular field such as special education. Through a master's program, graduates can meet their states' requirements for a special education endorsement, which is typically 12-18 credits. Graduates often move into roles as special education teachers, while others continue teaching in general education classrooms.

Resources for Education Graduate Students

U.S News and World Report

U.S. News and World Report boasts an evolving list of the nation's best education graduate programs. Although all visitors can view a list of the best programs, only subscribers may access detailed information on each program.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid

You should consider the FAFSA the first step on your student financial aid journey. If you qualify for need-based aid, federally backed loans, grants, and work-study programs can help turn your dreams of a graduate education into a reality.

Education Week Teacher

A special section of Education Week, Education Week Teacher, provides visitors with articles describing the latest news in the education profession. Subscribers can register for online events and continuing-education courses. The website also boasts a special section on teacher education.


Founded by filmmaker George Lucas, Edutopia provides educators with valuable information on the latest teaching techniques, such as project-based learning. The website includes a special section for new teachers, with many articles focused on building resilience and avoiding burnout. Dozens of videos demonstrate Edutopia's teaching strategies in action.

New Leaders

New Leaders' groundbreaking programs help graduate students majoring in education prepare for careers as administrators. In the aspiring principals program, students take specialized training sessions and complete a yearlong residency program.

Professional Organizations in Education

Professional organizations in education provide members a host of benefits. Fortunately, many of the benefits extend to undergraduate and graduate students earning their education degrees. As you begin your graduate education, consider joining one to two organizations that match your educational interests and career goals. Membership can give you valuable resources such as networking events, professional development opportunities, and job boards exclusive to members. The organizations below represent only a few of those that might appeal to you.

American Federation of Teachers

A labor union with over 1.5 million members, the AFT fights for the rights of teachers and paraprofessionals who work in schools. The majority of AFT members teach in urban areas. Members receive multiple benefits such as liability insurance and discounts on travel.

National Education Association

The NEA represents nearly 3 million member teachers, most of whom teach in suburban and rural areas. The NEA pushes for many initiatives to improve teachers' salaries and raise graduation rates. NEA members receive benefits similar to those enjoyed by AFT members.

National Association of Graduate-Professional Students

The NAGPS advocates for graduate students studying in all academic fields. The organization also promotes reigning in graduate student debt and simplifying the visa process for international students.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

In addition to membership in the NEA or AFT, special education teachers can also join NASET. NASET members receive a host of benefits that include continuing education courses, educational materials for students, and the latest research on dozens of disabilities.

The School Superintendents Association

School superintendents require a strong support network if they hope to succeed at their jobs, and AASA membership provides that network. Members receive access to consultants, leadership conferences, and tools to improve their districts' academic performance.