A master's in education (M.Ed.) allows you to take on specialized and supervisory roles in the field. For example, a master's in education administration may allow you to serve as an elementary, middle, or high school principal. Alternatively, a master's in higher education equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to become a postsecondary education administrator.
As a teacher, earning a master's degree in education may also qualify you for a promotion or salary increase. For example, according to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, high school teachers with a graduate degree earn, on average, about $16,000 more per year than those with just a bachelor's.
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.
As a teacher, earning a master's degree in education may also qualify you for a promotion or salary increase.
Most full-time students earn their M.Ed. in just one year, though some programs may require up to two years of study. Depending on your area of specialization, you may take coursework in subjects like curriculum design, educational technologies, or working with exceptional learners.
This page provides an overview of education master's programs, including information on admission requirements, common coursework, and potential careers in the field.
Our ranking of the nation's best online master's degrees in education will help you determine what program best suits your academic needs and career goals.
What Can You Do With a Master of Education?
Students enter master's in education programs for varying reasons. As a result, graduates go on to work in a variety of roles within education. 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 features 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 liaisons 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 extensive teaching experience.
Median Annual Salary: $95,310
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 4%
- 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 state's academic standards. An advanced degree and teaching experience prepare graduates for this position.
Median Annual Salary: $64,450
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 6%
- Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers work on behalf of students with disabilities. They coordinate their efforts with classroom teachers to ensure that these learners 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 in special education provides graduates with the essential background knowledge to improve academic outcomes for students with disabilities.
Median Annual Salary: $59,780
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 3%
- 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.
Median Annual Salary: $60,320
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 4%
- 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: $58,600
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 3%
Jessica Terzakis is a consultant with Terzakis & Associates, a business advising firm in Bedford, New Hampshire. She taught high school English and worked with the New England Association for Schools and Colleges evaluating schools' curriculums and assessments. She is also an adjunct instructor at the University of New Hampshire, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in teaching.
- Why did you choose a career in education? Was this something that always interested you?
I remember "pretending to be a teacher" to my stuffed animals and dolls when I was younger, but I don't think I truly thought about pursuing it as a career until high school. During my junior year in high school, I remember admiring my English teacher. She was so passionate about literature, so well spoken, and really pushed me to be a better reader and writer. Because of that, I became interested in teaching. It was the idea of collaborating with students and connecting with them in such a way that I could push them to be better that appealed to me the most.
- What were some of the most crucial skills you gained in your studies that applied to teaching on a day-to-day basis?
While my theory classes were instrumental in helping me construct lesson plans, some of the most crucial skills included those I learned in my educational psychology classes. Maslow's Hierarchy, for example, taught me what motivates people and what people need -- and that made it a lot clearer when it came to working with students who don't complete homework, feel unmotivated, don't participate in class, etc. This was also helpful with classroom management in general.
- What are some of the challenges you faced in teaching different types of students?
The initial challenge I had to overcome was the fact that not all students will love English and literature as much as I do! Knowing that, I had to get creative with how I appealed to their interests within my lesson plans. That is, how could I make teaching Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet relevant and applicable to their lives (because I taught this to all of my students no matter what level they were)?
Another challenge I experienced was managing a heterogeneous group of students in one class (from classroom management to group work to lesson planning), especially because many schools are moving away from having a rigid leveling system.
- What was the job search like after completing your degree? Did you feel fully prepared when making the transition from student to professional?
As part of my master's degree program, I had assistance from my advisor when it came to searching for jobs. This person was able to provide guidance about what to expect during the interview (specifically, what questions I would answer and what to bring with me to showcase my teaching). Having spent a year student teaching and having a master's degree also made it a lot easier to get job interviews in the first place.
Because of the practical application during my student year, I felt prepared for the student demographics I would have in my classroom, as well as [for] how to construct lesson plans.
- Why did you choose to transition to teaching at the college level?
I left public school teaching in 2016, but I still wanted to teach. I reached out to a connection at the University of New Hampshire and I expressed interest in teaching at the adjunct level. I was really interested in teaching an education class and creating a bridge between the theory and practical application (that is, how the theory applies in real life).
- What changes would you like to see in future curriculums for a master's in education?
I think I'd like to see a continued inclusion of practicality -- student teaching, creating curriculum units, etc. From there, I think students would benefit from taking a class that hones in on scaffolding, creating assignments, [and] using rubrics, among others. While I teach an introductory class on how to put together a curriculum unit, I am not able to really focus on the fine details of scaffolding and lesson planning. In a perfect world, students would take a curriculum design class while student teaching.
I also think it would be helpful for students to take a class on assessments (specifically how to create assessments) -- especially with the changing nature of the Common Core and other initiatives.
- What advice would you give to education students who want to get the most out of their collegiate studies? What resources or experiences can they take advantage of to give themselves a head start?
To get the most out of your collegiate studies, I highly recommend getting into the classroom -- either as a substitute or [by] shadowing former teachers. It's a great opportunity to see how the theory "comes to life" in the classroom. You'll also get comfortable with the idea of shifting from "student" to "teacher." I highly recommend also finding a mentor who has taught in some capacity and can give you feedback and help.
In terms of other resources, I listen to podcasts like the Heinemann Podcast channel to keep up with literacy trends. I also follow certain pages on social media, like Edutopia, Achieve the Core, and Cult of Pedagogy. These social media pages publish posts with bite-size tidbits on anything from classroom management to lesson planning.
Our career guide, linked below, will help you better understand what it takes to become an educator and the kind of professional opportunities you will have after earning a degree.
What to Expect From an M.Ed. Program
Although master's in education programs share important purposes, such as preparing graduates to work as teachers or administrators, each program offers different courses and concentrations. Expect the time required to complete a degree and the tuition to vary. If you have questions about a program, call either the university's admission office or the education department.
Concentrations Offered for a Master of Education
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Literacy Education
Millions of children at all grade levels lack essential literacy skills. 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.
- 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.
Curriculum for a Master of Education
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. In the 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. This course also helps students prepare for PRAXIS certification exams.
- 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 learners' progress throughout the year.
Nearly every master's program in education 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 to Choose an M.Ed. 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 not all programs provide specializations or concentrations. Additionally, consider your schedule and how long you can afford an education. While selecting an online program may help you save money, part-time students take more time to complete their degrees and typically pay more than full-time learners overall.
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's 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.
Comparison of Graduate Education Degrees
Graduate schools of education may offer a master of education (M.Ed.), a master of arts in education (MA), and/or a master of science in education (MS). While the degrees are similar, there are some key differences.
Generally, M.Ed. and MA programs cater to teachers and other education practitioners. As a result, they tend to offer more skill-based coursework in subjects like classroom management, instructional strategies, and teaching with technology. They may also require students to complete an internship or practice-based capstone project.
MS programs may better serve students interested in education research or careers in academia. They usually provide more substantial instruction in areas such as statistics, assessment, and evaluation. Many of these programs also require learners to conduct original research and write a master's thesis. Students who earn an MS in education often choose to continue their education at the doctoral level.
M.Ed. Program Admissions
Applying to graduate school involves many of the same steps that you completed when you applied to your bachelor's program. Programs typically ask you to submit an application portfolio, with requirements varying only slightly between programs. However, online programs may ask for more information about your personal and professional past; applicants to many online programs need at least one year 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 3-5 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 necessary for the majority of master's programs.
- 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.
Generally, applications for master's programs will vary in their components. However, they typically contain similar questions, shortening the amount of time required to apply to multiple programs.
For each program you apply to, send 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 2-3 letters of recommendation. If possible, all letters should come from your college professors. If you have significant work experience in education, find out 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 for applicants who possess work experience.
- Application Fee
Expect to pay $50-$65 for each application. 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.
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 programs that lack CAEP accreditation.