Degrees in educational leadership prepare students for managerial roles at schools of all levels. Graduates of these programs can work as K-12 principals, university administrators, admissions officers, and curriculum designers. Most professionals in the field of educational leadership begin their careers working as teachers and earn at least a master's degree.
The demand for leaders in education continues to rise. Regardless of their chosen field, educational leadership professionals benefit from higher-than-average salaries and better-than-average job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that educational leadership professionals -- including principals, instructional coordinators, and college administrators -- earn annual salaries between $60,000 and $100,000, which is well above the U.S. average for all jobs. The bureau also projects that these positions will experience an 8%-11% job growth over the next several years, which is faster than the national average for all positions.
Master's in educational leadership programs prepare students to manage teams of teachers, solve workplace disputes, design new curricula, and mentor students of all ages. The following guide discusses important information for prospective educational leadership master's students, including the admissions process, typical coursework, the average cost of a degree, and various professional resources.
Should I Get a Master's in Educational Leadership?
A master's in educational leadership is ideal for students interested in education and management. Depending on their concentration, students in educational leadership programs can learn to solve large-scale administrative problems, develop education policy, and conduct research for curriculum development. Most programs also include courses in law, ethics, and financial management. Occasionally, master's students pair their education degree with a business or law degree to compliment their training.
Master's in educational leadership programs help students advance their careers in numerous ways. Since many programs employ professors with experience in educational leadership roles, students can readily network and develop connections in the field. Additionally, as most programs require students to complete internships or practicum work, graduates earn marketable work experience. Some schools even embed professional certification or licensure into the curriculum, allowing graduates to immediately pursue work as principals or college administrators. Individuals who hold a master's degree can also further their education and apply to doctoral programs.
Students can earn an educational leadership degree by taking on-campus, online, or hybrid classes. Online programs may appeal to current education professionals, such as teachers, who already have work experience but want to prepare for future administrative roles. Alternatively, on-campus master's programs may benefit recent undergraduates who plan to pursue careers in education administration, curriculum development, or university admissions. Both online and on-campus programs can produce qualified leaders in education.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Educational Leadership?
Educational leadership programs qualify graduates to pursue several administrative career paths. Most administrative roles in education require the ability to manage large groups of people, develop and implement large-scale curriculum changes, and connect with members of a school's student body. Leaders in education generally work full time in one school, but their managerial responsibilities often require them to adapt to a dynamic schedule. Aspiring educational administrators should be interested in networking with diverse groups of stakeholders, improving education policies at state and national levels, and financial management.
- K-12 Principal
Principals oversee the daily functioning of elementary, middle, and high schools. Their administrative responsibilities include coordinating curricula, managing teachers and support staff, and ensuring the safety and security of all students. Many principals start their careers as teachers before going on to earn licensure and pursue an advanced degree.
Median Annual Salary: $94,390
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- University Dean
Deans manage a specific portion of a university, such as a college within a university, undergraduate or graduate students, or faculty. In general, deans maintain the relationship between university leadership and faculty members, process student complaints, help develop new curriculum, and plan fundraising efforts. This position requires a master's degree and multiple years of relevant work experience.
Median Annual Salary: $92,360
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Instructional Coordinators
Instructional coordinators create curriculum/instructional tools and help teachers and administrators implement, define, and maintain academic standards. Coordinators can work in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, government agencies, and external academic services. Professionals typically need at least five years of work experience as a teacher or school administrator to qualify for this position.
Median Annual Salary: $63,750
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Preschool and Childcare Center Directors
Preschool and childcare center directors manage a staff of educators, oversee school events and activities, and develop budgets. However, these directors focus exclusively on early childhood education. While most states only require preschool directors to hold a bachelor's degree, candidates with a master's degree in educational leadership set themselves apart from their peers.
Median Annual Salary: $46,890
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
Provosts work directly under university presidents and traditionally function as the university's chief academic officer. These professionals ensure the efficient functioning of university processes and may balance budgets, support institutional marketing programs, and allocate space for campus activities. Provosts must possess a master's degree in education administration, although many also hold a doctorate.
Median Annual Salary: $92,360
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
How to Choose a Master's in Educational Leadership Program
Before enrolling in a master's in educational leadership program, applicants should consider their professional goals and how some of the following factors might affect those objectives.
The average educational leadership degree requires two years of study. Students who want to graduate more quickly should look for programs that offer summer classes or intensive programs. Generally, students can complete fully online programs in less time than on-campus programs, although some campus-based programs may offer hybrid classes that allow residential students to accelerate their studies. Additionally, applicants should determine whether to pursue a full-time or part-time program; part-time programs cater specifically to working professionals but take longer to complete than traditional full-time programs.
A school's cost and location represent other important variables that should be considered when picking a program. City-based campuses generally have higher living costs than those in rural settings. However, urban environments typically offer a more diverse range of job and internship opportunities.
Most master's in educational leadership courses cover similar topics, such as school curriculum development and introductory quantitative research. However, some programs offer specializations or concentrations, allowing students to gain additional expertise in specific areas of education leadership. Additionally, select programs require master's students to complete a research-driven thesis or final project. Finally, applicants should also ensure that their program holds the appropriate accreditation, as discussed in greater detail below.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Educational Leadership Programs
Accrediting agencies determine educational standards of excellence and ensure that schools maintain these standards. In general, employers prefer to hire graduates of accredited institutions, and only students attending accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid. Universities as a whole strive to achieve and maintain general accreditation from national or regional agencies, while specific programs can earn programmatic accreditation.
The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) represents the primary accrediting agency for master's in educational leadership programs. CAEP evaluates an education program's ability to select qualified candidates and graduate students with in-depth knowledge of pedagogical practices and experience working in a professional education role. Attending a CAEP-accredited program is important; graduates from non-accredited programs may not receive adequate preparation for educational leadership roles. As a result, job applicants from non-accredited programs do not typically compare favorably to candidates from accredited programs.
Master's in Educational Leadership Program Admissions
The process of applying to a master's program in educational leadership consists of several steps, and applicants should familiarize themselves with the process before beginning. In general, applying to on-campus programs is more involved than applying to online programs. Unlike online programs, which often feature rolling admissions or flexible application deadlines, on-campus education leadership programs typically use hard application deadlines, which are usually set in January or February. Additionally, while many online programs waive GRE requirements, on-campus education programs usually require applicants to provide GRE scores.
Students should try and apply to 5-10 schools. If an applicant is considering especially competitive programs, they should apply to a minimum of eight schools. Because education leadership programs offer different specializations and internship opportunities, prospective students should target programs that best fit their academic interests and support their future career goals.
- Bachelor's Degree: All applicants to master's programs must hold a bachelor's degree. To ensure applicants possess experience as educators, many schools prefer candidates with a bachelor's in education or individuals with at least some experience taking undergraduate education coursework.
- Professional Experience: Master's in educational leadership curriculum programs prefer applicants with teaching or school administration experience. Some programs require candidates to have one to three years of work experience and hold a valid teaching license.
- Minimum GPA: While some programs require applicants to hold a minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA, others prefer applicants with a GPA of at least 3.0. However, some schools provisionally admit applicants with lower GPAs who meet all other requirements.
- Application: An application packet to a master's program typically includes an online application form, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores. Filling out and collecting application materials can take three to six months.
- Transcripts: Transcripts contain records of an individual's completed coursework and grades. School registrars can email unofficial copies of transcripts to a student or mail official copies directly to another school. Some schools provide transcripts for free, while others charge a nominal fee.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most educational leadership applications require at least two letters of recommendation. Applicants should obtain letters from former professors or employers and give their letter writers at least a month to complete recommendations.
- Test Scores: Many top master's programs in educational leadership require or encourage applicants to provide their GRE scores. While score requirements vary, top programs may require combined qualitative and quantitative scores of at least 300 and analytical scores of at least 4.0.
- Application Fee: Applying to an education leadership program typically costs $40-$125, although most schools charge $65-$80. Students who demonstrate significant financial need may be able to waive their application fees.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Educational Leadership Program?
Most master's in educational leadership programs offer specialty tracks allowing students to concentrate on specific aspects of education administration. Although these specializations differ from program to program, common concentrations include K-12 leadership, politics and advocacy, and curriculum development. The following table outlines some of the most common education leadership concentrations.
|School Development||Suitable for students interested in all-around educational leadership, the school development concentration focuses on instructional leadership, family engagement, and the cultivation of professional culture. This concentration prepares students to lead in school settings, work in external education organizations, or start their own schools.||Department head, superintendent, and principal|
|Principal Licensure||The principal licensure concentration focuses on the skills needed to succeed as a leader of a K-12 school, preparing participants to work with faculty, families, and pupils. This concentration often leads to professional licensure and teaches participants about necessary state requirements.||K-12 principal|
|Policy and Advocacy||Policy and advocacy concentrations focus on promoting equity in educational settings. Students in this track cover education policy in child advocacy organizations, private or independent schools, and governmental or non-governmental organizations. Students also learn how to ensure diverse communities receive equal treatment in education systems.||K-12 principal, superintendent, instructional coordinator, and postsecondary education administrator|
|Curriculum Development||Learners pursuing a concentration in curriculum development focus on the creation, implementation, and evaluation of lesson content, teaching methods, and learning resources. This concentration may feature a technology component that addresses methods to harness emerging technologies for classroom instruction.||Instructional coordinator, department head, principal, and superintendent|
|Higher Education Administration||This concentration prepares graduates to lead postsecondary education institutions. Curricula in this track often cover undergraduate student development, the history of colleges as institutions, equal access to education, and diversity on college campuses. Students develop a diverse skill set grounded in community engagement, theory and policy, and research methods.||Dean, provost, and university president|
Courses in a Master's in Educational Leadership Program
Although the specific curriculum in each program varies, many programs rely on courses that cover similar topics. Most schools, for instance, feature classes that go over new technology in curriculum design, leadership for principals, and racial diversity. The following list discusses some of the most common courses found in educational leadership curricula.
- Education Law
Law courses cover the most common legal issues in educational settings. These classes generally focus on laws concerning K-12 schools or colleges and universities. Education law also covers topics like bullying, free speech, harassment, and equal access for diverse communities and students with disabilities. Familiarity with education law helps prepare students for most leadership positions in academia.
- Gender, Multiculturalism, and Racial Diversity
Most programs cover issues of gender and racial diversity. Typically, these classes teach individuals how to foster inclusive environments, covering the history of racism in U.S. education, cultural competency, and the formation of social identity in the classroom. Aspiring K-12 principals and individuals seeking to work in education policy development may find courses related to gender and multiculturalism especially useful.
- Data and Research
These courses teach participants how to evaluate student learning and achievement using in-depth quantitative research. Individuals learn how to assess standardized test scores and classroom work and identify methods to improve the curriculum. Data courses may also focus on budgeting and financial management. These classes may prove especially useful to future instructional coordinators and superintendents.
- Curriculum Design and Development
Curriculum design courses teach individuals to evaluate school curriculum and improve existing coursework standards at the K-12 and collegiate levels. Participants may also learn how to use advanced technology to increase access to education and classroom engagement. This course is essential for future curriculum developers and instructional coordinators.
- Internship Experiences
Virtually all education leadership students complete an internship or clinical experience. Educational leadership internships allow graduate students to utilize classroom knowledge in a supervised administrative role. Schools typically allow participants to complete internships in their workplace if they already hold an academic job. Internships provide crucial experience for all future leaders in education.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Educational Leadership?
On average, students finish a master's in educational leadership program in two years, although some accelerated programs can be completed in as few as nine months. The average educational leadership curriculum comprises 30-45 credits, with most programs consisting of about 36 credits of coursework.
Characteristics that affect the length of time to graduation include the intensity of a school's internship requirements, a student's enrollment status, and a department's willingness to accept transfer credits. Most programs allow students to study part time; this format takes longer but can benefit learners seeking to balance school with other obligations. The length of the internship or clinical experience also significantly affects a program's overall length; internships generally range from 250-360 hours per year. Students who satisfy internship requirements in their current place of work often complete these experience more quickly.
How Much Is a Master's in Educational Leadership?
Although the overall price associated with completing a master's in educational leadership varies, tuition for most programs is usually between $24,000 and $40,000. Full-time students often pay less per credit hour than part-time students. However, tuition estimates do not account for housing costs or additional fees, such as those related to books, technological accessories, and transportation. While these extra costs vary according to each student's needs, personal expenses can add as much as $30,000 to tuition costs. Overall, the price per credit hour and the cost of living in a school's location represent the most influential factors that affect the cost of an education.
While the cost of on-campus master's programs can be steep, a variety of funding options exist. By filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year, master's students can find out whether they qualify for federal scholarships and loans. Additionally, most schools offer fellowships, grants, and loans to help offset the cost of a graduate education. Most education departments automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships and tuition fellowships. Schools also regularly award need-based scholarships to applicants from low-income or similarly disadvantaged backgrounds. Finally, since educational leadership requires a clinical experience, some schools allow students to complete paid internships.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Educational Leadership Prepares For
- Principal Licensure
Many educational leadership master's programs allow students to pursue principal licensure. Individuals who follow this type of track automatically qualify for a principal license. While principal licensure requirements vary depending on the state, programs with embedded licensure always include extended internships in supervised administrative roles.
- Superintendent Licensure
Some programs emphasize district administration, preparing graduates for work as school superintendents and other leadership roles. While the requirements for this certification vary from state to state, graduates usually earn this license by completing a formal application and passing a competency exam.
- Director of Curriculum and Instruction Licensure
Select states require curriculum developers working at the district level to obtain specific certification. Applicants for a curriculum and instruction license must hold a master's degree and previous teaching experience. Candidates may also need to take a test and provide letters of recommendation from employers.
Resources for Educational Leadership Graduate Students
An online resource for educators, Edutopia provides specific tools and support for school leadership professionals, including advice for first-year administrators, strategies for building school models, and tips on cultivating teacher partnerships.
Based at Brown University, the Annenberg Institute is a national organization dedicated to increasing access to quality education, especially in urban areas. The institute publishes Voices in Urban Education, a periodical promoting educational equity in urban settings.
IHEP is a nonprofit that promotes access to education by conducting education policy research. The institute strives to improve college access and success in higher education for all students, especially those from underserved populations.
This website collects and collates thousands of funding and grant opportunities for educators. Covering many types of awards, GetEdFunding helps educators secure funds for their districts, schools, and individual classrooms.
This New York Times resource covers the latest trends and resources in education. It regularly offers sample lesson plans for all academic disciplines and publishes articles covering diverse topics, such as connecting school curriculum to current events.
Professional Organizations in Educational Leadership
Joining a professional organization represents an important step in pursuing an educational leadership career. Professional organizations help students and graduates connect with employers and explore career options, often through annual conferences. Professional organizations also provide working professionals access to important continuing education resources through virtual seminars and online mentoring opportunities, most of which focus on specific issues, such as technology in education and diversity in the classroom. The following educational leadership organizations each target a specific field within educational leadership.
NEA aims to support public education by connecting professionals working in K-12 and university settings. With millions of members, NEA sponsors online tools and hosts an annual convention to discuss education trends.
National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association of Secondary School Principals
NAESP and NASSP are national organizations for K-12 principals. Both organizations provide members with educational resources and awards.
ISTE advocates for the incorporation of technology into classroom lesson plans. The organization also provides members with virtual coaching opportunities, outlining how to harness advanced technology as a teaching tool.
An organization for superintendents, AASA connects school district leaders from around the nation. AASA offers leadership and professional development programs -- including superintendent certification -- and provides mentoring services and professional networking assistance.
ASCD offers school leaders access to articles, webinars, online classes, and consultation services. ASCD supports principals, postsecondary education administrators, and teachers in their efforts to improve classroom learning.