Master’s in Educational Leadership Program Guide

October 28, 2020

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Educational administrators face many challenges, from fluctuating budgets to curriculum design to the changing role of technology in the classroom. If you're interested in pursuing upper-level administrative roles in the education field, a master's in educational leadership explores the organizational tools and concepts necessary to manage teachers, schools, and even entire districts. Most programs take about two years to complete, though many schools offer accelerated or part-time enrollment options to fit your scheduling needs.

This page offers an overview of educational leadership graduate programs, touching on topics like application requirements, career options, and professional resources for those in the field.

What are the best elementary education programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

#1 Mississippi College Clinton, MS
#2 University of West Florida Pensacola, FL
#3 Saint Thomas University Miami Gardens, FL
#4 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
#5 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
#6 Lesley University Cambridge, MA
#7 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
#8 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
#9 Ball State University Muncie, IN
#10 Western Governors University Salt Lake City, UT

What Is Educational Leadership?

Education leaders work within public and private institutions of all levels, overseeing organizational and administrative practices for K-12 schools, colleges, and school districts. The field of educational administration represents an intersection of educational theory, business, management, and public policy. In general, educational leaders ensure that institutions operate productively and serve their students, staff, and teachers effectively.

Educational leaders may serve in many roles, including principal, superintendent, curriculum developer, and educational consultant. Accordingly, their duties may vary widely. Some educational leaders may focus on curriculum planning, student assessment, and teacher training, while others may take a more administrative approach, overseeing budgets, hiring, and adherence to education law and policy.

Educational leaders need to understand both the managerial and academic dimensions of education. In general, they are organized, creative, and possess strong planning and communication skills.

Check out some of the top online master's in educational leadership programs to explore the assortment of options available at this level in this challenging, rewarding field.

What You Can 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.

School 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: $95,310*

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: $94,340*

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: $64,450*

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: $47,940*


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: $94,340*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Explore more careers for educational leadership majors and discover information about education, professional specializations, and certifications.

What to Expect in a Master's in Educational Leadership Program

Most educational leadership programs explore topics in management, educational policy, budgeting, curriculum development, and educational assessment strategies. Given the advanced nature of the degree, many schools offer concentration paths that enable you to specialize your skills. Below, you'll find some typical courses and concentration options available in educational leadership programs.

Concentrations Offered for a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.

Master's in Educational Leadership Degree Programs

Doctorate in Educational Leadership Degree Programs

Affordable Master's in Educational Leadership Degrees

Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

Educational Leadership Resources

Educational Leadership Scholarships

Check out some of the top careers for educational leadership majors to learn about the many rewarding and challenging positions in this field.

How to Choose a Master's in Educational Leadership Program

A variety of factors come into play when choosing a graduate program, including practical, professional, and academic considerations. The list below outlines several elements to consider when researching educational leadership programs.

Accreditation Always ensure that a college possesses proper accreditation, which ensures that your degree will be professionally and academically respected upon graduation. Be sure to check for accreditation from one of six regional accreditation agencies. Many education programs also hold accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
Tuition Tuition for graduate programs can vary widely, and it pays to investigate tuition rates at several different schools before deciding. Online programs may offer special tuition discounts, and some public colleges offer the same reduced in-state tuition rate to online learners regardless of where they live.
Enrollment Options Graduate programs commonly offer more flexible enrollment options than undergraduate programs, given that they often serve older students who work full time. Depending on your availability and scheduling needs, you may decide to enroll in a full-time, part-time, or accelerated program. Also, be sure to check if an online program includes any on-campus requirements.
Concentration Options At the graduate level, many programs offer the ability to customize your degree through a concentration. Offering advanced knowledge in a specialized field, concentrations help you stand out to employers and pursue higher-level positions. In educational leadership, specializations options can include school principal, curriculum development, and higher education administration.
Internship Opportunities Experiential learning often plays a significant role in graduate study, and many programs offer the opportunity to complete an internship or practicum in an educational setting. Internships enable you to build specialized experience, connect coursework to professional practice, and make useful connections in your field.

Master's in Educational Leadership Program Admissions

While admission requirements vary between schools, most programs feature similar general standards for graduate applicants. The section below outlines what to expect when applying to a master's in educational leadership program.


Minimum GPA: Most graduate programs require a minimum GPA of 2.5-3.0, though more selective programs may maintain even stricter requirements. Many colleges evaluate your cumulative GPA from the junior and senior years of your undergraduate degree, rather than your entire education. If you fall below GPA requirements, you may still be eligible for conditional acceptance. Undergraduate Degree: Programs vary widely in terms of undergraduate requirements. Some may require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in education or a related field, while others may accept any bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college. Some schools may also have certain undergraduate coursework prerequisites. Check with individual programs to confirm their undergraduate requirements. Professional Experience: Given their professional focus and advanced curriculum, many graduate programs admit only applicants with relevant professional experience in education or education administration. Some specialized concentrations, such as curriculum development or school principal, may also require various professional credentials, such as teacher licensure.

How to Apply

Test Scores Many graduate programs require you to submit standardized test scores that indicate your preparedness for advanced study -- most commonly the GRE or MAT. Some education programs may also require the PRAXIS exam, which demonstrates general teaching and specific content knowledge.
Letters of Recommendation At the graduate level, nearly all programs require 2-3 letters of recommendation from education professionals who can speak to your work ethic, your abilities, and your potential for graduate study. Strong candidates to write your letters of recommendation include employers, internship or volunteer supervisors, and college professors.
Personal Statement Along with letters of recommendation, most graduate programs require you to submit a personal statement or letter of intent. Typically 1-2 pages long, this short essay outlines your background, your professional and academic experience, your motivation for pursuing graduate study, and your career goals.


Application deadlines and start dates for graduate programs vary widely by school, but most programs start in the fall with application deadlines occurring from the preceding winter on through the summer. Many programs also begin in the summer to line up with school closures. Generally, graduate programs offer more variable application deadlines than undergraduate programs, and some professionally focused programs give students the flexibility to apply as little as 1-2 months before courses begin.

Regardless of your program's application deadline, it's always a good idea to submit application materials as early as possible. This also applies to completing standardized exams like the GRE. Typically, GRE scores will be sent to your selected institutions within 10-15 days of your test date. However, most students complete the exam early, both to ensure that scores arrive on time and to leave open the opportunity to retake the exam for a higher score.

Resources for Master's in Educational Leadership Students

NAFSA: Association of International Educators

NAFSA takes a global approach to education, emphasizing diversity and international exchange among education professionals. The organization offers discounts to student members, who can benefit from career resources, networking opportunities, professional conferences, and training sessions. NAFSA also advises on education policy and advocates for educators.

Consortium for School Networking

Emphasizing the use of technology in education, COSN hosts institutional and corporate members as well as state chapters nationwide. The organization supports the needs of technology leaders in education by providing resources, training, networking opportunities, and professional publications for education leaders who oversee technology development and implementation in schools.

Childhood Education International

Serving teachers and other education professionals at the elementary level, CEI offers a variety of resources for members, including professional development and training courses, academic journals and other publications, and opportunities for cross-cultural exchange with educators from around the world. Students receive a special reduced membership rate.

American College Personnel Association

Serving professionals employed in higher education administration, ACPA offers a wide assortment of resources for members, including career counseling and job listings, professional development programs, and listings for educational administration graduate programs. ACPA also hosts an emerging scholars program that offers research grants to students pursuing education administration.

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Primarily serving principals, teachers, superintendents, and other education advocates, ASCD counts more than 100,000 members around the country. The organization focuses on education advocacy and professional development, emphasizing assessment tools, school culture, and differentiated instruction. ASCD also publishes Educational Leadership, a professional journal focused on education issues.

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