If you hope to make a lasting, transformational impact on young people’s lives, a master’s in K-12 education can prepare you for administrative positions that direct positive change within a school or district.
The BLS projects that positions for elementary and middle school principals -- one of the highest-paying jobs in education -- will grow 8% over the next decade.
Earning a master’s in K-12 education is a substantial investment in your professional future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that positions for elementary and middle school principals — one of the highest-paying jobs in education — will grow 8% over the next decade. Other management-level careers in education boast even higher projected career growth. In addition to steady growth in the field, professionals with master’s degrees in K-12 education can explore a variety of career opportunities throughout their careers, especially if their master’s programs include a specialization. In the sections below, you can learn everything you need to select a graduate program that matches your educational and professional goals.
Should I Get a Master's in K-12 Education?
An on-campus master’s in K-12 education program may be appealing for many reasons. For example, on-campus programs usually adhere to that state’s K-12 education laws and policies, making it easier to qualify for relevant certifications and licenses. Also, professors usually have experience as administrators or teachers in that state, making them valuable resources to students. Finally, many on-campus K-12 education degree programs offer both evening and summer courses, making them a perfect option for teachers who would otherwise not have the chance to further their education.
Students who immediately begin their graduate program after earning their bachelor’s degree may also benefit from an on-campus program. The education provided by a master’s in K-12 education program goes much further than any bachelor’s program. Master’s programs typically focus on research, where students pursue in-depth research projects that culminate in a master’s thesis. Master’s programs also invite students to specialize in an area that can open new career opportunities after graduation.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in K-12 Education?
K-12 education graduate programs stress both a holistic education in K-12 best practices and the chance for students to specialize in a field. Depending on the specialization, students can continue their role as a teacher in the classroom or transfer into one of many administrative roles. Beyond administration, teachers who pursue a master’s in K-12 education are qualified to work with other groups of students, such as English-language learners or special education students. The five occupations below represent some of the most popular careers for graduates of a master’s in K-12 education.
- High School Teacher
High school teachers instruct students in grades 9-12. They typically teach one or two subjects and must hold licensure for every subject they teach. Beyond classroom instruction, high school teachers may have additional responsibilities like coaching a sport or leading a student club. Teachers with a master’s degree means are often qualified to earn a higher salary and take on positions of greater responsibility, such as department chair.
Median Annual Salary: $59,170
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Instructional Coordinator
Instructional coordinators develop their districts’ learning standards for a particular subject and grade level. They work with schools to develop teacher trainings and make district-wide decisions, such as approving new textbooks and making recommendations to improve test scores.
Median Annual Salary: $63,750
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- School and Career Counselor
School and career counselors help high school students make positive choices that lead to improved academic and professional outcomes. They work with students in small groups and one-on-one to remedy academic and behavioral problems. In master’s programs, aspiring school and career counselors learn the psychological and sociological factors that prevent many students from achieving their potential.
Median Annual Salary: $55,410
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
- Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers help students with physical and mental disabilities learn to the best of their abilities. Much of their job involves working with students in the general education classroom and ensuring that teachers follow students’ individualized education plans. A master’s degree in this field provides special education teachers the latest special education best practices and the most up-to-date information on learning disabilities.
Median Annual Salary: $58,980
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Elementary, Middle, and High School Principal
Elementary, middle, and high school principals function as a school’s administrative center. Their primary responsibilities include making hiring decisions, performing teacher evaluations, and ensuring that the school follows all applicable laws, rules, and regulations. In addition to holding a master’s degree, most principals also have five or more years of teaching experience — often in the same school or district.
Median Annual Salary: $94,390
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
How to Choose a Master's in K-12 Education Program
Prospective students should consider a master’s in K-12 education program from multiple angles. For instance, a program can take two or three years to complete — depending on whether you study full- or part-time — so decide which learning style best suits you. Additionally, the program’s curriculum can have a significant impact on your educational experience. Programs that offer courses only during the day may not work for you if you are a full- or part-time teacher. If you must work while you take classes, consider whether an on-campus or online program is best for you. Many online programs offer lower tuition than comparable on-campus programs, along with the flexibility to complete coursework in the evenings or on weekends. Finally, keep in mind that not all programs offer specializations. Research every program on your shortlist to ensure that they provide your desired specialization.
Besides courses relevant to your future career plans, the best master’s programs include practicums or direct experiences that bolster your resume and expand your list of professional contacts. These experiences often lay the foundation for your master’s thesis. Depending on the program, you may have a choice of either writing a thesis or completing another similarly rigorous program. Requirements enforced by programmatic accreditation agencies may also influence your choice of a thesis or final project. You can learn more about programmatic accreditation in the section below.
If you select an on-campus or hybrid learning program, consider how your location directly influences your professional future. Most of these programs prepare students to earn licensure in the same state as the school resides in. You should consider programs in states that have teacher shortages, even if that requires you to move across state lines. Also, keep in mind an area’s cost of living and the salaries each state offers its teachers.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s in K-12 Education Programs
When researching potential K-12 education degree programs, you should ensure that your target schools hold regional accreditation. All programs should have either regional or national accreditation. When students enter a specialized academic program such as K-12 education, they should be sure their program meets the highest academic standards. Programmatic accreditation agencies specialize in different academic subjects, with experts and professionals in the field leading these organizations.
In the United States, the Council for the Education of Educator Preparation (CAEP) grants programmatic accreditation to the best K-12 education programs. When the CAEP examines a program, they focus on five standards: practical knowledge, the quality of clinical or practicum experiences, recruitment, program impact, and continuous improvement (i.e. whether the program evolves with the latest advances in teacher education). Programs that don’t have CAEP accreditation may not qualify students to apply for teacher licensure or certification.
Master's in K-12 Education Program Admissions
The admissions process for on-campus master’s degrees is likely similar to your undergraduate program. Application requirements include academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, and possibly test scores. Depending on the school, the admissions department may also ask you to come in for an interview.
If you plan to complete an online program, expect similar application requirements. Online programs that use a rolling admissions process should give you their decisions must faster than most on-campus programs. Also, some online programs provide the opportunity to start classes only days after receiving an acceptance.
No matter which learning style you prefer, you should apply to three to five programs. Include one or two that you consider “reach” programs, and one to two programs that you consider “safety” programs. After you apply, check with each school’s admission department to determine if they received all of your materials.
- Bachelor’s Degree: For all master’s programs, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree. Some schools offer programs where students can earn a bachelor’s and master’s in education, typically in five years. Most master’s in K-12 education programs accept applications from students with bachelor’s degrees unrelated to education.
- Professional Experience: For the vast number of programs, students without professional experience may apply. Programs that limit applications to those with teaching experience usually offer specialized curricula to help teachers further hone their skills.
- Minimum GPA: As with all graduate school admissions, the higher the undergraduate GPA, the better. For competitive programs, applicants should have a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Those with a lower GPA should expect to explain their academic performance in their application essays.
- Application: Due to the specialized nature of most graduate programs, most do not use the CommonApp; expect to fill out a different application for each program. Many programs, however, ask for similar information such as your educational and professional history. Given that most programs ask for applicants to submit essays, expect the application process to take a significant amount of time.
- Transcripts: As you prepare your applications, ask the college or university where you earned your bachelor’s degree to send official transcripts to the graduate schools on your shortlist. Expect to pay a small fee for each transcript you send. This process may take up to one month, so request transcripts as soon as possible.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most programs require two to three letters of recommendation. If you have work experience, inquire if one or more letters can come from a work supervisor. Otherwise, ask your undergraduate professors to write your letters. Be sure to ask for letters at least two weeks before you need people to submit them.
- Test Scores: Although some master’s programs do not require test scores for admission, expect most programs on your shortlist to require either GRE or MAT scores. You can take either of these tests at a local testing center. Similar to sending transcripts, you may need to pay a small fee to submit scores to graduate programs.
- Application Fee: All graduate programs charge an application fee that pays for the university to consider your application. Expect to pay between $50-$65 per program. Some universities offer fee waivers to applicants who can prove financial need or have prior military service. If you need a waiver, inquire with your target school’s admission department as soon as possible.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in K-12 Education Program?
In addition to core courses, your graduate program may offer multiple opportunities to enhance your educational experience and prepare you for your future career. In the sections below, you can learn more about program concentrations, exciting courses, and some important details about programmatic costs and length. Finally, you’ll learn more about licenses and certificates applicable to master’s program graduates.
|Educational Leadership||This concentration prepares graduates for careers as school and district-level administrators. The curriculum offers courses like improving instruction and principles of organizational leadership. Graduates will have developed the interpersonal and managerial skills necessary to lead teams of teachers and support staff to help all students learn to the best of their abilities.||Vice principal, principal, instructional coordinator|
|International Baccalaureate||The International Baccalaureate (IB) program provides a rigorous, international education to students in primary and secondary school settings. Graduate students who select this concentration master essential IB teaching strategies through courses on culturally responsive instruction and educational research. Graduates go on to work at IB schools throughout the United States.||Elementary school teacher, middle school teacher, high school teacher, IB program coordinator|
|Special Education||A concentration in special education prepares graduates to work with mentally and physically disabled students. Course topics include reading interventions, responsive instruction, and in-depth instruction on the most prevalent disabilities in the school-age population. Graduates work in specialized roles that help students bridge the gap between their disabilities and the classroom.||Special education teacher, behavior intervention specialist, instructional coordinator|
|Technology for Educators||This concentration introduces teachers with classroom experience to the latest technological innovations that enhance student learning. Courses stress online teaching, leadership in educational technology, and technology curriculum. The curriculum emphasizes how graduates can integrate technology into their schools as well as their classrooms.||Elementary school teacher, middle school teacher, high school teacher, instructional technology coordinator|
|Work-Based Learning||Work-based learning programs allow high school students to gain valuable on-the-job experience while completing their education. Teachers who select this concentration master many work-based learning best practices, such as monitoring student progress and creating or modifying work-based learning programs at their high schools.||High school teacher, work-based learning coordinator|
Courses in a Master’s in K-12 Education Program
Most master’s in K-12 programs offer a similar core curriculum. The courses below represent a sample curriculum that students complete alongside courses in their concentrations.
- Teacher Leadership
Teacher leadership courses give students the knowledge and skills to act as department heads, vice principals, or principals. Instructional topics include leadership methodology, developing new leaders, and the challenges faced by leaders in the education field. These courses often stress self-reflection as a method to become a more effective leader.
- Educational Research
Every year, research journals publish thousands of articles on the latest discoveries in child development and education best practices. In this course, students learn to analyze research and apply findings to their schools and classrooms. This course also assists students with the writing and citation skills necessary to write their master’s theses. Students who go on to earn their doctorates in education will apply research skills in those programs, as well.
Differentiation refers to modifying instruction for special needs and gifted students in the general education classroom. Differentiation ensures that all students can learn to the best of their abilities alongside their peers. In this course, graduate students explore the latest differentiation techniques and how to appropriately administer them in different situations.
- Teaching English Language Learners
As more children with limited English skills enter school, teachers should be prepared with instructional best practices to help these children learn English as quickly as possible. Students are introduced to specialized instructional strategies and learn to balance differentiation with instructional rigor. They also develop the many cultural components associated with language acquisition.
- Culturally Responsive Instruction
Culturally responsive instruction courses prepare teachers to work with students from a variety of backgrounds. Course topics include instructional best practices and diffusing culturally insensitive situations in their classrooms and schools. These courses often ask teachers to perform extensive self-reflection so they may better understand their potential cultural contributions.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in K-12 Education?
For full-time students, a master’s in K-12 education typically requires two years to complete. The length may vary depending on the program, however, as accelerated programs can let full-time students to earn their degrees in as little as 18 months. In either type of program, students dedicate at least one semester — possibly a year — to researching and writing their thesis. Students in master’s programs earn a total of 36-48 credits, depending on graduation requirements and their concentrations.
Many students pursuing their master’s in education program may work full- or part-time as teachers, and many programs offer a specialized part-time track to help students reach their educational goals. Part-time students, for instance, may take up to three years to graduate. Additionally, if these students teach or work at a school, they can fulfill their programs’ practicum or internship requirements at work. Policies vary between programs, so prospective students who teach should inquire with their target school’s before applying. Also, keep in mind that part-time students often spend more on tuition than full-time students. In the section below, you can learn more about tuition and how studying full-time can help you save money.
How Much Is a Master’s in K-12 Education?
Although tuition rates vary between schools, prospective students should expect to spend approximately $10,000 a year for their master’s degrees if they attend in-state public universities. Tuition for out-of-state-students, meanwhile, can reach $30,000 a year, and at the best private universities, students can expect to pay more than $40,000 annually. Keep in mind that you’ll incur other costs while earning a degree: student fees, textbooks, technology, and daycare for young children all add up, and potentially double your expenses. As you research master’s programs, investigate potential funding sources such as scholarships, grants, and federally backed loans.
Full-time students often spend less on tuition than part-time students. Most universities charge full-time students a flat tuition rate; if they decide to take a heavier course load one semester, their tuition does not increase. Part-time students, on the other hand, often pay tuition based on the number of credits they attempt each term. As long as they remain part-time students, more credits equate to higher tuition. Consequently, it pays to study full-time, especially if you do not have any significant obligations outside the classroom.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in K-12 Education Prepares For
- General Education Teacher Licensure/Certification
Beyond offering specializations to help experienced teachers move into a new field, accredited master’s programs fulfill states’ licensure and certification criteria. A license or certificate permits graduates to teach in their states’ public schools. If you plan to start graduate school immediately after earning your bachelor’s, ensure that your master’s program fulfills your state’s requirements for licensure or certification.
- Special Education Teacher Licensure/Certification
Students who specialize in special education meet their states’ requirements to earn special education licensure or certification. Teachers with master’s degrees often receive higher starting salaries than those with bachelor’s degrees. In addition to earning a master’s, students may also have to pass one or more PRAXIS certification exams to work as special education teachers.
- National Board Certification
Although the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards requires certification candidates to possess only a bachelor’s degree, a master’s program can help teachers improve their teaching skills. Earning national board certification increases a teacher’s salary in many districts and improves their career prospects.
- National Certified School Counselor
The National Board of Certified Counselors awards this certification to school counselors who complete rigorous academic training and work in the school counseling field for at least two years. Candidates must undergo supervised work experience and pass the National Counselor Exam for Licensure and Certification. Counselors with this certification often receive pay raises and promotion to management-level positions within their schools or districts.
- Educational Leadership: Administration and Supervision Certification
The Educational Testing Service awards this certification to candidates who pass the Educational Leadership: Administration and Supervision exam. Although educators at any level may take this test, only those with an advanced degree and teaching experience can successfully apply it towards a career in school administration. A master’s program with a concentration in educational leadership prepares test takers for this exam.
Resources for K-12 Education Graduate Students
The FAFSA helps undergraduate and graduate students earn federally backed financial aid. If students qualify for need-based aid, the FAFSA provides them with relevant loans, grants, and work-study programs.
U.S. News and World Report boasts extensive information on the nation’s best graduate programs for K-12 education. Subscribers gain access to in-depth descriptions of universities’ programs, enrollment, and the career outcomes of graduates.
Grad Resources connects struggling graduate students to a network of expert mentors. The organization also provides free articles on several relevant topics, including navigating finances, time management, and staying healthy.
Compiled by teach.org, this page includes up-to-date information on the latest scholarships exclusive to students earning their K-12 education degrees. Visitors can search by funding type, education stage, and area of study.
Inside Higher Ed boasts multiple free articles applicable to students earning their advanced degrees in education. The website includes resources on navigating graduate school and how to transition from student to teacher.
Professional Organizations in K-12 Education
Professional organizations in K-12 education advocate on behalf of education professionals and help members advance their careers. The organizations below represent millions of professionals throughout the United States. When members join, they gain access to exclusive benefits, such as job boards, mentoring, professional insurance, and continuing education opportunities. Consider joining one or more organizations during your graduate education, as they prepare you for the transition between your education and your career.