Master’s in K-12 Education Program Guide

October 28, 2020

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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.

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.

What are the best K-12 education programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

#1 University of Georgia Athens, GA
#2 Boston University Boston, MA
#3 Texas A&M University College Station, TX
#4 Harding University Searcy, AR
#5 Auburn University Auburn, AL
#6 Clemson University Clemson, SC
#7 Holy Family University Philadelphia, PA
#8 Missouri State University Springfield, MO
#9 Texas A&M International University Laredo, TX
#10 University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville, AL

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Best States for Teachers

Teachers impact their students' lives in fundamental, lasting ways. They help students learn how to succeed in school and beyond. Working in education not only offers the potential to affect change, it also offers a stable career with the opportunity for increased compensation over time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that between 2014 and 2024, prospective teachers at the preschool through postsecondary level will benefit from 1.9 million job openings. The need for teachers shows no signs of slowing in the future. Between 2016 and 2026, the BLS projects as fast as average, 7%, job growth for elementary, middle, and high school teachers, while the projected job outlook for postsecondary teachers is much faster than average, at 15%.

Most people do not enter education to get rich, but in many places teachers make a respectable living, especially as they gain experience and education over time. Compensation for teachers varies based on a factors like where they teach,grade level, and experience and education. Kindergarten through high school teachers make a median annual salary between $56,900 and $59,170. Postsecondary teachers make significantly more, with a median annual salary of $76,000.


We created this ranking of the best states for K-12 teachers to help current and prospective teachers understand where to find the best professional opportunities. Our methodology considers several factors, including average salary, public education spending per pupil, change in adjusted teacher salary over time, average pension, and cost and quality of living.

State spending on public education and teacher compensation gives an idea of how much the state values educators. States that spend more on education tend to offer better work environments and higher salaries for teachers than states that spend less on education. We hope the following list of the best states for teachers can help educators make knowledgeable decisions about where to start — or advance — their careers.

New York View School Profile ,

New York values education professionals. With the highest average salary for teachers and ranked as the state that spends more on education overall and per pupil than any other, New York is a great place to work as a teacher in the United States. New York pays its teachers $79,637 annually and invests heavily in education, demonstrating its commitment to creating an excellent education system.

Teachers can make more money in New York on average than in any other state. Since the state provides a higher level of funding for education than any other state, teachers may find better equipped classrooms, better prepared pupils, and more opportunities for professional development than in other states with less funding. The state seems likely to continue to treat teachers well: unlike many other states, New York's average teacher salaries have gone up over time, with an 8.9% increase in adjusted salary since 1999-2000.

California View School Profile ,

Teachers in the Golden State earn an average annual income of $78,711, making California instructors the second highest paid in the nation. Wages for education professionals have stagnated or decreased in many states, but in California teachers made 15.2% more in 2016-17 than they did in 1999-2000. This increase indicates that Californians recognize the need to keep teacher wages rising and that experienced teachers likely receive increased compensation over time.

Despite offering some of the best wages in the country and spending more on public education as a whole than any other state, California faces a teacher shortage. The state especially needs special education, math, science, bilingual, and career technical teachers. The large numbers of open positions and high pay make California a good choice for both recent graduates and experienced professionals who can acquire state teaching credentials.

District of Columbia View School Profile ,

Teachers will find a variety of lucrative positions in the District of Columbia, which ranks second in state education spending, at $19,159 per student annually. Only New York spends more money per student each year. Not only does the District of Columbia spend extensively on its students, but education professionals receive excellent compensation.

Teacher salaries average $76,131 each year, placing the state among the top five best paying places for teachers. District of Columbia lawmakers make sure that teachers receive regular raises: between 1999-2000 and 2016-17, teacher salaries went up 12.8%. Other reasons to consider teaching in the state include its access to a wide variety of leisure activities, and diverse population. On days off, teachers can make day trips to places like New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, or enjoy the numerous cultural events that happen on a regular basis.

Massachusetts View School Profile ,

Known for having one of the best public education systems in the U.S., Massachusetts is a rewarding and exciting place for teachers to work. Ranking in the top ten schools for spending per pupil, the state spends $15,593 on each student annually. Teachers can expect to find well-equipped schools and well-prepared students. Massachusetts public school students ranked first in the country for reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam and first in the world for reading on the Program for International Student Assessment test.

The state's commitment to education extends to education professionals as well. Teachers in Massachusetts receive $77,804 each year for their work, making them some of the best paid teachers in the United States. Their average compensation rose 16.5% between 1999-2000 and 2016-17, indicating a continued commitment to ensuring that teachers' pay reflects hard work.

Connecticut View School Profile ,

Connecticut stands out from many other states in the U.S. for its prioritization of education spending. The Constitution State ranks third for total state spending per pupil, devoting $18,958 each year per student. Only New York and District of Columbia spend more per student. Teachers in Connecticut can expect some of the highest salaries in the country, with average annual earnings of $72,561 in 2016-17.

Although Connecticut residents face higher costs of living than other parts of the country, the higher average salaries help offset high living expenses. Other benefits to pursuing a teaching career in Connecticut include the state's Teacher Education and Mentoring (TEAM) program, which provides coaching and support for beginning teachers. Living in the state offers a variety of other benefits, including its convenient location to other cities on the east coast and its beautiful scenery.

New Jersey View School Profile ,

An excellent place to enter the field of education, New Jersey teachers made an average of $69,623 in 2016-17. The state's enthusiasm for educating its young people translates to its ranking as the fourth-highest-spending state in the country for per-pupil spending. New Jersey spends $18,402 on each student annually. The Garden State also offers teachers some of the highest salaries in the U.S., behind only New York, Alaska, Connecticut, and California.

New Jersey educators also benefit from a lower cost of living than can be found just across the river in New York. Yet, New Jerseyans benefit from their close proximity to New York City, with its world-class arts, culture, entertainments, and shopping. Other major cities on the east coast are also just a short drive or train ride away, including Boston and Philadelphia.

Alaska View School Profile ,

Known for its unparalleled natural beauty and wildlife, Alaska's economy relies on the fishing, oil and gas, and tourism industries. Its isolation from the rest of the lower 48 states means that internationally-recognized places like Denali National Park remain pristine. The state offers an exciting and rewarding educational environment that is supportive of teachers.

Prospective teachers can find opportunities here they would not be able to find anywhere else, including teaching in remote and rural village locations. While teaching in a remote location can come with some challenges, it often appeals to adventurous and committed education professionals. Alaska's teachers receive competitive compensation, making an average annual salary of $68,138. Also, the state's spending per pupil puts it among the top ten in the country. Alaska's teacher shortage means that prospective educators have many opportunities, particularly in high-demand areas like special education, math, and science.

Maryland View School Profile ,

Marylanders support a strong public education system. They recently demonstrated their commitment to education by passing legislation authorizing $500 million annually from casino revenues to benefit the state's public education system. The state ranked in the top 15 for state spending per pupil in 2016. Part of this support extends to ensuring Maryland educators make a competitive wage. Teachers earned an average of $66,961 in 2016-17, significantly more than the national average annual income of $58,950 for teachers.

Another example of Maryland's dedication to supporting teachers includes its commitment since the 2008-09 school year to pay a starting salary of at least $40,000 annually to every certified teacher in the state. Maryland educators also benefit from living in a state that offers convenient access to numerous cultural and recreational opportunities throughout the region.

Rhode Island View School Profile ,

Rhode Island teachers typically receive competitive compensation, benefit from strong, well-funded public schools, and find many open teaching positions. The 2016-17 average salary for teachers in Rhode Island ranks among the top ten highest in the U.S., at $66,477 annually. The state also claims a spot as one of the top ten biggest spenders per pupil in the country.

Prospective educators can find a wide variety of open positions in Rhode Island, as the state has teacher shortage areas in math, science, library media, music, English as a Second Language (ESL), reading specialists, bilingual teachers, school nurse teachers, and more. Recent graduates and new education professionals in particular might appreciate the potential to receive higher-than-average compensation and select from a variety of open positions. Teachers who hold a certificate from another state can easily become a teacher in Rhode Island through the state's certification reciprocity program.

Oregon View School Profile ,

Known for its beautiful scenery along the coast and mountain ranges, and hubs for culture, food, and the arts in its cities, Oregon attracts teachers and non-teachers alike for its high quality of life. The state proves itself a competitive place to work in education, ranking in the top ten for states that pay their teachers well. Although Oregon's cost of living outpaces the national average, Oregon is far behind the high cost of living found in some of the other coastal states that also offer high salaries to educators.

Teachers in Oregon make an average annual salary of $61,631 per year. Unlike in many other states, where teachers make less than they did in 1999-2000, Oregonian teachers make 1.6% more than in 2000. Teachers from a wide variety of backgrounds will appreciate the Oregon Department of Education's commitment to seeking diverse candidates, including linguistically and racially diverse educators.

Pennsylvania View School Profile ,

Pennsylvania ranks among the top states in the country for spending on its public education system, including teacher compensation. New teachers in the state make an average salary of $44,144 a year, higher than the national average. The average overall teacher salary in the state also ranks among the top in the U.S., at $65,863 annually. In 2016 Pennsylvania also ranked in the top ten states for spending per public school student.

Pennsylvania teachers who receive a pension benefit receive an average of $23,664 per year. Educators in Pennsylvania also benefit from a strong teacher union and laws protecting teacher tenure. Like other states, Pennsylvania faces a teaching shortage, with fewer students in the state seeking careers in education. Due to this shortage, prospective teachers can find a wide variety of open teaching positions in the state.

Michigan View School Profile ,

Teachers in Michigan benefit from high wages, many open positions, and high per-pupil spending. When adjusted for cost of living, teachers in Michigan make one of the highest salaries in the country, at $62,200 per year. Teachers with a master's degree and years of experience receive even better compensation in Michigan.

Large numbers of openings for teaching positions means new prospective teachers have a good shot at landing a job in the state. Michigan residents also have a lower cost of living, including about 75% less than the national average on housing. The median home cost of $142,100 lags far behind the national average of $216,200. A low cost of living means that unlike in some other states where teachers struggle to buy or even rent homes in the same communities they teach in, educators in Michigan can usually live comfortably.

Illinois View School Profile ,

Illinois takes its public education system seriously. The $14,180 it spent per pupil in 2016 puts this state in the top 15 states for public education spending. It is probably no coincidence that Illinois, one of the best places for teachers, also boasts top-tier universities in almost every region of the state, including Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, and DePaul University.

Prospective teachers in Illinois can choose from a wide variety of teacher preparation programs. Illinois educators make a competitive living, with $61,602 a year as the average teaching salary. Unlike some of the expensive coastal states with high costs of living, Illinois teachers benefit from an average cost of living while still receiving some of the best compensation in the country. Other reasons to consider teaching in Illinois include the recreational opportunities at the many scenic lakes in the region, and the cultural amenities in its biggest city, Chicago.

Vermont View School Profile ,

Known for its high-quality maple syrup, beautiful fall foliage, and progressive policies, Vermont proves itself an excellent place for teachers to work and live. Vermont educators make one of the highest average annual salaries in the U.S., at $60,187 a year. This already-competitive wage looks even better with the knowledge that teacher salaries rose by 11.2% between 1999-2000 and 2016-17, a time when teacher salaries decreased in many states.

Vermont teachers also benefit from the state's low average cost of living. Many of the states offering the highest average annual salaries to teachers also come with a high cost of living. Not only does Vermont ensure its teachers receive fair compensation, it also strives to make its public system one of the best in the nation. The state ranked fourth in the U.S. for most spent per pupil in 2016, spending $17,873 per student that year.

Delaware View School Profile ,

Delaware spends more per student each year than most other states. Each pupil in Delaware received $14,713 in educational spending in 2016. This spending indicates the state's commitment to ensuring the public school system is equipped with the resources needed to educate its young people. Delaware also pays teachers more than average: Delaware teachers made an average of $60,214 in the 2016-17 school year, while nationally teachers earned an average of $58,950 a year.

Delaware teachers also benefit from a comparatively low cost of living, opportunities for career advancement, and differentiated pay that rewards advanced education and experience. For example, a teacher living in Dover, Delaware, pays 60% less on their housing expenses than a teacher in District of Columbia. Experienced teachers with a master's degree can make more than $67,000 a year in the state.

Wyoming View School Profile ,

Wyoming has prioritized teacher salaries over the last two decades. Salaries have risen an incredible 19.9% since 1999-2000. In many states, teacher salaries actually decreased, sometimes significantly, between 1999-2000 and 2016-17. Teachers in Wyoming, however, made an average of $58,650 in 2016-17, making it one of the best-paying states for educators in the country. The state also spent a healthy $16,055 per pupil in 2016.

In addition to an already competitive salary, money goes further in Wyoming than it does in many other states that have high costs of living and where teachers actually receive lower compensation. Teaching in Wyoming offers other benefits, including access to beautiful scenery, wide open spaces, recreational opportunities like skiing and fishing, low crime rates, and good air quality.

Hawaii View School Profile ,

1.428 million people live in Hawaii year-round, and the state needs teachers to educate its young people. Hawai'i's famously high cost of living means that the state struggles to keep teachers, but in response, its state Department of Education actively recruits prospective teachers from out of state. The state especially needs teachers specializing in secondary mathematics, science, and English; special education (PreK-12); American Sign Language, those willing to teach in West Maui; and those willing to teach in a variety of understaffed locations.

Prospective teachers will find extensive opportunities for career advancement and can choose from a large number of job vacancies. Hawai'i teachers make an average annual salary of $57,674. Outside of the classroom, teachers find extensive recreational and cultural opportunities throughout the islands, including hiking, swimming, surfing, whale watching, sightseeing, and visiting local farms.

Nevada View School Profile ,

Known for its live-and-let-live attitude, legalized gambling, and booming tourism industry, Nevada ranks among the top states for teachers. The sixth-fastest-growing state in the U.S., Nevada has seen huge growth in population in recent years, increasing by 7% between 2010 and 2015. Many of the state's new residents bring school-age children, creating a surge in demand for more educators. Teachers in the Silver State make an average annual salary of $57,376.

The state recognizes the importance of attracting qualified teachers, using its Great Teaching/Leading Fund reserves money from the state's general fund to incentivize professional development for teachers and other education professionals. Aside from the ample opportunities for career advancement here, Nevada teachers also benefit from the state's lack of income tax, scenic natural areas, and the shopping, food, and entertainment mecca of Las Vegas.

New Hampshire View School Profile ,

New Hampshire attracts teachers because of its commitment to education spending and high quality of living. New Hampshire invests heavily in its public education system, spending $15,340 per pupil each year. New Hampshire educators earn $57,253 on average each year. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers in particular may find exciting opportunities teaching in the state.

The New Hampshire Department of Education's Office of STEM Education coordinates a variety of programs and initiatives to offer the best STEM education to New Hampshire students. Current efforts include establishing robotics and computer science programs. Teachers in New Hampshire enjoy countless recreational opportunities, including hiking, skiing, and spending the day at the beach or at one of the state's many lakes. New Hampshire also ranks as one of the safest, healthiest states in the U.S., and residents pay no sales tax, making the cost of living more affordable.

Minnesota View School Profile ,

The Land of 10,000 Lakes offers teachers a high quality of life because of its affordability, strong economy, friendly residents, and extensive recreational opportunities. On average, Minnesota teachers make $57,346 each year, which goes further in relatively affordable Minnesota than it would in many other states with higher costs of living. Minnesotans actually spend 14% less on healthcare than the national average. Minnesota also offers one of the country's best-funded school systems, spending $12,382 annually on each student in the public education system.

In 2015, a Gallup poll found Minnesota held the highest job creation score out of all the states and boasted a very low unemployment rate. Public education funding and teacher salaries can benefit significantly in states with strong economies. On days off, Minnesota educators can take advantage of shopping and cultural events in the Twin Cities or get outside and explore the state's lakes, waterfalls, and farmland.

Ohio View School Profile ,

Teachers in Ohio can make a comfortable living, thanks to the state's low cost of living, competitive compensation, and high spending on public education. Most teachers in the U.S. benefit from pensions of varying quality. Ohio ranks number one in the country for its median teacher pension of $57,696 a year. Ohio teachers have an average annual salary of $57,000, higher than the U.S. average. In more-expensive coastal states, $57,000 might not stretch far, but Ohio residents benefit from a low cost of living by comparison to top-paying states for teachers, paying about 12% lower overall than the national average.

Ohioans pay only 70% the national average for housing, making it much easier for educators to comfortably afford rent or a mortgage. As a sign of Ohio's commitment to public education, the state spends $12,102 per student each year, more than the average spending per pupil.

Iowa View School Profile ,

Famous for its annual state fair with delicacies like fried butter on a stick, Iowa also proves itself an excellent place to make a living in education. Teachers in Iowa receive $55,443 in compensation each year. This salary goes a long way in a state like Iowa, with its low cost of living. Iowans spend 10% less on their overall cost of living than the national average, and 26% less on housing.

Adjusted for cost of living, the average teacher's salary in Iowa feels more like $60,868, according to an analysis by the nonprofit EdBuild. This low cost of living can translate to a higher quality of life, with teachers able to live comfortably without worrying about how they will pay for housing, healthcare, and other necessities. Outside of the classroom, teachers in Iowa can keep themselves busy with farmer's markets, beautiful scenery, sporting events, and a wide variety of regional culinary delicacies to try.

Wisconsin View School Profile ,

Nicknamed "America's Dairyland," Wisconsin boasts professional sports teams, more lakes than even Minnesota, and world-famous cheese curds. Teachers in this state receive competitive compensation and numerous programs to incentivize entering the education field. Wisconsin teachers made an average annual salary of $54,998 in 2016-17. When adjusted for the low cost of living, teachers in Wisconsin make more like $58,825.

Wisconsin spends less on housing, groceries, transportation, and utilities than the national average. Prospective teachers can find a variety of teacher training programs in Wisconsin, coordinated by the department of education in an effort to recruit new teachers to alleviate a teacher shortage in the state. One initiative pays STEM professionals to become certified STEM middle and high school teachers. Another trains teachers to work in understaffed urban middle and high schools and includes a $20,000 grant that teachers receive if they complete a four-year urban teacher residency.

Georgia View School Profile ,

Georgia attracts teachers with its affordability, respected public school systems, competitive starting salaries, guaranteed benefits, and opportunities for career growth. Teachers in the Peach State make $54,602 on average each year, with starting salaries around $41,000, higher than the national average, in some counties. In addition to competitive pay, Georgia teachers also receive health care and retirement benefits. The cost of living in Georgia closely matches the national average, but Georgians spend less than average on housing, health, and groceries, making their annual salaries stretch a little further. Zillow reports the median cost of a home in Georgia at just $179,200, while the national average hit $220,100 in 2018. Georgia's tiered certification system rewards experience and gives teachers the opportunity to make more money and gain more responsibility as they expand their credentials over time. Unmet demand for numerous teaching specialties in Georgia means a wide variety of openings for elementary and special education teachers.

Washington View School Profile ,

Known for its national parks, the birthplace of America's coffee revolution, and a laid back way of life, Washington offers numerous advantages to professional educators who work in the state. Teachers earn an average annual salary of $54,147. Although the cost of living in Washington exceeds the national average, Washingtonians spend 20% less on health and 26% less on utilities than the national average.

Teachers make their paychecks go further by not paying state income tax: Washington is one of seven states with no state income tax. A booming economy, low crime rate, mild climate, and numerous cultural and entertainment options also attract teachers to the Evergreen State. Numerous important industry leaders call Washington home, including Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft. On days off, teachers can busy themselves with a wide variety of culinary, sports, shopping, entertainment, and outdoor activities.

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.


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. 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. 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.

Admission Materials

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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in K-12 Education
Concentration Description Careers
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

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

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

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

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.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

Compiled by, 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

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.

The NEA represents nearly three million educators throughout the United States. Membership benefits include liability insurance and banking services. Students may join at a reduced membership fee. The AFT boasts more than 1.5-million members. Like the NEA, the AFT advocates for the teaching profession at all levels of government. Teachers and paraprofessionals who work in school settings can become members. The ASCA provides its members with professional development opportunities while advocating for the rights of counselors and the students they serve. Members also receive access to the latest research on student counseling best practices. The ASCA boasts a reduced membership fee for student members. NASET offers members dozens of resources so they may better serve children with mental or physical disabilities. Each year, NASET recognizes graduate student members nominated by their professors. The NASSP represents high school principals, granting members many of the same benefits that the NEA and AFT provide to teachers.
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