If you enjoyed the subjects you studied in college and want to share your passion for learning with young people, or if you are a teacher seeking professional growth, a master's in secondary education may be right for you. Many teaching jobs require this degree, and it can help you earn more over the course of your career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many older teachers will hit retirement age by 2026, creating job openings for new teachers. The BLS also projects that rising student enrollment will result in more demand for high school teachers, who earned a median annual wage of $59,170 in 2017. If you are looking for a rewarding career where you can make a difference in the lives of adolescents, read on to learn how a secondary education degree can help you achieve your goals.
Should I Get a Master's in Secondary Education?
A master's in secondary education suits college graduates who wish to become middle or high school teachers, but who did not major in education or become certified while in college. This secondary education degree includes all the courses and field experience you need to become a certified teacher at the secondary level. A master's degree can also give you a competitive advantage when searching for your first teaching job, since many schools prefer teachers to hold a master's, and some even require it. Teacher salaries are often commensurate with experience and education level, so your master's degree will continue to benefit you throughout your teaching career.
Since teaching and becoming certified at the secondary level require both content area knowledge and training in pedagogy, an undergraduate major such as English, history, or math paired with a graduate degree in education makes the perfect preparation for secondary education jobs. Earning your degree full time enables you to focus on your studies and prepare to enter the workforce in as little as a year.
You can also gain opportunities to network with peers and professionals as you discuss educational theory, practice teaching methods, and share your experiences as an intern or student teacher. Your school may also assist you in finding your student teaching placement and even your first job. After graduation, your master's degree will give you a competitive edge in your job search, as you can rest assured you've completed the advanced training you need to succeed as a teacher.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Secondary Education?
Most people who earn degrees in secondary education go on to become licensed middle and high school teachers in public schools, while others work in private or charter schools that may not require state licensure. Some graduates go on to support teachers as curriculum specialists or hold other leadership positions in education. Organized, knowledgeable, and passionate individuals who care deeply about young people often make good secondary teachers. They are lifelong learners who work hard every day to meet the diverse needs of their students and impart an interest in their subject to them. Secondary teachers often serve as role models for their students as they shepherd adolescents into adulthood.
- Middle School Teacher
Middle school teachers typically teach students in grades 6-8. They often work in teams of teachers who specialize in different subjects but teach the same group of students. They use their skills and technology to plan and deliver lessons, evaluate student progress, communicate with caregivers, and help students overcome challenges.
Median Annual Salary: $57,720*
- High School Teacher
High school teachers generally teach specific academic subjects to students in grades 9-12. They may teach one or more classes within their subject. For example, a math teacher may teach calculus and geometry. These educators prepare students to succeed in college or the workplace. Many teachers work with students after school in sports or clubs.
Median Annual Salary: $59,170*
- Special Education Teacher
These educators specialize in working with students with disabilities, adapting lessons to fit the needs of their students and teaching them the skills they require to access the curriculum as fully as possible. Their responsibilities also include developing, implementing, and assessing Individualized Education Plans for each student.
Median Annual Salary: $58,980*
- Career and Technical Education Teacher
These teachers prepare students to enter specific occupations by teaching the hands-on skills needed in these fields. They show students how to complete tasks and properly use tools, equipment, and technology. These educators teach technical and vocational classes in middle schools, high schools, or postsecondary settings.
Median Annual Salary: $55,240*
- Instructional Coordinator
Also known as curriculum specialists, these educators oversee the implementation of curricula at a specific level or in a particular content area, such as math. Most positions require a master's degree and teaching experience. These professionals train teachers, provide resources, publicize standards, analyze student data, and organize workshops.
Median Annual Salary: $63,750*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Master's in Secondary Education Program
Prospective students should consider many factors when researching secondary education programs, such as cost, location, and program specifics. Students who can attend school full time typically complete the degree in 1-2 years. Studying part time often takes longer, but may enable working students to juggle other responsibilities. Similarly, an online program may allow you to work or care for your family while going to school. Many schools offer part-time and online programs specially designed for working professionals. However, an on-campus, full-time program often represents the quickest route to the classroom.
Consider what you can afford and ways to cut costs. In-state tuition at public state schools is often much lower than that at private schools, but private schools may offer more aid. Working teachers may qualify for tuition assistance, and teachers working in low-income schools may qualify for loan forgiveness. Online programs can cost less, since they eliminate the need to live near school or travel to classes. Even online students may need to attend on-campus sessions periodically, so carefully consider each school's location.
Take a look at the special opportunities secondary education programs offer. Explore concentration options, the path to licensure, internships, student teaching placements, and final projects. Will you gain the experience needed to feel comfortable and competent in the classroom? What partnerships exist with local schools where you can student teach or apply for jobs? In which states will you qualify for licensure upon graduation? Which program will give you the credentials you need to work in an area with job openings as well as the standard of living and quality of life you desire?
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Secondary Education Programs
Accreditation measures a program's quality, which makes it important to consider when searching for a secondary education degree. Employers, especially those in academic fields such as teaching, look for applicants who graduated from accredited schools. In addition to institutional accreditation, specific programs can obtain specialized accreditation. This kind of professional accreditation is especially prevalent in fields that require certification or licensure.
All states require certified teachers to hold at least a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution. Many states also require applicants for licensure to complete an approved teacher preparation program. Some states maintain their own lists of state-approved programs and others accept programs with programmatic accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). CAEP became the only organization to accredit educator preparation programs in 2013.
Master's in Secondary Education Program Admissions
The application process for online master's programs typically includes similar requirements as for on-campus programs. Most programs require you to submit your GRE score and transcripts that show completion of a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of around 3.0. Some applications may also require two or three recommendations, one or more personal statements or essays, and perhaps even a resume or portfolio.
Some programs may set higher GPA requirements, depending on their competitiveness. Many programs will expect you to demonstrate that your undergraduate work includes specific prerequisites in the subject you plan to teach, requiring you to complete any deficiencies before starting your graduate studies.
Explore 10 or more master's programs that meet your needs regarding cost, location, and concentration areas. Then, narrow your list down to about 3-8 schools and apply. At least two of these should be programs you feel fairly certain you will gain admission to based on your academic record.
- Bachelor's Degree: Master's in secondary education programs require a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college, the minimum requirement for teacher certification in all states. Applicants also need to fulfill course requirements in the subject area they plan to teach, usually with an undergraduate major.
- Professional Experience: Some secondary education programs are designed for working teachers with experience and others are meant for those who have never taught. Be sure to check the program requirements carefully to see if you need classroom experience to apply.
- Minimum GPA: Master's programs typically require a GPA of 3.0 or above, although some programs will admit applicants who do not meet the GPA requirement but can demonstrate high test scores, relevant work experience, or other accomplishments.
- Application: Most graduate schools maintain their own unique online applications that may take you several sessions to complete. Graduate schools do not use a common application. Make sure to review each application carefully before submission.
- Transcripts: You must submit transcripts from all schools you previously attended. Some applications require you to upload unofficial transcripts for review first and contact your previous schools to request they send official transcripts later. Some colleges charge a small fee for this service.
- Letters of Recommendation: Graduate programs may ask you to submit one or more letters of recommendation from professors or employers. Ask three people who know you and your work ethic well to write letters for you and give them at least a month advance notice to do so.
- Test Scores: Most programs require you to take the GRE although some may accept or require other tests that show your mastery of basic skills. If you can, take the test more than once to ensure that you submit your highest possible score.
- Application Fee: Graduate school application fees typically range from $50-$100. Some schools offer fee waivers to members of certain demographic groups, veterans, or low-income students.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Secondary Education Program?
Master's in secondary education programs vary regarding the concentrations and courses they offer and therefore the types of licenses and positions graduates qualify to pursue. Most commonly, these programs prepare graduates to become middle school and high school math, science, social studies, or English teachers. Some offer additional concentrations that prepare teachers to work with particular student populations or become specialists in a particular area.
|Secondary Mathematics||Students with an undergraduate background in math prepare to teach all math courses offered at the secondary level, including algebra, geometry, and calculus.||Middle School Math Teacher; High School Math Teacher; Math Instructional Coordinator; Math Department Chair|
|Secondary Science||Students with an undergraduate background in science prepare to teach all science courses offered at the secondary level, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Some programs and states offer endorsements in certain subjects.||Middle School Science Teacher; High School Science Teacher; Science Instructional Coordinator; Science Department Chair|
|Secondary History/Social Studies||Students with an undergraduate background in history or social studies prepare to teach all social studies courses offered at the secondary level, such as U.S. history, world history, and government/civics. Some programs and states offer additional endorsements in these subjects.||Middle School Social Studies Teacher; High School Social Studies Teacher; Social Studies Instructional Coordinator; Social Studies Department Chair|
|Secondary English / Language Arts||Students with an undergraduate background in English prepare to teach reading and writing skills as well as literature to students in grades 6-12.||Middle School English Teacher; High School English Teacher; English Instructional Coordinator; English Department Chair|
|Secondary Foreign Languages||Students with an undergraduate background in a foreign language prepare to teach that language as well as the culture and history of the peoples who speak it to students in grades 6-12.||Middle School Foreign Language Teacher; High School Foreign Language Teacher; Foreign Language Instructional Coordinator; Foreign Language Department Chair|
Courses in a Master's in Secondary Education Program
The exact courses you take may differ according to your school, program, and concentration. Programs designed for experienced educators and those designed for preservice teachers can include different topics as well. Required courses provide a background in the theory and practice of teaching and learning and an understanding of the methods used to teach a specific subject. The courses listed below provide a sampling of common topics you'll likely cover while earning your degree.
- Instructional Strategies
This course introduces preservice teachers to a variety of teaching methods and classroom management skills before they implement these techniques in the classroom. Teachers learn to plan, deliver, and assess effective lessons and differentiate these lessons to meet diverse student needs.
- Adolescent Learning and Development
This course prepares teachers to work with adolescents by exploring educational theory on human development and learning. Teachers gain the skills needed to teach adolescents based on the latest educational research on how they acquire knowledge and make sense of what they learn given their developmental stages.
- Education Technology
Teachers increasingly use technology and integrate it into their practice to deliver lessons, track student progress, and communicate with colleagues, students, and parents. This course gives teachers the technical skills they need to use digital tools in their instruction in ways that improve student engagement and learning outcomes.
This course examines the impact of diverse student cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and special needs on teaching and learning. Teachers learn to use their knowledge of human growth and development to create inclusive classrooms for all students. This course may also address related issues, such as social justice and equity in education.
- Educational Research
Students explore both quantitative and qualitative research methods as they pertain to education. These skills enable teachers to understand and apply the latest educational research in their work as teacher leaders or use them to evaluate the effectiveness of their daily practice and assess student learning.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Secondary Education?
A master's in secondary education typically requires about 30 credits of coursework and takes 1-2 years for full-time students to complete. Certain concentrations, such as English as a Second Language or special education may require additional credits. Some programs designed for preservice teachers allow students to complete the licensure course requirements in one year and then finish the remaining master's degree coursework after securing a teaching job.
Internships, student teaching, and thesis requirements can extend the time it takes to finish your degree, as can taking classes part time. Some programs, such as those that use a cohort system, generally require students to take courses full time and complete an internship as part of the program. Others, such as those designed for working teachers, provide more flexibility and allow students to take courses at their own pace. If you attend full time and can take more than the required classes, you may be able to finish your degree faster and save money.
How Much Is a Master's in Secondary Education?
The cost of your master's degree depends on the graduate tuition rate for the school you select, how long you take to finish your program, and whether or not you need to live on or near campus or travel to classes. According to a 2017 report by the National Center for Educational Statistics, graduate tuition rates average about $11,600 per year for in-state students at public universities and $24,700 per year at private schools. On top of tuition, you should consider school fees, books, housing, food, a computer, and perhaps transportation. Prospective students should also keep in mind that the cost of living in one area may differ substantially from that in another.
Some graduate programs offer departmental assistantships that can offset tuition costs and others provide tuition waivers and even stipends for internships. Many programs offer scholarships as well. Find out if the programs that interest you can suggest ways to reduce your costs. If you plan to teach in a low-income or high-need area, you may qualify for student loan forgiveness programs. If you are a working teacher, your school or district may pay all or part of your tuition costs.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Secondary Education Prepares For
- Secondary Teacher Certification in Subject Area
Each state licenses its public school teachers. Degree holders from master's programs that include licensure requirements may apply to their state to become math, social studies, science, English, or foreign language teachers. Some states offer additional endorsements in other subject areas, such as physics, drama, or psychology.
- National Board Certification
Experienced teachers may complete the rigorous National Board certification process. A master's in secondary education can help prepare educators for this in-depth and reflective certification process. Many states and districts offer financial incentives and other forms of assistance to teachers who pursue or receive this certification.
- Gifted Education Endorsement
A master's in secondary education with coursework in gifted education may qualify you for an endorsement in this area. Teachers with this specialization can pursue work in magnet schools for gifted students, as teachers of advanced courses, and as gifted resource teachers who assist other teachers with preparing appropriate lessons.
- Special Education Certification
A master's degree that includes coursework relevant to working with students with disabilities may qualify you to become licensed as a special education teacher. These teachers work alongside subject matter teachers or as teachers in self-contained classrooms to help students with special needs achieve their full potential.
Resources for Secondary Education Graduate Students
NSTA offers numerous resources for science teachers, including journals, lesson plans, professional standards, conferences and workshops, and discussion boards. Their website features a dedicated section for preservice and new teachers.
NCSS publishes journals and other publications, holds an annual conference, and provides webinars for social studies teachers. NCSS also advocates for social studies education at the national level.
Founded in 1911, NCTE holds conferences and summer institutes and publishes resources for English teachers, including books, journals, lesson plans, standards, research reports, and position papers. Local affiliates offer professional development and networking opportunities.
NCTM provides classroom resources, publications, standards and position papers, research briefs, and advocacy toolkits of interest to math teachers. The organization's awards, conferences, and workshops highlight best practices in math education.
CEC establishes standards and professional guidelines and offers resources, webinars, and publications for those teaching gifted and special needs students. The organization recognizes excellence in special education with awards, including one for preservice teachers.
Professional Organizations in Secondary Education
Teachers benefit from membership in professional organizations that offer them legal protection, networking opportunities, professional development, job boards, and resources. Many teachers belong to unions or other professional organizations that engage in collective bargaining on their behalf. Other associations provide teachers with updates on the latest educational research and teaching strategies. Preservice teachers can benefit from joining professional organizations while still in graduate school as a way to connect with experienced teachers and find secondary education jobs.
Founded in 1857, NEA boasts status as the largest teachers union in the U.S. The union advocates for the needs of educators and children at the national and state levels. NEA organizes events and offers classroom resources, grants, and awards to its more than 3 million members.
This professional union of teachers, nurses, and public employees uses collective bargaining and political advocacy to advance public education. The AFT takes stands on issues that impact education, such as immigration and gun violence.
This professional association includes three organizations serving educators in all phases of their careers, including one specifically for preservice teachers. PDK publishes Kappan magazine and provides professional development and networking opportunities for its members.
This association aims to improve the educational experiences of students ages 10-15 by helping their teachers grow as professionals. AMLE offers workshops, an annual conference, publications, and webinars for middle school teachers.
ASCD publishes numerous books and a magazine entitled Educational Leadership. It offers a variety of professional development opportunities for educators, including webinars, conferences, and online courses.