A master's degree in teaching prepares graduates for careers in the classroom or in education administration. Many school districts pay teachers who hold a master's degree a higher salary than educators without one. Graduates may also become administrators, supporting the education system with their leadership and organizational skills. These fields offer lucrative and growing opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that K-12 principals earn an average salary of over $94,000 annually, and projects the field to grow 8% by 2026.
Many states require that professionals in education administration hold a master's degree. With a master's degree in teaching, certification options include a principal certification or a superintendent certification. This article outlines the process of identifying the best master's programs, the admission process, and transitioning from a graduate program into advanced careers in education.
Should I Get a Master's in Teaching?
Earning a master's degree in teaching increases teachers' salaries on school district pay scales and opens the door to opportunities in administration, such as principal positions. By completing a master's degree, educators also increase their competitiveness in the job market. Many positions, such as superintendent or academic dean, require a graduate degree. Whether prospective graduate students move directly from their undergraduate degree into a master's program or spend several years gaining teaching experience before earning a master's in teaching, the degree helps educators advance in the field.
During a master's degree in education, graduate students take courses in curriculum design, assessment strategy, and educational leadership. Some programs offer specialized educational administration or educational leadership degrees for graduate students pursuing administrative roles in education. The master's program may also incorporate a practicum to strengthen classroom teaching skills. Master's programs may offer job placement assistance and networking opportunities for current students and graduates.
Before applying to schools, prospective graduate students in teaching must choose between an on-campus or online program. An on-campus program may appeal to students who recently completed their bachelor's degree or teachers with a strong local master's program in teaching. Working teachers or those who cannot relocate for graduate school may prefer the accessibility of an online program.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Teaching?
Educators with a master's in teaching work in all areas of education. Depending on the type of master's degree, graduate students may prepare for a career as a principal, a higher education administrator, or a superintendent. Most administrative positions in education require a master's degree, and teachers with a master's degree command higher salaries and are more competitive in the job market.
- Elementary School Principal
Elementary school principals manage daily operations and goal setting for a school. They also play a role in hiring and overseeing teachers and ensuring curricula meet teaching standards. Most positions require a master's degree, and many principals have teaching experience.
Median Annual Salary: $73,175*
- High School Principal
At the high school level, principals oversee a school, supervising the teachers, administrators, and staff. They also hire teachers, participate in tenure reviews, and monitor the curricula. Most principals have a master's degree, and many have prior experience teaching.
Median Annual Salary: $88,312*
- Assistant Principal
Working under a principal, assistant principals perform administrative functions for a school. Many oversee curriculum development, create discipline guidelines, and enforce school rules. They also communicate with teachers and parents, helping the principal enact the school's goals.
Median Annual Salary: $70,967*
- Academic Dean
Academic deans typically work in higher education overseeing a division or college. They coordinate with faculty, play a role in the hiring process, evaluate professors during tenure reviews, and set academic goals for the institution. Most positions require at least a master's degree and some experience in education management.
Median Annual Salary: $91,857*
- School Superintendent
School superintendents oversee a school district or school system, acting at the highest level. They coordinate with school boards, principals, teachers, and parents to offer a quality education to students. The responsibilities of a school superintendent include hiring principals, overseeing the budget, and addressing any major problems.
Median Annual Salary: $115,781*
How to Choose a Master's Program in Teaching
With many options for master's in teaching programs, including online programs, students may struggle to narrow down their choices. By considering key factors, such as the cost, location, and time to completion, prospective students can find the right program for their needs.
For many students, tuition remains a critical factor. However, prospective students must look beyond the tuition for each program to consider additional fees, living expenses, and technology costs. Prospective students must also factor in-state versus out-of-state tuition and research financial aid opportunities that may lower the cost of the degree. Working teachers may benefit from financial support through their school district.
Teachers earning a master's degree may feel limited to local options. However, these choices may not provide the specializations or concentrations teachers need for career advancement. These students may benefit from the accessibility of an online master's program in teaching. Online programs let students arrange their coursework around other obligations and allow teachers to attend the best programs in the country regardless of residency. Students considering an online degree can research the top online master's in teaching programs.
Time to completion is another important factor. Program characteristics, such as teaching requirements and the number of credits required for graduation, can lengthen a program. These factors also influence cost. Finally, prospective graduate students must always check a program's accreditation status.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Teaching
The accreditation process ensures that an institution or program meets quality academic standards. During accreditation, an independent nonprofit agency evaluates a college, university, or program, measuring its student learning outcomes, checking graduation requirements, and assessing faculty qualifications. Institutions that meet or exceed standards receive regional or national accreditation, while individual programs may receive programmatic accreditation. For example, business schools, social work programs, and counselor training programs receive programmatic accreditation from specialized agencies.
In teaching, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the most important accreditation agency. CAEP reviews undergraduate and graduate teacher training programs to ensure that graduates have the tools to succeed in the field. Created in 2010 by combining the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, two prior educator accrediting agencies, CAEP accreditation meets standards for teacher licensure and for certain financial aid opportunities.
Master's in Teaching Program Admissions
During the admission process, graduate teaching programs evaluate applicants' educational history, professional experience, and qualifications. Most programs set prerequisites for admission, such as a minimum GPA and a bachelor's degree in teaching or a related field. Candidates who do not meet these prerequisites may be able to receive provisional admission, or they might have to complete prerequisites before enrolling.
Programs also require admissions materials such as transcripts, an application, letters of recommendation, and test scores. Many programs request a statement of purpose from applicants, which explains their goals after completing a graduate degree. Application processes vary by program. Some online programs, for example, assign an admission adviser to help applicants through the process. Prospective students should carefully research the requirements and deadlines for each potential program and plan to spend several weeks completing the application process.
- Bachelor's Degree: Most master's programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in teaching or a closely related field. Applicants with a valid teaching license meet this prerequisite.
- Minimum GPA: Teaching programs may set a minimum GPA for admissions, such as a 3.0. Applicants who do not meet the minimum GPA may be eligible for provisional admission.
- Required Courses: Some graduate programs expect incoming students to complete required courses before enrolling, often as part of their undergraduate education.
- Teaching Experience: Master's programs may either require or prefer candidates with a certain number of years of teaching experience.
- Application: Candidates fill out an application, which lists their academic and professional background. The application may also require an essay or statement of purpose.
- Transcripts: Applicants submit transcripts showing their bachelor's degree coursework and any other credits earned, such as continuing education credits. Programs use transcripts to evaluate a candidate's preparation for graduate-level work.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most programs require two or three letters of recommendation, which speak to the applicant's strengths and ability to succeed in graduate school. These may come from former professors or a current principal or supervisor.
- Test Scores: Programs may require test scores; most often the GRE. Some may also accept Praxis scores in lieu of the GRE.
- Application Fee: Applicants submit a fee to cover the cost of reviewing their admission materials. Programs offer fee waivers for qualifying candidates.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Teaching?
Before enrolling in a graduate program, educators should consider the program's curriculum, time to completion, and the certifications and licenses that graduates can receive with the degree. This section walks through factors that influence a program's characteristics and play a role in career development after graduation.
Courses in a Master's in Teaching Program
The curriculum for a master's in teaching degree varies by program. Educational administration programs offer slightly different courses than a teaching program, for example. However, many programs offer the core courses listed below, including courses on pedagogy, curriculum development, and a practicum.
- Assessment and Evaluation
Students study methods of assessing learning, evaluation theory, and tools to assess the efficacy of a teaching program. The class may also cover written examination, project-based learning, and performance tests. Students also study methods to assess the reliability of evaluations. The course benefits educators and administrators.
- Theories of Learning
In a theory class, graduate students study the relationship between educational theory and practice. The coursework may include an examination of research on instructional strategies, pedagogical theory, and transferring theory into the classroom. Students planning to go into administration may also study how to review curricula based on learning theory.
- Curriculum Design
Graduate students learn about curriculum policies, designing and organizing a curriculum, and curriculum development. The course may also cover evaluating a curriculum to determine whether it meets teaching standards. Students may complete a project where they design a sample curriculum.
- Educational Leadership
Courses on educational leadership cover leadership theory, organizational management, and leadership techniques. They may also involve case studies, group projects, or school visits to learn about leadership roles. The class prepares graduates to take on administrative positions, such as assistant principal or principal.
Many master's programs in teaching require a practicum to expand graduate students' classroom experience. The practicum may involve completing a certain number of hours of supervised teaching, which working educators may be able to arrange at their current school. Educational leadership or administration programs may also involve a practicum to build experience in administration.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Teaching?
Typically, a master's in teaching takes two years of full-time study to complete. Most programs require a minimum of 30 graduate credits, but some require as much as 45. The number of required credits and the course load per semester influences how long students spend earning their degree. Many programs also incorporate a practicum to build teaching experience, which can add time to the degree depending on the length of time required in the classroom.
Some teaching graduate programs provide an accelerated option, which students can complete in 12-15 months. Working teachers may prefer a part-time option, which extends the length of the program. Graduate students may be able to transfer in credits earned from other programs or from continuing education coursework. During the research process, prospective students should check a program's transfer credit policy to ensure their credits apply toward the degree.
How Much Is a Master's in Teaching?
The cost of a master's degree in teaching varies by program and institution. In general, in-state, public universities offer the lowest tuition rates, followed by out-of-state public schools and private schools. However, several factors beyond tuition influence the cost of a degree, including fees, technology costs, and living expenses. Students should consider the total cost of the degree while also factoring in financial aid.
Graduate students can limit costs by researching scholarships and grants. Many universities offer financial aid for students, as do many private organizations and professional associations. Teachers planning to work while completing a master's degree may qualify for funding through their school district. The federal government also offers the TEACH grant program, which funds students earning a teaching degree who plan to work in high-needs fields at qualifying schools.
Graduate students meet the eligibility requirements for a TEACH grant. In addition to public school discounts for state residents, some institutions also offer tuition discounts for fully online students. Graduate students in an online program may also save on commuting, parking, and childcare expenses.
Certifications and Licenses for Master's in Teaching Graduates
- Teaching License
A master's in teaching meets the educational requirement for a teaching license in every state, and some states offer an advanced license for candidates with a graduate degree. The licensure process varies depending on the state, but teachers need a license to work in most positions at public K-12 schools.
- Principal Certification
Many states require principals to hold a state-issued certification. The process may include an examination covering administration, educational principles, and organizational skills. Most states accept a master's in teaching or a master's degree in education with teaching license as qualifications for principal certification.
- Superintendent Certification
Like principal certification, many states require superintendents to complete the certification process as part of the job requirements. Candidates typically need a master's degree in education, educational administration, or educational leadership. To earn the credential, applicants must pass an examination. Some states require superintendent candidates to first hold a teaching license or a principal certification.
Resources for Graduate Teaching Students
Graduate students pursuing a master's in teaching can apply for the federal TEACH grant if they plan to teach in a low-income, high-needs area. The grant helps teachers afford school and carries work obligations after graduation.
Teachers can complete an examination to earn board certification in their subject area and grade level through the NBPTS. The organization offers board certification in languages, social studies, art, math, science, and other disciplines.
The page lists state and local departments of education, higher education organizations, and state licensing boards. Graduate students can use these resources to connect with local resources.
With Google Classroom, teachers can design, distribute, and grade student assignments electronically. As a free web service, Google Classroom makes it easy to share files.
Educators connect on the site's community forum, gain resources on technology, pursue professional development, and benefit from the job board.
Educators pursuing a master's degree in teaching benefit from joining professional organizations that let them network with principals, administrators, and superintendents. These organizations also connect teachers locally and nationally. Many associations offer professional development resources, scholarships and awards, and teaching resources. In addition to national organizations, many of these associations also offer state and local divisions, which help educators connect with local job opportunities and advance in a particular area or school district.
Administrators and superintendents benefit from AASA membership, which includes professional resources, networking events, and certifications. AASA also offers leadership resources, awards, and specialized conferences, such as the women's leadership conference. The association dates back to 1866.
NAESP supports elementary and middle school principals with publications, best practices resources, an annual conference, and a career center. NAESP's career center includes resources for job seekers, a resume service, and job alerts. The association dates back to 1921.
NASSP brings high school principals together, offering professional development resources, learning tools, and networking opportunities. The association also confers awards, offers student programs to promote development, and hosts events. NASSP advocates for principals on the national and state levels.
Founded in 1857, NEA boasts over 3 million members. Educators connect with colleagues through state and local branches, gain access to teaching resources, and receive discounted legal services. Educator resources include lesson plans, teaching strategies, and classroom management tools. Members can also apply for grants.
AAE offers professional resources, scholarships and grants, and publications for educators. Members are eligible to receive funding to support their classrooms, and they also qualify for member discounts at retailers, national attractions, and from service providers. The AAE dates back to 1994.