Also known as primary education, elementary education refers to the first phase of institutionalized learning within the U.S. educational system. Most elementary schools accommodate students ranging from kindergarten (ages five to six) to fifth or sixth grade (ages 10 to 12) — although some schools may reach up to the eighth grade (ages 13 to 14). Due to the relatively young student population, elementary education focuses on fundamental areas of English reading and writing, social studies, mathematics, science, art, music and other core school subjects. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 39,339 pre-K to 8th grade students attended a U.S. school in Fall 2016; roughly 89% attended public schools, while the rest were enrolled at private institutions.

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

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

The majority of elementary teachers begin their careers at the college level by earning a degree in elementary education. The bachelor's degree is considered the minimum requirement for elementary teachers in the U.S., but those who go on to pursue a master's will be able to advance in their careers even further. The master's curriculum explores more complex theories and approaches to the education of younger students. Master's students will also be required to complete student-teaching experiences, where they assist educators in working classrooms. Many of today's students are choosing to earn their master's degree in elementary education online, rather than in a classroom. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, often leading to the same number of post-degree job opportunities. The flexible, study-from-home schedule are ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other important commitments.

Learn more about what you can do with an online master's degree in elementary education and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.

The Best Online Master's in Elementary Education Programs of 2020

Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school's strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master's degree in elementary education programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online master's in elementary education, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings.

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Mississippi College

Clinton, MS Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 53%

MC's online master's in elementary education program allows distance learners to earn a degree within 10 months. The 30-credit curriculum features coursework in teaching reading and comprehension, social studies education in elementary school, and teaching elementary mathematics. Students also master curriculum development fundamentals.

Almost 80% of MC's graduate students find employment before or shortly after graduation. Learners who work throughout the program can prepare for professional advancement by taking advantage of the college's mock interviews and resume assistance.

The program features multiple start dates throughout the year. Prospective students must hold an active teaching license with an endorsement in elementary education and submit standardized test scores. MC does not charge out-of-state tuition.


University of West Florida

Pensacola, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 43%

UWF offers an online M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction with an elementary education specialization. Core courses include issues in classroom management, the principles of curriculum, and exceptionalities. This 33-credit program concludes with an applied research project.

The university provides students with resume critiques, Handshake job-search software, and a career development guide. These resources help almost 70% of alumni transition to a career or another academic program immediately after graduation.

UWF admits new learners in the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Prospective education students should hold a teaching license. Additional requirements include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and standardized test scores. Students can apply for financial aid through UWF's scholarship portal.


Saint Thomas University

Miami Gardens, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 57%

Licensed teachers working throughout the U.S. can enroll in STU's online master's in elementary education program. The program's 36-credit curriculum features courses in educational measurement, effective teaching and classroom management, and multimedia in the classroom. Students can also complete field experiences at their job site.

Distance learners at STU can access career services, including Handshake, career workshops, and practice interviews. Degree-seekers can also take a Focus2Career assessment to explore different career paths.

Some out-of-state distance learners may not be able to apply to this program due to the lack of a licensure reciprocity agreement. In addition to a teaching license, admission requirements include recommendation letters. Over 90% of STU's students receive financial aid.


The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, AL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 72%

UA's online master's degree in elementary education appeals to practicing teachers by offering asynchronous course delivery. The 30-36-credit curriculum covers instruction in educational research, computer-based education, and the evaluation of classroom learning. Students also select two electives with an advisor's help.

UA offers several online services to distance learners, including a large library database and a writing center. These services help 90% of graduates achieve a positive career outcome.

This program accepts applications throughout the year, and applicants should have a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. The university charges all online elementary education students the same per-credit tuition. New learners can apply for institutional and departmental financial aid opportunities.


University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, ND Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 55%

UND's online master's in elementary education program allows full-time students to earn a degree in two years. The program's 32-credit curriculum emphasizes multiple in-demand skills, including lesson planning, primary education, and differentiated instruction. Additionally, degree-seekers can choose between a thesis and a non-thesis track.

UND's students can improve their salary potential by using the university's informational guides, which cover interviewing tips and how to create a professional LinkedIn profile.

UND accepts applications for the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Admission requirements for the elementary education program include an active teaching license and a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. UND charges all distance learners in the program the same tuition rate, regardless of residency.


Lesley University

Cambridge, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 61%

Lesley offers a master's degree in elementary education with a hybrid curriculum; degree-seekers must take some courses on the university's campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The 40-credit program includes courses in inclusive schooling, sheltered English instruction, and literacy in the disciplines. The program qualifies graduates for initial Massachusetts teaching licensure.

Lesley alumni achieve an employment rate that is above 90%. The university provides students with instructional videos and library resources. Other useful services include job boards exclusive to professionals in the education field.

Admission requirements include two recommendation letters, a personal statement, and a resume. Lesley does not charge out-of-state tuition. The university awards merit-based scholarships to qualifying students who submit FAFSA results.


Appalachian State University

Boone, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 72%

Appalachian's online master's in elementary education program qualifies graduates to apply for an elementary education endorsement. The program's 39-credit curriculum features courses in teacher leadership, recent trends in education, and advanced curriculum design. Most full-time learners can graduate within two years.

Nearly 100% of Appalachian graduate alumni find a job or enroll in another graduate program. The university facilitates students' professional success by offering Big Interview and Handshake software, as well as links to numerous job boards.

Applicants must submit three references, official undergraduate transcripts, and an updated resume. North Carolina residents save over 60% on tuition compared to out-of-state learners. Appalachian's College of Education awards multiple scholarships each year to graduate students.


Liberty University

Lynchburg, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 50%

Students at Liberty can earn an online master's degree in elementary education and prepare for a Virginia teaching license. This license also transfers to 46 states. The program's 36-credit curriculum includes coursework in tests and measurements, teaching science, and language acquisition. Additionally, students complete two practica and one student teaching experience.

Liberty's teachers-in-training can curate a professional portfolio and explore teaching careers. They can also attend a virtual workshop that covers topics such as LinkedIn profiles, resume writing, and remote work. Liberty's commitment to alumni's professional success results in 75% of elementary education graduates finding a teaching position.

This program accepts up to 12 transfer credits and does not require GMAT or GRE scores. Active-duty military personnel save over 50% on tuition. Other financial aid options include tuition payment plans.


Ball State University

Muncie, IN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 63%

Ball State's master's in elementary education program features an entirely online curriculum and small class sizes. The 30-credit degree emphasizes discipline and classroom management, effective use of technology, and understanding data to inform teaching and learning.

Although distance learners may never set foot on Ball State's campus in Muncie, Indiana, they can still access many helpful resources online, including virtual counseling sessions and career inventories. Learners can also use VMOCK — software that critiques a resume draft in seconds.

Admission requirements for elementary education students include a minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA. Ball State admits new learners during the summer, spring, and fall semesters. Financial aid opportunities include three departmental scholarships.


Western Governors University

Salt Lake City, UT Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 29%

Recent college graduates may be interested in earning WGU's online master's degree in elementary education. This degree prepares graduates for initial teaching licensure, and most students can complete the program within two years. During the program, learners take courses in educational assessment, elementary disciplinary literacy, and instructional planning and presentation.

On average, WGU alumni receive an $11,800 raise within two years of graduation. Students can attain a higher-paying position by using the university's self-service tools, which include advice on negotiating salaries.

WGU does not require recommendation letters or standardized test scores. The university charges tuition on a per-term basis (rather than by credit) and uses self-paced, competency-based learning. Elementary education degree-seekers may qualify for one of many institutional scholarships.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Elementary Education?

Graduates with a master's in elementary education are prepared to pursue careers as elementary teachers, principals, and curriculum developers. Read more here..

How Do I Get a Master's in Elementary Education?

Admission requirements for online master's in elementary education programs typically include a bachelor's degree and a minimum undergraduate GPA that varies from school to school. Some programs may also require standardized test scores or professional experience.Read more here..

Why Get a Master's in Elementary Education?

An online master's degree in elementary education is ideal for K-6 educators who want to advance their careers and move into positions with more responsibility in their school.

How Do You Abbreviate a Master's in Elementary Education?

Online master's degrees in elementary education (MA in elementary education) are geared toward teaching professionals who wish to gain advanced insights into to their occupation. Read more here..

Is a Master's in Elementary Education Worth It?

A master's in elementary education is worth it for working teachers who want to advance their careers or move into managerial positions such as elementary school principal or curriculum developer.

Choosing a Program

Will an Online Master's in Elementary Education Program Provide Me With the Skills I Need to Advance My Career?

Online master's degrees in elementary education are geared toward teaching professionals who wish to gain advanced insights into to their occupation. Many master's pathways allow students to pursue degree specializations in fields like educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, special education and English as a Second Language (ESL). Specializations can lead to additional employment opportunities within these niche fields. Student-teaching sessions give elementary education master's degree-earners the chance to use their new skills and knowledge to address problems and concerns in real-world classrooms.

Will an Online Master's in Elementary Education Program Work With My Schedule?

Online master's degree programs offer a flexible, easily accessible alternative to traditional college learning. Students are able to download course lectures and readings, participate in virtual discussions with other students, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors from the comfort of their own home. Current technology also enables them to study away from desktop computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other portable Wi-Fi devices. For added convenience, students can usually coordinate student-teaching opportunities at schools and other facilities that are reasonably close to their current residence.

What Jobs Can I Get With My Master's Degree in Elementary Education?

Job eligibility for those who earn a master's in elementary education online will depend somewhat on their degree specialization. Those who concentrate their studies in areas like special education, leadership, administration or curriculum and instruction will likely be considered for more positions related to these fields. Master's recipients who choose to continue teaching also enjoy more job opportunities, as schools are likelier to hire candidates with advanced degrees — and some states require a master's as part of the licensure process. The master's pathway may also serve as a stepping-stone for students who wish to advance into a doctoral education program.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Elementary Education Program?

An online master's degree in elementary education prepares candidates for licensure as an elementary school teacher, implementing a curriculum with the professional licensure available through a master's program. The quality of instruction for the best online master's in elementary education are usually backed by specialized accreditations, which work to ensure a standard of training and instruction. Teaching in actual classrooms gives a significant focus to a student's capstone thesis, and participation in academic networks helps to connect future teachers with existing elementary education communities.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master's Degree in Elementary Education

Concentration Description Careers This Concentration Prepares For
Montessori Education Method Montessori education emphasizes a child-centered approach to education. It incorporates research on self-directed activity, collaborative play, and hands-on learning. Teachers learn to offer support for the development of a spirit of inquiry in elementary students and cultivate an engagement with local communities. Montessori educational standards work to provide the best physical, emotional, and social environment for learning. Montessori instructor, early elementary education teacher
Early Education A concentration in early education offers a liberal studies course load often designed in collaboration with successful elementary programs, and targets core subject areas. Early education courses conducted at a university often incorporate a specific area of focus: child psychology, growth and development, technology for children, and strategies for behavioral management for disabled and special needs cases. Early elementary education teacher, pre-school management and counseling
Literacy A literacy concentration provides an in-depth look at literacy issues, giving candidates for an online master's in elementary education program the ability to synthesize all the best practices and available research in reading instruction. Coursework entails a focus on the written and read components of literacy instruction and provides strategies for helping elementary students gain comfort with literacy and spoken communication. Special education instructor, elementary school teacher, reading programs specialist.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Elementary Education

Master's in elementary education online programs may differ, according to the established standards of a college or school. To gain an idea of what a curriculum for an online organizational leadership master's degree program look like, consult the list below.

  • Foundations of Teaching: Students gain an overview of the historical, philosophical, and sociological texts that have influenced current educational theory and practice. Common issues in education, investigation of trends, and engagement with new methods prepares educators for future coursework in their concentration. Candidates will also develop and strengthen the necessary skills to succeed as graduate students.
  • Elementary Education Methods: A fundamental part of any online master's degree in elementary education, this course covers activities, teaching strategies, and effective classroom management techniques. The course is designed to help elementary teachers in training to develop systematic methods to lead students to cooperate with each other and with supervisors. Tasks and learning strategies are put in context, often through observation.
  • Instructional Planning and Presentation: Designed to lead teachers in training to design courses through the understanding of clear objectives and goals. Planning activities and assignments are discussed along with the various research around strategies to support student learning. Different approaches are considered, including field work, discussions, writing, and service-based collaboration.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master's in Elementary Education?

The length of time that a student needs to complete a program may vary according to the circumstances of their application and desired licensing. Some students possess coursework from another previously attended college. In the case of a candidate having credits from another college or university, which will transfer towards the program they are applying to, their degree track would be amended to reflect the credits already completed.

A student may encounter course lengths anywhere from eight to 12-weeks long. Some elementary education master's online programs require that students complete the program in a cohort. A cohort format has students move through the program as a synchronized group, taking classes at the same time to create an on-campus feel. Independent learning is usually quicker since it allows students to take a heavier courseload. Typically, elementary education master's degree online students may plan to complete a 30-33 credit program in two years.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Elementary Education Prepares For

  • Teaching Licensure: A professional license is needed in order to practice teaching. As a teacher, you're responsible for the development, general aspirations, and standards of a student body. Licensure ensures that every person who assumes the responsibility of a teacher has the necessary knowledge and skill. Licenses are also issued at a state level, so different states have different policies.
  • STEM and Technology Integration: The STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and Technology certificate ensures that a candidate has the knowledge to interpret and utilize technology, specifically in order to enhance learning potential in the classroom. Certificate holders possesses the conceptual tools to approach technological change with confidence, as well as the ability to integrate new presentation methods and assisted learning protocols into their role as an elementary educator.

Accreditation for Online Master's in Elementary Education Degrees

Accreditation is important in order to maintain a high standard of education in institutions of higher learning. Regional accreditation is a process undertaken by a college or school in order to demonstrate that a program meets a minimum standard of excellence; it is generally considered to be more prestigious than national accreditation. There is no specific accreditation required regarding the best online master's degree in elementary education. However, teacher-focused groups like NCATE (the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) and ACEI (the Association for Childhood Education International) exist to maintain training standards for teachers.

The Department of Education is a federal agency established in 1979 which was formed to regulate policies concerning all schools and colleges within the United States, and to coordinate federal assistance for education, gather data about schools, and enforce federal laws regarding education. It works to promote the success of education within the United States and has no direct hand in the accreditation process. The CHEA and works to maintain educational standards and keep universities competitive with colleges and schools within the US, and with institutions of higher learning around the world. A list of universities with national accreditation is available directly from the U.S. Department of Education.

What to Expect as a Student in an Online Master's in Elementary Education Program

Like many graduate degree programs, the master's in elementary education pathway builds on the foundational areas of undergraduate study while introducing more advanced ideas, theories and approaches to the profession. Students should expect coursework in subjects like standards-based education, educational technology and digital learning, curriculum and instructional development, advanced methods of student assessment and behavioral psychology. The curriculum will also include modules exploring research methods directly related to elementary learning. In most cases, students in master's programs have already earned their teaching license, so certification prep is normally not part of the standard curriculum.

A wide range of degree specializations are available for master's in elementary education degree students. Those who would like to work with students with disabilities may pursue a special education concentration, while those with an interest in the subjects students learn may be drawn to a specialization in curriculum and instruction. A focus on educational leadership is ideal for aspiring principals, senior administrators and other top-level school officials. Other common specializations include reading and literacy or early childhood education (typically pre-K to third grade). In some general education master's programs, 'elementary education' is considered the degree specialization.

It's important to research the accreditation status of a master's in elementary education degree program before fully committing to it. In the U.S., online elementary education master's programs receive accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). In addition to programmatic accreditation, make sure that the college or university has received regional or national accreditation.

Job Placement: Master's Degree in Elementary Education

The demand for qualified, licensed teachers and administrators is quite high, which means that the job outlook for master's degree-holding elementary educators is quite favorable. U.S. News & World Report estimates that the unemployment rate for elementary school teachers is currently set at 3.0%. The table below compares this figure to the unemployment rates of teachers at other types of public and private schools.

Occupation Unemployment Rate (2017)
High School Teacher 2.0%
Elementary School Teacher 3.0%
Middle School Teacher 3.0%

Source: U.S. News & World Report

As the table shows, elementary school teachers face comparable unemployment odds as middle school teachers — and higher unemployment rates than high school teachers. However, it's worth noting that the rate for elementary school teachers is still much lower than the national unemployment average for all industries, which is currently set at 4.7%.

Earning a Living

The salary potential of teachers and education professionals is often tied to their master's degree area of study. How do elementary education degree-holders measure up against other education master's degree recipients? Using data from the 2016-17 PayScale College Salary Report, the following table looks at earning expectations for different education majors at two early career benchmarks.

Master's Degree Field Median Entry-Level Salary (Less than 5 Years) Median Mid-Career Salary (10+ Years)
Educational Administration $53,900 $74,400
Educational Leadership $52,700 $72,000
Education (General) $46,200 $66,500
Secondary Education $44,000 $66,300
Special Education $44,500 $60,000
Elementary Education $41,200 $55,100
Early Childhood Education $38,100 $48,400

Source: 2016-17 PayScale College Salary Report

Of the seven fields listed, the average wage premium (or salary growth) between the entry-level and mid-career stages is 37.8%. In addition to bachelor's degree major, the salary potential of an elementary teacher will also depend on their specific job title. Other important factors include licensure status, experience level and city/state of employment. The next table looks at career salary growth expectations for four common career paths for math education master's recipients.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Elementary Teacher $38,806 $43,909 $49,844 $57,187
Special Education Teacher (Preschool, Kindergarten and Elementary) $40,899 $44,791 $50,079 $57,133
Elementary School Principal $74,315 $79,097 $82,753 $84,277
Curriculum Developer $52,458 $60,838 $66,787 $78,619

Source: PayScale

All four occupations experience a salary growth rate of at least 13% after 20 years on the job. Curriculum developers reported the highest growth rate: a 49.9% increase in earnings between the entry-level and late-career stages. Elementary teachers ranked second (despite having the lowest salaries at all four benchmarks) with 47.4% salary growth, followed by special education teachers with 39.7% growth.

Career Opportunities

Students who leave school with a master's in elementary education will be qualified for a wide range of positions, although their eligibility will largely depend on their area of specialization. Four common career paths for master's in elementary education recipients are outlined below.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: In most elementary school classrooms, the teacher is responsible for delivering lessons on a variety of subjects, including reading and writing, math, science, art and music. These teachers are also trained to recognize the early signs of learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and other impediments to productive learning in young students.

Elementary, Middle and High School Principals: Principals oversee the various operations and activities at public and private schools. Their day-to-day duties include monitoring and evaluating teachers and other school personnel, approving curriculum standards, meeting with other administrators and, in some cases, discussing disciplinary actions with students and their parents.

Instructional Coordinators: Instructional coordinators develop curriculum standards for different lessons taught in public and private schools. They also train teachers and other school staff how to deliver and assess student progress in different areas, and also evaluate current curriculum standards to see if there are areas for future improvement.

Special Education Teachers: Special education teachers specialize in the instruction and supervision of students with disabilities ranging from minor to severe. At most public and private elementary schools, students receive special education services in dedicated classrooms outside their primary classroom.

Profession Median Annual Salary Projected Job Growth (2014-24)
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers $54,550 6% (+87,800 jobs)
Elementary, Middle and High School Principals $90,410 6% (+14,000 jobs)
Instructional Coordinators $62,270 7% (+10,500 jobs)
Special Education Teachers $56,800 6% (+28,100 jobs)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to elementary education is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you'll find three of the country's most prominent organizations established for elementary teachers and education professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.

  • The National Council on Teacher Quality: This organization works to create policies that improve the quality of classroom education and the work environments for professional educators. The council's website features an extensive policy library, as well as information about various NCTQ projects in all 50 states.
  • The National Educational Association: Working to improve public education from preschool to graduate-level studies, the NEA provides resources on current regulations, strategies for securing financial support and tools for creating high-quality lesson plans. Membership opportunities are available for working employees, retired professionals and students.
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children: In addition to accreditation of college programs, the NAEYC offers a wide range of supportive services for professionals who teach and assist children from birth to age eight. Member benefits include discounted books and other resources, complimentary magazine and newsletter subscriptions and access to 'Members Only' areas of the organization's website.

Financing Your Online Master's Degree in Elementary Education

Despite the relative affordability of online master's degree programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.


Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.


Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.


Students who pursue online degrees will be eligible for scholarships, grants and other financial aid that is unavailable to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Learn more about these financial opportunities for web-based learners.