A master’s degree in education is an advanced degree for teachers or administrators that typically requires one to three years of study, depending on whether the program is full-time or part-time. While a master’s in education is not a requirement to earn teacher certification, in some states teachers must earn a master’s after a certain number of years of holding an initial certificate in order to advance the certificate and continue teaching. Teachers also commonly earn advanced degrees in order to fulfill continuing education requirements to renew their teaching certificates and develop their teaching skills. Use the directory below to navigate this page and find the relevant section for your questions about earning a master’s degree in education.
Reasons for Earning a Master’s in EducationCommon Entry Requirements for Master’s Programs in EducationTypes of Master’s Degrees in EducationMaster of Education (M.Ed.)Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) and Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.)Master’s in Teaching (M.I.T.)Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.)Master’s in Academic Content Areas or Master’s Plus DegreesTop Master’s Programs in EducationOnline Master’s in Education Degree ProgramsCoursework for Master’s in Education ProgramsJob Outlook for Teachers and School AdministratorsMaster’s Degrees and Programs in EducationFrequently Asked Questions about a Master’s in Education
Reasons for Earning a Master’s in Education
Earning a master’s in education or in a teachable academic subject can lead to a higher salary and additional teaching endorsements as well as opportunities to work in positions of leadership. Additionally, a master’s credential can help individuals improve their skills, keep abreast of the latest research, and become more effective teachers. As noted above, some states require a master’s in order to advance or renew a teaching certificate. States that have adopted this requirement include Massachusetts, Maryland, and South Carolina.
States that recognize teachers who earn this credential by issuing advanced teaching licenses, which in many states also leads to a higher salary tier, include Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.
If you already hold a bachelor’s degree but not in education, a master’s degree from a state-approved initial licensure program (sometimes called a “career switcher” program) can provide a path to becoming a teacher. You can read more about these types of programs through our guide to alternative teacher certification.
Common Entry Requirements for Master’s Programs in Education
Admission to master’s programs in education can be competitive. Programs such as a Master’s in Teaching that provide a path to initial certification will generally accept candidates who have an undergraduate degree in any academic subject. Programs that are not geared towards providing a path to teacher certification tend to give admissions preference to students who are currently certified to teach and have some teaching experience. For master’s degrees in content areas, candidates may be required to have a bachelor’s degree in that academic field – for example, a master’s program in science education will typically prefer students who have a bachelor’s degree in science or science education. Many master’s programs also set a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above, and may also require minimum scores on the GRE. Other common admissions requirements are letters of recommendation, personal essays or statements of purpose, and a professional teaching resume or portfolio.
Types of Master’s Degrees in Education
There are numerous types of master’s degrees in education. The right degree for you will depend on your goals and area of interest. The two main types of graduate degrees in education that people think of are the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and the Master of Education (M.Ed.). There are also other types of master’s degrees in education, including the Master of Science in Education (MS Ed) and the Master of Arts in Education (MA Ed).
While these degrees are similar in some respects and many use the various terms interchangeably, there are significant differences between programs. Master’s programs can focus on a specific area of teaching practice like elementary or secondary education, a particular academic subject, or put a graduate on a track towards school administrator jobs or curriculum and instruction jobs. As a general guideline, master’s in education programs tend to focus on educational leadership and support, whereas master’s in teaching programs tend to focus on the development of direct teaching skills.
1. Master of Education (M.Ed.)
A Master of Education degree (M.Ed.) is usually designed for current teachers who want to move into a leadership role or into another branch of education. The topics covered in M.Ed. programs typically concentrate on the theoretical aspects of education. These theoretical studies often include the areas of education research, education policy and reform, and educational leadership. Common concentrations for M.Ed. programs are in instructional design, learning and technology, and curriculum development.
2. Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) and Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.)
Master of Science in Education (MS Ed) and Master of Arts in Education (MA Ed) degree programs typically focus on building leadership skills to help current educators move into administrative leadership positions. This focus on leadership is one way that MS Ed and MA Ed programs tend to differ from other master’s degrees, such as the Master of Arts in Teaching. However, MS Ed and MA Ed programs may also have an academic focus; science and math teachers, for example, commonly earn an MS Ed in their content specialization.
3. Master’s in Teaching (M.I.T.)
Master’s in Teaching (MIT) programs are designed for individuals who have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than education and little or no experience in teaching. Such programs are centered on educator preparation in order to help students transition to teaching careers and meet teacher certification requirements. Topics covered in MIT programs include teaching skills and practices, the use of technology in the classroom, and basic education theory. MIT programs that lead to teacher certification also typically include classroom internships and field experiences. MIT programs are commonly offered as online teaching degrees.
4. Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.)
The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree is a popular option for new and experienced teachers who want to develop instructional strategies and skills or build their content expertise. Some MAT programs provide a path to initial certification and are intended for career switchers who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject. MAT degree programs include a focus area such as elementary, middle, or secondary education and usually an academic content area such as mathematics or English. The MAT is commonly encountered as an online master’s in education program.
5. Master’s in Academic Content Areas or Master’s Plus Degrees
Another common graduate degree in education is a master’s program in a teaching specialty area. Example programs include a Master of Arts in English, a Master of Science in Mathematics, or a Master of Arts in History. When these programs include courses in teaching practice or lead to teacher certification they are commonly referred to as “Master’s Plus” programs and may be abbreviated as MAT+, MA+, or MS+, depending on the degree type. Master’s programs that focus on academic enrichment in a content focus area can also be a path towards doctoral degrees such as the Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which can lead to positions in administration as well as in higher education.
Top Master’s Programs in Education
Following are a selection of programs that offer master’s degrees in education that have received top ratings from US News & World Report1 and the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)2.
City University of New York – Hunter College
- #3 in Graduate Special Education Programs
- #8 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ
- #92 in Graduate Elementary Education Programs, NCTQ
- #18 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education
- #3 in Graduate Elementary Education Programs, NCTQ
- #19 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ
- #1 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education
- #11 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education
- #5 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ
- #188 in Graduate Elementary Education Programs, NCTQ
- #14 in Graduate Special Education Programs, NCTQ
- #60 in Graduate Elementary Education Programs, NCTQ
- #178 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ
- #6 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education
- #8 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education
- #2 in Graduate Special Education Programs, NCTQ
- #103 in Graduate Secondary Education Programs, NCTQ
- #113 in Graduate Elementary Programs, NCTQ
- #4 in US News Best Graduate Schools in Education
Online Master’s in Education Degree Programs
An online master’s can offer great flexibility to students who wish to advance their careers or achieve teacher certification through a state-approved program. Online master of education programs often emulate the on-campus experience; lectures may involve live streaming videos of the instructor with real-time interaction with the class through chat or video conferencing. Some programs also provide social technologies that allow students to interact with classmates in a collaborative online environment.
TeacherCertificationDegrees.com has developed a list of the top master’s in teaching and education programs designed to lead to first-time teacher certification, using our own proprietary ranking that takes into account academic factors as well as factors measuring student success. Top-ranked schools include:
- Clemson University
- University of St. Francis
- Mayville State University
- Kansas State University
- Arizona State University
To see the full list and learn more about earning your master’s online, see our guide to the Top-Ranked Online Master’s in Education Programs.
Coursework for Master’s in Education Programs
Master’s degree programs emphasize intensive coursework in a given area of focus and often include more theoretical approaches or advanced practical approaches than are encountered in undergraduate coursework. For both on-campus and online teaching degrees, teaching internships or fieldwork are commonly required, as are a master’s thesis, capstone, or comprehensive examination.
While courses may differ based on focus area (Curriculum and Instruction or Special Education, for example) and there is some overlap, typical examples of courses in teaching and education master’s programs include:
Master of Education (M.Ed.)
- Educational Leadership
- Planning and Resource Management
- Human Resources Administration in Education
- Instructional Supervision
Master of Science in Education (MS Ed)/Master of Arts in Education (MA Ed)
- Instructional Theory and Design
- Curriculum, Assessment, and Management
- Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics
- Students with Special Needs
Master’s in Teaching (MIT)
- Philosophy of Education
- Child or Adolescent Development
- Classroom Management
- Teaching Seminar or Practicum
Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)
- Graduate level courses in academic content area (e.g., English, Mathematics, Biology)
- Strategies for Creating an Effective Learning Environment
- Psychology of Learning
- Reading Instruction and Development
Master’s Plus Programs
- Graduate level courses in academic content area (e.g., English, Mathematics, Biology)
- Technology in the Classroom
- Development of Reasoning
- Curriculum Planning
Job Outlook for Teachers and School Administrators
The job outlook for teachers over the next decade is strong due to several factors, including a large number of teachers expected to retire in the coming years and a stronger emphasis from state and federal governments on improving student achievement. Teachers with qualifications in high-needs areas such as mathematics, science, and English as a Second Language will be in the strongest demand. For more information on the job outlook for teachers and administrators, including a state-by-state guide to the best states to be a teacher, see our careers page.
Teaching and Education Programs
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Frequently Asked Questions about a Master’s in Education
Question: What is the difference between a master’s in education and a master’s in teaching?
Answer: While both types of degrees can lead to an initial teaching license and both are often offered as online teaching degrees, the master’s in teaching tends to focus on the method and practice of teaching (pedagogy), while the master’s in education tends to focus more on theory, research, and administration.
Question: Can I get a master’s in education without a bachelor’s in education?
Answer: Though admission policies vary between master’s programs, most programs accept students who have bachelor’s degrees in other subjects. The main admissions criteria for most programs include a strong academic background in any subject and teaching experience that can be applied to the master’s learning experience.
Question: How do I become a teacher if I already have a bachelor’s degree?
Answer: Earning a bachelor’s degree is just the first step towards becoming a teacher. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, returning to school to earn a master’s degree can help you meet the certification requirements in your state. Many states have approved online master’s programs for teacher preparation, including one-year master’s programs in education that can accelerate the transition to the classroom.
Question:How long does it take to get a master’s degree in education?
Answer: The majority of master’s degrees in education and teaching take between one and two years to complete. One-year master’s programs are common in states that recognize master’s degree programs as a pathway to alternative teacher certification. The time it takes to get a master’s degree also depends on whether the student is taking courses on a full- or part-time basis.
Question: Can I teach while getting my certification and earning a master’s degree?
Answer: If you are working to become certified as a teacher through an alternate route master’s degree program, you may be able to teach while you earn your certificate. The requirements for this approach vary by state. Most states will issue a temporary or provisional teaching credential if you have at least a bachelor’s degree and are enrolled in a teacher preparation program.
1. US News Best Grad Schools in Education: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/edu-rankings?int=a3a109
2. National Council on Teacher Quality, Graduate Programs by Outcome: https://www.nctq.org/review/home
3. US News Best Online Graduate Education Programs: https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/education/rankings