Ultimate Guide To Online Master’s In Education Programs

Earning a master’s degree in education is an excellent way for educators and teachers to unlock career opportunities, increase earning potential, and expand their knowledge. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for education occupations was $50,790 in May 2019. Educators with a graduate level degree have the ability to earn more, especially if expanding to administration and counseling. 

This educational guide decodes the different options available including master of arts in teaching (MAT) and master of education (M.Ed.) as well as online versus on campus options. Read on for more information about this exciting degree opportunity for educators. 

What Is An Online Master’s Degree In Education?

A master’s in education is an advanced degree for teachers and educators that is typically earned in two to four years. It is considered a graduate level degree and not a terminal degree. Educators have the ability to earn a doctorate after graduating with a master’s degree. 

Many teachers seek a master’s in education, which provides in-depth study of a specific facet of education, examines the latest research-based education practices, and prepares graduates for leadership and administrative roles. Individuals that are specifically interested in working as an academic advisor or school principal will need a master’s degree in order to achieve their career goal. 

There are several types of master’s degrees available to interested individuals. The most popular are the Master of arts in teaching (MAT) and Master of Education (M.Ed.). These focus on both the academic teaching aspect as well as administrative roles. 

Best Schools With Degrees in Education

Finding the perfect graduate degree program can be overwhelming especially with so many available options, particularly online. Universities.com has compiled a list of the top 10 education colleges in the U.S. These programs all offer multiple education specialities for graduate students, are accredited, affordable, and have high student satisfaction. 

  1. Walden University
  2. Concordia University – Texas
  3. Harvard University
  4. National University
  5. Azusa Pacific University
  6. University of California – Los Angeles
  7. Ohio State University – Main Campus
  8. Stanford University
  9. Nova Southeastern University
  10. University of California – Berkeley

Check out Universities.com full list of schools that offer education degrees.

What Can I Do With A Master’s Degree In Education?

Earning a master’s degree in education can open countless career opportunities beyond teaching in the classroom. However, it can also advance your teaching career in the classroom. Possible career opportunities include, 

  • Academic advisor
  • Adult literacy coach
  • Adult literacy coach
  • Art teacher
  • Career counselor
  • Corporate trainer
  • Curriculum consultant
  • Curriculum designer
  • Curriculum developer
  • Director of digital learning
  • District administrator
  • Educational coordinator
  • Education consultant
  • Education consultant
  • Education policy analyst
  • Education policy analyst
  • Elementary school teacher
  • English teacher
  • Gifted and talented program director
  • Guidance counselor
  • Gym teacher
  • High school teacher
  • Instructional coordinator
  • Instructional designer
  • Kindergarten teacher
  • Literacy specialist
  • Math coach
  • Middle school teacher
  • Museum educator
  • Music teacher
  • Private tutor
  • Program director
  • Researcher
  • School principal
  • School psychologist
  • School superintendent
  • Special education teacher
  • Standardized test developer
  • Teacher
  • TESOL or ESL teacher
  • Test prep specialist
  • Textbook author
  • Training and development specialist
  • Vice principal

How Much Do Teachers With A Master’s Degree Make?

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for education occupations was $50,790 in May 2019, which was higher than the median annual wage for all occupations of $39,810. For example, 

  • Adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers – $54,350
  • Career and technical education teachers – $58,110
  • High school teachers – $61,660
  • Instructional coordinators – $66,290
  • Kindergarten and elementary school teachers – $59,420
  • Middle school teachers – $59,660
  • Postsecondary teachers – $79,540
  • Special education teachers – $61,030

The National Center for Education Statistics shows the average national salary for teachers working in public schools, by highest degree earned and years of teaching experience. For example, even if two teachers both have 6-9 years of experience, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree earns $45,390 while a teacher with a master’s degree earns $52,750, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, the average teacher with a master’s degree earns an additional $2,760 their first year after graduating. This could grow to $7,358 upon peak career wages. 

Teacher Job Projections

Employment in education, training, and library occupations is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, according to the BLS. This is faster than the average for all occupations with an expected 441,000 new jobs to be added from 2019 to 2029. While there is growth in this field, it does not guarantee a job. For example, large urban public schools are in need of educators whereas wealthier suburban public schools might not have vacancies. 

Potential Master’s in Education Careers

CareerSalaryProjected Job Growth (2019-2029)About the Position
Career and Technical Education Teachers$58,110 per year2%Career and technical education (CTE) teachers provide training in subjects such as auto repair, cosmetology, and culinary arts. They teach vocational and technical content to give students the skills and knowledge necessary to enter an occupation.
Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals$96,400 per year 4%Elementary, middle, and high school principals oversee all school operations, including daily school activities. They coordinate curriculums, manage staff, and provide a safe and productive learning environment for students.
Instructional Coordinator$66,290 per year6%Instructional coordinators need a master’s degree and related work experience, such as teaching or in school administration. 
Special Education Teacher$61,030 per year3%Special education teachers work with students who have learning, mental, emotional, or physical disabilities. They adapt general education lessons and teach various subjects to students with mild to moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills to students with severe disabilities.
Postsecondary Teacher$79,540 per year9%Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They may also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.
Postsecondary Education Administrators$95,410 per year 4% from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupationsPostsecondary education administrators oversee student services, academics, and faculty research at colleges and universities. Their job duties vary depending on the department in which they work, such as admissions, student affairs, or the registrar’s office.
Source: BLS

Earning A Master’s Degree Education

A master’s degree in education is a post-undergraduate degree focusing on leadership, curriculum, and instructional development for teachers and/or administrators. While not required for all teachers, a master’s degree can help increase career opportunities, salary potential, and networking options. Teachers also commonly earn advanced degrees in order to fulfill continuing education requirements to renew their teaching certificates and develop their teaching skills.  

Types of Education Master’s Programs

There are two main graduate degrees available to educators: master of arts in teaching (MAT) and master of education (MEd). However, there are other options available including master of arts in teaching (MAT) and master of science in teaching (MST). There is debate about which degree is best for specific individuals and career paths but ultimately it is up to you to decide which option is best for your career and goals.  

Master of Education (MEd)

A master of education degree is for teachers interested in career advancement beyond the classroom. Typically, this degree is perfect for those interested in working in administration, curriculum planning, instructional design, or school counseling. An M.Ed. program will typically have a specialization, with degree titles such as M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction or M.Ed. administrative leadership. 

Master Of Arts In Teaching

Master of arts in teaching (MAT) are ideal for teachers looking to deepen their teaching skills and continue teaching at their current level. Those without teaching experience could also benefit from an MAT so long as the program leads to licensure. 

Online Master Of Education Specializations

Some options for specializations with an education degree include:

  • Elementary Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Adult Education and Training
  • Curriculum and Instruction for Educators
  • Instructional Design and Technology
  • Leadership of Educational Organizations
  • Special Education
  • School counseling
  • English as a Second Language
  • Education Administration

Graduate Education Degree Coursework

Specific courses will vary depending on the type of graduate program and course study as well as program but most students can expect to take similar courses throughout the program, 

  • Curriculum development
  • Instructional design
  • Universal classroom design
  • Motivating today’s learners
  • Wellness and the educator
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Effective learning assessment
  • Leadership theory
  • Integrated learning
  • Technology in education
  • Education research methodology
  • Social justice and educational equality
  • Data driven decision making
  • Qualitative methods in educational research
  • Cognition and learning
  • Foundations of creativity
  • Conflict resolution

Skills Learned in a Education Program

Graduate school can propel educators forward in their career because of the advanced skills learned. Specific skills will depend on the type of graduate program and focus. You can expect to learn the following skills throughout your graduate program:

  • Broader knowledge of discipline
  • Clarity of effective writing and speaking
  • Integrity and ethical conduct
  • Societal and civic responsibilities
  • Leadership
  • Teaching competence
  • Improved communication and interpersonal skills
  • Critical and creative thinking

Choosing The Best Online Master’s Degree In Education

An online program might be the best fit for you and your family because of the cost, flexibility, and availability. This type of program is especially promising for those that live in rural areas where there may not be any local in person graduate programs available. Choosing an online program can be taxing because there are so many options available but it is essential to make sure the program is accredited. 

Teacher Licensure

Teachers are required to hold state licensure and certifications when actively working as an educator. This license proves that an educator has completed certain state-mandated requirements and have passed all state-mandated teaching examinations. Because educators are licensed, it is even more important to make sure that the graduate program is accredited. 

Online vs. On Campus Education Degrees

Oftentimes, educators will have many options for graduate school including online degree options or on campus options. Determining which fit is best for you and your family is the first step in deciding if a program is right for you or not. 

Many educators opt to complete their master’s degree online because online programs are convenient, particularly for working teachers. They offer:

  • Flexibility with scheduling
  • Convenience to take your class from anywhere at anytime
  • Wider range of graduate programs to choose from
  • Retain current employment
  • Freedom to work at your own pace
  • In many cases, a cheaper price tag than on-campus options
  • No on campus commute

On campus options do have a lot of benefits if it is a feasible option for you. These include,

  • Face to face learning with professor
  • Socialization with like minded professionals
  • Consistent schedule
  • Establish connections and networking opportunities
  • Active discussion opportunities

Graduate programs are usually designed for working professionals. What does this mean? In person classes are held at night to accommodate teachers’ work schedules and are consistently held on the same night(s) of the week throughout the duration of the program.

Accreditation

Ensuring a graduate program is accredited is key for anyone interesting in pursuing a masters in education. Accreditation is the process that evaluates graduate programs to determine if it is meeting specific state and national standards. This is a voluntary process but most major universities and colleges are accredited.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, accreditation is meant to:

  • Assess the quality of academic programs at institutions of higher education.
  • Create a culture of continuous improvement of academic quality at colleges and universities and stimulate general raising of standards among educational institutions.
  • Involve faculty and staff comprehensively in institutional evaluation and planning.
  • Establish criteria for professional certification and licensure and for upgrading courses offering such preparation.

Accredited programs benefit students in many ways, including, 

  • Receive federal financial aid
  • Transfer credits towards the program
  • Job market competitiveness
  • Professional certification and licensure 

There are multiple types of accreditation for graduate-level programs. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee regional accrediting agencies.

Regional Accreditation

Regional accreditation typically applies to nonprofit, degree-granting institutions. Schools receive regional accreditation from one of seven regional accrediting bodies, determined by where the school is located. The seven regional accrediting bodies are, 

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

Programmatic Accreditation

Programmatic accreditation applies to specific programs, departments, or schools that function as part of larger institutions. Often granted by professional associations, industry organizations, and groups of experts with expertise in a specific discipline, 

Applying To Masters In Education Programs

Applying to a master’s in education program can be overwhelming, especially if you are working full time. From gathering references, paying application fees, and submitting undergraduate school transcripts, the application process can be tedious work. However, all schools generally require the same forms and documents for acceptance consideration. 

Remember, before considering applying for a graduate education program, you MUST hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Without this you will not be able to start a graduate program. 

It’s important to remember that all requirements and prerequisites must be met in order for the graduate school to consider your application for acceptance. Consider making a spreadsheet of all of the documents needed for the applications with deadlines for each graduate program. 

Admission Requirements for Graduate Education Programs

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution: This is a MUST for all graduate programs. You will not be considered for acceptance if you do not already have a bachelor’s degree. 
  • Experience teaching: While this is extremely helpful, not all graduate programs will require a specific amount of experience before starting a graduate program. 
  • Application fee: This monetary amount will vary between graduate programs. Often times, it will be waived for attending an open house event for the graduate education program. 
  • Application: Each graduate program will have their own application found on the website. This will be specific to the university and will need to be completed for each program being applied to. 
  • Current Resume or CV: An up-to-date resume with all past and current education as well as work experiences. Included in the resume should be volunteer opportunities, committees and organizations a part of, and any awards nominated for and/or won. 
  • GRE Scores
  • Official Transcripts: Must be submitted from all colleges attended. Unofficial transcripts may be submitted initially for advising purposes.
  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher: Most graduate schools will require at minimum a 3.0 GPA; however depending on the program the GPA requirement may be higher. If you hold multiple bachelor’s degrees or transferred undergraduate universities it is important to discuss with a counselor if the GPA is specific to your education degree or is the culmination of all undergraduate coursework.
  • Professional letters of recommendation: The specific number will depend on the graduate program but except at least two or three. These recommendations could be from current or former colleagues, administrators, or undergraduate professors if recently out of school.
  • Personal statement or essay: This is your chance to explain why you are pursuing a master’s in education. Making the essay personal can help appeal to the graduate application committee. 

Paying For A Master’s In Education

Let’s be honest, graduate school isn’t cheap. Financial assistance options for graduate school can be harder to navigate and might not be as readily available to students as with undergraduate assistance. Most students require financial assistance and that is why it is important to speak to a financial aid representative at the University to understand your options. 

Not everyone will qualify for all the different types of aid that are available but hopefully between scholarships, grants, and federal loans the cost of graduate school will be more manageable. 

It is also important to speak to your employer. Many education systems offer some form of tuition reimbursement for educators earning their master’s in education. 

Here’s a more in depth breakdown of the different types of monetary aid that is available. Remember, research the different types of aid you may be eligible for and apply early. 

Scholarships

A scholarship is an award of financial aid to a student to further their education. This money does not have to be repaid. There are a variety of different types of scholarships. These include

  • Merit-based
  • Need-based
  • Student-specific (gender, race, religion, family, and/or medical history)
  • Career-specific
  • College-specific

Most scholarships will require letters of recommendation, academic transcripts, and personal essays. Monetary amounts can be as little as $100 to as much as the cost of your education. You can apply to multiple scholarships as long as the school is on the approved list. 

Grants

Grants are determined by financial need. They can be used to cover the cost of tuition, books, teaching supplies, and educational supplies. When applying for grants they will inform how they are to be applied towards your education. The amount of money you are eligible to receive depends strictly on your financial situation.

Typically grants do not have to be repaid as long as you graduate with your masters in the allotted amount of time. If you were to drop out there can be incurred costs.

Student Loans

Unlike scholarships and grants, loans must be repaid. Loans incur interest, so you will ultimately repay more than the initial amount of the loan. The exact terms of the loan will depend on the lender and other factors. There are several types of student loans.

The most common loans are Federal Student Loans. Federal student loans are a great option for most students for the following reasons:

  • They don’t have to be paid back while you’re in school.
  • They charge lower interest than loans from private lenders.
  • If you’re having trouble paying back your loan, there are programs you can qualify for to assist you.
  • You don’t need any credit history to get a federal student loan.

Two other fairly common loans are direct subsidized loans and direct unsubsidized loans more commonly referred to as Stafford Loans. 

Direct Subsidized Loans

  • U.S. Department of Education loan
  • Must meet certain income requirements
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Government pays interest rate on loan while in schools
  • Pay back once graduated

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

  • U.S. Department of Education loan
  • Don’t have to meet income requirements
  • Student is responsible for accrued interest
  • Pay back once graduated

Federal Perkins Loan 

  • Very low-income students
  • Lender is the education institution
  • Meet income requirements
  • School must have funds available, limited monetary amounts

Private Student Loans

  • From banks and credit unions
  • Very high interest rates
  • Payments required while in school

Scholarships For Master’s In Education Students

  • BHD Endowed Scholarship for Teachers
    • Award: $2,500
    • Deadline: April 1st
    • Offered by the Central Scholarship Program to graduate students with undergraduate degrees in non-teaching fields who are pursuing a master’s in education
    • Requirements: Maryland residents within 200 miles of Baltimore City, have a family income under $90,000 a year, maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0, have U.S. citizenship or permanent residency, and attend an accredited United States college
  • Dr. Marc Hull Special Education Leadership Scholarship
    • Award: $1,750
    • Deadline: Rolling
    • For graduate students obtaining a master’s degree in special education
    • Requirements: Minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, attend an accredited U.S. school, reside within Vermont, be seeking licensure for special education administration, and show commitment to creating inclusive learning environments for students with disabilities
  • Hach Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Scholarship
    • Award: $6,000 for full-time or $3,000 for part-time study 
    • Deadline: April 1st
    • Recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree in a chemistry-related field
    • Requirements: Less than one year work experience, be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and be committed to serving as high school chemistry teachers
  • James Madison Memorial Teaching Fellowship
    • Award: $24,000 for two years
    • Deadline: March 1st
    • Most elite scholarships for master’s in education students who have a desire to teach the American Constitution in high schools
    • Requirements: Must be U.S. citizens, hold an accredited bachelor’s degree, and take at least 12 semester credits of constitutional study. 
    • Recipients must teach American history in grades 7-12 for one full academic year after receiving their master’s
  • STEM Teachers for America’s Future Scholarships
    • Award: $2,500 to $5,000
    • Deadline: April 22nd
    • For graduate students actively pursuing a master’s degree or credential for teaching science, technology, engineering, or math in K-12 schools
    • Requirements: Must be in their second semester, take at least two courses per term, attend an accredited on-campus U.S. school, carry a minimum GPA of 3.5, have American citizenship, and submit at least two faculty letters of recommendation

Career Resources For Educators

FAQ: 

What can you do with a master’s degree in education?

Earning a master’s degree in education opens many doors for educators and increases salary earning potential. Specific job opportunities include educational consultant, educational coordinator at a museum, zoo, and/or aquarium, school counselor, principal, curriculum developer, or content developer.

Is it worth getting a master’s in education?

This will depend on your career goals! Some careers in education are only available with a master’s degree. 

How long does it take to earn a master’s in education?

Typically, a master’s in education will take around two years to complete for a full time student. Part time programs are generally three to four years.

What is the best master’s degree to get in education?

This will also depend on your career goals. If you are interested in becoming a principal and working in administration then a master’s in educational leadership or administration would be ideal; whereas, if you are interested in finding a job as a school counselor then the master’s in school counseling would be a perfect fit. It’s not that one degree is better than the other – it just depends on career goals.