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Alternative Teacher Certification: Becoming a Teacher Without a Bachelor’s in Education

Alternative teacher certification programs are designed for people with work experience who want to switch to a teaching career or advance their careers in education without returning to school full-time. They allow you to become classroom-eligible with a straightforward certification rather than a post-baccalaureate degree. This means you can usually enter the classroom quickly and less expensively.


Since each state determines its own requirements for an alternative path to teaching, it’s important to research the precise testing, classes, and prerequisites in your chosen state. However, the coursework is similar in many states, and programs often offer flexible scheduling, part-time plans, and other features that accommodate working adults.

Note that if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree yet, the best way for you to get certified to become a teacher is by completing a Bachelor of Education program.

Alternate Teacher Certification Requirements and Curriculum

Most alternative certification programs will be geared toward the following types of professionals:

Other high-need areas may also be eligible, but this will vary by state.

Though there isn’t a step-by-step plan for earning your certification nationwide, there are a few common requirements:

  • You must have a minimum of a high school diploma or G.E.D. Some states require more advanced degrees.
  • For hands-on careers like construction and automotive fields, you must have significant professional experience.
  • Many states require you to work directly with students as part of your certification training. Some schools allow you to work as a full-time teacher under supervision while working toward your certification, while others have other contact hour requirements.

Required classes and exams vary between state-defined programs of study. A mentorship component is typically needed for the completion of the certification. Course requirements likely include some of the following topics:

  • Assessing and evaluating learners to offer appropriate assignments
  • Designing and evaluating course curriculum that is based on research and grounded in learning theories
  • Applying learning technologies and multimedia strategies in the classroom to meet the needs of different learning styles
  • An introduction to the assessment of learning disabilities and addressing special needs in challenged learners

Be sure to look at the requirements for your location to get a full picture of what steps you need to take.

Alternative Teacher Certification Programs vs. Post-Baccalaureate or Master’s Degrees

When looking for ways to enter the classroom without an education degree, in addition to alternative certification options, you may discover post-baccalaureate and master’s programs. Each of these programs requires different levels of time and financial commitment.

Alternative certifications are a good option if you hope to enter the classroom quickly and at a relatively low cost while maintaining your current employment. Post-baccalaureate degrees are additional bachelor’s programs; you won’t need to retake general education requirements, but it will likely be similar to adding two years of additional coursework and costs to your previous college education. Master’s programs in education may be available, even if your previous degree wasn’t in education, but they can also be pricey and require a considerable time commitment, such as the equivalent of two years of full-time study.

Getting a Job with Alternative Teaching Certification

There’s a common misconception that receiving an alternative certification will make you less desirable to employers or may result in lower pay than your peers with degrees in education. This is generally untrue. It is common for people to enter the classroom with alternative certification: according to federal data, 18% of public school teachers held an alternative certification in the 2015-2016 school year. Teacher pay is usually determined by your degree level and years of experience, not how by how you got certified. So if you have a bachelor’s and alternative certification, you should be paid at the bachelor’s level based on your relevant, district-accepted experience. If you later choose to get a master’s degree—something that can also often be done while working full-time in education—your pay will likely go up.

Salary and career outlook, therefore, are generally the same as for teachers who entered the classroom through more traditional means.

Career Median Salary Average Growth
Elementary School Teacher $57,980 +3%
Middle School Teacher $58,600 +3%
High School Teacher $60,320 +4%
Special Education Teacher $59,780 +3%
Career and Technical Education Teacher $56,750 -1%
School Principal $95,310 +4%
School and Career Counselor $56,310 +8%

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018

Are There any Online Alternative Teacher Certification Programs?

Online alternative teacher certification programs are relatively rare compared to online master’s degrees in education for people who are already certified to teach. This is likely because alternative teacher certification programs typically include some sort of student teaching experience in a brick-and-mortar school. That can be difficult to arrange, considering the placement school may be hundreds of miles away from the degree-granting institution.

If you’re interested in an online-only program, you should clarify upfront how the student teaching process will work. In some cases, a university will arrange the student teaching experience, and in other cases, this will be left up to you.
States vary in their requirements for new teachers, so make sure any program you’re considering will qualify you to work where you eventually want to teach. If you’re unable to find an online program that meets your state’s criteria, or if you think you’ll have trouble arranging a student teaching experience, then an on-campus certification program in your geographic area may be a better fit for you.

An online alternative certification program typically takes two years or less, depending on how the program is structured. These programs can range in cost, but if you determine that an online-only degree fits your schedule best and will help you to make headway in a new career, the investment may be worth it.

Alternative Teacher Certification Organizations and Resources

There are several organizations that may be useful in your efforts to get an alternative teacher certification.

  • Alternative Certification in Career and Technical Education (CTE): Many states allow experienced and trained professionals in vocational fields to become teachers without completing a full teaching degree. Years of experience and required degree levels will vary by location. Arizona and Massachusetts, for instance, may not require CTE candidates to have undergraduate degrees so long as they meet a minimum number of years in their field, while other states may require a minimum of an associate or bachelor’s degree.
  • National Association for Alternative Teacher Certification: The National Association for Alternative Teacher Certification is an organization focused on promoting alternative certification pathways to teaching careers. Though they do not provide certifications, membership in the organization can put you in touch with peers and leaders that can help you on your journey.
  • Teach for America: Teach for America is one of the best-known programs focusing on introducing people to the teaching profession. However, in most locations, it’s not actually an alternative certification program in and of itself. In most parts of the country where it operates, Teach for America partners with local colleges and universities so that its Corps members can take the classes required to get their teacher certification in that state.