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Bachelor’s Degrees in Secondary Education

Secondary education, or the middle school/junior high and high school levels, is the bridge between elementary education and college or the workforce. Teachers of secondary students play critical roles in the personal growth and academic development of these learners. These teachers also face unique opportunities and challenges. For that reason, they need a solid background in secondary education theory and best practices.

Here, you’ll find an overview of what to expect when pursuing a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. We’ll discuss why you may want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, how to find the right program, what salary and career outlook to expect, and what degree programs might work best for you.

Why Should I Get a Bachelor’s in Secondary Education?

A bachelor’s degree in secondary education is the fastest route to teaching in the secondary classroom. Whether you want to teach middle school or high school, a bachelor’s degree is the first step to reaching your goal.

For many future teachers, teaching is a way to establish a legacy. Their connection to younger generations helps them equip students with the skills those students will need to succeed in a changing world. One teacher, Darrell Jones, decided to become a middle school teacher after a long career in the military because he wanted “to continue to serve my country and take care of our children.”

What to Expect from a Bachelor’s in Secondary Education Program

A secondary education bachelor’s degree will prepare you for a career in the classroom by equipping you with the knowledge and skills you need. While each institution has unique requirements, there are some commonalities you’ll encounter.

Entrance Requirements for Secondary Education Bachelor’s Programs

To be accepted into a bachelor’s program, you need to provide the following:

  • An application, typically submitted online
  • A high school diploma or GED
  • ACT or SAT scores
  • GPA

You may also need to submit additional materials such as a personal essay, letters of recommendation, and a background check.

How Long Does a Secondary Education Bachelor’s Program Take?

If you’re studying full-time, most bachelor’s in education programs take four years, or about 120 credit hours, to complete. Some schools offer shorter programs, such as those at the online Western Governors University, while others offer five-year bachelor’s-to-master’s programs.

Courses in Secondary Education Bachelor’s Programs

As you begin your bachelor’s program in secondary education, you’ll take a broad range of general education courses in instructional theory, educational psychology, and classroom management. As you progress through your program, you’ll likely begin to specialize in the type of classes you hope to teach.

Some of the courses you may take include:

  • Adolescent growth and development
  • Adolescent psychology
  • Classroom management
  • Educational technology
  • Multicultural education
  • Pedagogy
  • Reading and writing for secondary learners
  • Special education strategies in secondary schools

Cost of a Bachelor’s in Secondary Education Program

As of the 2017-2018 school year, the average cost of bachelor’s degree programs in public institutions was $17,797 per year ($71,188 for four years), and private and for-profit colleges charged $42,681 per year ($170,724 for four years).

While the costs may seem daunting, remember there are ways to lower the costs. Attending a school in the state where you live is usually less expensive than going out of state, and some schools offer in-state or discounted rates to residents of neighboring states. You could also save money by attending community college for your general education credits—be sure to communicate with your preferred four-year institution to ensure these classes will transfer. Additionally, there are many financial aid and scholarship options from your institution, federal or local government, or outside organizations to help you graduate with little to no debt.

Finding the Right Bachelor’s in Secondary Education Program

You’ll spend about four years studying for your bachelor’s, so it’s essential to make sure you choose the right school. There are a few questions to ask yourself before choosing a school.

How Do I Decide Which Secondary Education Program is Right for Me?

Before starting your search, make sure you understand your goals and the teaching requirements in your state. This will ensure the school you select fits with your plans.

First, consider attending a school in the state in which you plan to teach. You’re more likely to find the right training, licensure, and tools to teach there. If you’re planning to teach in a state other than your current residence, consider moving there for at least 12 months before enrolling—this is the typical minimum to qualify for in-state tuition. You could take community college courses in that state while you wait; you’ll pay nonresident tuition at most community colleges during that time, but this is still less expensive than that of four-year institutions.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, research whether the top schools on your list offer the specialization you want. For instance, if you want to teach language arts, and a program only offers science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) options, then it likely isn’t the right school for you. If you want to teach a non-core subject, like music or art, some schools offer these—however, they are not as common as core subjects, so you may need to minor or double major to ensure you’re fully prepared.

Additionally, look at the job placement and continuing education numbers. How many graduates from the programs you’re researching get jobs soon after graduation? How many alumni are quickly accepted to graduate programs?

Consider contacting the school’s education department head and alumni to learn about the program in more detail. Firsthand accounts of what your experience may be like can help you make the right decision.

Finally, be sure the programs you’re researching are accredited. An accredited education is often required for licensure.

Do I Need to Decide What Subject to Teach Before Enrolling in a Bachelor’s in Secondary Ed Program?

Knowing what subject(s) you hope to teach when you start your bachelor’s program will help you build your academic plan. However, if you’re interested in more than one topic, consider gearing your general education credits toward those subjects to help you make your decision.

The majority of bachelor’s in education programs have broad focuses, like teaching English/language arts as opposed to teaching literature. If you want to focus on a sub-topic, consider pursuing a double major in secondary education and in your topic of choice. Bear in mind, however, that you may not have the option to teach your first-choice specialization—either because a school district doesn’t offer it, those positions are already filled, or they have a higher area of need. Continuing education, perseverance in your career, and seniority may help you earn the ability to teach the specialization of your choice later in your career.

While many bachelor’s programs focus on a specific subject or pair of subject areas, like science or science and math, this doesn’t necessarily mean you can only teach those subjects. Depending on state requirements, you can often take an exam in a new subject to earn an endorsement to teach another topic. To improve your chances of passing, look for continuing education options or study guides created for the tests. If your state uses an exam other than the Praxis, fully research what will be on the exam and look fora study guide. Even if your state exams don’t offer study guides, you can often find “unofficial” ones online.

Online Bachelor’s in Secondary Education

While it’s more common to find early childhood or elementary programs online than secondary programs, online secondary education programs do exist. They’re ideal for those who are seeking a school/life balance, as many programs allow for asynchronous learning—that is, classes that can be taken on your schedule. Even if you have never taken an online course before, these programs are designed so that nearly anyone can succeed. Remember, though many programs are exclusively online, student teaching is almost universally required and must be completed at a brick and mortar school. Factor this into your plans, as you may have to quit or modify a full-time job to complete this requirement.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education?

A bachelor’s degree in secondary education can help prepare you for a vast number of careers, including:


Business teacher

Teach students the basic aspects of business.

Learn more about business teachers


Math teacher

Teach mathematics skills in age-appropriate ways.

Learn more about math teachers

Library Science

Girl in library

Connect students with library services and resources.

Learn more about library science

Health and Physical Education

PE Class

Give students the skills and knowledge to lead healthy lives.

Learn more about health and physical education teachers

English / Language Arts

English class

Focus on grammar, literature, vocabulary, reading, and writing.

Learn more about English teachers

Instructional Technology

instructional technology

Create and maintain programs that enhance teaching and learning.

Learn more about instructional technology teachers

Gifted and Talented

gifted classroom

Enrich the educational experience for academically gifted students.

Learn more about gifted and talented teachers

English as a Second Language


Help students who don’t speak English as their first language succeed.

Learn more about ESL teachers


art class

Help students unleash their creativity and develop an appreciation of art.

Learn more about art teachers

Career and Technical Education

CTE teacher

Prepare students for careers in dozens of subjects, including trade, business, and more.

Learn more about CTE teachers


music class

Give students an understanding and appreciation of music, as well as skills like singing or playing musical instruments.

Learn more about music teachers

Foreign Language

foreign language class

Help students read, write, and speak a language other than English. You can find schools that offer nearly every language, including American Sign Language.

Learn more about foreign language teachers

History / Social Studies

history teacher

Help students learn how the past influences the present and better understand current events. Social studies sometimes includes “social sciences” like psychology.

Learn more about history teachers


science class

Provide instruction in a variety of scientific subjects, like biology or chemistry. Some schools offer highly-specialized courses, like forensic science or anatomy.

Learn more about science teachers

Theater / Drama / Performaing Arts

Theater club

Teach students about acting, technical theatre, theatre history, and more. Some schools offer specific classes in dance or musical theatre, and these teachers often direct after-school plays.

Family and Consumer Sciences

FACS classroom

Teach students the science and art of living and working well in the world, which may include housekeeping, cooking, and filing taxes.

Special Education

SPED teacher

Engage with students with a variety of needs. You’ll manage Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans, and transitional services for students who are moving from high school into the “real world.” This field may include working with students into their 20’s, even though they still attend high school.

Learn more about SPED teachers

Some licenses, particularly those for elective teachers, include K-12 levels. You may be asked to teach a different grade level, or even topic, based on the needs of the district where you’re teaching.

Education degrees may also lead to careers in education, but outside the classroom, such as working at educational non-profits, test development companies, or museums.

Salary and Career Outlook for Secondary Teachers

Most teacher salary statistics include teachers of all subjects, except for special education or CTE. A math teacher, for example, is likely to make the same as a music teacher with the same education and experience. Salaries vary based on where you teach, your education level, and your years of experience.

Salary and Projected Growth by Career

Middle School Education$59,660+4%
High School Education$61,660+4%
Career and Technical Education$58,110-1%
Middle School Special Education$61,440+3%*
High School Special Education$61,030+3%*

2019 Median salary information and 2018-2028 projected growth are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
* Information is from CareerOneStop.

What Personality Traits Should a Secondary Educator Have?

“I’ve taught all grades in a variety of capacities, but secondary learners were ‘my people.’ I believe this is because they require someone who isn’t just an ‘expert’ in their topic, but also someone who understands their unique needs. This age desires—and deserves—to be treated more like adults, but teachers need to balance that with their students’ developmental levels. I was simply better suited to meet this age group’s needs than I was for younger learners.” – Sarah Mattie, former teacher

To make it as a secondary educator, you’ll need:

While students of all ages have challenges, secondary learners face physical, emotional, and mental changes unlike those of younger learners. Be prepared to pivot from a lesson plan to an emotional support opportunity or a discussion of current events on a dime. Expectations from administrators and policy-makers also change constantly, and teachers need to be willing to change tactics frequently.

Good Humor
These kids are funny. A good secondary teacher is willing to laugh with them and guide their humor, so they know what’s appropriate in particular situations. “I found myself saying ‘time and place’ to a lot of jokes—even if I secretly found them hilarious,” said Mattie.

Relationship Skills
While all teachers need to get to know their students, older learners crave connection—even if they won’t admit it. Effective educators see through bravado, shyness, or hesitance, and find ways to guide students through their unique journeys.

“Fair” isn’t one-size-fits-all, especially at the secondary level when students are learning about life’s gray areas. At the secondary level, a conversation about a choice is often more effective than a penalty or reward. A secondary teacher needs to know when rules must be strictly enforced and when to be a bit more flexible—and be prepared to handle conversations when other students ask, “Why didn’t they get detention for doing the same thing I got one for?”

What Are the Differences Between Elementary, Middle, and High School Teaching?

While no grade levels are inherently easier or harder to teach than others, your strengths and personality will determine if elementary, middle, or high school education is best for you. Here are a few differences to consider when choosing what grades suit you.

Static vs. Dynamic Classrooms
Elementary teachers usually teach a class as a unit – students spend most of their days with the same peers, even moving to their “specials” as a class. By contrast, middle and high school teachers see several student cohorts rotate through their classroom each day, with the students often changing classmates each time.

Multiple vs. Singular Subject Teaching
Elementary teachers are responsible for teaching most or all subjects, including English, math, social studies, and science. Secondary teachers specialize in a single subject, teaching a variation on that subject to different levels of students.

Student Learning Expectations
Elementary education takes place in the context of the early stages of child growth and development. These learners often need more guidance than their comparatively independent secondary counterparts.

Student Agency
Elementary students have little to no say in the day-to-day, hour-by-hour progression of their school day. But as students transition to middle and high school, they have greater independence and say over their schedule and academic focus. Teaching at the high school level often presents opportunities to work with students who have made a choice in their schedule, and hence may display more enthusiasm for their learning—or less, if they didn’t get into their first-choice classes.

Teachers may have more opportunities for coaching or facilitating unique clubs at the secondary level. Extracurriculars are opportunities to connect with students who have similar passions and help them explore those topics.

Beyond a Bachelor’s in Secondary Education

Whether you’re staying up to date with developments in adolescent psychology, classroom theory, or educational policy, continuing education (CE) opportunities will keep you on top of the latest developments. Your school will likely offer CE opportunities, and professional organizations and local colleges are also great sources for these.

You may also want to pursue a master’s to increase pay, move to a different subject, or simply grow as an educator. You’ll also generally need a master’s degree to move into administration, some special education topics, or school counseling.

Beyond a master’s degree, you may opt to pursue an educational specialist degree to focus on developing proficiency in a particular topic. Finally, if you plan to advance to the top of the field, you’ll need to pursue a doctorate in education.

Resources for Secondary Education Teachers

  • Education.com: This resource offers tools to supplement your high school teaching, including dynamic exercises and new approaches to learning. They also offer resources to middle school teachers.
  • Scholastic.com: Browse lesson plans for a variety of age groups, including middle school grade levels.
  • PBS Learning Media: Find resources and activities to use in high school lesson plans.
  • Common Sense Media: Find teacher-written reviews of educational tools, apps, and programs as well as lesson plans, webinars, videos, and more.
  • Teaching Tolerance: This resource offers activities and teaching kits for different topics based on the conversations you’re having with your classroom.
  • The Educator’s Room: This website is written by educators for educators. It includes topics like recent policy changes, the struggles educators face, and specific advice for different grade levels.
  • We are Teachers: This site includes articles by teachers, lesson plans for all grade levels and subjects, and advice for navigating classroom challenges.
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