Master’s in Education Degrees
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More and more teachers and other education professionals are earning master’s in education degrees—many online. Having a master’s can lead to a higher salary, better job prospects, and new career opportunities. Additionally, as Gregg Feistman of the Klein College of Media at Temple University, who earned his master’s degree online, said, “I felt I needed the advanced degree to become more in-tune with my colleagues who had advanced degrees. Plus, additional knowledge is never a bad thing.”
Read on to learn about the types of master’s degrees in education, the careers they lead to, and how to get one.
Why Should I Get a Master’s in Education?
You don’t need a master’s degree to begin teaching in most public K–12 schools. However, some states may require a master’s to earn an advanced license, so check your state’s requirements. To teach at the postsecondary level, you need at least a master’s degree and often a doctorate.
Even if you do not need a master’s degree to teach in your ideal field, there are several great reasons to get one, including an increase in pay, an improvement in skill level, and additional job opportunities.
Higher Pay with Education Master’s Degrees
In public schools, most teachers are paid on a “step and lane” salary schedule, and that schedule is almost universally non-negotiable. Teachers’ steps are based on years of teaching, sometimes going up each year, sometimes after several years, while “lanes” are based on their levels of education. If you begin teaching fresh out of undergraduate school, the average age to reach the highest step is 55. The speed of changing lanes depends entirely on how quickly you earn additional education, including degrees and professional development hours.
The 2019-2020 Denver Public Schools salary schedule provides an excellent example of this format. In the district, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s made $45,800, while a first-year teacher with a master’s made $50,343. A fifth-year teacher with a bachelor’s earned $51,563, while a fifth-year with a master’s earned $57,044. While it is not universally true that a fifth-year teacher with a bachelor’s would earn an amount so similar to a first-year with a master’s, districts often pay pays teachers with master’s degrees at higher rates.
The National Education Association (NEA) also supports this claim. It reports that for the 2017-2018 school year, the nationwide average teacher pay for those with a bachelor’s degree ranged from $39,249 to $57,827, while those with master’s degrees earned $42,927 to $66,919. Assuming the median difference of $6,385 per year, that could add up to an additional $127,700 over 20 years of teaching.
Increased Expertise and Respect with an Education Master’s
A bachelor’s in education gives you a solid overview of the field, but you likely spent at least half of your undergraduate time in general education coursework. This is where a master’s degree comes in handy: you can narrow your focus. You might take courses that focus on pedagogy for your current classroom, allow you to change grade level or subject, or prepare for a career in administration.
Increased focus also allows you to choose courses that will best help your specific student population. For instance, if you have a particular interest in working with diverse communities, look for a school that offers classes in multicultural education; if you want to learn to better serve special education students, seek out an institution that offers several courses in that area.
Additionally, CareerOneStop reports that 47% of elementary and middle school teachers have master’s degrees (compared to 44% with bachelor’s). The same amount of high school teachers have master’s, compared to only 35% working with a bachelor’s. Earning your master’s degree puts you on the same level with a higher percentage of your peers. While other teachers and students may not respect those with bachelor’s degrees less than those with master’s, master’s degrees can increase esteem in the eyes of parents and administration and, perhaps, within yourself.
To learn about increased job opportunities, read on to learn about what you can do with different types of master’s degrees in education.
Types of Education Master’s Degrees
There are many types of master’s degrees in education. Though some are best suited for classroom educators and others for those pursuing leadership roles, it is rare for any degree to truly limit your career options. Any of these degrees may also lead to a career in a college’s department of education—while full professorships typically require doctorates, adjunct professors or community college instructors may only need master’s degrees.
Master’s Degrees for Teachers
All these degrees serve the same purpose: to give you a strong understanding of teaching and learning.
Master of Education (M.Ed.)
M.Ed. programs tend to focus on theory over practice. These are pursued by people who want to remain in the classroom and those who wish to advance beyond it.
Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) or Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.)
These degrees focus on practical application in the classroom over educational theory. Like M.Ed. students, learners may want to pursue administrative positions.
Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T)
This degree focuses on the daily needs and expectations of classroom life. M.A.T. students are those who want to begin or continue teaching, but generally do not have dreams of becoming administrators. However, this does not mean they cannot become administrators in the future.
Master’s in Teaching (M.I.T.)
This degree mirrors an M.A.T. but does not seem to exist outside of Washington state. However, this does not mean it will not be recognized elsewhere.
Master’s Degrees in Teaching Specific Subjects
Some schools offer degrees specifically for people who want to focus on teaching one topic, rather than on teaching in general. These degrees can include any subject, from special education to electives.
There are also other, less common educational master’s degree titles. The type of master’s degree you pursue should be based on your personal goals rather than the exact name of the degree. When looking at schools, see which master’s program best fits what and how you want to learn.
Master’s Degrees for Administrators
Like master’s degrees for teachers, master’s degrees for administrators have a few different names but the same goal: to prepare you for leadership roles in education. Two of the most common types are:
Master of Education Administration
This degree is often pursued by people who want to become administrators, like principals or superintendents.
Master of Educational Leadership
Educational leadership programs can prepare you for administration positions, but they are also often geared towards those who want to become department heads or mentors to new teachers.
Institutions may call degrees of this type by different names. When looking at education administration or leadership degrees, you should peruse the websites of various colleges to see which programs best fit your goals and lifestyle. These degrees are often more available online than teaching master’s due to the lower number of direct student contact hours. However, an internship or practicum may be required.
What to Expect from a Master’s in Education Program
Entrance Requirements for Education Master’s Degree Programs
Requirements vary depending on the program and the school, but to be accepted into a master’s in education, you will generally need the following:
Length of Master’s in Education Programs
The length of time it takes to complete a master’s in education program depends on several factors. If you go to school full time, whether online or on-campus, it will typically take you about two years to complete a program. If you go to school part-time, the program can take from three to four years. Some universities offer online master’s degree programs that can be completed in as few as 12 to 18 months.
Coursework for Master’s in Education Programs
Classes differ from program to program, but most master’s in education programs will include instruction about educational policy, school and community partnerships, classroom management, theories of teaching and learning, and educational leadership.
You might take such courses as:
Your coursework will vary based on any concentration you’ve chosen. For example, degrees focusing on education administration may include courses about research methods for educational leaders, teacher development, and school improvement. Special education programs, on the other hand, will focus on laws and practices regarding work with special needs populations. If you are a career-switcher entering the field for the first time, you may need to take some foundational undergraduate coursework and engage in student teaching; speak your chosen institution about these details.
As you search for programs, you should make sure that the school is accredited by a national or regional accrediting body. Earning a degree from a school that is not accredited may prevent you from getting licensed. Accreditation is also a crucial factor for federal financial aid eligibility.
Online Master’s Degrees in Education
Almost 34%—more than 1.14 million of America’s graduate students—take at least some courses online. The majority of those who do—nearly 900,000—take distance-learning courses exclusively. It’s unclear how many of them are pursuing graduate degrees in education, but what is certain is the number is large and growing.
To complete online coursework, you generally do not need any specialized technology or technical skills—just a reliable device and internet access. Degrees earned online are as respected as those taken on campus, meeting the same standards for educators with master’s degrees. Your professors will be of the same caliber, and the learning management system used by your institution will allow you to communicate with your instructor and peers at the same rate—if not more—than you would on campus.
Online learning comes with many benefits, as well as a few drawbacks; however, nearly anyone can succeed in them.
Advantages of Online Master’s Programs for Educators
Online degree programs often offer unrivaled flexibility and convenience. This format allows current professionals to maintain their work/school/life balance while working towards their degrees.
Feistman agrees: “I was working full-time and really didn’t have the hours to devote to in-person classroom learning.” He found that the best part of learning online was “[m]anaging the schedule so it suited me best.”
Other benefits include:
Disadvantages of Online Master’s Programs for Educators
Cost of Getting a Master’s Degree in Education
The cost of a master’s degree varies by school, program, and location. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual graduate tuition for 2017–2018 was $11,926 for public and $25,442 for private institutions. Keep in mind, however, that the up-front cost is likely to pay dividends in the long run—an educator with a master’s degree can almost always command a higher salary than one without.
Don’t be discouraged if the cost of a master’s degree seems out of your reach at first. There are many financial aid and scholarship opportunities that can help ease your financial burden. In some cases, cities, states, or school districts will subsidize or even pay for your education if you’re pursuing a career in a high-need field like English as a second language or special education.
Scholarships for Students Pursuing a Master’s Degree in Education
Who can qualify: Maryland students with undergraduate degrees in fields unrelated to education who are pursuing master’s degrees in teaching
Apply for the BHD Endowed Scholarships For Teachers
Who can qualify: Recent graduates and graduate students who have limited work experience, but who want to work as secondary chemistry teachers and who are pursuing a master’s degree in education
Scholarship award is up to $3,000 for part-time grad students, $6,000 for full-time students.
Apply for the ACS-Hach Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Scholarship
Who can qualify: Outstanding graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in school administration
Apply for the AASA Educational Administration Scholarships
Who can qualify: Graduate students pursuing a degree or credential/licensure to teach STEM subjects in U.S. K-12 schools
Apply for the AFCEA STEM Teacher Graduate Scholarships
Students pursuing graduate degrees and careers in one of New York City’s critical shortage areas of education: speech-language pathology, blind and visually impaired, bilingual special education, and bilingual school psychology
Apply for the Teach NYC Jose P. Graduate Scholarship Program
Beyond a Master’s Degree
Getting a master’s degree is an admirable achievement—but your education shouldn’t stop there. The following are ways to stay abreast of current issues in education or advance your career.
Seasoned educators know that the best way to improve their practice is to collaborate with other professionals in the field—plus, your state may require a specific number of professional development hours for license renewal. In addition to professional development offered by your school district, there are many options you can seek out on your own. Free digital libraries like Open Educational Resources are great places to start. In addition to lesson plan offerings, this site offers professional development training in person and through webinars. You might also consider joining a Professional Learning Network (PLN) of educators in your specific field. EdWeb offers a free way to get involved in PLNs, as well as professional development webinars.
Many programs exist for credentialed teachers who want to take classes that prepare them for endorsement licensure exams. These classes are frequently available online and are popular with teachers who already work full time. You can find such programs at local colleges or through organizations specific to your field.
Advanced Degree Programs
There are several degrees beyond a master’s in education. You can earn an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree, which gives those with master’s degrees the opportunity to specialize in a specific educational field such as instructional leadership or special education. You could also pursue a doctorate. A Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.) is best if you’re interested in research, policy, and administration, while a Doctor of Philosophy in Education (Ph.D.) may be of interest if you hope to pursue a university career. Note that if you plan to remain in the K-12 classroom, a doctorate may not be right for you—the cost of earning the degree can be high, but the pay difference between this and a master’s for teachers is often low.
Interview with Kim Miles, an Online Education Master’s Graduate
Kim Miles is a special education teacher at Compass Charter Schools in Thousand Oaks, California.
What do you teach? Did your subject change after getting your master’s?
I currently teach special education SAI (specialized academic instruction) which covers IEP goals in various areas of education and supports general education curriculum. My subject did change after getting my master’s because prior to that I taught in a general education setting in a private school and taught various subjects depending on the grade level or levels I was teaching, which varied over the years.
Why did you want to earn a master’s degree?
I wanted to earn a master’s degree because I wanted to obtain my teaching credential and I have always been drawn to special education. Even though I taught general education in the private sector, I worked with many students with special needs. Prior to becoming a teacher, I worked as a paraeducator in special education.
What kind of master’s degree did you choose? Why did you choose that one?
I chose a master’s degree in education/special education. I chose this because I knew there was a high need for highly qualified special education teachers, I love working with special education students and families (most of the time), and that my chances of getting a job at my age were more likely with this degree and just a general education degree.
Why did you choose to earn your degree online rather than in person?
I chose to earn my degree online rather than in person because it was more convenient and offered me more flexibility while I continued to work full-time and take care of my family.
What was the best part about learning online?
The best part about learning online is the flexibility it offers and the convenience of working asynchronously. While I had deadlines for various activities, I could do them at my own pace within the time parameter afforded me.
How has having a master’s degree benefitted you?
Having a master’s degree has benefitted me financially, providing me with a higher paying job, and given me a greater understanding and respect for the special education field.
Meet the Expert
Gregg Feistman is the assistant chair for public relations and an associate professor of practice in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations in the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University. Feistman, who earned his master’s degree online through Marist College, directs the public relations major and teaches courses both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
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