Is a Master’s Degree in Education Right For You?

Starting a career in elementary or secondary education can be complex and difficult for many young teachers. Aside from preparing to manage a classroom and outlining lesson plans, new educators need to ensure they fulfill the proper teaching requirements. Navigating the certifications and degrees required for a specific speciality, state, and locality is challenging.

However, it’s often to a teacher’s advantage to look past the basic requirements – possibly only a bachelor’s degree – and pursue an advanced degree. While it may add a little more challenge at the beginning, a master’s degree in education can provide a number of benefits immediately and in the long run.

Teachers with a master’s in education have more job opportunities, better salaries on average throughout their careers, more upward mobility potential, and many other benefits.

A Master’s in Education

A Master of Education or Master of Arts in Teaching, abbreviated as M.Ed. or MAT, is a graduate degree designed specifically for educators. Master’s programs can focus on instructional methods, curriculum, academic enrichment, student advising, school counseling, or school administration. There are options for terminal master’s programs as well as others that lead to doctoral degrees in education.

While many people pursue general M.Ed. degrees, there are also options specializing in science or the arts. Even the general degree allows for specific areas of study and subfields such as in early childhood education, workforce education, math, or reading.

A master’s degree is not required for most typical K-12 public school teaching jobs throughout the U.S., however it is a stepping stone to many other education positions. Administrative roles, such as principal or dean, and counseling roles often require a master’s degree as well as certification.

Additionally, having a specific area of experience or additional education may make teachers more attractive candidates for positions such as department heads or other jobs at more competitive schools. Many master’s programs include a capstone, research project, or thesis that can be used as a resume booster, proof of specialization, or fuel for a doctoral application.

Even as educators, teachers holding master’s degrees are typically paid higher than bachelor’s degree-holding peers following a pay scale. A master’s degree in education is becoming a critical tool for educators, new or experienced, to rise through the ranks during their career.

In addition to the benefits of holding a M.Ed., the process of earning the advanced degree is beneficial in its own right. Educators are able to learn better teaching techniques, specialize in more subfields, and study curriculum creation through classroom learning and hands-on internships. Once employed, this can translate to a better student experience in the classroom and the opportunity to pursue a great variety of employment options.

Deciding to Pursue an M.Ed

Once you decide to pursue a Master of Education, you should start looking at programs. It’s important to find a program that is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education or Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs; it should also fit your personal needs. Looking at the program’s faculty, placement of graduates, areas of concentration, and related opportunities are all critical as well.

Applying to a M.Ed. program is similar to other graduate or undergraduate applications. College transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, resumes, teaching experience, and other written materials all may be required depending on the program.

M.Ed. programs can vary from accelerated programs or two-year full time options to more flexible, part-time learning opportunities. Most require between 30 and 36 credits. The cost of programs can vary significantly based on a number of factors: Private or public? Brick and mortar or online? Full-time or part-time? The National Center of Education Statistics put the average cost of tuition and fees for a full-time M.Ed. at about $20,000.

However, this additional cost in education can be offset by future earning potential. According to the Brooking Institute analysis of National Council on Teacher Quality data, a new teacher with a M.Ed. earns about $3,000 in the first year and about $4,200 more by the fifth year than B.A. peers.

The longer an educator stays in teaching, and the earlier he or she earns a M.Ed., the more benefits the educator will gain. Brookings noted that the most benefit in pay comes after nine to 10 years as a teacher. However, this analysis doesn’t count any gain in pay a teacher could make from a M.Ed. if he or she were to be promoted or rise through the school administration.

Earning an M.Ed Online

With busy schedules and cost concerns, many educators opt for online M.Ed. programs. These programs can allow teachers to continue to work current education jobs while earning a degree or at least avoid the costly relocation fees that come with attending a brick and mortar school.

Convenience is one of the biggest benefits to online programs. The programs’ flexible schedules work great for night and weekend learners, as well as students who want to expedite the degree completion time from two years to 18 months. There are hundreds of online M.Ed. programs available, many from some of the top universities in the U.S., giving students access to the best faculty and resources.

Hybrid programs have become popular for their convenience as well. Students can take some courses online and others in person. This allows for better collaboration than online learning alone and more flexibility than classroom learning only.

When choosing an online program, just as with a traditional program, look at accreditation, faculty specialties, areas of study, associated programs, and future placement. Scholarships and grants are also offered for a number of online programs.

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