Ultimate Guide to Education Degrees
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a sense of urgency to what we view as an essential occupation. As kitchen tables became desks and the weight of the classroom shifted from the schoolhouse to the home, the value of teachers in educational and civic life was more evident than ever.
Teachers don’t get into the education business for the money. However, this career path does provide stability and a consistent level of growth that allows for:
- Career advancement
- Increased pay
- Incentivized educational opportunities
- Access to leadership roles
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, education careers from kindergarten teachers to high school principals show a projected 7% growth over the next decade. As exiting teachers and educators retire, more positions will become available, too.
The following guide explores the various levels of education degrees, what you can expect from these programs, and what these degrees can do for your career. We also highlight academic concentrations, detail standout academic programs, and review a list of scholarship opportunities. Continue reading to learn more about education degrees and how you can begin your academic journey toward a career in this essential field.
Types Of Education Degrees
From associate degrees to doctoral programs, education degrees exist for students with varying levels of academic and professional experience. The following section examines the different educational options, what each degree involves, and what you can expect as a student. Additionally, we spotlight several standout academic programs.
Education Certificate Program
Education certificate programs offer bachelor’s-holding teachers a pathway to academic specializations and career advancement without having to earn a graduate-level degree. An especially appealing option for individuals without the time or money to attend graduate school, education certificate programs can introduce new teaching content areas or prepare teachers to work with different grade levels.
Keep in mind, education certificate programs are designed for licensed teachers or recent education grads who plan on earning their teaching license. Education certificate programs are not a pathway to teacher licensure. Various teaching certificates exist, including the following:
- Adult Education
- Administration and Leadership
- Early Childhood Education
- Educational Technology
- English as a Second Language
- Gifted and Talented Education
- Special Education
Teachers interested in pursuing a career-advancing educational certificate must have a bachelor’s degree, and many programs require a minimum cumulative GPA of around 3.0. Additionally, some programs may require you to submit proof of teacher licensure.
Education Certificate Program Spotlight
The University of Florida offers several online certificates through its educational technology program. These include K-12 teaching with technology, instructional design, managing distance education environments, and online teaching and learning. Each certificate encompasses 12 credits of coursework, and students complete requirements entirely online.
Online certificate students can choose from various tech-based education classes, including foundations of educational technology, designing technology-rich curriculum, using the internet in education, and issues and trends in educational technology research.
Associate Degree in Education
An online associate degree—and associate degrees, generally—offer students a unique opportunity to knock out general education requirements and seamlessly transition into four-year programs. Additionally, many associate degrees in education provide paraeducator career training and a pathway to pre-K licensure.
Associate degrees are often part of a 2+2 program where students complete their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution to finish their bachelor’s degree. Throughout their associate degree, students tackle general education requirements like English composition and U.S. history while engaging with concentration areas like special education, early childhood education, and secondary education.
AA vs AS in Education: Which Degree Should You Get?
Associate degrees traditionally come in two forms: an associate of arts (AA) or an associate of science (AS). AA degrees typically focus more on the humanities, with students taking more electives in areas like history, English, and foreign language studies. AS degrees tend towards math and science. For students interested in teaching in STEM areas, earning an AS degree is a practical academic option.
Education Associate Program Spotlight
Offered through the Ohio State University’s roster of online learning opportunities, this online associate of arts degree focuses on early childhood development and education. Encompassing 60 credits, this academic path provides students a clear path towards their bachelor’s degree and career in education. Additionally, this program allows graduates to teach preschool and work in childcare environments. Graduates are also eligible for pre-kindergarten teacher licensure and prepare them to take their licensure exams.
Students can complete this associate degree entirely online and tackle classes including family development, childhood development, and managing and supporting behavior in social contexts. AA students also complete various general education requirements, preparing them to transfer to a four-year institution.
OSU reviews applications holistically on a case-by-case basis. Admissions officials consider various criteria, including high school GPA, standardized test scores, work and volunteer experience, and the applicant’s unique life experiences.
Bachelor’s Degree in Education
Earning a bachelor’s degree in education is often the first step toward beginning your teaching career. A typical major offered by colleges and universities across the country, a bachelor’s in education traditionally requires students to complete 120 credits of coursework and takes most students at least four years to complete.
In addition to general education and core education requirements, many education programs allow students to focus on a chosen subject, age, or student population. Common areas of academic concentration include:
- Elementary education
- Secondary education
- Special education
- Early childhood education
Students earning an online bachelor’s in education can complete the vast majority of coursework online and at their own pace. That said, education programs do require extensive hands-on learning through various student teaching and internship experiences.
BA vs BS in Education: Which Degree Should You Get?
Each college or university largely determines whether a bachelor’s in education is identified as a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS). These designations do not reflect a program’s rigor and are often influenced by how a particular school catalogs its classes.
That said, a BA degree usually requires a foreign language component, while a BS may involve more math and science coursework. Be sure a program has the appropriate accreditation and leads to teacher licensure.
Bachelor's in Education Program Spotlights
UNCW offers students a bachelor’s in elementary education that they can complete almost entirely online. Designed as a degree completion program in partnership with state community colleges, this program marries online classes with hands-on learning experiences through extensive fieldwork, classroom visits, and tutoring.
Students complete core education requirements that include classes like elementary school literature, psychological foundations of teaching, and teaching diverse learners. Additionally, degree-seekers complete three 40-hour apprenticeships in an elementary classroom. Before graduation, complete a 14-credit internship that acts as a degree-culminating experience.
Prospective transfer students must have earned their GED or high school diploma and have at least 24-credits of transferable, college-level coursework. Additionally, students must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5.
The University of Louisiana-Monroe plays home to an online bachelor’s in elementary education that holds programmatic accreditation from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Designed to build teaching skills while enhancing the student experience, ULM’s online degree includes general education studies, pedagogical studies, and various field experiences.
Students complete 120 credits before graduation throughout their degree—of the 120 credits, 57 are dedicated to major requirements. Some of the core requirements include mathematics methods for the classroom, survey of the education of children with special needs, and educational foundations for diverse learning environments.
Even though they’re online learners, students at ULM get access to various online resources to ensure that they receive the best academic experience possible. In addition to 24/7 tech help, students have access to free online tutoring, mental health services, and career services.
Master’s Degree in Education
The desire to earn a master’s degree in education often stems from two practical reasons:
- A working teacher wants to enhance their skills and expand career options, or
- An individual has a bachelor’s degree and wants to begin their career in teaching
Either way, these degrees explore the most cutting-edge research in the education field and prep graduates for various administrative and leadership roles.
Like many master’s programs, this advanced education degree typically requires students to complete 30+ credits of coursework. Full-time master’s students can complete these programs in 1-2 years. Standard master’s-level classes include research in education, planning for school improvement, teacher leadership, and instructional strategies and models. Before graduation, these programs require a degree-culminating experience in the form of a thesis, research project, or professional portfolio.
While admission requirements vary between programs, students are expected to hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Other standard requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA, letters of recommendation, and a valid teaching license.
MEd vs MAT: Which Degree Should You Get?
Once you’ve decided to earn a Master’s in Education, there are two distinct academic tracks: master of arts in teaching (MAT) or master of education (MEd). An MAT degree primarily focuses on teaching and highlights topics like pedagogical theory, instructional strategies, and student teaching. An MAT is the degree of choice for career-changers who want to begin their teaching career—many programs offer a pathway to teacher licensure.
Alternately, an MEd degree is primarily for experienced educators and focuses on educational administration, student counseling, and curricular design. To gain admission, the programs typically require at least two years of teaching experience.
Master's in Education Program Spotlights
CSUB’s online master’s in education focuses on curriculum and instruction, prioritizing the skills working teachers need to create a robust learning environment that utilizes educational technology to expand equity in schools. Full-time master’s students can complete this 30-credit program in just one year through a flexible, asynchronous online delivery.
This online program’s curriculum comprises 12 credits of core requirements, 18 credits of electives, and one three-hour degree culminating experience. Core courses include research methods for educational leaders, teaching for diversity and social justice, educational leadership, and curriculum development and transformation. Additionally, while completing this online M.A. degree, students can also complete a Leadership in Educational Technology Certificate.
Prospective master’s students must hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Applicants should submit transcripts showing a minimum 3.0 GPA from their last 60 credits of undergraduate coursework and must hold a valid teaching license.
Based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, this private institution was founded in 1860 and offers an online master’s in education that students can complete in as few as 13 months. Designed for working educators, this academic track explores historical and current educational trends, utilizes technology to enhance the classroom experience, and helps students build the skills needed for future leadership roles.
This 30 credit master’s program includes 21 credits of core requirements and nine credits dedicated to the student’s chosen academic concentration. Core classes include issues in education, history, and philosophy of education, and foundations and principles of curriculum. Additionally, students select from five academic concentrations: instructional strategies, reading, special populations, STEM, or technology.
Applicants for this online master’s in education must hold a bachelor’s degree with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0. Prospective learners must also submit proof of licensure, two letters of recommendation, and a short essay outlining academic and career goals.
Doctoral Degree (EdD) or PhD
A doctorate in education is the premier degree for education professionals. In addition to opening up post-secondary teaching opportunities, this high-level degree often qualifies graduates for administration roles like a school principal or superintendent.
Whether online or on-campus, these doctoral degrees usually require that students complete 45-60 credits before graduation. Degree-seekers with a master’s degree can often complete their doctorate in approximately three years. In addition to core requirements, doctoral candidates choose from common academic specializations such as:
- Instructional design
- Special education
- Early childhood education
- Diversity and equity in education
Prospective students are traditionally expected to have experience in the classroom or with educational administration. Applicants should expect to submit a professional resume, academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose outlining academic and career goals.
EdD vs PhD: Which Degree Should You Get?
While earning a Doctorate in Education can expand career options and earning potential, these degrees lead to distinct roles. A PhD in Education is research-heavy and leads to careers in academia and various research settings. On the other hand, an EdD degree is a common choice for individuals seeking leadership roles in education, focusing on the practical application of educational theory and research.
Doctorate in Education Program Spotlights
Lynchburg, Virginia’s Liberty University offers an extensive roster of online degrees, including a doctorate in education that many students complete in just three years. This program holds programmatic accreditation through the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and covers essential topics like education administration, curriculum development, and learning theory.
Within this EdD program, students can choose from academic concentrations, including administration and supervision, curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, and higher education administration. Throughout this approximately three-year program, students tackle 54 credits of coursework and complete a degree-culminating project before graduation.
Prospective EdD students must submit an online application and hold a master’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must submit official transcripts and provide Liberty University with proof of English language proficiency.
Recognized worldwide as a leading research institution, Northeastern University is a private school that plays home to an online doctorate in education. In addition to its flexible online format, Northeastern supplies doctorate students with the ability to select their academic concentration and tailor their degree to academic and career goals. Academic concentrations offered include higher education administration, innovative teaching and learning, transformative school leadership, workplace learning, and integrative studies.
EdD students can enroll as full-time or part-time learners, and full-time students often complete this academic track in as few as three years. Required foundational courses include collaborative leadership, leadership for social justice, and introduction to action research and social change. While this degree is completed almost entirely online, students must attend two residency events.
Unlike other EdD programs, degree-seekers begin their dissertation when the program starts. During the first semester, students are assigned a faculty advisor who guides them through their research and dissertation.
Education Program Areas and Specializations
Education degrees cover a vast array of topics, grade levels, and career outcomes. Because of this, most programs include specializations to help students focus their knowledge and training in a specific area that leads to their intended career.
In the following section, we look at a few of these specializations. This does not constitute an exhaustive list, so make sure you research several schools to find one with a specialization that aligns with your interests.
Also known as the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), early childhood education covers educational programming for children from birth through eight years old. Because these first eight years cover significant developmental milestones, completing this currently provides the training needed to work with students ranging from nursery through early elementary education.
Rather than covering a specific academic topic (e.g., mathematics, science, etc.), early childhood education students focus on topics such as general knowledge, language and literacy, social-emotional development, and physical development. Students typically choose between a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Elementary education specializations typically prepare graduates to teach learners in kindergarten through sixth grade. While this specialization does overlap with early childhood education, it is designed for degree-seekers who likely want to work with children once they reach elementary school rather than nursery or pre-K.
Elementary education students can choose from online programs offered at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. They should plan to participate in a student teaching placement to gain real-world skills in K-6 classrooms before graduating.
The definition of secondary education varies based on the state where you plan to live and teach: some states use the term to mean exclusively high school, while others include middle school in the definition. Check with your state board of education to learn which term represents your ideal teaching area before selecting a specialization.
Aside from focusing on older students, many secondary education degree seekers also choose a specific academic concentration. These can include:
- English language learning
- Earth science
Always make sure your chosen school offers the specific content area you want to study.
After working in the K-12 system as classroom teachers, some of these professionals decide to go back to school to earn the qualifications needed to educate the next generation of teachers. Teacher education programs train students in pedagogy, instructional and curriculum design, education theory, and specific academic topics to ensure they possess a well-rounded set of knowledge.
Educational requirements vary based on your previous, relevant experience and individual college and university requirements. Most teacher educators hold an MEd or an EdD. These programs may also offer additional concentrations based on your chosen teaching area, including early childhood teacher education, elementary and middle school teacher education, secondary school teacher education, vocational teacher training, and higher education teacher training.
Special education specializations provide the qualifications and training needed to educate students with physical, mental, social, or learning disabilities who require additional support. Working in this area can be both challenging and rewarding, but many students find the experience worth it.
Rather than focusing on a specific grade area, special education concentrations look at the various disabilities common in K-12 students and the pedagogical and instructional tools available to those who teach them.
Some colleges and universities now provide more specific concentrations in special education, with standard offerings including autism spectrum disorders, gifted and talented student education, applied behavior analysis, visual impairment, and special education for early childhood education.
Pursuing a curriculum and instruction specialization enables graduates to work with textbook publishers and designers to create innovative, cutting-edge curricula based on best practices in pedagogy and learning outcomes.
Typically offered as part of a master’s in education curriculum, these specializations support teachers who already possess some classroom experience but want to transition to a new discipline area. Aside from working with publishers, graduates may also work in school districts or departments of education to set curricular guidelines and requirements.
With a focus on topics such as educational policy, assessment strategies, management practices, and financial management, educational leadership specializations prepare graduates to take on roles as school principals, preschool directors, university deans, and district supervisors.
Most programs exist at the master’s level and offer training in areas required for high-level managerial positions. Some students may decide to focus on Birth-12 settings while others want to work in higher education administration.
What Can I Do With An Education Degree?
While various factors determine the annual salary for teachers, one statistic remains constant for teachers nationwide: from kindergarten teachers to high school principals, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the job market for educators should expand between 2020-2030. Salaries can fluctuate significantly depending on an area’s cost of living, and as a general rule, educators with a master’s degree tend to make more.
We’ve highlighted various teaching careers below and included their average salary, projected job growth, and the level of education required.
Education Career Salaries, Career Outlook, and Job Requirements
|Career||Salary||Project Job Growth (2020-2030)||Education/Experience Required|
|Preschool Teacher||$31,930||18%||Associate Degree|
|Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers||$60,660||7%||Bachelor’s Degree|
|High School Teacher||$62,870||8%||Bachelor’s Degree|
|Special Education Teacher||$61,500||8%||Bachelor’s Degree|
|Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals||$98,490||8%||Master’s Degree|
How To Become A Teacher: Education and Teaching Licensure
1. Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree
Whether or not you earn a bachelor’s in education, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to teach in almost any primary or secondary educational setting. Students earning a bachelor’s in education have a clear path towards teaching licensure.
Students with an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field can supplement their bachelor’s with a master’s degree in teaching. Many of these programs offer a pathway towards a teaching license. Teacher preparation tracks do exist, but if you’re already taking the time to complete college-level coursework, earning a master’s degree can also lead to a higher salary and expanded career options.
2. Teaching Licensure
Once you’ve completed your requisite college-level coursework, the next vital step is securing your teaching license. While private schools are traditionally free to set their own hiring guidelines, public teachers jobs require applicants to have an active teachers license.
Education students at a state-approved program often complete many licensure requirements as part of their degree. Students either complete the national Praxis exam or complete a state-specific examination.
For state-specific licensure requirements, the U.S. Department of Education offers a handy resource where you can access contact information for each state.
Teaching Degree Accreditation
While students have access to thousands of colleges and universities throughout the United States, not all schools and academic programs are created equally. When searching for the right education degree program, enrolling in a regionally accredited institution is essential. Regionally accredited schools have met rigorous standards to ensure that you get your money’s worth. Accreditation can also influence your ability to receive Federal financial aid and whether or not the credits you earn can be transferred to other institutions.
It’s also vital that your education program holds programmatic accreditation. This is especially important if you are working towards teacher licensure. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is a common accrediting agency for education programs.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education offers a valuable database of accredited institutions and programs.
Scholarships For Education Students
A vast number of scholarships are available for education students. And whether you’re tackling your bachelor’s degree or MEd, funding exists. Additionally, many states offer tuition reimbursements for students dedicated to working in a particular state. We’ve highlighted five generous scholarships below. For a more extensive and personalized list of scholarships, visit our scholarship search tool.
Indiana Retired Teachers Foundation Scholarship: Awarded to full-time college sophomores and juniors at Indiana colleges or universities, the Indiana Retired Teachers Association provides scholarships exceeding $2,000. Applicants must submit academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, and documentation of financial need.
Minority Teacher Education Scholarship Program: Sponsored by the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers, this scholarship initiative offers a merit-based program providing funding exceeding $4,000. Applicants submit an electronic application and a short essay.
Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship: For students planning to teach in Indiana schools after graduation, this scholarship awards over $7,500 in funding. Applicants must graduate in the top 20% of their high school class or have a top 20% SAT/ACT score.
PNC Foundation Scholarship: In partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), this scholarship program was founded to expand educational access to minority students in New Jersey. Students must enroll in an education program and submit a completed application, academic transcripts, and a personal essay.
Winifred R. Reynolds Educational Scholarship: Offering winners up to $7,000, this scholarship is open to students pursuing graduate degrees focusing on early childhood education, childhood development, or an equivalent field.
Frequently Asked Education Degree Questions
What is the best major in education?
- The best major in education is the one that fits your academic and career goals. For some, an associate degree is an excellent entry into the field, while working educators may want to expand their career options through a master’s or doctorate program. College admission workers and academic departments are always happy to answer any questions you may have.
What are the different types of education degrees?
- Education degrees span from associate degrees at community colleges to PhD and EdD programs. Students pursuing a career in teaching will inevitably tackle a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. A Master’s in Education is a practical way for working teachers to enhance career options and boost their earning potential.
How long does a degree in education take to finish?
- An Associate Degree in Education takes about two years for full-time students, and a bachelor’s degree requires about four years of coursework. Working educators can often complete a master’s degree in 1-2 years. For educators with a master’s degree, a doctorate usually takes about 3-4 years to complete. A student’s status as a full-time or part-time student can significantly impact the time it takes to graduate.
How much do teachers get paid?
- Salaries can vary significantly based on experience, level of education, and location. That said, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for high school teachers is about $62,000.
How fast can I become a teacher?
- Traditional primary and secondary education roles require a bachelor’s degree, and most undergraduate degrees are designed to be completed in about four years. Students can reduce the time and cost of their degree by completing a significant portion of general education requirements at a community college.
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