Written by: Thomas Broderick
Published: August 28, 2020
Best Master's Degrees in Education
Current and aspiring high school teachers who want to become more effective educators or attain a career in school administration should consider earning an online master's in education. A master's degree conveys the latest instructional and leadership best practices and may qualify graduates for additional teaching license endorsements. Educators with a master's degree may also earn a higher salary.
This page highlights the top 10 cheapest online master's in education programs, many of which learners can complete in fewer than two years. Read on to learn more about accreditation, typical courses, and scholarship opportunities.
What Are the Goals of a Master's Degree in Education?
Cheap master's in education programs feature numerous goals, also known as learning objectives. Goals include the ability to perform academic research, apply research outcomes in an educational setting, and maintain professional relationships. Principals and vice principals use these skills to manage students, teachers, and staff. In the classroom, teachers with a master's degree can lead their classrooms more effectively and convey lessons to learners with different skills and abilities.
Students often enter online master's in education programs with goals such as changing careers, earning higher salaries, and becoming more effective educators. The following sections explain these and other goals in greater detail.
Why Get a Degree in Education?
- Ability to Teach New Courses: At the high school level, challenging Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses need highly trained teachers who can both instruct and motivate students to succeed at college-level coursework.
- Promotion to an Administrative Position: Many public school districts require that vice principals and principals possess a master's or a doctorate. A master's can qualify graduates to receive an administration endorsement on their teaching license.
- Salary Increase: Most school districts offer a higher salary to teachers who completed coursework beyond a bachelor's degree. The average teacher with a master's degree earns $2,700 more per year than a teacher with a bachelor's degree.
- Heightened Teaching Skills: Teachers who want to improve classroom management and instruction earn an online master's in education to learn new skills and hone pre-existing ones.
- Teach at the College Level: Some dedicated teachers enter a one-year online master's in education program because they want to instruct the next generation of educators. Professionals with a master's degree can work as college lecturers or adjunct professors.
Accreditation for Online Master's in Education
When researching different online master's in education programs, prospective students should ensure that each program possesses regional accreditation. In the United States, the Department of Education (ED) charters six regional accreditation agencies. Each agency oversees colleges and universities in a different region. They grant accreditation to institutions that offer quality educational programs. Individuals can check a school's regional accreditation status on the ED website.
In addition to regional accreditation, schools that offer an online master's in education program should possess accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). DEAC accreditation signifies that a school's online programs have the same academic rigor and educational outcomes as its on-campus programs.
Prospective online master's in education students should focus on programs with programmatic accreditation from an organization that evaluates education programs. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation uses custom standards to evaluate teacher-preparation programs throughout the United States.
How Much Do Education Majors Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), elementary and secondary education administrators earned a median annual salary of $96,400 in 2019. A median salary indicates that administrators in some parts of the country earn more, while others make less. Online master's in education graduates can also work as instructional coordinators. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $66,290 in 2019 while school and career counselors in a K-12 setting earned $57,040.
Workers with a master's in education can also find fulfilling positions at colleges or universities. Postsecondary education administrators, such as deans, presidents, and chancellors, earned a median annual salary of $95,410 in 2019. Postsecondary teachers in a college setting earned $79,540. These salaries allow most professionals to live comfortably in most U.S. cities and towns.
Learners can increase salary potential after earning a degree by attaining work experience and professional certifications. Like a degree, the latter signifies to employers that an applicant possesses an advanced skill set.
1. What can you do with a master's in education?
Individuals with a master's in education can work as K-12 teachers or administrators. Opportunities at the postsecondary level include professor or administrator.
2. How long does it take to get a master's degree in education?
The answer depends on whether a student studies full or part time. Most programs take 1-2 years to complete.
3. Is it worth getting your master's in education?
As the degree represents a significant financial investment, a master's degree in education appeals to prospective learners who want to work in education for their entire career.
4. Do teachers get paid more with a master's?
Public K-12 districts incentivize teachers to earn a master's by offering an automatic salary increase. On average, teachers with a master's make $2,500 more per year than their peers.
Master's Degree Courses in Education
Even the cheapest online master's in education programs challenge learners with coursework in pedagogy, classroom management, and content-specific courses. Typical courses in the latter category relate to the academic subject the educator-in-training plans to teach after earning an initial teaching license. Students who select a concentration, such as special education or instructional design, may complete a modified curriculum with in-depth specialized coursework.
Read on for some sample courses. Note that academic requirements vary among programs. Prospective students can contact a university or college counselor to learn more about their school's online master's in education program.
The Teacher as a Professional
Even experienced teachers need a refresher on how their profession impacts society. Course topics include the evolving education landscape, the importance of collaboration among teachers, and how professional growth leads to better student learning outcomes. This course also conveys essential leadership skills that graduates need for a career as a teacher or administrator.
Throughout the United States, numerous children with mental and physical disabilities learn successfully in a general education classroom. This course trains teachers on how to teach these students effectively and provide an equitable learning environment. Other course topics include specific teaching strategies, such as group instruction and the role of formative and summative assessments.
Action Research for Educators
This course helps teachers of all experience levels understand the role of research in improving student learning outcomes. Learners design an action research project that involves changing one teaching method to determine if it positively impacts children's academic performance. Teachers collect data throughout the project and present the results in a paper or presentation.
Integrating Technology to Enhance Learning
Technology, such as laptops and smartphones, plays an ever-expanding role in classroom education. This course prepares teachers to use technology in the classroom effectively. Course topics include educational theories, different technology tools, and how to use technology to increase children's engagement and achievement.
21st Century Instruction
This course explores not just instructional technology but the latest research into strategies that enhance classroom learning. Teachers use this research to plan mock lessons that integrate technology and backward design fundamentals — defining learning goals and assessments well in advance of starting a new subject or unit.
How to Become a Teacher
Aspiring primary and secondary school teachers complete similar steps to attain a job in education. One option involves earning a bachelor's degree in education that includes student teaching, a licensure requirement. Nontraditional learners with a bachelor's degree can start an education career by enrolling in an online master's program in education that confers licensure.
After aspiring teachers satisfy their state's licensure requirements, they can apply for an initial teaching license. Afterward, licensed teachers can add additional endorsements for different academic subjects. Licensure renewal requirements vary by state, and many states accept out-of-state licenses. Teachers must renew their licenses. Typical renewal requirements include continuing education courses.
Career and Salary Outlook for Education Majors
Professionals with an online master's in education can select from multiple career paths in the education field. While in school, learners can prepare for a specific career by specializing in primary or secondary education, administration, or special education. Students may explore additional specialization options depending on their program. The BLS posts a median salary and projected job growth for each career. Use the following links to learn more about various positions.
High School Teacher: High school teachers educate students in grades 9-12 in core academic subjects and electives. Typical job duties include lecturing, leading class activities, and grading assignments. Outside the classroom, high school teachers perform other responsibilities, such as coaching a team or advising a student club. High school teachers with experience and an advanced degree can become administrators
Median Annual Salary:$61,660
Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028):4%
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher: Like high school teachers, kindergarten and elementary school teachers instruct students in different academic subjects. However, as they work with younger children, they help students develop socialization skills. These educators also identify young learners with a physical or mental disability and ensure that these students receive appropriate special education services.
Median Annual Salary:$59,420
Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028):3%
Postsecondary Teacher: In colleges and universities throughout the country, postsecondary teachers educate undergraduate and graduate students. Teachers with an online master's in education and work experience can train aspiring teachers through classroom instruction and mentoring. Although a master's degree qualifies professionals to teach at the college level, those who want to attain a tenure-track position should earn a doctorate.
Median Annual Salary:$79,540
Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028):11%
Special Education Teacher: Special education teachers help learners with physical and mental disabilities succeed in the general education classroom. They also work with students' families to create an Individualized Education Plan to modify instruction and assessment around the student's disability. These teachers collaborate with other educators to ensure that learners receive appropriate services.
Median Annual Salary: $61,030
Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028):3%
Source for salaries: BLS
Scholarships for Master's in Education
Although a cheap online master's in education can lead to significant tuition savings, learners may still need financial aid to avoid debt. Fortunately, numerous scholarships award funding to students earning an advanced degree in education. The following five examples represent just a few for which degree-seekers may qualify. Please use the embedded links to learn the latest information about each award's application instructions and deadline.
Bishop Charles P. Greco Graduate Fellowships
Who Can Apply: The Knights of Columbus awards this fellowship to graduate students preparing for a career as a special education teacher. Application requirements include an autobiographical statement, two recommendation letters, and official transcripts. The fellowship sends funding directly to recipients' universities and renews for up to four semesters as long as recipients remain in good academic standing.
Gates Millennium Scholars Program
Who Can Apply: This program provides funding to undergraduate and graduate students part of a racial minority. Application requirements include majoring in one of seven discipline areas, including education. Applicants create an account on the Gates Millennium Scholars website before applying. The scholarship renews if recipients make satisfactory academic progress each semester.
Amount: $12,785 average award
Inspire Our Future Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Teach.org awards this scholarship to undergraduate and graduate students majoring in education. Both U.S. and international students may apply, and all applicants need a minimum 3.5 GPA. Teach.org also requires an essay of 500-700 words. This scholarship for online master's in education degree-seekers does not renew.
STEM Teacher Graduate Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Graduate students preparing for a career as a science or mathematics teacher can apply for these scholarships. The AFCEA Educational Foundation limits scholarships to U.S. citizens in at least their second semester. Applicants need a minimum 3.5 graduate GPA.
Who Can Apply: Legally blind undergraduate and graduate students who earn a minimum 3.0 GPA can apply. The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) accepts applications from full-time learners and part-time degree-seekers who work to support their education. Applicants need only to submit one form to apply for multiple scholarship opportunities.
The researchers and writers at Best Master's Degrees do not make recommendations based upon preference — we back our rankings with a methodology. Read on for a breakdown of how we organize ranking data.
- Finances (40%)
- Academic Rigor (35%)
- Student Gratification (25%)
Nearly half of the data used to score each ranking involves finances acquired from sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor, the ED, Glassdoor, and PayScale.
Financial data encompasses tuition cost and fees, the average price of living, access to financial aid and social services, and the projected annual salary acquired from degree outcomes and income for loan repayment. The second-largest category of information involves the quality of education, how competitive degree applicants should be for consideration, and a program's overall exclusivity. The final 25% of collected data depends upon student and alumni reviews from sources such as PayScale, Rate My Professor, and Students Review.
Want to Learn More?
The amount of information available for specific degrees is plentiful, and Best Master's Degrees aims to provide as many resources as possible. Check out our methodology page for more information and resource links.
10 Best Master's Degrees in Education
#1 – Johns Hopkins University
Master of Science in Education – Educational Studies
This degree delivers the professional development teachers need to achieve their personal and professional goals. Since 2012, the university has offered this non-licensure program to corps members of Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP). Alumni of both TFA and TNTP are also encouraged to apply.
Students work closely with graduate advisors to develop a program plan based on the student's current teaching placement and program affiliation. The degree includes a combination of core teaching pedagogy courses along with a selection of electives. Core classes include classroom management, transformational leadership and teaching, and the development of a teaching portfolio.
Students may select from several electives to customize their degree focus. Common elective topics include school law, human development, and the politics of learning. The program runs entirely online asynchronously, allowing students to study at their convenience.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $53,740
#2 – Purdue University, Main Campus
Master of Science in Education in Special Education
West Lafayette, IN
This program exposes participants to cutting-edge interventions for students with learning disabilities, mild developmental disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders, and high-functioning autism. Degree candidates select from six concentrations. This online program provides on-licensure, initial-licensure, and additional-licensure concentrations.
Credit requirements range from 31 credits for the non-licensure option to 45 credits for students seeking an initial license. Core coursework includes topics in research, issues in special education, behavior analysis, and assistive technology.
In addition to completing the required core courses, licensure students also complete a special education practicum. Practicum experiences take 7-8 weeks to complete. Learners can schedule their practicum during the academic year.
The program is accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,208 / $28,010
#3 – University of Georgia
Master of Education in Reading Education
Designed for current teachers and literacy professionals, this degree emphasizes the use of new and digital literacies in K-12 classrooms. The degree includes 36 credits delivered through 12 online courses. By carefully designing their plan of study, students may qualify to add the Georgia Reading Endorsement to their teaching licenses at the conclusion of the program.
Learners take classes in reading instruction, digital resources and literacy, popular culture, and literacy development. Students also participate in field experiences through the required practicum in reading instruction and assessment. All students participate in a three-credit capstone course focusing on electronic assessment in literacy classrooms before sitting for a comprehensive final examination required to earn the degree.
University of Georgia is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,704 / $24,692
#4 – Texas A&M University, College Station
Master of Science or Master of Education in Special Education
College Station, TX
This 36-credit program does not require applicants to hold a teaching license. However, applicants should have teaching or clinical experience working with individuals with disabilities. The program incorporates several classes that help students build skills in educational psychology. Courses include behavior management, bilingual special education, and advanced applied behavior analysis.
Learners can pursue an M.Ed. or MS degree. Students who choose the MS option produce a written graduate thesis in addition to completing required coursework. M.Ed. students complete a comprehensive examination at the conclusion of their studies. Students in both degree tracks may pursue certification as a board-certified behavior analyst. Certification requires that learners complete a series of behavior and research courses. A graduate advisor can help with course selection.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $6,552 / $17,904
#5 – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Master of Education
Divided into two tracks, this program allows students to pursue their specific career goals. The Ed.M. in curriculum and instruction gives teachers the skills to educate diverse populations with a strong focus on educational technology. Within this emphasis, students may further focus on bilingual/bicultural education or digital learning.
The program's other track leads to an Ed.M. in education policy, organization, and leadership. Students in this track can further concentrate their studies on diversity and equity, education administration and leadership, global studies in education, human resource development, and learning design and leadership. The schedule features weekly, online synchronous classes to encourage interaction among students and faculty.
Students with a valid teacher's license and a 3.0 GPA from their bachelor's program may apply. Learners without a teaching license can obtain their initial licensure through the university's master's plus teacher licensure program.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $15,068 / $28,221
#6 – North Carolina State University
Master of Education | STEM Education – Science
Students can choose from concentrations in mathematics and statistics education, science education, or engineering and technology education. Learners complete 30 credits and may qualify for professional licensure. All students take a required course before moving into specialty courses for their chosen concentration.
The university offers more than 200 classes covering a spectrum of topics, including geospatial modeling and the fundamentals of climate change science. Applicants need a bachelor's degree in science or science education with a minimum 3.0 GPA. The school does not require a graduate entrance examination. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction approves the education graduate program for advanced licensure for master's degrees. The university offers an eclectic mix of distance education degrees with more than 100 fully online programs.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,917 / $25,405
#7 – San Diego State University
Master of Arts in Educational Leadership
San Diego, CA
This degree helps current teachers tackle the challenges of leadership roles in their classrooms, schools, and districts. Students must complete a series of classes, including organizational and systems leadership, school improvement leadership, and communication. Students also complete seminars focusing on technology architecture and advanced topics in educational leadership.
The program runs entirely online and takes most students 12 months to complete. Learners begin in the summer and progress through the plan of study in a cohort model. Students complete classes by the following fall. The program is open to applicants with a valid teaching license.
San Diego State University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $7,176 / $16,680
#8 – University of Southern California
Master of Arts in Teaching
Los Angeles, CA
Students select from five concentrations, including multiple subjects, secondary English, and secondary science. The program blends online instruction with a hands-on component in the student's community. Learners typically spend 20 hours per week engaged in student teaching. This dual approach qualifies graduates for a California teaching credential. Applicants should check for interstate reciprocity agreements to see if they can transfer credentials to their home state.
Candidates can broaden their educational focus by adding optional certificates in special education, gifted education, or bilingual authorization for Spanish. Full-time students usually complete the degree in 13-15 months while part-time students take two years. Students may join the program at any of three start dates throughout the year.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $44,712
#9 – University of Central Florida
Master of Education in Exceptional Student Education
This program focuses on social justice and educational excellence. The degree is designed for active teachers who already hold a certificate or license in special education. Upon completing the degree, students qualify for Florida state certification in Exceptional Student Education.
Students complete all 33 credits online, except for the supervised teaching practicum. Learners who cannot complete the practicum requirement may substitute an approved elective. Other specialized courses include teaching spoken and written language and methods of behavior management. Degree candidates may complete the program with either a graduate thesis or a research report. The university offers additional programs in pre-kindergarten disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and special education.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $6,916 / $25,759
#10 – University of Utah
Master of Arts in Teaching – Fine Arts
Salt Lake City, UT
This online program features two 12-day intensive campus residencies. Students collaborate with classmates and develop methods-based arts teaching skills. Learners earn 12 credits through these sessions. Students complete the remainder of the program's 30 semester hours entirely online.
Learners explore various subjects in the arts, including visual arts teaching methods, music and dance, materials and methods, and art project design. Students complete the degree with an arts-based teaching portfolio that their graduate committee reviews and grades. A non-thesis final project is also part of the degree's culminating experience.
Qualifying applicants need a bachelor's degree in a specific art form or a state arts endorsement in theatre, dance, visual arts, film, or music. Applicants must submit an arts-based teaching portfolio. They do not need to hold a professional educator's license.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $6,988 / $24,665