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Online Master’s in Teaching Degrees

A Complete Guide

Great teachers will do almost anything to help students succeed. While some exchange lesson plans for administrative titles to broaden their reach, others simply wish to find new ways to support the students sitting in front of them; they love teaching too much to give it up entirely. How can passionate teachers reach more students without sacrificing the work they love? By becoming students themselves.

Earning an online master’s in teaching degree can deepen understanding of the field of teaching and equip teachers with new tools and methods. Unlike many other master’s programs that emphasize theory, master’s in teaching programs are designed to provide advanced, but practical training for hands-on teachers. Because flexible online programs make it easier to study while working full-time, teachers may put these new skills to use right away. This guide will take a detailed look at how online master’s in teaching programs work, offer tips for finding the right one and explore what these degrees might mean when it comes to career advancement.

Top Online Master's in Teaching

Those looking to advance their teaching careers will often strive to earn a master’s degree in the field. This degree can help teachers to hone special skills, develop new ones and advance in their careers in ways that would be unavailable to them without one. Earning this degree online gives teachers the change to continue in their current work, while simultaneously undertaking the mater’s program.

One of the most convenient ways for those looking to earn a master’s in teaching is to do so via the increasingly common online program. Schools, seeing the demand for such distance learning options, have stepped up to the plate, and more options are now available than ever before for those looking to earn their master’s in teaching degrees online. GoGrad has taken a hard look at hundreds of such online programs, and brings to prospective students the very best below. Using our rigid methodology, we’ve ranked them here that prospective students may get a glimpse into what a great online master’s in teaching program looks like.

SCORE:  98.35 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Kansas

Established in Kansas in 1863, Emporia State University was the first public school for training teachers in the state. Today, that strong tradition of equipping educators to become leaders in scholarship continues. The online Master’s of Education in Teaching helps teachers, library/media specialists and school counselors provide innovative and effective solutions in their institutions. Although this 36-credit-hour program does not lead to a teaching license or any additional endorsements, it does provide the graduate with the interdisciplinary knowledge and skills needed to engage in effectual practice. Faculty members are leaders in the field and maintain close contact with their professional backgrounds.

  • MS Curriculum and Instruction
  • MS Early Childhood Education
  • MS Education Administration
SCORE:  97.56 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Illinois

Concordia University’s MA in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages (TESOL) is unique in its offering of an optional international practicum. This allows students to teach English overseas for eight or 16 weeks while completing the program. Graduates are prepared to serve as domestic or international ESL/EFL teachers in many settings, including community organizations, intensive English programs, colleges and universities or private language companies. Currently, the international practicum can be completed in China, Vietnam, Turkey or Argentina. This program is open to all online students, regardless of their country of citizenship.

  • MA
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • MA
SCORE:  97.56 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Iowa

The University of Northern Iowa offers a master’s in education program that is geared toward practicing teachers looking to deepen their understanding of the profession. Students can choose from a wide variety of programs, including literacy education, early childhood education, coaching and teaching in American international schools. Content, student resources and research are organized around important issues and problems facing today’s teachers.

Students will learn strategies for putting innovative practices into the classroom. The university also offers a wholly online master’s education program, delivered through an eLearning platform and video conferencing. To graduate, students must complete 37 credit hours and build a comprehensive portfolio demonstrating their learnings in seven core areas.

  • Art Education (MA)
  • Early Childhood Education (MAE)
  • Educational Leadership - Principalship (MAE/ASC)
SCORE:  96.7 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Arkansas

Designed as a postgraduate degree, HSU’s online MA in Teaching allows students with a bachelor’s degree to pursue an alternative route to teacher licensure in middle level or secondary education. Offering wide-ranging options during the required 36 credit hours, the degree emphasizes pedagogy, methodology, classroom management, human growth and development and the needs of exceptional children. The department is known for providing a challenging yet supportive environment, and all professors are or have been licensed grade-level teachers. While enrolled in the program, students can teach with a provisional license and are eligible for full licensure upon graduation.

  • Online MSE in Technology Leadership
  • Online MSE in Educational Leadership
  • Master of Science in Education in Advanced Instructional Studies
SCORE:  96.65 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Kansas

The Master of Science degree in Teaching with an emphasis in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is geared toward licensing teachers working with K-12 students who are not native English speakers. The program prepares students to advance in their careers as competent, committed and caring professionals. Graduates can expect to hone their skills in serving the needs of English language learners, their families, the schools and the community. This fully online program offers classes in the fall, spring and summer. Classes are offered in a flexible format to meet busy schedules and students can choose between thesis or coursework options.

  • MA in Teaching (Special Education)
  • MS in Education (School Health)
  • MS in Educational Leadership
SCORE:  96.07 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Alabama

The sheer volume of specialties offered in Jacksonville State master’s in education programs distinguishes the university from other schools. Students can choose from such distinct concentrations as physical education with a concentration in pedagogy, biology education, instrumental music education and vocal music education, as well as more common focuses like special education and elementary education. The program’s fundamental goal is to develop both initial and advanced education candidates into effective, reflective and creative decision-makers.

  • Master of Science in Education in Collaborative K-6
  • Special Education
  • Master of Science in Education in Collaborative 6-12
SCORE:  95.9 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: California

The MA in Teaching at Biola University is a practitioner’s degree, outfitting graduates with skills in classroom practice and management. Seven different concentrations are offered, including special education, early childhood, single or multiple subject, personalized, induction and Clear Credential, a program designed specifically for those wishing to teach in California. All programs require 30 credit hours, with the exception of single and multiple subject, which are 44 and 50 credit hours, respectively. All concentrations also include a capstone project. The program is designed for professionals who have previously completed bachelor’s level work and now wish to earn credentials while working toward their master’s degree.

  • Master of Arts in Education
  • Clear Credential
  • Master of Arts in Education
SCORE:  95.41 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Iowa

Morningside College’s graduate program in education focuses on excellence in teaching. The program is designed to give students the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary for become effective educators, leaders and role models to co-workers and students. Students learn to use appropriate assessment and problem-solving strategies, conduct research to address education issues, use technology in the classroom and leverage knowledge of global and local trends while educating.

All courses are available online, in an asynchronous format. Students must have high speed internet access and may need to hold a valid teaching license depending on the program.

  • Master of Arts in Teaching
SCORE:  95.1 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: California

Students looking for rigorous academic preparation with a firm rooting in Christian values may want to consider APU’s online master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Working in both international and domestic settings, graduates are known for their ability to teach English professionally with intercultural sensitivity, integrity and compassion. The 36-credit-hour program is delivered wholly online, while promoting interaction with other students and teachers to maximize learning potential. It is also ideal for the working professional; the university suggests students should plan to commit six to 10 hours per week to complete assignments and participate in online discussions.

  • Educational Leadership
  • M.A.
  • Educational Leadership
SCORE:  94.89 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: New Mexico

Students pursuing their master’s in education degree at New Mexico State University can choose from six areas of emphasis. These include curriculum and instruction, learning technologies, college administration, PK-12 educational administration, early childhood education and a master’s in education with a graduate certificate in online teaching and learning. Programs are primarily online, but minimum face-to-face sessions may be required. For instance, internships for the administration focus require in-person monthly seminars on the Las Cruces campus. The online program pulls from the most up-to-date web-based technologies, interactive television and faculty exchanges.

  • Master of Arts in Education with a Graduate Certificate in Online Teaching and Learning
  • Master of Arts in Education (Emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction)
  • Master of Arts in Education (Emphasis in Learning Technologies)
SCORE:  94.53 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: California

Students who are interested in pursuing leadership positions in the education field may want to consider National University’s master’s in teaching program. Designed for practicing educational professionals who want to broaden their understanding of educational theory and practice, the program teaches students about technology in instruction, models for teaching, program design, curriculum foundations and research. Students can specialize in a wide variety of areas, such as autism, e-Teaching and learning, teaching mathematics and early childhood education, to name a few.

  • Master of Arts in Teaching
  • Master of Education with a Preliminary Multiple or Single Subjects Teaching Credential and Internship Option (California Only)
  • Master of Science in Educational and Instructional Technology
SCORE:  93.27 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Arkansas

Students looking to enhance their knowledge of the field of education and career prospects may be interested in The University of Central Arkansas master’s in teaching program. Consisting of 36-39 hours across five to six semesters, the degree requires 30-hour core classes with six to nine hours on a selected track. Designed specifically for people who have a bachelor’s degree but do not yet have teaching credentials, the program focuses on training established, mid-career professionals as teachers. Students can choose from an early childhood track, a middle level track and a secondary track. The program runs all fall, spring and summer sessions.

  • Advanced Studies of Teacher Leadership (MSE)
  • Instructional Technology (MS)
  • Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)
SCORE:  92.55 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Mississippi

The Mississippi State University master’s in teaching program is divided into two categories: teaching in community colleges and middle level education. The middle level track allows students to teach all subjects in grades four through six and at least one subject in grades seven through 12. Those who have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution can become a teacher after two online courses. Students complete two licensure courses and will be recommended for a 3-year non-renewable license. The community college teaching program prepares teachers for instructing in rural community colleges and requires a minimum of 18 hours in the student’s teaching field.

  • Master of Arts in Teaching in Community College Education
  • Master of Arts in Teaching Middle Level Education (MATM)
  • Master of Arts in Teaching – Secondary (MAT-S) ,
SCORE:  91.78 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Missouri

At Missouri Baptist University, the master’s in teaching is designed for certified teachers who are interested in adding an additional area of certification, and also for those who want to complete initial certification with a master’s degree. Students enrolled for initial certification must complete a professional teaching portfolio, which also meets the graduate research requirement. Certified teachers complete a “school improvement project” to satisfy this requirement. The school boasts flexible class times, certification qualifications and diverse subject programs, enabling students to apply their knowledge to their current position or to advance into a new role.

  • Master of Arts in Teaching
  • Master of Educational Technology
  • Master of Science in Education

What to Expect from Online Master’s in Teaching Programs

Online master’s in teaching programs may be flexible, but this is sometimes where their similarities to on-campus courses end. Concentrations, technologies and format can vary wildly, and all of these factors influence students’ learning experiences. It is important to consider lifestyle and learning needs when reviewing prospective programs. Do you want to watch videos and collaborate with students on your own time, or do you prefer the immediacy and predictability of live-streamed lectures and set class times? Are mobile learning tools a priority? Do you want an accelerated program or a more metered course load? Considering and ranking priorities now can save a lot of time and frustration later on. Let’s review a few important features to consider when evaluating online master’s in teaching degrees.

Teacher licensing

Online master’s in teaching programs cater specifically to classroom teachers – professionals who, with rare exception, must be licensed. Programs designed to meet common state licensing requirements spare students who are new to teaching and unlicensed, or who have lapsed licenses, a heap of time and stress, but only when chosen carefully. Requirements vary by state, so programs based in states other than the one in which you intend to teach may not satisfy all licensing criteria.

States with reciprocal licensing agreements may accept coursework from accredited schools in other partner states, so contact a state’s education department or professional licensing board to clarify requirements before enrolling in any program. Because all states require initial licensing candidates to complete a minimum number of supervised student teaching hours, online master’s in teaching programs with licensing components often require students to complete internships practicum. Online students can often fulfill these requirements within their local communities. Contact prospective schools directly to learn more.

Secondary licensing and certification

Some online master’s in teaching programs offer secondary licensing components, usually on a voluntary basis. Secondary licenses are earned in addition to initial teaching credentials as a means of certifying special skills and training within certain content areas, working with specific grades and so on. A high school math teacher may pursue an additional license in secondary math education, for instance, while a foreign language teacher might become certified in Spanish. Special licensing disciplines vary by state, and each state sets its own secondary licensing options and criteria. Verify that any coursework completed toward a degree with a secondary licensing component complies with standards set forth in the state in which you hope to teach. Secondary licensing programs are often offered to students enrolled in relevant specialty tracks.

Specialty tracks

Online master’s in teaching programs cater to teachers, but how and who educators teach varies. Master’s specialty tracks reflect these nuances. Concentrations are usually grade- or subject-specific, like elementary teaching, secondary teaching or art education, and coursework is tailored accordingly. Consider tracks carefully to avoid wasting time and money on irrelevant classes. Contact schools and ask to speak to an admissions adviser to clarify options, or to request full program catalogs with detailed course requirements and descriptions. Do not be afraid to ask school representatives to connect you with current and past students who can offer an informed perspective about what certain tracks are like and how they translate to the workforce.

Capstone projects and exams

Master’s degrees are advanced credentials, so they often require students to prove their knowledge before they graduate. Students enrolled in online master’s in teaching programs may have to prepare and defend theses, complete research or field practicums, and/or pass comprehensive exams. Many schools allow online students to perform research or fieldwork in their own communities and present theses online, but a few require campus visits. The same is true for programs with capstone exams: some allow students to report to approved local, proctored testing centers while others expect students to report to campus. This can be a point of concern for online students who find potential campus-based work off-putting, if not impossible. Future students should review all graduation requirements before enrolling in a program to ensure they understand its expectations.

Classes & Concentrations

A master’s in teaching degree is a major career investment, but like most graduate programs, it can be rigorous. Even flexible online programs require a lot hard work – students just have more control over where and when they perform their studies. Nobody wants to put a lot of effort into courses irrelevant to their careers.

Concentrations alleviate these issues by tailoring coursework to suit students’ needs. Elementary teachers’ usual tools and methods probably would not get much traction in a high school classroom, so their coursework should reflect that. Most master’s programs will probably expect you to take a series of core courses universal to the field, but second-year classes can be much more specialized. Let’s look at some of the more common specialty tracks, to gain a better sense of available options.

Elementary education

Master’s in teaching programs with elementary education tracks are designed specifically for teachers working with elementary-age children, grades K-5. Coursework is advanced and covers a range of topics, like early literacy development, childhood development, learning and instructional theories, curriculum development and teaching in diverse or high need classrooms. Because elementary teachers usually teach several subjects, courses emphasizing cross-disciplinary integration are common (i.e, Integrating Reading in Social Studies.) Some programs offer additional courses in subject areas not typically taught by classroom teachers, like physical education or the visual and performing arts. Specialty sub-tracks for special education, gifted education and English as a second language teachers are also prevalent.

Elementary school teacher

Teaches young students, usually in a single class or grade, a diversity of subjects, laying the foundation for more advanced education down the road. Elementary teachers plan lessons, grade and assess student work, collaborate with parents, and help identify and support students with educational challenges.

Middle school education

Middle school can be a difficult time for students who must exchange the predictability of a single-class, single-teacher elementary classroom for a more rigorous schedule requiring much more organization and independence. Being caught in that awkward period between childhood and adulthood does not help matters. Online master’s in teaching programs with middle school education tracks help educators teach these students more effectively, while learning to offer them the additional support and guidance needed during this transitionary period. Courses may touch upon topics like adolescent development, educational theory and classroom management. Middle school teachers usually specialize in one content area, so most programs offer sub-tracks in areas like math, English or science education.

Middle school teacher

Instructs middle school students, usually in one subject across multiple grade levels, preparing them for the rigors of high school. Middle school teachers usually plan lessons, grade tests and other work and assess a student’s overall performance. Some teachers may also be required to collaborate with special education and other professionals to improve student outcomes.

Secondary school education

Students enrolled in online master’s in teaching programs with secondary education concentrations learn how to better teach and assess high school age students, usually grades 9 to 12. Courses cover basic teaching methods and theories, but also teach educators how to guide and support students on the cusp of going to college or entering the workforce. Because secondary school teachers often specialize in a single content area, many master’s programs offer sub-tracks in subjects like English, science, math, foreign language, physical education or art education. Secondary education tracks in areas like special education and English as a Second language are also common. Schools with specialized sub-tracks may offer a voluntary secondary licensing component within those disciplines. Contact prospective schools to learn more.

High school teacher

Offers even more rigorous instruction in a single subject to students across multiple grade levels, preparing them for college, or to enter the workforce. High school students prepare and execute lesson plans, grade exams and homework and assess student performance while complying with all district, state and federal instructional and curricular standards. Some high school teachers coach or mentor students in extracurricular programs like sports and student clubs.

Special and/or gifted education

Most teachers are trained to recognize struggling and exceptional learners, but special and gifted education teachers work with these students almost exclusively. Online master’s in teaching degree programs with special and gifted education tracks offer advanced training in areas relevant to those programs. Classes vary, but may cover topics like teaching and assessing students with learning, behavioral and emotional disorders (of varying degrees); peer, parent and community collaboration; IDEA and other relevant state and federal laws; and classroom management. Online master’s in teaching programs with special and gifted education concentrations often have grade-specific sub-tracks, like elementary or secondary special education. Programs that do not have a stand-alone special education track may offer relevant sub-tracks within other grade-specific concentrations, like elementary and secondary education.

Special education teacher

Helps students with learning, emotional and behavioral challenges succeed academically, and in other areas of life. Special education teachers provide individualized instruction in areas like math and reading using any accommodations laid out in student Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. They may also coordinate other services, like occupational and speech therapy.

Content areas

Many teacher specialize in one or two subjects. This is especially true of middle and high school teachers, but most elementary schools also hire educators to teach subjects like art, music and physical education exclusively. Many online master’s in teaching programs offer subject-specific tracks designed to give art, math, physical education, science, foreign language and many other teachers advanced training in within their content areas. Some even offer relevant secondary licensing or certification components. Remember that these licensing options and requirements vary by state, and that master’s in teaching programs that have these options might require supervised internships or practicums. Prospective students should clarify school and state requirements and confirm that they can fulfill them before opting for such programs.

Elementary school teacher

Teaches young students, usually in a single class or grade, a diversity of subjects, laying the foundation for more advanced education down the road. Elementary teachers plan lessons, grade and assess student work, collaborate with parents, and help identify and support students with educational challenges.

Middle school teacher

Instructs middle school students, usually in one subject across multiple grade levels, preparing them for the rigors of high school. Middle school teachers usually plan lessons, grade tests and other work and assess a student’s overall performance. Some teachers may also be required to collaborate with special education and other professionals to improve student outcomes.

High school teacher

Offers even more rigorous instruction in a single subject to students across multiple grade levels, preparing them for college, or to enter the workforce. High school students prepare and execute lesson plans, grade exams and homework and assess student performance while complying with all district, state and federal instructional and curricular standards. Some high school teachers coach or mentor students in extracurricular programs like sports and student clubs.

Elementary school teacher

Teaches young students, usually in a single class or grade, a diversity of subjects, laying the foundation for more advanced education down the road. Elementary teachers plan lessons, grade and assess student work, collaborate with parents, and help identify and support students with educational challenges.

Middle school teacher

Instructs middle school students, usually in one subject across multiple grade levels, preparing them for the rigors of high school. Middle school teachers usually plan lessons, grade tests and other work and assess a student’s overall performance. Some teachers may also be required to collaborate with special education and other professionals to improve student outcomes.

High school teacher

Offers even more rigorous instruction in a single subject to students across multiple grade levels, preparing them for college, or to enter the workforce. High school students prepare and execute lesson plans, grade exams and homework and assess student performance while complying with all district, state and federal instructional and curricular standards. Some high school teachers coach or mentor students in extracurricular programs like sports and student clubs.

Special education teacher

Helps students with learning, emotional and behavioral challenges succeed academically, and in other areas of life. Special education teachers provide individualized instruction in areas like math and reading using any accommodations laid out in student Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. They may also coordinate other services, like occupational and speech therapy.

Concentrations personalize online master’s in teaching degrees on a higher level, but students’ core, specialty and elective courses really shape their day-to-day learning experience – and the skills they bring to graduation. Some of these courses are highly specialized; others are so universally relevant to all teachers that they transcend many programs and schools. What can you expect to learn? This table offers an inside look at real courses offered by several online master’s in teaching programs nationwide.

Educational Psychology

This course investigates several different educational theories as they relate to learning, motivation, teaching and assessment. Students learn how to evaluate theories critically, especially where they conflict.

Child and Adolescent Development

Students are individuals, and their learning needs tend to change over time as they grow. This course examines how normal childhood and adolescent development influences instructional efficacy, classroom management and student achievement over time so that teachers can adjust their practices appropriately.

Teaching in Diverse Classrooms

There are a number of sociological factors that can create challenges for students or otherwise impact achievement. This course examines some of these trends and how to teach in a way that is respectful of students of all races, faiths, genders, languages, socioeconomic classes and other attributes in a diverse classroom setting.

Educational History and Philosophy

The educational philosophies that govern the field of teaching change over time. This course examines these shifts from a historical perspective, highlighting pivotal events like the emergence of public education and the passage of certain laws that had a major impact on teaching and curriculum standards.

Student Teaching Internship/Practicum

These supervised learning experiences give students a chance to put their new skills to use in the classroom. Some programs approach them from a research perspective and require students to experiment, document results and reflect on their findings; others require them to meet state initial or secondary licensing requirements. Online students should clarify where and how internships are carried out so that they can plan accordingly.

Educational Leadership

Teachers need not assume administrative roles to be leaders. This course offers students strategies for mentoring and managing other teachers and for solving problems in and out of the classroom. Students will also learn how various leadership methods impact student learning and achievement and a school’s overriding culture.

Classroom Management

Classroom management courses teach students how to organize and manage their classrooms in a way that promotes learning and positive behavior and minimizes disruption. This course is usually offered within a specific concentration, like elementary or secondary education, to increase relevancy.

Early Language and Literacy Development

This course examines how language and literacy skills typically develop in young children and how biological, sociological and other factors may play a role. Courses focusing on language and reading are particularly common among online master’s in teaching programs with elementary education concentrations.

Digital Technology and Learning

Students enrolled in online master’s in teaching programs experienced first-hand how educational technologies can support and even revolutionize learning, but only when used appropriately. This course discusses existing and emerging technologies, theories surrounding their use and how they promote (or hinder) learning.

Program Timing: How Master’s in Teaching Degrees Work

Online master’s in teaching programs are a 2-year commitment, accelerated and less-traditional course loads notwithstanding. Knowing how programs are structured help students know what to expect, and when, so that they can plan accordingly. This is especially important for students enrolled in programs with internships and other requirements that could interfere with work or family life. The following timeline offers a glimpse at how most master’s in teaching programs are organized; research how specific programs are laid out for a more personalized schedule. Schools usually publish these outlines on their official websites, but never hesitate to contact admissions representatives for more information; they are there to help.

Year 0

Surviving the Admissions Process

A student’s education may not formally begin until the first day of the first year of classes, but the whole online master’s in teaching experience got underway the moment he or she decided to go to school. Researching and choosing a handful of potential schools is a smart start. Next up: submitting applications. Learning how and when to submit what is can be a tricky business, especially when applying to multiple programs with varying requirements and deadlines. Master’s programs’ admissions requirements are typically steeper than those of undergraduate programs, so be prepared to submit transcripts, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, personal essays and even proof of relevant teaching experience or licensure. Some programs also require applicants to sit for an online or on-campus interview. Fumble any of these steps, and an applicant’s probability of admissions success takes a nosedive. Don’t panic. Here are a few tips for getting into a program you love with minimal stress.

Make a list of all the reasons to earn a master’s in teaching. To help more students? Make more money? Diversify career options? A little perspective can go a long way toward putting admissions anxiety in check. Post this list somewhere visible as a reminder or your goals.

Rank all potential online master’s in teaching programs in order of desirability, then research each one’s admissions requirements and related deadlines. It might help to organize this information in a spreadsheet and check off tasks as they’re completed. If things get hairy, focus on high priority schools first.

Contact former schools’ registrar offices to request official transcripts for each program on your list, plus a couple of backups. Repeat the process for standardized testing facilities to obtain requisite exam records. Some online master’s in teaching programs will only accept records sent directly from these institutions; others allow students to submit sealed records along with other applications materials. Plan accordingly.

Touch base with employers, colleagues, former professors and anyone else who might be willing to write glowing letters of recommendation. When sifting through LinkedIn contacts or a rolodex, make note of anyone who graduated from your preferred schools. Try to schedule a call or coffee date to learn more about their experience and any helpful tips they can share.

Review any and all admission essay requirements and get to work. Try to finish them early enough to give them a careful edit, preferably with fresh eyes. Consider tapping friends who are writers or an admissions consultant for additional help.

Complete applications and pay any outstanding fees before their official deadlines.

Investigate financial aid or any other program that might help manage education costs, like employer-sponsored tuition assistance and private grants or scholarships. Fill out applications and submit any required documentation on time.

Breathe. Once an application is submitted, the ball is in the school’s court. Focusing on work, family and hobbies can make the waiting game more tolerable.

Year 1

Building Foundations

Have you received an acceptance letter or two? Take a moment to celebrate, then get down to business. A school’s admissions offices can guide you through any major next steps, like setting up a payment plan and registering for courses. Most online master’s in teaching programs design first-year coursework to build a solid foundation for more advanced study. This is when students usually complete most, if not all of their core courses. Expect classes to be relevant, but general. Those new to online learning should set aside plenty of time to browse through course management platforms and any other web-based tools they will use during the course of the program. Most online schools offer round-the-clock technical support; don’t be afraid to use it. Remember that online degrees may require students to be more organized and disciplined than those who report to classrooms. Take advantage of tutorials, tutoring and other online student support services for help making the transition.

Year 2

Branching Out

Most students enrolled in online master’s in teaching programs will find their second-year courses more rigorous and focused. Students enrolled in specific tracks and concentrations will delve more deeply into them, while those enrolled in more general programs rely on elective courses to specialize their educations. Keep in mind that students required to complete internships, perform research activities, complete capstone theses and take any comprehensive exams must typically complete them by the end of the year. Online master’s in teaching programs may allow students to complete practicums in their own communities and present theses using video-conferencing tools like Skype in the name of flexibility. Some also allow students to complete proctored final exams using special software or at an approved testing facility near them. Plan for any mandatory campus visits early and carefully to minimize unnecessary stress or travel later on.

Playing the Odds: Do Online Master’s in Teaching Degrees Pay Off?

Online master’s in teaching degrees can benefit teachers as much as they benefit their students. Graduates may earn heftier paychecks, gain edge in the job market, or even open doors to entirely new careers. These benefits may be just the motivation students need to advance their education – motivation that will probably be tested the moment they set eyes on school fee schedules. Education can be expensive, but there are ways to manage costs. Flexible online programs can make it easier to maintain a full- or part-time jobs that offset many expenses. Financial aid, employer tuition assistance and other helpful programs can help, too, but not everyone has access to them. Can you afford school? Is your degree worth it? These questions are perfectly normal, if stressful. Let’s review the numbers.

Calculate the Costs

Most graduate school hopefuls know earning online master’s in teaching degrees could be pricey, but they should not let fear keep them from doing the math. If a program charges $300 in tuition and fees per credit-hour, and then requires 48 credit-hours’ worth of work, courses alone will cost about $14,400 in total, or about $7,200 a year. Books, tuition and other costs only exacerbate sticker shock. Plugging these estimates into a more complete budget – one that factors in earnings and living costs – can be a sobering experience.

Don’t panic. Take a moment to see whether online students enrolled in a prospective program are entitled to in-state tuition regardless of residency, a cost-saving perk many schools offer. Students can call their schools’ financial aid offices to speak with an adviser about any low-interest loans, grants or scholarships that could help. Some employers and districts also offer tuition reimbursement to teachers completing courses relevant to their careers. Teachers unions and professional organizations may provide additional grants, scholarships and other financial aid programs. Leave no financial stone unturned when searching for ways in which to fund your education.

Consider the Benefits

Helping more students succeed may be reward enough for earning an online master’s in teaching degree, but a heartier salary certainly does not hurt. No degree comes with a higher earnings guarantee, but plenty of research gives reason to hope. According to a 2011 study conducted by Georgetown University, education professionals with master’s degrees earn about 33 percent more than colleagues with bachelor’s degrees alone. This group includes all types of education professionals, but what about teachers specifically? This table breaks down median earnings for all teachers by specialty in 2013, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, along with the typical earnings boost teachers with master’s degrees (in relevant concentrations) earn, as detailed in the 2011 Georgetown University study. Keep in mind that these figures are drawn from different years and datasets; this chart only offers a sense for what teachers typically earn and how advanced education might affect that.

Job Title Top 10 % Median (50%) Bottom 10% Typical Earnings Increase with a Master’s
Elementary Teacher $83,600 $53,590 $35,760 36%
Middle School Teacher $82,770 $53,940 $37,050 N/A
Secondary School Teacher $86,720 $55,360 $37,230 26%

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2013; Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2011

Georgetown is not the only group tracking this education-related earnings boost: a 2014 review of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Contract Database found first year teachers with master’s degrees earned $3,200 more on average than their colleagues with bachelor’s degrees alone, and this disparity only grew with experience. Both the Georgetown and NCTQ studies are right on par with another, earlier National Center on Education Statistics review of nearly two decade’s worth of public K-12. Earnings are variable and complicated, but hard data suggests these gains are more trend than fad.

Another way an online master’s in teaching can pay off is through career advancement. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teachers are not necessarily required to earn master’s degrees, but principals and other administrators are. Some teachers would rather stay in the classroom that climb that ladder, but for others, these leadership positions offer a chance to help far more students, and in other ways. These jobs also pay more – a fact that those who would like to use their master’s degrees to segue into new roles might appreciate.

All things considered, the costs of earning a master’s in teaching degree may mostly, if not completely, pay off in lifelong earnings. Graduates who target high-demand fields can benefit from these trends even more.

Career Outlook: High-Demand Options for Teachers

Higher earnings are always welcome, but let’s take a moment to explore how online master’s in teaching degrees might impact job outlook. According to the BLS, employment rates tend to climb with education, across almost all industries. The Bureau does not project employment demand for teachers by education attainment specifically, but it can still be helpful to see how various teaching jobs stack up. Here is a breakdown of how the Bureau expects demand for various teachers to grow between 2012 and 2022. We have included projections for principals for readers eyeing administrative roles.

Job
Projected Hiring Growth
High School Teachers
6%
Middle School Teachers
12%
Elementary School Teachers
12%

Keep in mind that any degree that diversifies teachers’ job options expands their career safety nets, even if they never have to use them. It may also open doors to teaching jobs in other areas of education, like private or alternative schools with steeper teaching standards.

Think Outside-the-Classroom: Surprising Jobs for Teachers

Ask almost anyone to describe what teachers do and public schools, chalk dust, homework and lesson plans are likely to come up. Most teaching graduates do move directly into a school environment, but they do not necessarily have to. The field of education is always evolving. Emerging trends in charter and alternative education, online learning and even homeschooling have triggered new opportunities for teachers in search of a little change. Here are some of jobs that let teachers use their master’s in teaching degrees in ways they may not expect.

  • Teach online classes

    Online master’s in teaching programs prove students can learn almost anything online, and public and private K-12 schools were quick to capitalize on this trend. These online schools offer teachers a chance to focus on subjects and grade levels that interest them most, usually from the comfort of home. This convenience does not mean one must sacrifice personal student connections: limited online class sizes and video-conferencing tools could allow teachers to mentor more students one-on-one on far greater a scale than public classrooms allow.

  • Teach in private settings

    Homeschooling is on the rise, a trend spurred by parents wary of large class sizes, tight schedules and high-stakes testing environments. Families who homeschool may tap teachers to help their children in difficult subjects, design lesson plans, assess achievement and even review portfolios to confirm students’ proof of progress – an option many states offer homeschool families who would rather not administer standardized tests. Many teachers who take this path are self-employed. That gives them a lot more control over what they do (and when), but it also means they may have to find health insurance elsewhere, manage their own retirement plans and save for tax season.

  • Teach in an alternative school – or start one

    Does it ever feel like instructional and curricular standards limit the ways teachers can help students? Or that it might be time to take a new approach entirely? Some parents in search of new options would rather find a different type of school for their children than teach them at home. This may be especially true for children with learning or behavioral challenges. This might explain why Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia have become household names. Master’s in teaching degrees could give teachers the training and credibility they need to establish their own schools or programs. It can be a difficult process, but the reward is supporting and teaching students in a way that respects their own educational philosophies.

  • Become an education consultant

    Demand for new types of schools and learning approaches also boosts demand for educational consultants. Online master’s in teaching graduates could theoretically use their training and experience to assess programs and suggest improvements, or help design curricula for alternative education or homeschooling use. They might even be able to pick up work with online learning tools and programs like BrainPop or Scholastic. This does not have to be an all-or-nothing affair: many classroom teachers offer these services while teaching in a traditional setting, to supplement their earnings.

These careers are just examples of the new and unusual opportunities emerging for dedicated teachers. Other options might include working for summer camps and programs with an academic twist, helping adults earn their GEDs, teaching in juvenile or adult corrections facilities or making the move to vocational or postsecondary institutions.

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