Earning a Master's in Elementary Education Online

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In today's competitive job market, earning a master's degree can give you an edge in professional fields like elementary education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), full-time graduate program enrollment increased by 50% between 2000 and 2010, and by another 4% between 2010 and 2016.

The availability of distance learning programs makes enrollment in an elementary education master's degree online a reality for students who might not otherwise be able to attend due to a full-time work schedule and other obligations. Based on data from NCES, more than one million graduate students across the U.S. enrolled in one or more online classes.

As an elementary educator, having a master's degree increases your earning potential and opens doors to leadership positions in the education field. In this guide, we provide an overview of what to look for in a master's program, how to fund your education, and what to expect during your program and after graduation.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Elementary Education?

Prospective students who want to earn an elementary education master's online come from different academic and professional backgrounds. Some might hold a bachelor's degree in education and want to earn a master's to advance their career, while others might plan to pursue a particular specialization, such as educational policy, that requires a master's degree.

Elementary education master's students may hold a bachelor's degree in another field and, after spending time in the workforce, return to school as graduate students to pursue a new line of work. Finally, some may enroll in a graduate program as they decide whether to earn a related professional certification or finish their master's degree requirements.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Elementary Education?

Pursuing Specialization

Some students enroll in an online master's degree in elementary education because they want to specialize in a particular subfield, such as special education or speech pathology. While not available at every school, some programs allow students to complete additional certifications as part of their degree requirements. Once students earn a master's degree in education, they may return to school later to pursue further certification or branch into related industries, like social work.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Earning a master's degree in elementary education not raises students' entry salary potential and paves the way for higher-level positions. Teachers may spend a few years in the classroom before aiming for a higher-paying role, such as curriculum specialist or school principal. Increasing levels of responsibility set education professionals to advance even further into administrative or policy-level positions.

Online Learning Technology

Completing a master's in elementary education online offers new and seasoned educators the opportunity to explore the latest online learning technologies. Graduate programs often include the latest technology tools in content classes, and educators learn to apply these tools in the classroom. Graduates may also step into teacher-leader roles, providing school- or district-based professional development opportunities for their colleagues.

Prerequisites for Online Elementary Education Programs

As you consider online elementary education degrees, research each program website and schedule a time to speak with an admissions adviser about prerequisites, such as required or recommended standardized tests.

    • Work Experience: Many online master's in elementary education programs require only an accredited bachelor's degree, but some continuing education programs may require at least a year of teaching experience. Either way, applicants should provide a current resume listing volunteer experience working with youth and education-related initiatives, which can help validate their interest in entering the teaching field.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Many programs require prospective graduate students to demonstrate passing scores on the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators tests in reading, writing, and math. Scores range from 100-200, and required passing scores vary by exam and state. Depending on the state, scores may remain valid for up to 10 years.
    • Coursework: Some online master's in education programs may require students to take a minimum number of credit hours in subject areas like psychology and math during their bachelor's program or their first year of graduate study. Programs typically require that students hold a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA.
    • Recommendations: Prepare to submit at least two letters of recommendation with your program application. Schools typically request recommendation letters from a current or former supervisor, professor, or other professional mentor. Letters from family members or friends do not usually qualify.
    • Essays: Program applications generally request a statement of purpose explaining why the applicant wants to earn a master's degree and become an educator. Applicants can often use the same statement for multiple institutions, but each school implements individual essay requirements.
    • Interviews: Competitive master's in elementary education programs may ask applicants to participate in a formal interview with a program staff member. Interviews allow admissions officers to gauge applicants' interest and commitment to the field. They may take place in-person, by phone, or via virtual conferencing.
    • International Students: In addition to general admissions requirements, international students must submit a passing score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Some schools offer a waiver for students who completed an accredited bachelor's degree in the U.S.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Elementary Education?

Depending on area of specialization and degree level, salaries for elementary education careers range from $48,000 to $80,000. School districts usually increase teachers' salaries depending on work experience. Earning a graduate degree plus other teaching certifications, such as an English as a Second Language (ESL) credential, boosts elementary teachers' earning potential. A master's degree in education can lead to leadership and nontraditional careers in the education field, such as instructional coach or education game designer.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Elementary Education Graduates

Career Stats Description

Elementary School Principal

Median Pay: $79,982

Job Growth: 8%

In addition to overseeing staff, elementary school principals oversee all administrative and operational functions of a school, including curriculum, school services, and budget resources. They also communicate the school's vision and goals to staff, parents, and the school board.

Ideal for: Strong leaders in education who can communicate with people from various backgrounds and remain flexible and proactive in stressful situations.

Instructional Coordinator

Median Pay: $56,575

Job Growth: 11%

Instructional coordinators implement curriculum and train teachers. Duties may include researching and recommending curricula and resources to a district or school, organizing and distributing resources, and providing curriculum support to teachers.

Ideal for: Individuals with effective oral and written communication skills, and an ability to work with district administrators and students.

Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher

Median Pay: $56,900

Job Growth: 7%

Elementary school teachers provide instruction to students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Teachers spend school hours teaching students core subjects, generally reserving night and sometimes weekend hours for lesson planning and grading.

Ideal for: Teachers should demonstrate empathy and an ability to work with diverse populations, plus strong communication and organization skills.

Curriculum Specialist

Median Pay: $54,888

Job Growth: 11%

A curriculum specialist helps assess the effectiveness of a curriculum in one or more subject areas. Specialists may advocate for a new curriculum, or adjustments to an existing one. Much of these professionals' work takes place in an office, but curriculum specialists often travel to professional conferences.

Ideal for: Curriculum specialists need excellent observation and analysis skills and motivation to keep up with the latest learning trends and research.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Elementary Education Graduates

Career Stats Description

Education Consultant

Median Pay: $62,460

Job Growth: N/A

Schools and school districts call upon educational consultants to assess and analyze issues related to curriculum, school programs, or teacher training. Consultants create and implement solutions, from building informational databases to leading teacher trainings.

Ideal for: Educational consultants tend to be innovative problem-solvers. They work in a self-employed capacity, keeping flexible hours to accommodate the schedules of school staff and parents.

School Counselor

Median Pay: $48,998

Job Growth: 13%

School counselors provide students with a structured, safe environment to discuss personal and academic-related issues. Counselors identify barriers and potential solutions with students and communicate these to teachers, parents, and school principals.

Ideal for: Individuals with excellent written and oral communication skills, who have a knack for maintaining a peaceful environment and calm demeanor in stressful situations.

Special Education Teacher

Median Pay: $58,980

Job Growth: 8%

Special education teachers provide customized instruction and support to students with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities. In addition to developing and delivering lessons, they also teach personal and social skills, like organization and communication.

Ideal for: Patient and resilient individuals who commit to researching and trying out teaching strategies that support varying students' needs.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Elementary Education

If you want to earn your elementary education master's online on a budget, consider accelerated online programs, which allow you to complete as many courses as possible within a given time period. These programs often charge one per-term rate, as opposed to per-credit tuition costs. Full-time programs also tend to cost less than part-time programs, as full-time students usually finish their degrees in less time. Students should also consider the range of grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available based on merit, background, and financial need.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

A wide range of financial aid options exist for students completing a master's in elementary education, ranging from federal grants to private scholarships. See below a sample of financial aid opportunities, including merit-based scholarships and grants for teaching in a high-needs school.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Elementary Education Program

The average elementary education master's online takes two years or less to complete. Students typically take courses reflecting a mix of human development, pedagogy, and professional topics. Most programs require students to complete certain milestones, such as classroom observation, before they can participate in student-teaching, complete a research capstone project, take the Praxis exam, and apply for an initial teaching license. Online programs typically deliver their classes through online learning management systems, with the exception of in-person practicum and student-teaching requirements.

Major Milestones

  1. Preclinical Classroom Experience

    Students participate in an elementary classroom field experience, usually lasting two months. During this time, students observe teachers interacting with students. They help prepare and deliver at least one lesson plan in collaboration with their cooperating teacher.

  2. Research Capstone Project

    Similar to a thesis but requiring less time, a research capstone allows students to show their ability to observe, analyze, and interpret a pedagogical topic of their choosing. Students begin by taking courses in research methodology, then choosing a project that overlaps with their field placement or student teaching classroom.

  3. Student Teaching

    To gain initial teaching licensure, students must student-teach for a state-set minimum number of hours in an elementary classroom. As students become familiar with the classroom environment and best teaching practices, they gradually take over teaching and classroom management responsibilities with guidance from their cooperating teacher.

  4. Professional Portfolio

    The professional portfolio contains a purposeful selection of work reflecting students' progress and achievement through their master's program. Example items might include a collection of lesson plans and photographs from field placements and student teaching.

  5. Praxis Exam

    Students must earn a passing score on the national Praxis II exam to qualify for initial licensure. The Praxis exams for elementary school teachers comprise four subject-area tests, including reading and language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.

  6. Initial Teaching Licensure

    Initial teaching licensure requirements vary by state, and students should check with their state's education department to verify state-approved master's programs. General application requirements include proof of completion of an accredited teaching program, passing scores on the Praxis II exam, and a licensing fee.

Coursework

Though course selection varies by school, the classes described below represent a common set of courses in an online master's in elementary education program.

Educational Psychology and Human Development

This course covers physical, cognitive, and emotional development from infancy to young adulthood, with a focus on theories and real-world case studies. Students learn to apply their understanding of development in their teaching role.

Foundations of Exceptionality

This course includes a history of special education and present-day policies and issues in American classrooms. Students learn the basics of teaching students with varying disabilities and collaborating with families and colleagues.

Fundamentals of Diversity and Inclusion

Students expand their knowledge of teaching children with exceptionalities to include working with English language, culturally diverse, and gifted and talented learners. In addition to teaching methods, topics include legal implications and advocacy initiatives.

Classroom Management and Engagement

Students learn classroom management best practices that engage students and foster a positive classroom culture. Coursework may include creating a classroom management plan.

Reading and literacy

Course content covers standards-aligned, research-based practices for teaching listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Students learn how to design lessons and units that weave various forms of literacy to address the academic, linguistic, and cultural needs of students.

Requirements to Practice

Elementary teachers don't need certification beyond an initial teaching license, but additional certification may boost their resume and expand job opportunities. The following certifications require at least a graduate certificate program, which includes a minimum number of clinical classroom hours, and a passing score on related Praxis exams. Keep in mind that other professional development opportunities, such STEM workshops and volunteering to lead school committees, offer other chances to enhance your resume.

    • Reading Specialist Certification: Several schools offer online or hybrid reading specialist certificates, which typically qualify recipients to teach reading in early childhood through middle or high school. Earning a graduate certificate takes anywhere from one to six years, depending on part- or full-time enrollment and required credits.
    • ESL Certification: Earning an ESL certificate requires students to pass the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) exam. Some programs may offer ESL certification preparation as part of their master's programs. ESL certification qualifies educators to teach English to students who speak a different language.
    • Special Education Certification: Students can earn special education certification through an online or hybrid program, which usually takes at least one year to complete. Some schools offer certification paths as an extension of their master's degree program, while others offer it as a standalone option for returning educators. Graduates with this certification can teach students with disabilities in self-contained and inclusive educational environments.
    • Speech-Language Pathologist Certification: Speech-language pathologists work with elementary students whose speech development delays affect their learning and social interactions. To earn a speech-language pathologist certification, students typically complete a graduate certificate or master's degree, and must also pass Praxis exams in audiology and speech pathology.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Educators and students in elementary education master's online programs can choose from national associations with a strong emphasis on educational policy, along with organizations that bring together educators to share ideas on teaching specific subject areas. Several professional organizations offer discounted memberships to students, with benefits including scholarship opportunities and access to events and conferences. Students can take advantage of in-person and virtual events, and start building a professional network that opens doors for potential jobs after graduation.

  • National Education Association: The NEA consists of educators and leaders across the country who work to improve public education for K-12 students. In addition to providing free resources to educators and advocates, professional and student members receive access to exclusive NEA news and discussion forums, discounted legal services, and networking opportunities.
  • Association of American Educators: The largest nonunion organization for educators, AAE offers professional publications, a teacher blog and resources, and professional development opportunities nationwide. Members also have access to a wide range of benefits, including classroom grants and legal protection.
  • National Council of Teachers of English: NCTE commits to improving English education for early childhood through college learners. Members benefit from exclusive access to other NCTE members' lesson plans, global networking opportunities, and discounts on events and other professional learning resources.
  • Phi Delta Kappa: Part of the PDK international family of education associations, PDK offers professional development, research publications, and networking opportunities through regional chapters. Members receive benefits including scholarships and discounted insurance plans.
  • ASCD: ASCD's more than 110,000 members include teachers, education advocates, and administrative leaders. The organization serves as a leading voice on education topics ranging from grading to poverty. Members can attend one or more events hosted by ASCD annually.
  • Scholastic: Founded almost a century ago, Scholastic continues to provide the nation's leading classroom magazines for students. Now with a digital platform, Scholastic offers access to lesson plans and curriculum guides, the Top Teaching Blog, and other interactive classroom resources for teachers and students.
  • Discovery Education: Discovery Education offers a variety of free digital resources for K-12 teachers, including learning videos, virtual field trips, and national classroom programs across core subjects. Teachers can also enroll in Discovery Education STEM certification program, offered in conjunction with Wilkes University.
  • Teaching Channel: Teachers can find a wide variety of high-quality videos featuring best teaching practices and lesson ideas across grades and subject areas. An optional online teachers' community provides professionals nationwide with opportunities to virtually network with each other.
  • ShareMyLesson: ShareMyLesson offers thousands of lesson plan ideas across core and extracurricular subjects by grade level. A wide range of available professional development resources include webinars, presentations, and other digital tools.
  • SmartBrief Education: Teachers can stay current on the latest education-related stories and news across the country with SmartBrief Education. Read the top stories suggested by editors, or drill down to specific topics, such as K-12 news or EdTech updates.