Inside the Best Online Master’s Programs in Education

See how earning your online master’s in education can help you start or advance your career as an educator. Review this year’s top online programs, compare degree options, and discover career paths in this guide.

Everyone has that one educator who made a big difference in their life as a child or young adult. Teachers, principals, and other educators may never know the exact moments that spur their students to greatness, but their positive impact is undeniable.

While many education positions only require a bachelor’s degree, earning an online master’s in education can further improve your ability to make a difference as an educator. It can also be a great way to jump straight into teaching for those with a non-teaching background and open doors to other professional options, such as working in administration or providing leadership in non-academic settings. Plus, the flexible online format means you don’t have to drop your current work and life responsibilities while earning your master’s.

Ready to learn more about what an online master’s in education can do for you? This guide has everything you need, from a list of top online programs, a breakdown of available degree types, and a look into possible careers after graduation. Get started below.

College Spotlights: Best Online Education Master’s Programs in 2021

With so many good options to choose from, picking the right online master’s in education program can be daunting. To help you in the search, we created a ranked list of the best online master’s education programs, which we will release later in 2021.

In the meantime, we identified three top-rated master’s degree education programs to get you started in your academic search. These are among the best in terms of value, education quality, and learning flexibility.

Michigan State University

Michigan State University’s College of Education offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs for students interested in the field of education, including the Master of Arts in Education. This degree is ideal for teachers who would like to learn advanced teaching and learning concepts and obtain leadership skills to take on administrative roles in a wide range of educational contexts. Graduates will be prepared to work in pre-school, primary, secondary, and post-secondary educational institutions and the business workplace and community organizations.

The curriculum is 100% online and does not include a thesis. Students may also choose from among the following concentrations:

  • Special Education
  • Technology and Learning
  • P-12 School and Secondary Leadership
  • Literacy Education
  • Sports Coaching and Leadership
  • Science and Mathematics Education

Students can choose to go in-depth into one concentration or complete two, thus taking a broader approach to teaching education.

University of San Diego

The University of San Diego developed its online Master of Education program for experienced teachers interested in obtaining more advanced knowledge in a particular area and training that reflects the recent societal and educational changes—offered through USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, M.Ed. degree students can take their teaching to the next level in any educational settings, from public education to charter and non-traditional schools.

Students can graduate in less than two years and only take one seven-week class at a time. By the time they graduate, students will complete 10 courses and a capstone action research project. All of these requirements can be completed fully online, with no campus visits necessary. Of the 10 classes, five will be in one of the following areas of specialization:

  • STEAM
  • Inclusive Learning: Special Education and Universal Design
  • Literacy and Digital Learning
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • School Leadership

Clemson University

Students interested in advanced training will appreciate the Master of Education in Teaching and Learning program offered by Clemson University. For maximum flexibility, the coursework is 100% online and can be completed in just 18 months. However, some of the courses consist of a field component, which students can complete in a formal or informal educational setting. Keep in mind that this 30 credit program is designed for current teachers and does not lead to initial teacher certifications.

In addition to the 18 credits worth of core classes, students will also take coursework in one of four concentration areas:

  • Effective and Reflective Teaching
  • Experiential Learning for Early Childhood
  • Instructional Coaching
  • STEAM

Thanks to these specialization options, graduates will be ready to enter one of many potential work settings, such as continuing work as a teacher, shifting into the role of a curriculum specialist, or taking a school administration position.

Common Traits of the Best Online Education Master’s Programs

Choosing the best online master’s in education program is a personal decision. What’s best for you may not be ideal for someone else. However, there are many similarities that some of the top master’s in education online programs share.

  1. CAEP Accreditation

    Accreditation is a process in which an independent organization confirms that a school or program offers an education that meets basic standards. It’s usually necessary for financial aid providers and future employers to recognize the degree. Before applying to any master’s in education online programs, confirm that it is accredited. The leading accrediting body is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). The CAEP website has a handy F to help prospective students confirm a program is CAEP accredited.

  2. Specializations Offered

    If you want to earn an online master’s degree in education, there’s a good chance you are doing so to achieve a higher level of understanding in a particular area. This might be an academic subject, or it could be a new area of expertise so you can transition into a new job or subset of the education field. The best programs will not only have a wide range of specializations to choose from but offer specializations in your area of interest.

  3. Online Collaboration

    One of the biggest reasons to earn a master’s degree in education online is the flexibility to take classes and complete assignments on your timetable. However, there is a tremendous benefit to synchronous learning, where you have the chance to interact with your classmates and professors in real-time. Even optional or occasional opportunities to attend class or meet with peers in a live setting can improve the quality of your education and networking opportunities.

Why Earn an Online Master’s in Education?

An online master’s degree in education is a major investment in time, money, and effort. So it’s understandable that you might be wondering whether earning this degree is worth it, especially if you are already a licensed teacher. It is, and here’s why:

  1. Convenient Learning

    Distance education has revolutionized education by offering a level of flexibility never seen before. With asynchronous learning formats and self-paced learning, students can earn their degrees while also working as full-time teachers. Online learning allows them to attend class at any time and from any location with an internet connection.

  2. Improve Teaching Skills

    Most teachers need a bachelor’s degree before becoming certified teachers. A master’s degree provides an excellent opportunity to become a more effective teacher by going in-depth into a specific academic subject, such as science or math. It can also expose teachers to new methods and concepts that they may not have learned during their undergraduate training.

  3. New Career Opportunities

    Most master’s in education online programs offer opportunities to specialize in a particular academic area. Some of these areas cover topics that do not relate directly to the teaching, such as leadership or curriculum design. These topics provide the training necessary for current teachers to step into new careers, especially in school administration, where leadership skills and a graduate degree are often prerequisites.

Types of Online Education Master’s Degrees

Depending on your background in education and your future professional goals, some degrees will make more sense than others. We outline some of the more popular online master’s in education degrees here.

  • Master of Education (MEd)

    The Master of Education prepares teachers for a wide range of careers. Much of the curriculum focuses on practical teaching skills and information that allows teachers to continue their careers as educators. But there are also courses covering leadership, curriculum design, and educational theory. This makes MEd graduates work in other settings, such as corporate training in business or academic administration.

  • Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

    The Master of Arts in Teaching is a more specialized degree compared to the Master of Education. The MAT’s curriculum focuses more on the practical classroom skills to help individuals before more effective teachers. Because the coursework is heavily weighted toward training on teaching, the MAT is ideal for those who want to become teachers and gain their initial teaching certification or licensure.

    Does an MAT sound like the right choice for you? Read our full guide about online MAT programs to learn more and find top schools for your teaching degree.

  • Master of Science (MS) / Non-Teaching Master of Arts (MA)

    Master of Science and Master of Arts in Education degrees are sometimes interchangeable, depending on how a school chooses to name their program or academic degree offering. Generally speaking, both these degrees are intended for current teachers who wish to gain more specialized or in-depth knowledge in a particular subject. Depending on the school, an MS in Education degree may have a curriculum with more research or theory-based classes or specializations that focus on mathematics or the sciences.

Specialization Options for Your Master’s in Education Online Program

One of the biggest reasons to go back to school and earn an online master’s degree in education is for the ability to specialize. This can either help you advance in your current position or gain the training to step into a new education position. Here are a few of the concentration options.

  • Adult Education

    This concentration addresses the different approaches teachers will take when teaching adult students. Topics covered include adult learning theories, the administration of different learning formats, and program assessment. Students will also receive training in areas such as the corporate setting, outdoor education, and athletics.

    Learn more about earning your master’s in adult education online.

  • Early Childhood Education

    The focus in this specialization involves a lot more than just academic topics for young students. Much of the coursework will explain how to create lesson plans that build a child’s self-esteem and encourage them to learn in a supportive environment. Instruction will also include training on accommodating the various learning styles of young students.

    Learn more about earning your master’s in early childhood education online.

  • Educational Administration

    This concentration aims to provide teachers with the necessary leadership and management skills to step into the realm of school administration. Skills include how to solve complex problems using collaborative methods, mentorship of fellow teachers, and conflict resolution.

    Learn more about earning your online master’s in educational administration.

  • Educational Leadership

    Educational leadership enhances the leadership ability of teachers for advanced roles in the classroom or with academic administration. Courses in this specialization include ethics, educational leadership, academic research, and administration.

    Learn more about earning your online master’s in educational leadership.

  • Educational Technology

    This specialization focuses on how teachers can implement new technologies to improve student learning. Students will learn how to approve unfamiliar technology and conduct the research and analysis to decide if it should be integrated into the classroom and, if so, how.

    Learn more about earning your master’s in educational technology online.

  • Elementary Education

    Students will learn about teaching techniques and strategies for students in grades one through six in this concentration. There will be a special focus on developing critical thinking skills and building confidence in learning. Part of the curriculum also examines how to best integrate technology into the classroom.

    Learn more about earning a master’s in elementary education online.

  • Instructional Design

    This specialization prepares students to create curriculums for a wide range of recipients in many environments. Whether it’s adult students in a community center or middle school students at a private school, this concentration will teach the skills needed to create lesson plans to accommodate various learning styles, ages, and subjects.

    Learn more about earning an instructional design master’s online.

  • Math Education

    This concentration uses research-based teaching techniques to create the most effective math lessons possible. It focuses on creating activities, using technology, and designing research projects that will convey complex mathematic concepts to students and do so in a way that keeps their attention.

    Learn more about earning your master’s in math education online.

  • Music Education

    One of the rarer specializations, this is typically designed for individuals with music backgrounds who do not have their teaching certification. The coursework trains individuals who already have in-depth music skills but need the pedagogical training to effectively convey that knowledge to students.

    Learn more about earning your master’s in music education online.

  • Secondary Education

    By entering this specialization, students will learn principles, theories, and concepts that apply to teaching in grades seven through 12. In most secondary education master’s degree program concentrations, the curriculum will prepare students to teach in various class subjects, such as math, science, English, and social studies.

    Learn more about earning your master’s in secondary education online.

  • Special Education

    This specialty properly equips teachers to work with students with varying degrees of learning, cognitive, or other disabilities. The focus includes looking at the most up-to-date evidence-based teaching methodologies to create the proper curriculum for special needs students. There are subspecialties to choose from, such as early intervention, mild to moderate special education needs, and moderate to severe educational needs.

    Learn more about earning your master’s in special education online.

What You Can Do with a Master’s Degree in Education

An online master’s degree in education is versatile. It can open doors for teachers to advance their careers in the classroom or non-academic settings, such as the corporate boardroom. It can also serve as the first step to a career in administration. Let’s take a look at careers made possible with a master’s degree in education.

Postsecondary Career/Technical Education Teacher

This career involves educating those at the career, vocational, or technical post-secondary level. Common subjects include transportation, allied health, construction, cosmetology, and the culinary arts. An online master’s degree in education will provide training in how to teach older students and provide the academic credential necessary to become eligible to work as a postsecondary career or vocational teacher.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$32,840 $54,620 $99,230

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

School Counselor

School counselors work to help students learn the social and academic skills necessary to reach their maximum potential. Most jurisdictions require school counselors to have a master’s degree, where they gain the skills necessary to work with students and school administration, teachers, and parents.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$34,380 $57,040 $96,090

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Instructional Coordinator

As the name implies, instructional coordinators manage the curriculums of schools and ensure teaching standards are met. Instructional coordinators will work with teachers to create, implement, and assess school curriculums. Many master’s degrees in education programs have special courses or concentrations that provide training and theoretical backgrounds to accomplish these tasks.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$38,260 $66,290 $103,790

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Postsecondary Education Administrator

These professionals serve as leaders and managers of educational institutions beyond the high school level. The education master’s degree is essential for this role. Many positions require a graduate degree and need leadership, teamwork, and administrative skills to fulfill their role in a college or university.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$55,320 $95,410 $194,090

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

High School Principal

High school principals manage a high school’s daily operations, including faculty and student discipline, creating school budgets, and working with community members and parents. A master’s degree is needed to meet the eligibility requirements for most principal positions and learn the skills to become an effective leader of a high school. Much of the curriculum will cover policy, leadership, and collaborative learning topics.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$63,070 $96,400 $148,630

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Education

An online master’s in education can make a dramatic difference in an individual’s ability to reach their professional potential. Most students can’t easily afford the cost of this education, but there are various financial aids sources available, including scholarships, student loans, fellowships, and employer tuition assistance benefits. To learn more about how the financial aid options work, including how to obtain financial aid to help pay for your master’s degree in education, check out our financial aid page.

How Affordable Your Online Master’s in Education Could Be

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

Louisiana State University

39

$459

$17,901

Colorado State University Global

36

$500

$18,000

American University

30

$1,840

$55,208

Frequently Asked Questions About Master’s in Education Online Programs

Will an online master’s in education prepare me for teaching certification?

Many of the master’s in education online programs are for already licensed teachers. Completion of an online master’s degree in education program will not usually lead to initial teacher certification. However, some programs combine the master’s degree track with a teacher certification track, such as an online Master of Arts (MAT) program that allows students to become certified teachers after graduation.

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in education?

Most online master’s in education programs are designed for those who already have their teaching license. These programs will usually require applicants to provide:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Application
  • Application fee
  • Official transcripts
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation

Depending on the program, GRE or GMAT test scores may be required. Some programs will waive this requirement if certain conditions are met, such as a minimum GPA. Some programs will require incoming students to have a certain amount of teaching experience or proof of their teaching certification.

How long will it take to finish my master’s in education online?

The time to complete a program can vary based on the specialization or the degree itself. Also, online students have a lot of flexibility in the pace they choose to complete their classes. Most online master’s degree programs in education are 30 to 40 credits, and many students will want to continue working while in school. This makes it possible for most students to graduate in less than two years. However, faster graduation times are certainly possible, such as at Clemson University, where students can graduate in 18 months.

Can I earn a master’s in education completely online, or do I need to visit campus?

Most online master’s in education programs will be offered in a 100% online format. This means there is no in-person requirement, no need to visit the campus, and no need to complete any requirements that require physical attendance.