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Online Master’s in Education: California’s Top Programs

If you’re ready to advance your teaching career or transition into education, an online master’s program may be the right fit. To help, we’ve rounded up the best online master’s in education in California for 2024.

Author: Angela Myers

Editor: Staff Editor


Search hundreds of schools for the master’s YOU want……

Golden gate bridge at sunset, showcasing its iconic red structure spanning the entrance to san francisco bay, viewed from an elevated perspective.

California is one of the best states for educators. The state offers the third-highest average teacher salary in the United States, according to the National Education Association, and qualified teachers are in high demand.

Whether you’re a teacher looking to advance your career or a working professional who is making a career change, a master’s in education online in California is a great option. Online programs offer more flexibility, convenience, and independent learning so your education fits around your life and work, not the other way around.

To help, we’ve rounded up the best online master’s in education in California and the steps to become a licensed educator in the state. Read until the end for answers to the most frequently asked questions by education graduate students.

California’s Best Online Master’s Degrees in Education

Choosing the right master’s in education online in California isn’t an easy task, but it is an important one. Fortunately, we’ve rounded up some of the top schools to make the task easier.

University of Southern California

When looking for the best online master’s in education in California, consider the program at the University of Southern California. All master’s are offered through USC’s Rossier School of Education, with six master’s degrees available online. These include their master’s in teaching English to speakers of other languages, enrollment management and policy, learning design and technology, postsecondary administration, and school counseling.

They also have a general master’s in teaching for those who aren’t already licensed, with all components except student teaching offered online. The program places a heavy emphasis on research, and students have access to 11 education-specific research centers. They also have professional development resources for those who want to become K-12 education leaders or those who want to work within higher education. The school also offers virtual professional development events so online students and alumni feel supported as they progress in their studies and careers.

University of San Diego

The University of San Diego offers one of the top master’s in education online in California. The program is designed for K-12 teachers who are already licensed and working in a classroom. Since most students work full-time, this 100% online program is asynchronous, meaning students can watch prerecorded lectures and complete class assignments on their own time.

The program takes 20 months to complete, and the 30 credit hours required for the degree consist of general courses on educational theory and courses in a student’s chosen specialty. Concentration options include STEM education, inclusive education, technology and innovation, school leadership, and curriculum design. The tuition rate is $710 per credit, though the school does offer various scholarships and grants specifically for master of education students.

California State University, Fullerton

When searching for an online master’s in education in California, check out the various specialized programs at California State University, Fullerton. Based at the Fullerton campus, all courses are offered online. Compared to other schools in California, Cal State Fullerton offers a wider choice of online education degrees, with master’s offered at both the elementary and secondary levels. Specialized degrees in education technology, special education, curriculum development, and literacy and reading education are also available.

Many programs at Cal State Fullerton place a significant emphasis on transformative teaching and how to successfully utilize technology in the classroom. Coursework approaches teaching from a theoretical perspective, allowing students to complete significant research projects in an area of education of personal interest. Depending on the degree type, students may also be eligible to enroll in the bilingual authorization program, which prepares them to be leaders in multilingual learning environments.

In-Demand Education Careers in California

While there is a teacher shortage in California, the demand differs depending on the area of education. Special education teachers, for example, are in higher demand than physical education teachers. Before choosing a master’s program, it’s important to research in-demand specialties and the earning potential for a specialty-specific master’s degree.

For a better idea of how salary scales and open positions vary, explore the three in-demand education career paths highlighted below.

Special Education

Special education teachers educate students with cognitive or physical disabilities one-on-one or in a classroom setting. By earning a master’s in special education online in California, you have the credentials to make an impact on the lives of students with disabilities.

Many top schools offer a master’s in special education online in California. Point Loma Nazarene University is one of the leaders in special education master’s degrees and an excellent quality barometer when exploring similar programs.

Job Title CA Median Salary
CA Employment
Projected Growth
Special Education Teacher, Elementary School $82,140 17,700 9%
Special Education Teacher, Middle School $86,330 5,000 8%
Special Education Teacher, High School $99,060 9,400 9%

Source: O*NET OnLine

Reading Literacy

A recent news release from the California Department of Education highlighted the state’s growing need for teachers prepared to help bilingual students or others with literacy and reading. With a master’s in reading literacy, you can work as a reading specialist in schools and help California meet this need.

A online reading literacy master’s program prepares teachers to work one-on-one or in small groups with students who struggle with their literacy skills. Often, these individuals work at the elementary level. Other alumni with this degree develop reading and writing curricula for school districts. For a better idea of what this master’s looks like, check out the program at San Diego State University.

Job Title CA Median Salary
CA Employment
Projected Growth
Elementary School Teacher $92,860 156,400 8%
Instructional Coordinator $83,320 15,200 13%
ESL Teacher, Postsecondary $102,920 6,200 8%

Source: O*NET OnLine

Education Administration

Maybe you’re already a teacher, but you want to explore jobs in education with higher pay and more growth opportunities. Getting a master’s in education administration can open doors to new roles, such as a principal or instructional coordinator.

To learn more about the cost, course topics, and post-graduation opportunities for this degree, visit our guide to earning an education administration master’s. For an example of a high-quality program in your state, check out the degree from California State University, San Bernardino.

Job Title CA Median Salary
CA Employment
Projected Growth
Instructional Coordinator $83,320 15,200 13%
Education Administrator, Kindergarten through Secondary $131,870 25,300 8%
Education Administrator, Postsecondary $120,710 20,300 8%

Source: O*NET OnLine

How to Become a California Educator

Step 1: Choose a Specialization

Before applying for your master’s, you should choose your specialization. This includes the grade level you want to teach (preschool, kindergarten and elementary, middle school, high school, or higher education). Depending on the chosen grade level, you may also have to choose a subject matter specialization, such as high school social studies or middle school English. Once you’ve selected a specialization, explore different online master’s in education programs for that specific area, instead of general degrees or other specialties.

Step 2: Earn Your Online MEd

Once you decide on a specialty, it’s time to choose a degree. For any master’s program, choosing an accredited program is a good rule of thumb, but for master of education candidates, it’s essential to attend an accredited program to apply for licensure. Along with being accredited, a program should be approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Fortunately, there are many universities with affordable master’s degrees on the state’s approved list.

Step 3: Gain Field Experience

When looking for an MED, check to see if the program offers field experience. For higher education, this often looks like teaching assistantships at the university. If you’re applying for K-12 licensure, field experience most often means student teaching. Student teachers work in a nearby school district to apply knowledge from their courses to a classroom setting. California requires a minimum of 400 student teaching hours for K-12 teaching candidates.

Step 4: Pass Your State Exams

In California, there are two main exam requirements for teachers. The first is to meet the basic skills requirement, which can be demonstrated by taking courses in specific subjects or passing skills exams. Teaching candidates must also pass a subject-specific examination that corresponds to the specific licensure type they are seeking.

Step 5: Earn Your Teaching Credentials

The final step is to apply for teaching licensure. In California, there are many license types and the one you apply for depends on the grade level and/or subject matter specialty. If you have a degree with multiple subject area specialties, such as a joint math and science teaching degree, you should apply for a multi-subject license. Credentialing requirements vary by degree type and can be found on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s website.

The Cost of a Master’s in Education in California

Along with buying a house or a car, education is one of the biggest expenses in your lifetime. In fact, the average cost for a master’s of education degree is $59,840, according to the Education Data Initiative. This estimate is for all US states, and some programs in California cost more or less, shown in the table below.

Because a master’s in education comes with a high price tag, it’s important to plan ahead. Research costs, create a budget, and look into cutting back on expenses or taking advantage of financial aid opportunities, discussed below.

School Program No. of Credits Est. Tuition
Point Loma University Master’s in Special Education 36 $23,760
San Diego State University MA in Reading & Literacy Education 31 $14,093
California State University, San Bernardino MA in Education Administration 53 $18,391

California Financial Aid Options for Education Majors

Committing to an online master’s comes with a heavy price tag, but there are also ample financial aid opportunities, especially for California residents. The most popular include scholarships/grants, fellowships, work-study programs, and graduate research assistantships.

While you should apply to national financial aid opportunities, state-specific or career-specific scholarships, grants, and loans can be less competitive. Here are three outstanding aid options for teachers or education students in California:

  • California Teaching Association: This nonprofit offers a variety of scholarships, grants, and awards for teachers who want to continue their education.
  • Golden State Teacher Grant: Students in any professional preparation program approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing can apply for this $20,000 grant.
  • Union Plus Scholarship: Members of the California School Employees Association can apply for this scholarship. Award amounts range from $500 to $4,000.

FAQs for California Education Master’s Students

Is an online education degree a worthwhile investment in California?

An online education degree covers the same curriculum as an in-person one, but it often costs less, making it a worthwhile investment. Even if an online degree has the same tuition price as an in-person one, online students save money on student fees and transportation costs (which can be significant since gas is more expensive in California than in most other states).

On top of cutting costs, an online degree is easier to balance with a full-time job, meaning online students may earn more money than their in-person counterparts.

Are education master’s only for people who want to become teachers?

Being a teacher isn’t the only career option for those with an education master’s. Opportunities available depend on if you get a master of arts in teaching (MAT) or a master of education (MEd). An MAT prepares students to enter the teaching field or advance their current teaching career. In contrast, a master of education (MEd) prepares students for other careers in education, as school administrators or curriculum developers.

For more on the difference between these two degrees in California, check out this guide from the University of Southern California.

Does California offer any regional programs for educators?

While California is developing a state-wide teaching apprenticeship program to train new teachers or those transitioning into the field, it is not available currently. However, certain universities like the University of San Francisco offer apprenticeship programs that provide even more hands-on opportunities and a living stipend.

Can I legally work in California if I am credentialed as an educator in another state?

California has a reciprocity program that allows teachers with a license from another state to work in California if certain conditions are met. These conditions include having at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, passing the California basic skills test, and working for at least two years as a teacher before moving. If a teacher doesn’t have two years of experience, they must complete a teacher induction program.

Can I earn a graduate certificate in education?

A graduate certificate is a great way to advance your teaching education without committing to the cost and time necessary for a master’s degree. A graduate certificate in education is also ideal if you want to explore a specific topic in education, such as adult learning or teaching students with autism. It’s important to note these certificates are usually designed for those who are already licensed teachers.