Best Online Master’s Degree Programs in Educational Leadership

Explore the best online master’s in educational leadership programs and see what you’ll study, how they can be affordable and flexible, and how you’ll expand your leadership skill set for professional success.

Becoming a leader among students, teachers, and the community is a rewarding feeling for educators. If you’re an experienced educator interested in taking on broader responsibility, earning an online master’s degree in educational leadership is an ideal option. This degree qualifies you for career paths where you will play a direct role in establishing goals and setting program standards in the educational field. An educational leadership master’s degree draws on your previous experience and elevates it by offering advanced training in operations, management, and learning assessment.

This guide was designed to help you determine your next steps. It details some of the core competencies you will gain during your educational leadership study, profiles several top-rated schools, and outlines several popular career options. You’ll get answers to your key questions about cost, accreditation, admissions requirements, and more along the way.

College Spotlights: Best Online Master’s in Educational Leadership for 2021

This section offers a preview of our educational leadership rankings by spotlighting three best-in-class programs for 2021. We identified these programs using the same factors that will help you in your school search: flexibility, affordability, and accreditation, among others. Each program listed stands out on all accounts, offering quality programming and robust student support. Find out more about it below, and be sure to check back here for our fuller ranking arriving later this year.

Western Governors University

Western Governors University’s online master’s degree in educational leadership cultivates the skills you need to manage educational institutions and develop curriculum standards. It prepares students for administrative roles that include overseeing teachers and optimizing delivery to improve learning outcomes. The program consists of 13 total courses. Over 70% of students graduate in 24 months or less, advancing their careers as school principals and education directors.

Designed for working professionals in K-12 contexts, this course of study offers flexibility through a competency-based learning model. This means you can accelerate quickly through familiar material and set your own pace throughout. Practice-oriented courses provide relevant instruction in the topics you need to meet licensure standards in most states. Curriculum offerings cover systems management and school operations, social-emotional learning, leadership, and school finance. The program includes a culminating capstone experience and practicum components that focus on instruction and professional practice.

Saint Leo University

saint-leo-university-logo

Most students finish Saint Leo University’s 30-credit online master’s degree in educational leadership in 18-24 months. The course of study qualifies you for leadership roles in education and business alike. Recent graduates have filled positions as school principals, corporate trainers, instructional coordinators, and school district administrators. Prospective students must hold a valid teaching certificate and bring up to 6 transferable credits earned at an accredited institution. The program uses a mix of synchronous and asynchronous elements to deliver all content.

This program’s core curriculum is aligned with national standards and builds key knowledge in learning environment management, technology, human resources, and diversity. A practicum experience near the end of study gives you the opportunity to apply gained skills and competency in a supervised setting that supports career advancement. Recent class offerings for this online master’s in educational leadership look at the data-driven instructional design, curriculum development for special populations, and school management.

Louisiana State University

Louisiana State University extends an online master of education in educational leadership that helps working professionals bring their skills to the next level. The program can be completed in as few as 15 months and provides comprehensive training in research methods, school personnel administration, and professional ethics. LSU’s course of study stands out from other online educational leadership programs by offering career and networking opportunities throughout the study.

Students work through this 39-credit program at their own pace, making it easy to balance timely study with personal or professional commitments. Classes are delivered entirely online and look at applied research techniques, best practices in principal leadership, and school improvement. Students interested in additional topics can also undertake an independent study facilitated by LSU’s leading body of faculty experts. Graduates of this program come away fully equipped to build welcoming and challenging learning communities across the educational spectrum.

Advantages of Earning an Online Master’s in Educational Leadership

These programs know what you need to succeed, but they also know that you’re a busy working professional. Here are just a few of the advantages of pursuing an online master’s degree in educational leadership.

  1. Professional Development

    One of these programs’ main objectives is to cultivate the leadership skills you will need to advance your career in education. Earning an online master’s in educational leadership means you are ready to take charge of your organization and provide the vision it needs to succeed. You will learn the ins and outs of how to interact with staff, assess programming, and establish challenging but attainable goals.

  2. Networking

    Studying online means you will be exposed to a broad range of experiences and perspectives from a diverse group of peers and colleagues. You will have the chance to collaborate, but you will also establish key relationships that can pay dividends in the future. Those connections can help you locate new career opportunities. They can also act as solid resources when it comes time to broaden your organization’s scope.

  3. Flexibility

    If you’re interested in online educational leadership programs, the odds are you already have a career and want to broaden your horizons. The idea of studying while you work might seem daunting, but these programs anticipate that and build in the flexibility you need to do both. You will be able to access material and complete assignments at a time and place that works for you, so you don’t have to choose between work, family, and school.

What You’ll Learn in Online Master’s Educational Leadership Programs

These programs provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to be an effective leader in a wide variety of educational settings. They give you an understanding of contemporary issues and evaluation practices and equip you to lead with empathy and vision. You will come away with competency in key areas like experiential learning, human resources, and curriculum development.

Most online master’s in educational leadership programs will begin with a sequence of core courses that establish knowledge foundations. Once you complete that sequence, you can move to free electives, which allow you to branch out and explore your interests. Quite a few programs provide a course directory or a menu of current offerings to give you an idea of what to expect. Find out more about some of the most popular classes below.

Popular Courses

  • The American Education System

    This course provides a high-level overview of the U.S. education system at all levels. It looks at how that system has been involved over time, including its historical development and formative philosophical sources. Students examine policy concerns and political demands by analyzing key case studies and legal findings.

  • Curriculum Assessment

    This class emphasizes school curricula, both the underlying theories that contribute to curriculum development and strategies for improving learning outcomes. It focuses on the role educational leaders play in these processes and asks students to evaluate curricular success in their current professional context. Additional topics may include program assessment and instructional evaluation.

  • Staff Supervision and Development

    Students in this course receive training in managing and working with a team of dedicated teachers within their school. It builds key skills in optimizing instruction and content delivery to meet organizational goals. Material includes staff training techniques, supervision and performance feedback, remedial assistance, and recruitment

  • Contemporary Issues in Educational Policy

    This class focuses on current trends, issues, and policy initiatives in education. It looks at how state, federal, and district mandates affect decision-making at the school level. Learners examine how those decisions can improve school goals. They also discuss how educational leaders can enhance components related to testing, funding, and student support.

  • School Finance

    This course deals with how economic factors and financial concerns affect schools and educational systems. Students learn to prepare budgets, assess financial needs and debt obligations, and manage overall fiscal health. Additional topics may include taxation, cost analysis, technology, and material procurement, and government regulation.

Specialization Options

Some online educational leadership programs provide additional opportunities for specialization. These opportunities are a great way to advance your career by building out additional skills. They focus your studies a bit further and give you the chance to deepen your expertise by exploring popular educational leadership applications. Specializations can be a great asset on the job market because they show that you are a well-rounded job candidate who can take on a broader range of responsibilities. Here are few popular options.

  • Generalist Track

    Most programs fall into this category. Even those that do not offer individual specializations will administer a generalist course of study. This approach gives you broad exposure to educational leadership and its many applications. It looks at needs assessment, best practices, and methods of organizational analysis.

  • Training and Development Track

    Online educational leadership programs with this specialization focus on the skills and knowledge you need to successfully train educators under your supervision. It administers curriculum in instructional design and professional development. You will examine adult learning strategies that empower you to tailor content to fit unique staffing needs.

  • Professional Track

    Earning an online master’s in educational leadership along a professional track furthers your skills in building effective leadership. This track often includes an applied internship experience designed to prepare you for primary and secondary education leadership roles. It also brings school and district-level concerns into sharper focus.

  • Academic Track

    The academic track allows you to obtain an instruction-oriented online master’s degree in educational leadership. This is an ideal option for working teachers who do not plan to assume management roles but want to learn more about their organization’s inner administrative workings. Instead of an applied internship, this specialization involves courses in counseling and teaching strategy.

  • K-12 Principal Leadership Track

    This specialization concentrates on educational leadership in K-12 settings and prepares students for work as school principals. It includes coursework in school business management, school-community relations, cultural competence, and data-driven decision-making. Like other specializations, it also involves applied internship experiences that support career advancement.

Accreditation for Online Educational Leadership Programs

Before you select a potential school, you should check its accreditation status. Accreditation is a quality assurance measure that verifies rigor and worth. It ensures that you receive a degree that has lasting value and recognition. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation establish guidelines for this process. They also recognize the independent bodies that carry it out.

Most nonprofit schools with an academic focus will have regional accreditation. For-profit, vocational, and technical schools typically receive national accreditation. Each school you consider should have one of these forms of institutional accreditation.

In education, some programs hold additional forms of accreditation specific to the field. Most states require this type of accreditation for licensing. Organizations like the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation typically oversee this process.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Educational Leadership

Once you graduate, you will be in an excellent position to assume leadership positions in a wide variety of contexts. The jobs listed below give you a good sense of what you can expect to do with your degree – these are high-paying, in-demand positions that require the advanced training you will receive by earning an online master’s degree in educational leadership. Each occupational path provides an opportunity for growth, allowing you to advance your career by stepping into roles that require greater responsibility and more opportunity for strategic input.

School Principal

One of the more popular jobs for this degree, school principals must also obtain state-level licensure. They oversee school operations and manage day-to-day activities. They maintain curriculum standards, monitor staff performance, and often meet with families to discuss student progress. They may provide counseling services at times and analyze school data to determine success.

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

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

School Superintendent

School superintendents act as the head administrators for their school district, including all K-12 operations. They oversee the school system’s direction and work to provide leadership and vision to teachers, principals, and staff. They work closely with local communities and school boards to ensure quality programming.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$83,000 $119,730

$192,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

Postsecondary Education Administrator

These professionals fulfill high-level leadership roles in higher education institutions. They can work in various capacities such as registrar’s offices, student affairs, admissions, or financial aid. Some may even work in housing, residential life, or multicultural affairs. Depending on the college or university’s size, they may report directly to provosts or academic deans.

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

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Curriculum Director

Curriculum directors establish education guidelines and work with teachers and other staff to coordinate programming and oversight. They set curriculum standards and are often tasked with developing effective instructional strategies. They also assess performance and offer recommendations based and program evaluation and targeted research.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$46,000 $75,263 $109,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

Education Director

Education directors oversee all education-related projects and activities for their organization. They typically work in the nonprofit sector but are needed in private or corporate contexts as well. Their duties typically include planning education programming, determining staffing needs, and providing leadership to instructors. They may need to travel at times for training and development events.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$39,000 $64,199 $105,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Educational Leadership

Education at this level isn’t always cheap, so it’s important to understand the costs involved before you commit. There are quite a few financial aid options out there if you know where to look. Some schools extend their scholarships or fellowships. More than 80% of students at Arizona State receive some form of financial aid, for example.

The table below details the range of costs involved. Tuition rates can vary quite a bit, so it’s always best to consult individual programs for more information. Factors to consider in this regard include the type of school (public or private), your enrollment status (part-time or full-time), and where you will be living during your study.

What Your Online Master’s Degree in Educational Administration Could Cost

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

University of Central Florida

Online Educational Leadership, MA

30

$327/credit (in-state)
$1,151/credit (out-of-state)

$9,810 (in-state)
$34,530 (out-of-state)

Gonzaga University

M.Ed. in Educational Leadership

30

$615/credit

$18,450

Penn State World Campus

Master of Education in Educational Leadership

30

$924/credit

$27,720

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Educational Leadership Master’s Degrees

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

Overall, most schools follow a similar process. However, requirements and deadlines can differ, so the best rule of thumb is to check with admissions departments for the most up-to-date information. A complete application package typically includes the following:

  • A relevant bachelor’s degree earned at an accredited institution with a competitive GPA.
  • Official academic transcripts for all previous work.
  • An updated resume detailing professional experience in education.
  • Active teaching credentials.
  • At least three letters of reference from persons who assess your readiness to study.
  • A written personal statement indicating your intent to study and your career goals.

It’s worth mentioning here that the professional experience and teaching criteria vary widely by state and individual program.

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

Timeframes for completion largely depend on you, your circumstances, and your preferred pace of study. Online master’s in educational leadership programs are very flexible and can accommodate a wide range of circumstances. More accelerated programs like those at Fitchburg State and Florida International University graduate students in 12-16 months. St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and Arkansas State University extend that timeline a bit (just under two years). Students can still set their own pace in each case, and most finish their studies in 2-3 years on average.

Can I earn a master’s in educational leadership 100% online, or do I need to visit campus?

Earning an online master’s degree in educational leadership means you won’t have to travel to campus unless that’s your preference. Schools deliver their curriculum entirely online using innovative technologies. They still provide plenty of opportunity for the hands-on interaction you’d experience in traditional instruction, but they do that within a learning environment specifically designed for busy working professionals. This means you can earn your degree on your timeline and at your convenience.

Does an online master’s in educational leadership prepare you for initial teaching certification?

It depends on the school—some programs lead to initial licensure, but only within certain states. Penn State, Arizona State, and the University of West Florida are good examples. Other options, like those at Gonzaga and Montclair State, are more ambiguous. The online educational leadership programs at Southern New Hampshire University, the University of North Dakota, and Indiana University Bloomington do not lead to initial licensure. They only accept applicants with an active teaching license because they aim to help you obtain certification as a school principal.