Guide to the Best Online Master’s Programs in Teaching (MAT)

Earning a master’s in teaching online gives current and aspiring teachers the skills they need to be effective educators. Find the best online MAT programs designed for working adults and get answers to your pressing questions.

Whether you currently work as a teacher and want to expand your skillset and job prospects or you’re an aspiring one who wants to make a difference in the lives of students, earning a master’s in teaching online (MAT) can help you achieve your goals. Through flexible and affordable study plans, you can build advanced skills in core education topics and deepen knowledge in your specialty area.

Finding a top-rated, affordable, and accredited online MAT can take time and research. To help you in your search, this guide details several of the best programs for 2021, previews classes you may take, highlights careers you can apply for after graduating, and answers other key questions you may have. Keep reading to get started on your journey to finding the best online MAT program for you.

College Spotlights: Best Online MAT Programs in 2021

Finding the right online MAT program takes careful consideration. While searching through the many programs available, look for one that is properly accredited and offers affordable tuition and flexible scheduling. Three of the best options for 2021 are highlighted below. Check back later this year for a full ranking.

American University

American University

American University offers a Master of Arts in teaching online to prepare you for elementary education roles. The degree consists of 33 credits and 600 hours of classroom hours in your home state. You can complete the program in fewer than two years.

Designed to incorporate 21st-century teaching methods, American University’s degree focuses on antiracist pedagogy, practice-based teacher education, and science-backed teaching methods. New students enter the program at the same time, creating a cohort experience. The curriculum consists of studies in effective teaching for diverse students, foundations of education, and educational psychology theories. Plan to spend eight to 11 hours per week attending classes and completing assignments, two of which require synchronous digital attendance.

Applicants for American University’s master’s in teaching online do not need an undergraduate teaching degree or teaching experience. The program meets requirements for teaching licensure in elementary education in Washington D.C. Check your state to be sure it meets requirements for teaching there as well.

University of Southern California

USC’s Rossier School of Education provides an online MAT program that ranks among the top in the nation. USC uses synchronous coursework to help you stay engaged with peers and professors. Coursework is complemented through field experiences near your place of residence, allowing you to build real-world experience and prepare for licensure. The program enables you to earn credentials in California, including that for education specialists, bilingual authorization in Spanish, and gifted education. You can also choose from a multiple subject teaching concentration (for K-6 education) or a single subject teaching concentration (for secondary school).

Full-time master’s in teaching online students spend 12-18 months completing degree requirements, while part-time learners usually need 18-36 months. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited school, 3.0 or higher GPA, personal statement, short answer responses, resume, recommendation letters, transcripts, and CSET credential exam registration.

Georgia Southern University

Georgia Southern University provides a master’s in teaching online program with concentrations in elementary, health and physical, middle grades, secondary, and special education. A concentration in Spanish education (P-12) is also offered but requires some in-person learning. Regardless of concentration, plan to participate in several field experiences, including a student teaching internship. All field experiences must take place in Georgia.

Each concentration consists of 45 credits and includes general studies in topics like culturally responsive pedagogy, classroom management, and instruction-based assessments. Admission requirements for GSU’s offering include a bachelor’s from a regionally accredited school, 2.5 or higher GPA, GACE Assessment scores, Georgia Educators Ethics Assessment passing score, disposition assessment, and evidence of qualifying for the Georgia provisional certification. International students also need to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores.

Advantages of Earning a Master’s in Teaching Online

You may be wondering why you should earn an online master’s degree in teaching, particularly if you already have an education bachelor’s degree and licensure. Reasons for taking this step include the potential for higher salary and leadership roles and the opportunity to specialize. Other advantages include the following.

  1. Flexibility

    Teachers have notoriously busy schedules, making the idea of completing a master’s degree seem overwhelming. Pursuing your degree online allows you to avoid commuting, and many online programs also provide asynchronous coursework you can complete at times best suited to your schedule.

  2. Affordability

    Many online MAT programs allow everyone to pay the same tuition rate as in-state learners, regardless of residency. Additionally, you can avoid many of the campus-based fees your on-campus peers pay by studying via distance learning.

  3. Career Potential

    Earning a master’s in teaching signals to employees that you are serious about your career and want to continue improving and advancing. It also qualifies you for roles unavailable to those with bachelor’s degrees alone.

What You’ll Learn in an Online MAT Program

Online teaching master’s programs offer a comprehensive curriculum covering general teaching topics and subject and grade level specific studies. Core topics include classroom management strategies, research methods, and teaching diverse learners. The specialized courses you take depends on your concentration.

Most online MAT programs culminate in a semester-long student teaching internship. You may also be required to complete some type of comprehensive capstone demonstrating all you learned while enrolled. Some popular courses in these programs are described below.

Popular Courses

  • Educational Psychology

    Taken during the first year of studies, this foundational course examines the variety of teaching and learning theories currently used and how they impact learning, motivation, outcomes, and assessments. You also study contemporary educational psychology issues to see where the field currently stands and where it is moving.

  • Differentiated Instruction

    Designed for teachers wanting to work in middle and secondary education settings, this course looks at how to build an inclusive classroom that caters to every student’s learning needs. Students become familiar with a variety of instructional strategies and best practices for supporting differentiated learning.

  • Child and Adolescent Development

    By understanding the standard trajectory of student development across their school years, you can better tailor teaching and learning strategies to students’ needs. This course familiarizes you with contemporary strategies and theories around childhood development, emphasizing translating that knowledge into classroom management.

  • Classroom Diversity

    With today’s classrooms becoming increasingly diverse in areas of gender, religion, language, race, and learning styles, it is essential to create classrooms that make each student feel known and welcome. This course looks at common diversity issues and how to address them through best practices.

  • Research Methods

    Even if you plan to work in the classroom, having a foundational understanding of educational research methods is key to reading and extrapolating information from emerging research. This course looks at ethical considerations, educational research language, citations, plagiarism, and inquiry methods.

Specialization Pathways

The world of K-12 education encompasses a broad array of grade levels, subject areas, and student populations. Because of this, online MAT programs commonly offer specializations for focusing your studies. A concentration develops mastery in your chosen area and helps ensure you find a job matching your interests and skills. The specializations spotlighted below give an idea of the range of those available. Review concentration offerings at several schools to find your perfect match.

  • Reading Education

    Designed for K-12 educators wanting to work in reading/language arts, this specialization familiarizes you with state-level competency requirements and reviews contemporary theories and methodologies for teaching reading skills. Typical classes include theoretical models of reading, children’s literature, and early childhood reading.

  • Special Education

    If you want to work with exceptional learners, a special education concentration provides the training needed to seek K-12 licensure after graduation. This option covers behavior management application, evaluation and assessment of exceptional learners, and the nature and needs in special education.

  • Teacher Leader

    This specialization gives you the skills and qualifications needed to serve as an educator mentor and leader. You study topics like teacher support in low or under-performing areas, peer mentorship and coaching, community engagement strategies, and change and organizational development.

  • Bilingual Education

    The bilingual education specialization supports teachers wanting to work with students whose first/native language is not English. Besides looking at language acquisition methodologies, course content covers current issues in language minority education, Indo-Chicano cultures and pedagogy, and ESL methods for content literacy.

  • Content Areas

    If you want to work in middle or high school education, you may want to specialize in a content area. Options for these vary by state and institution but commonly include art, English, health science education, history, mathematics, science, or other common subjects taught at these levels.

Accreditation for Online Teaching Master’s Programs

Make sure the online MAT program you attend is accredited. Failing to find an accredited school can result in problems transferring credits and obtaining licensure.

Accreditation comes in two forms: institutional and programmatic. At the school level, you want a college with regional accreditation from one of six bodies approved by the U.S. Department of Education. At the programmatic level, look for online master’s in teaching degrees accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

If you’re unsure whether a particular school or program holds the proper type of accreditation, check the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Teaching

While a bachelor’s degree can prepare you for a teaching license, it does not guarantee access to leadership roles or higher-paying salaries like a master’s degree can. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that jobs for elementary, middle, and high school teachers are projected to grow by 4% over the next decade, creating plenty of opportunities to move up the career ladder. Teaching jobs offer daily opportunities to make a difference, while still offering solid earnings potential, especially for teachers with a master’s or higher. Check out some of the most popular jobs for graduates with MATs below.

Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher

These teachers play a pivotal role in young students’ lives, covering introductory topics and teaching plenty of social skills along the way. In addition to planning lessons in multiple subject areas, they also teach students to interact with peers and observe areas of excellence and needed improvement.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$39,020 $59,670 $97,900

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Middle School Teacher

Middle school teachers educate students at a precarious transitional point and ensure they receive the educational and emotional support needed to thrive. They create lesson plans, conduct assessments, teach lessons, set exams and papers, and grade assignments. They also communicate regularly with parents and other educational staff on student progress.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$39,990 $59,660 $96,280

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

High School Teacher

High school teachers work with students during critical years as they transition into adulthood, either beginning work or continuing to college. They provide advanced subject instruction, grade assignments, prepare learners for standardized tests, consult with parents, and write recommendation letters.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$40,540 $61,660 $99,660

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Special Education Teacher

These education professionals support students with emotional, learning, mental, and/or physical disabilities. They create inclusive, differentiated lesson plans that meet the needs of exceptional learners. They also implement IEPs, track student progress, provide supervision, and plan school activities.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$40,730 $61,030 $98,530

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal

Principalships include managing staff and school calendars, overseeing budgetary planning, providing student discipline, and meeting with parents. Principals also create professional development opportunities for teaching and administrative staff and prepare standardized test reports.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$63,070 $96,500 $148,630

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

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

Even if you find an affordable online MAT program, you may still not be able to pay for it out of pocket. Lining up financial aid before you enroll is critical if you want to graduate without loads of debt. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ensures you receive consideration for federal loans, grants, and work-study funds. You should also investigate scholarships offered by individual universities, private foundations, and other teaching organizations. Some colleges also offer fellowship or work-study opportunities, and some employers provide tuition assistance.

What Your Online Master’s in Teaching Could Cost

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

University of Southern California

28

$1,995

$55,860

Georgia Southern University

36–45

$358

$12,888–$16,110

Kansas State University

31

$496

$15,376

Frequently Asked Questions About Master’s in Teaching Online Programs

What are the admissions requirements for an online MAT program?

As with other components of an online MAT program, admission requirements vary among institutions. To be certain of what you will need, check with individual program pages. Common requirements include:

  • Completed application and fee payment
  • PRAXIS exam scores
  • Official transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Professional resume
  • Statement of purpose
  • GRE scores
  • Criminal background check
  • Admissions interview

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

How long it takes to finish your online MAT program depends on several factors. Enrolling full- or part-time impacts your timeline, as does any specialization and previous professional experience. At Liberty University, for instance, the MAT program offers both 36 and 45 credit tracks. The shorter program, which lasts about 18 months, supports those already working as teachers but who want to earn the credentials needed to expand their teaching areas. The 45-credit program, conversely, helps students with no previous teaching experience and/or licensure.

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

Many master’s in teaching online programs allow you to complete all coursework requirements without ever setting foot on campus. However, every program requires participation in field experiences, including a student teaching internship. Some programs require students to complete the experience in the same state as the school while others allow you to meet these requirements at a school near you.

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

Pursuing an online teaching master’s program from a properly accredited institution does qualify you for initial teaching certification. However, many online MAT programs lead to certification only in specific states. If you plan to attend a program outside your state of residence, make sure the licensure qualifications extend to where you plan to teach.