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Exploring the Different Types of Master’s in Education (MEd) Degrees

The education field goes beyond the classroom — educators can choose from a variety of master’s degrees to prepare for specialized careers and leadership roles. This guide will help you understand the differences in graduate education degrees so you can decide which is right for you.

Author: Shaun Wrinn

Editor: Kim Zaski

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A teacher and a young student engage in a discussion over a laptop in a brightly lit classroom with other students in the background.

Teachers work tirelessly both in and out of the classroom, often sacrificing their own time and money to help kids learn and grow. If you are an educator, you may be thinking about refining your skills by earning a graduate degree that can lead to a career change, new opportunities, and better pay.

You may be considering a master’s program to specialize in your classroom teaching, become a principal, or work as an advocate who guides curriculum and teaching. Finding the right master’s in education degree program can be confusing, so we’ve compiled several resources for you, including information on the types of degrees available and the various specialties for each.

Master of Education (MEd) vs. Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

Choosing to begin graduate study is a big decision for anyone, especially for working adults. Teachers are no different, and it’s critical they use their time wisely when pursuing an advanced degree. Depending on your goals and career aspirations, you will find the paths to a graduate degree to be quite different while sounding similar on the surface. While there are various different teaching agrees available, two are the most common: MEd and MAT degrees.

If you are looking to refine your teaching or become a student advocate, a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) is most likely the right decision. With an emphasis on classroom practices, instructional techniques, and classroom management, an MAT can help you achieve your goals.

Looking for an even bigger change? If you’re ready for a new role as a curriculum developer or principal or would like to work in education policy, a Master’s in Education (MEd) might be the right choice. To recap, here is a look at the two degrees and the top careers for both:

Master of Education Master of Arts in Teaching
Program Focus Macro view of practice of education:
How do larger decisions drive teacher
and student success
Classroom and student driven view:
Practical skills with subject/grade
specific content
Average Credits 30 30-40
Average Time to Complete 1-2 years 1-2 years
Teaching Experience Required No (but often preferred) No
Top Careers School Counselor; Curriculum
Developer/Writer; Instructional
Coordinator
; Principal
Adult Education; Elementary School
Teacher
; High School Teacher; Special
Education Teacher

Master of Education
Program Focus Macro view of practice of education: How do larger decisions drive teacher and student success
Average Credits 30
Average Time to Complete 1-2 years
Teaching Experience Required No (but often preferred)
Top Careers School Counselor; Curriculum Developer/Writer; Instructional Coordinator; Principal
Master of Arts in Teaching
Program Focus Classroom and student driven view: Practical skills with subject/grade specific content
Average Credits 30-40
Average Time to Complete 1-2 years
Teaching Experience Required No
Top Careers Adult Education; Elementary School Teacher; High School Teacher; Special Education Teacher

MEd vs. MAT: Program Focus

Earning your Master’s in Education can enhance your career if you’re looking for a supervisory, leadership, or refined role. Studies focus on administration, leadership, curriculum development, counseling, or English as a Second Language (ESL).

Meanwhile, a Master of Arts in Teaching is best for those looking to enter, specialize, or enhance classroom teaching with a focus on student-driven learning. Teachers can specialize in subjects like physics, science or math, or focus on special education or adult learning. Both paths allow you to focus on any number of areas, depending on your goals and interests.

MEd vs. MAT: Credits and Courses

The exact number of credits you will need to earn a master’s degree varies depending on your background and chosen path. Typically, a minimum of 30 credit hours is required for a master’s in education. A Master of Arts in Teaching is often 36-40 credit hours due to required practicums or internships.

Path-specific coursework will change, but students can expect to take courses in classroom management, assessment and evaluation, and educational diversity. Coursework will be based heavily on pedagogy and how a teacher teaches and will include scientific and research-based learning with some type of in-person teaching or internship required. This can usually be fulfilled during work hours for those already in a classroom or school.

MEd vs. MAT: Program Length

The length, timing, and pace of your program can vary based on the mode and options you choose. Almost all MEd and MAT degrees are available in some form of part-time, full-time, or online format, with courses offered throughout the year and during the summer months. With this in mind, most programs will take 12-24 months to complete regardless of the degree.

MEd vs. MAT: Admission Requirements

For most MEd/MAT programs, you will be required to submit a resume, transcript, letter of intent, and personal or professional references. Many programs, but not all, require or prefer applicants who already hold a teaching license or certificate. A number of online programs will honor out-of-state teaching licenses.

Comparing Education Master’s Degrees

In addition to MEd and MAT degrees, there are a few other types of educational master’s degree available to online students. With so many similar abbreviations for different degrees and programs, here is a quick primer on what each abbreviation means and some specializations that fall under each as you begin your search.

At A Glance: Master’s in Education Abbreviations

Abbreviation Degree Common Specializations
MAT Master of Arts in Teaching Teaching Methods, Educational Theory, Classroom Management
MEd Master of Education Curriculum and Instruction, Educational Leadership, Special Education, Counseling, or Curriculum Development (Usually requires a research project or thesis)
MAEd Master of Arts in Education Academic Study of Education: Political Theory, Policy Analysis, Curriculum Design
MSE Master of Science in Education Research, Data Analysis, and Evidence-Based Practice: Educational Psychology, Assessment and Evaluation, Instructional Technology
MSEd Master of Science in Education Scientific or Technical Approach: Educational Technology, Educational Psychology, Curriculum Development

Further Exploring Different Educational Master’s Degrees

The differences in these degrees might seem minute, but they allow for an array of specializations depending on your desired career. For instance, a Master of Science in education degree is based much more heavily in the STEM arena, with a focus on data, research, and the technical side of education. A Master of Arts in education degree focuses on liberal arts in teaching, including English and the humanities. Within these broad definitions, see below for a closer look at which degree best fits your dream job.

MEd

The MEd offers a wide range of opportunities depending on where you’re coming from and where you want to go. For most educators, the MEd can be used to move into administration, specialize and enhance classroom instruction, or work in school support roles as a counselor, instructional coach, or curriculum specialist.

The MEd is also an option for aspiring educators, but be sure that your program is tied to a teacher certification or licensure path if you plan to teach. Finally, if you are entering education as a secondary career, the MEd might be right for you as it acknowledges your previously earned degree and work experience.

MAEd

The MAEd is like the MEd, but is ideal for those with an interest in educational theory or research, or educators planning to enter a doctoral program. With a higher emphasis on data collection and analysis, research methodologies, and theory, an MAEd could be a path to leadership roles within traditional schools or in higher education, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, or as policy and advocacy specialists.

MSEd

The MSEd is for those with more technological and data-driven interests. Graduates with an MSEd enjoy a wide range of possible roles, including positions in education technology, assessment and evaluation, or educational research, where they create surveys and collect data that can be used to inform educators on policy decisions. In addition, a special education-focused MSEd degree offers specialization regarding current laws, assessment and evaluation, and instructional strategies.

MAT

The MAT is a great choice for first-time teachers, including career changers, current teaching assistants, and paraprofessionals looking to advance their careers and earning potential. In addition, the MAT is a path for those seeking to fill a high-demand area, including special education, ESL, and STEM roles, and is one of the most flexible ways to achieve your teaching goal.

Frequently Asked Questions About Education Master’s

Why should I consider an online MEd program?

After choosing which graduate program is right for you, your interests, and your career goals, the question is, which one fits my life? For many, going back to earn a degree means balancing work, school, family, and friends. Online programs can be the most flexible and affordable while still offering you a quality education and degree.

Do educators have a promising career outlook?

Earning a master’s degree in education can boost your job prospects, increase your earning power, and enhance your career. Pepperdine University reports there is a direct correlation between earning a master’s degree in education and an immediate increase in salary.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the overall number of teaching jobs is not growing rapidly, there is a shortage of qualified and dedicated teachers, with 79 % of public schools reporting staffing difficulty. Specific needs include special education teachers, STEM specialists, or foreign language educators.

Can I earn my degree 100% percent online?

Yes, there are many options for earning your degree completely online. Whether you choose special education, educational leadership, or literacy, you can complete your degree from the comfort of your home, local coffee shop, or public library.

Can an online education master’s help me become licensed as a teacher?

Most states require teachers to become licensed by following a specific set of rules while holding at least an undergraduate degree in an aligned field. If entering the education field for the first time, there are fast-track master’s degree programs that include licensure for your state.

If already licensed, graduate degrees are an ideal way to raise your salary, broaden your knowledge base, or redefine your career path by specializing in your field. Once licensed, many states offer reciprocity for teaching licenses. Though not true in all states, a large number will honor other states’ licenses without further education or training.

Will these programs meet state teacher licensing requirements?

Most of these programs will meet these licensing requirements. If they do not, they often offer guidance to help you achieve licensure within your home state. Some states require applicants to pass a specific test (Praxis, MTEL) to become a licensed teacher.

How do graduate certificates fit in?

With an ever-evolving student population in the United States, graduate certificates allow you to specialize in serving a specific population, such as bi-lingual or multicultural students, special education students, students with disabilities, or gifted and talented students. Graduate certificates are a great option if you are a teacher looking to advance your earning potential, fill a high-need area, build your resume, or change careers.