What Is a Master's in Education?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

With an MEd, you can strengthen your skill set as a teacher or prepare to move into administrative or leadership roles. Learn more about different opportunities worth exploring.

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When you’re interested in teaching, you often need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate issued by your state. But with a master’s degree, you can advance your knowledge of how students learn while strengthening your classroom practice. A Master of Education (MEd) is a graduate degree you can earn to further your teaching career or pursue leadership roles in K-12 and higher education.

Let’s review more about what it takes to earn an MEd and what you can do with one. 

Master of Education: Key facts

An MEd is an advanced degree designed to help teachers strengthen their subject knowledge, pedagogy, and classroom skill set. It can also position educators to move into leadership roles, becoming school principals, policymakers, or higher education administrators, among other opportunities.    

How long does a master’s in education take? 

On average, MEd programs take anywhere from one to three years, depending on whether you’re able to attend full-time or part-time. If your program allows it, you can speed up your time to completion by taking courses over the summer in addition to the fall and spring semesters. Online master’s degrees in education are also available for those who prefer a more flexible learning environment. 

What do you learn in an MEd program?

In a Master of Education program, you will gain advanced knowledge of pedagogy, classroom management, child development, and curriculum development, among other topics. Many programs encourage you to focus on an area of education, such as: 

  • Early childhood education

  • Design technology

  • Curriculum and instruction

  • Leadership

  • Reading

  • Higher education

  • Counseling

  • English as a second language (ESL) 

Depending on the area you choose to specialize in, you can expect to take courses that relate to your focus as well as more foundational courses.

Sample MEd courses include:

  • Research in education

  • Social foundations of education

  • Learning and classroom assessment

  • Learning and motivation

  • Instructional methods for young children

  • Families and diversity

  • Cultural diversity in education

  • Policy and advocacy in education

Teaching certification

Your program will not automatically certify you to teach K-12 in your state, but it will prepare you to take the teaching certification exam (if you haven’t already done so). 

Each state’s requirements vary, and it’s a good idea to review the specifics of your area. If you already hold a license from another state, you may be able to transfer your certification. 

MA vs. MS in Education

The majority of MEd programs award a Master of Arts degree. However, some may also offer a Master of Science. Generally, an MS in Education will focus more on research and practice, while an MA in Education will focus more on theory and practice. In some programs, an MS in Education is designed as supplementary education for those earning their doctorate in the natural sciences who want to gain the necessary classroom skills to teach it. 

As you research potential programs, make sure to review the required courses you’ll be expected to take so you can ensure that you'll achieve the outcomes you want. It may also be worthwhile to reach out to an advisor to gather more information so you can select the best degree type for your goals. 

Learn more: MA vs. MS Degrees: A Guide

Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

At the master’s level, you also have the option of earning your Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree, which focuses on similar subjects as the MEd, including classroom management and pedagogy. 

An MAT can be useful for students who earned their bachelor’s degree in a different subject but who are now interested in teaching. The MAT degree can also be a good option for teachers who are already certified and are now interested in advancing their education. MAT degrees typically take around one year to complete and often include completing an internship or classroom placement. 

Applying to a master’s in education program

You need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution to apply to a Master of Education program. Beyond that, specific entry requirements vary between schools. Some programs will require GRE scores, while others have dropped this component.

MEd program applications may require: 

When you’re interested in focusing on English as a second language, you may need to show proficiency in a second language. Some programs may also expect to see your teaching certification if you’re pursuing a teaching-specific track.

How much does a master's in education cost?

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average total cost of an MEd degree is $55,200 [1]. The actual price you will pay depends on several factors, including the school you choose, the funding they provide, and whether you attend an on-campus or online program. 

US citizens and permanent residents can submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as graduate students to qualify for grants, student loans, and other means to pay for their master’s program. Many schools also offer scholarship and fellowship opportunities.

5 jobs you can pursue with an MEd

Whether you’ve recently graduated with your bachelor’s degree or you’re currently teaching, a Master of Education can be worthwhile. With it, you can advance your teaching career, explore administrative and leadership opportunities, or consider non-school-based roles in education. Let's go over five roles you can get with an MEd.

*All salary data reflects average total pay in the United States according to Glassdoor (August 2022).

1. Curriculum designer

Curriculum designers develop and improve what students learn by thinking deeply about how they learn. They may focus on a specific type of student, such as elementary or middle school, and their work includes reviewing textbooks, designing curricula for new courses, and training teachers. 

Salary: $91,981

2. Online learning director

The popularity of online learning requires trained leaders who understand curriculum development and digital learning practices. Online learning directors—sometimes called digital learning directors—are responsible for managing online programs. Their work includes analyzing the software being used, developing plans for online learning initiatives, and leading professional development for instructional staff.

Salary: $122,933

3. Guidance counselor 

School guidance counselors assist K-12 students with enrolling in classes that meet their education goals and assist with the college application process. They may also monitor changes in behavior that suggest a student may need additional support. 

Salary: $85,916

4. High school principal 

School principals work directly with students and staff, managing the day-to-day operations of an elementary, middle, or high school. They oversee the school’s budget, student discipline, and curriculum standards.

Salary: $106,217

5. School superintendent

The role of the school superintendent is to oversee the entire school district, from policymaking to budgeting. A school superintendent works closely with the school board, community members, and school staff to ensure students are safe and able to learn in their classrooms. 

Salary: $101,782

Get started

You can find a number of education courses from leading universities on Coursera, including Learning, Knowledge, and Human Development from the University of Illinois, Critical Issues in Urban Education from The University of Chicago, or Learning to Teach Online from the University of New South Wales.

You can also continue your education with a professional certificate, such as Arizona State University’s Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL).  You’ll learn how to teach English to speakers of other languages. Start for free with a 7-day trial. 

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Article sources

1. Education Data Initiative. “Average Cost of a Master’s Degree, educationdata.org/average-cost-of-a-masters-degree.” Accessed June 20, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.