What Degree Do You Need To Be a Teacher?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

What degree do you need to be a teacher? Learn more about the general requirements to be a teacher and what you can study to prepare for a career in education.

[Featured Image] A teacher writes on the whiteboard in her classroom after earning her degree.

Teaching is arguably one of the most essential jobs in the world, as teachers help students learn important information, develop valuable skills, and explore creativity that makes other jobs possible. It's also a versatile field—you can teach five-year-olds how to read, teenagers how to write an essay, and adults how to speak another language or repair an air conditioner.

Although the job outlook for teachers should remain relatively stable, with little to no change in demand, the education field tends to be recession-proof. Schools need teachers no matter what's happening in the broader economy, and you can find openings for positions as people retire or transition into other professions. Before you apply, knowing the requirements to be a teacher is helpful.

Do I need a degree to become a teacher?

Yes, in most cases, you need a degree to become a teacher—typically a bachelor's degree if you want to teach in an elementary, middle, or high school. You will likely need a master's degree or doctorate to teach at a college or university. In some cases, having hands-on experience in the field you plan to teach is more important than having a college degree. For example, a school may hire you to teach in a truck driving program if you've worked as a truck driver, regardless of whether or not you have a degree.

You will find exceptions to this rule. Some private schools hire teachers with specific skills relevant to a class they want to offer, like a foreign language. You can find on-the-job training programs for teachers in states with a significant teacher shortage. Florida allows veterans with at least 60 college credits who can pass a teacher certification exam to teach while completing the requirements for a professional license. In Arizona, you can work as a teacher if you're enrolled in college and agree to work with an experienced teacher who supervises you when a school has a vacancy it cannot fill.

Teacher degrees: What should I major in?

When choosing a major, consider the grade level and subject you want to teach—for example, elementary teachers often have a degree in elementary education. Middle and high school teachers may have a degree related to the subject they want to teach, such as science or mathematics education.

It's also possible to get a teaching job even if you don't have an education degree. Many school districts have programs to train teachers with a degree in a field other than education. These programs typically include coursework, mentoring from experienced teachers, and an evaluation by an administrator. Another option is to earn a graduate degree in education.

Pros and cons of having an education degree

With an education degree, you can prove that you've completed a teacher training program that likely included courses on child development, lesson planning, teaching methods, and classroom management. In many programs, you'll have an opportunity to teach in a classroom under the guidance of a supervising teacher. This hands-on experience can help you understand a teacher's work and practice various teaching techniques.

Ideally, a teacher training program helps you develop the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective educator—skills like building rapport with students, providing feedback, and encouraging students to think critically. However, you may prefer taking more courses related to the content you want to teach. If you plan to transition into a teacher career after working in another field, an education degree may not be the right fit.

Types of teacher degrees

You can pursue an education degree at every level, from associate to doctorate. If you plan to work as a public or private K-12 school teacher, you generally need a bachelor's degree to qualify for professional certification. College professors typically have a master's degree or doctorate. With an associate degree in education, you may be eligible for jobs like a preschool teacher, after-school teacher, or teacher's assistant.

The following list shows the range of degrees teachers have and gives you an idea of the types of degrees you can pursue to enter the profession:

  • Associate of Arts

  • Associate of Science

  • Bachelor of Arts

  • Bachelor of Science

  • Master of Arts (MA)

  • Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

  • Master of Education (MEd)

  • Master of Science (MS)

  • Education Specialist (EDs)

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

  • Doctor of Education (EdD)

Possible majors for teachers

Although many teachers major in education, you can choose a different one and still pursue a teaching career. At the end of the 2019-2020 school year, 85,057 students earned a bachelor's degree in education [1]. The following year, 296,000 new teachers entered the profession, which is good news if you want to major in a subject other than education [2].

When choosing a major, consider the type of school you want to work in, the subject or grade level you want to teach, and the needs of the community where you plan to work. An elementary education program may be a good fit if you want to teach in an elementary school (kindergarten through fifth grade). You'll take courses in child development, instructional methods designed for children in this age group, and content-specific knowledge—helpful because you'll likely teach all subjects. At the same time, remember that districts often have more openings for specific subject areas, like math, bilingual education, and special education. Choosing a major in one of these areas can increase your odds of getting a job after graduation.

Middle and high school teachers usually focus on one subject, which means you may prefer a major in a content area or related field. For example, if you want to teach English in a high school, you may major in English literature, writing, communications, or journalism. If you're going to teach middle school math, you could major in mathematics, statistics, or engineering.

Is a master's degree necessary for a career as a teacher?

You can start your teaching career after earning a bachelor's degree, but New York and Connecticut require teachers to get a master's degree after working. Even if you're working in a state that does not require a master's degree, having a master's degree gives you some valuable advantages. You could earn more money, pursue additional roles within a school, and improve your teaching ability.

How long does it take to become a teacher?

Typically, it takes about four years to become a teacher if you still need a bachelor's degree. If you have a bachelor's degree, you can become a teacher after meeting the requirements in the state where you want to work, such as passing certification exams, completing education courses, and receiving acceptable evaluations. In many states, you can get a temporary teaching license that will allow you to work as a teacher while you complete the certification requirements. 

Next steps toward a career as a teacher

Earning a bachelor's degree is the first step toward a career as a teacher, so that's an excellent place to start if you do not have one. A general degree like a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University can be helpful, as you have opportunities to develop critical thinking skills and study a discipline like humanities that you can apply to your work in a classroom. If you know the content area you want to teach, you can check out a specialization like the TESOL Certificate Part 1 Specialization from Arizona State University. It can help you prepare for roles as a teacher to individuals learning English as a second language. You'll find these education-related courses and more on Coursera.

Article sources

1. Pew Research Center. "A dwindling number of new US college graduates have a degree in education, https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2022/09/27/a-dwindling-number-of-new-u-s-college-graduates-have-a-degree-in-education/." Accessed December 9, 2023.

2. National Center for Education Statistics. "Public and private elementary and secondary teachers, enrollment, pupil/teacher ratios, and new teacher hires, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_208.20.asp." Accessed December 9, 2023.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

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.