Top 5 Master’s Programs in Education 2021

With a master’s degree in education, graduates can qualify for more jobs in the field, shift careers, or apply for advancement opportunities. A master’s in education encompasses a diverse variety of specialty areas. Students can choose to add teaching skills to an undergraduate degree like history or philosophy; alternatively, they may focus on curriculum and teaching, elementary education, or leadership.

Though a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most classroom teachers at the elementary and high school levels, a master’s degree can result in significantly higher earning potential.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that growing student enrollment will increase demand for education, training, and library occupations by 5% between 2019 and 2029.

On this page, readers can find a list of the top education master’s programs. An excellent resource for degree-seekers to anchor their research, the list offers details about each ranked school and program. This page also covers additional information about the master’s in education, including potential curriculum and career paths.

2021’s 5 Best Education Grad Schools

1New York UniversityNew York, NY
2San Diego State UniversitySan Diego, CA
3University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaign, IL
4University of AlabamaTuscaloosa, AL
5University of GeorgiaAthens, GA

Why Get an Education Master’s?

The field of education encompasses many types of career opportunities. Master’s degree-seekers may pursue classroom-specific topics like teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), special education, or content-specific areas. Education professionals may work for public or private schools, government, support services, or colleges.

The BLS reports that 1,050,800 high school teachers worked in the country in 2019, with 40,200 more jobs projected between 2019 and 2029.

The BLS reports that 1,050,800 high school teachers worked in the country in 2019, with 40,200 more jobs projected between 2019 and 2029. Prospective students with strong communication skills, patience, and resourcefulness might aim for classroom jobs. Those interested in leadership and decision-making might aim for instructional coordination or principal positions.

With a master’s degree in education, students can develop further expertise in their academic focus areas and learn to conduct education-focused research to benefit the field as a whole. Other advantages of pursuing an education master’s program include:

Salary Potential

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, teachers at all experience levels earned more with a master’s degree. Even with less than a year of experience, teachers with a master’s in education made an average of $7,180 more than those with a bachelor’s degree.

High Demand

With the BLS projecting increases in student enrollment from elementary school through postsecondary levels, many districts face teacher shortages. Education master’s degree-holders can take advantage of high demand for skilled teachers.

Personal Reward

A master’s in education helps students to hone their knowledge base and develop the skills they need to run classrooms, direct schools, and design curricula. Degree-seekers can follow their areas of interest and learn how to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

The Top 5 Master’s Degrees in Education for 2021

Our guide to the five best master’s in education programs for 2021 can help you find the right school for your personal and professional goals. Below, we explain our ranking methodology and what the best education programs have in common.

New York University

Private university in New York, NY, accredited by MSCHE

As one of the largest private universities in the U.S., NYU serves more than 500,000 students from around the world and maintains research programs in 25 countries.

Educational Leadership, Politics, and Advocacy MA

NYU’s 36-credit, on-campus master’s in education program offers full-time and part-time options. The program prepares professional educators and individuals with experience working with children for leadership roles in advocacy groups, nonprofits, and non-governmental organizations. The educational leadership, politics, and advocacy MA emphasizes social justice and educational equity for low-income urban youth.

The curriculum includes a combination of coursework and internship experiences with local schools, advocacy groups, and policy centers. Thirty-nine percent of program internships lead to paid positions afterward. Required classes include advocacy and education, education policy analysis, and leadership for educational change. Full-time students graduate in three semesters.

Applying to NYU

Each candidate must submit a resume, a statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, and college transcripts. Applicants do not need to submit GRE scores.

Program at a Glance

Tuition: $1,867/credit
Required Credits: 36 credits
Delivery Format: On campus

Other Education Programs

Art and Education MA | Bilingual Education MA | Childhood Education MA | Dance Education MA | Early Childhood Education and Special Education MA

San Diego State University

Public university in San Diego, CA, accredited by WSCUC

This public research institution, founded in 1897, offers 197 degrees and enrolls 36,000 students annually.

Master of Arts in Teaching: Elementary Education and Secondary Education

SDSU’s completely online MA in teaching with an emphasis in elementary education and secondary education focuses on social justice and equity in education. The curriculum focuses on problem-based learning and practical instruction. The 24-credit degree, designed for working teachers, takes as little as one year to complete and includes instruction only from full-time, tenured faculty members.

Coursework focuses on technology and virtual learning, research-based pedagogy, innovative curriculum development, and inclusion in the classroom. The program also requires a research-intensive capstone project. A student who earned their teaching credential as an undergraduate or more than six years ago must complete an additional two classes.

Applying to SDSU

Each candidate must submit official transcripts for undergraduate and all credential coursework, a statement of purpose, and a letter of recommendation. Applicants through fall 2021 do not need to take the GRE.

Program at a Glance

Tuition: $9,570/year (in state); $9,570/year + $396/credit (out of state)
Required Credits: 24 credits
Program Length: 1 year
Delivery Format: 100% online

Other Education Programs

Postsecondary Educational Leadership MA | Education with a Concentration in Counseling MA | Educational Leadership PreK-12 MA | Teacher Leadership MA | Special Education MA

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Public university in Champaign, IL, accredited by HLC

Established in 1867, U of I welcomes more than 47,000 students from around the world and has educated 29 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Master of Education in Foundations of eLearning in Higher Education

The fully online master’s degree in education from U of I’s College of Education focuses on the foundations of e-learning in higher education. The 32-credit curriculum includes coursework in learning assessment, technology and educational reform, new learning, and learning and human development with educational technology. Online courses last eight weeks in the fall and spring and six weeks in summer.

Learners can opt to meet on campus, but the program does not include any in-person requirements. Education master’s candidates benefit from online student support such as library services, 24/7 technical help, financial aid services, and a dedicated College of Education Graduate Student Services Office.

Applying to U of I

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Each applicant must submit a personal statement, a resume, letters of reference, and transcripts. The program does not require the GRE.

Program at a Glance

Tuition: $490/credit
Required Credits: 32 credits
Delivery Format: 100% online (synchronous and asynchronous)

Other Education Programs

Curriculum and Instruction, Bilingual/Bi-cultural M.Ed. | Curriculum and Instruction, Digital Learning M.Ed. | Diversity and Equity in Education M.Ed. | International Education Administration and Leadership M.Ed. | Learning Design and Leadership M.Ed.

University of Alabama

Public university in Tuscaloosa, AL, accredited by SACSCOC and NCATE

Tuscaloosa’s UA offers more than 70 undergraduate and 120 graduate programs. The university’s enrollees perform 5 million hours of community service annually.

Master of Arts in Educational Leadership

UA’s online MA in educational leadership qualifies graduates for initial certification in Alabama for instructional leadership in preK-12 schools. This 30-33 credit program aligns with state and national standards. A prospective enrollee needs a valid Alabama Class B professional educator certificate in a teaching field or a valid Alabama Class A professional educator certificate.

Classes include leadership for communities, leadership for improvement, teaching and learning, and data-informed decision-making. Its College of Education offers several $500-$4,000 scholarships for graduate students each year. UA also offers a reduced-hour, certification-only version of the degree for experienced educators.

Applying to UA

Each applicant must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Required admission materials include three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, an application portfolio, and transcripts. Candidates need at least three years of professional experience. Fall 2021 applicants do not need to submit GRE scores.

Program at a Glance

Tuition: $420/credit
Required Credits: 30-33 credits
Delivery Format: 100% online

Other Education Programs

Elementary Education MA | Educational Psychology MA | Higher Education Administration MA | Secondary Education MA | Special Education MA

University of Georgia

Public university in Athens, GA, accredited by SACSCOC

Founded in 1785, UGA serves more than 38,000 students and hosts 21 varsity athletic teams.

M.Ed. in Elementary Education

UGA’s master’s degree in education focuses on curriculum and teaching in early childhood education and educational theory and practice. The flexible program offers convenient class times for working educators.

Students explore the educational role of play in early childhood education, classroom management in culturally responsive classrooms, and sociopolitical perspectives on assessment. They also develop research skills to use in elementary classrooms.

The education master’s program offers endorsements in reading or preschool special education. An enrollee can also add an interdisciplinary certificate in diversity, equity, and inclusion or education policy and law.

Applying to UGA

Each applicant needs a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and a minimum cumulative 2.8 GPA.

Program at a Glance

Tuition: $8,686/year (in state); $24,644/year (out of state)
Required Credits: 36 credits
Delivery Format: On campus

Other Education Programs

M.Ed. in College Student Affairs Administration | M.Ed. in Communication Sciences and Disorders | M.Ed. in Educational Administration and Policy | M.Ed. in Elementary Education | M.Ed. in English Education

What the Best Education Programs Have in Common

Each college and university delivers graduate school in a unique way, but the top master’s in education programs share certain key characteristics.

They are accredited. Universities pursue accreditation to demonstrate that they meet rigorous quality standards. Attending an accredited college makes it easier to transfer credit, receive financial aid, and qualify for Ph.D. programs or professional credentials. All of the colleges on our list of the best master’s in education programs hold regional accreditation. Master’s programs in education may also hold programmatic accreditation. Look for one of the following accrediting agencies when choosing your school.

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)
  • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)

Their programs are reputable. The top schools protect their reputations to ensure the trust of their students. Reputable programs only accept highly qualified applicants and maintain high graduation rates for admitted students. For example, University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s instructional technology MS program features a 95% graduation rate for students who complete at least one semester of the degree.

They foster academic excellence. Schools with excellent academics employ robust teams of faculty members. For example, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers small class sizes with a student-to-faculty ratio of 13-to-1. Eighty-eight percent of its classes have fewer than 50 students.

They are affordable. The best schools make their programs financially attainable to diverse groups of students. We measure affordability through factors like the percentage of students receiving financial aid and post-graduation student debt. For example, 50% of first-time-in-college University of Central Florida enrollees graduate with no educational debt.

What To Expect From Education Master’s Programs

Education master’s programs generally focus on a blend of theory and practice. Participants engage with their chosen content area or specialty through a lens of educating future students on the topic. Degree-seekers can choose from a wealth of concentration options, such as special education, psychology, literacy, and secondary education.

Prospective students can search for a program that suits their background and career plans. Some programs focus on teacher certification, which most states require for work in a public school classroom. Others gear their curricula toward in-service teachers or those hoping to pursue doctoral degrees. A master’s in education often requires classroom observation, student teaching, and other hands-on activities. Many programs also mandate a final thesis or portfolio project.

In general, students can complete a typical 30- to 40-credit master’s degree in education in 12-24 months, with many options available for extended or part-time study.

Admission Requirements

While application requirements for a master’s in education vary by school, degree-seekers usually need to hold a bachelor’s degree to qualify for admission. The major area depends on the program focus. Students looking to gain teaching certification may enter with a background in their chosen content area, like history or music. In-service teachers seeking a master’s in education may need to demonstrate 3-5 years of classroom experience.

Students can choose to add teaching skills to an undergraduate degree like history or philosophy; alternatively, they may focus on curriculum and teaching, elementary education, or leadership.

Many education master’s programs require the GRE for admission. Applicants should expect to submit transcripts, personal essays, and recommendation letters for most schools. Some programs set minimum GPA requirements, while others consider undergraduate grades holistically as an aspect of the entire application. Most schools charge an application fee, though waivers may apply in some cases.

Students expecting to spend time in classrooms may need to complete drug tests, fingerprinting, and child abuse workshops before they can begin their studies.

Degree and Specialization Options

The variety of offerings associated with a master’s in education can seem daunting for prospective students. Degree-seekers should consider their career and educational goals carefully before committing to a program.

A master of arts or science in teaching prepares students for new or advanced work in the classroom, typically focusing on academics. A master of education or MS in education emphasizes practical knowledge for those hoping to obtain leadership positions in the field. These options typically require several years of work experience for admission to a program.

Concentrations in education include areas like:

  • Early Childhood Education Focusing on the pre-kindergarten years, this concentration prepares students to organize curricula for young children. The program also emphasizes knowledge of early childhood development.
  • TESOL Subjects covered in a TESOL concentration include theories and methods around supporting children and adults in second-language studies, plus skills for navigating cultural challenges.
  • Educational Leadership This concentration prepares enrollees for careers in public or private school leadership. Coursework focuses on education theory and practice, educational policy, and technology in education.
  • Educational Technology Sometimes appearing as part of a mathematics or computing department, this degree encompasses further specialties like instructional technology and media, distance learning, and communication.
  • Secondary Education With a master’s focused on secondary education, students typically select a content focus area. Common options include art education, social studies, mathematics, science, and English. Degree-seekers then hone their content knowledge through the lens of teaching in a middle or high school classroom.

Popular Education Courses

Prospective students can expect to encounter many course requirements as they research education master’s programs. Each program’s curriculum depends largely on whether the degree leads to teacher certification. State requirements for teacher certification differ greatly, and program curricula offer comparable variety.

The degree level also impacts coursework. Those new to the profession may complete student teaching, while in-service teachers may focus on observation and research.

Courses that frequently appear as a part of a master’s in education program include:

Popular Courses

Teaching Seminar

Focused on the particular age level, such as early childhood, elementary, or secondary education, the teaching seminar revolves around the student teaching experience. The course gives participants an opportunity to discuss the challenges they face in the classroom. A teaching seminar may also take on a particular emphasis, such as social justice or assessment.

Research in Education

This course familiarizes participants with qualitative and quantitative methods for conducting and understanding classroom-based research. Research courses in the education area often emphasize critical thinking, encouraging learners to review articles, studies, and data through an analytical lens. Topics may include in-depth literature reviews.


Most teachers involve literacy in their lessons, regardless of the specific content area. A literacy course teaches about the instruction of reading and writing in the classroom, with methods for supporting students who struggle in these areas. Courses may also consider how issues of race, economic status, and political policy may affect reading and writing in the classroom.

Distance Learning

Often occurring as an elective or periodic offering, this course teaches enrollees to employ the methods and technology they may need to teach online courses. By discussing the challenges and benefits of distance learning for younger students, the course prepares educators to adapt their teaching style to many situations.

Master’s Project

Depending on the program, a master’s project may appear as a thesis paper, research project, or portfolio. A thesis paper may review existing literature to present a theory. A research project requires data collection, often accomplished through classroom observation. Program participants may complete an integrative portfolio that presents examples of their student teaching work.

The Master’s Practicum or Thesis

A master’s in education usually involves hands-on requirements of some kind. Those seeking certification must complete student teaching requirements according to their state’s guidelines. Teacher certification programs guide students through these steps, ensuring that program participants spend the appropriate amount of time in a classroom — typically several hundred hours.

Certification programs may aim to align their curricula with other state requirements. Final projects, such as student teaching portfolios or thesis papers, may therefore fulfill two roles for aspiring teachers.

Professional degrees designed for experienced teachers also involve classroom observation. Degree-seekers may study hands-on educational techniques or design research projects to test teaching methodologies. They may apply these theories to their own teaching, or work with other educators. In such a thesis project, students observe, collect data, and report on their findings.

Depending on their goals, students may wish to tailor their thesis projects toward future education, particularly if they hope to continue to doctoral-level studies.

How Much Will a Master’s in Education Cost?

A master’s in education involves a significant financial investment. According to U.S. News & World Report, a full master’s program can cost $20,000-$80,000. Degree-seekers should also make room in their budgets for additional fees, materials, and cost of living.

Various factors influence these costs. Students who choose in-state public schools usually pay lower tuition than those who attend the same school from out of state. Private schools do not tend to differentiate based on residency, though per-credit rates may be higher overall. Many schools charge lower fees for distance learning, allowing out-of-state students to pay in-state or otherwise reduced tuition.

Students can seek out a variety of financial aid opportunities to help fund a master’s in education. By completing a FAFSA, degree-seekers may qualify for federal grants and low-interest loans. Aspiring educators can also apply for need- and merit-based scholarships. To learn more about financial aid, follow the links below.

Jobs for Master’s in Education Graduates

Graduates who complete a master’s in education can pursue a variety of interesting and rewarding careers. Though a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most classroom teachers at the elementary and high school levels, a master’s degree can result in significantly higher earning potential.

With a master’s in education, degree-holders also qualify for higher paying positions. Instructional coordinators made a median salary of $66,290 as of May 2019, while principals earned $96,400. By continuing to doctoral studies, educators can qualify for jobs as professors, with a median annual salary of $79,540.

Jobs for Master’s in Special Education Graduates

Instructional Coordinator

Often working in individual schools, universities, or government offices, instructional coordinators design the curricula that teachers use in classrooms. Focusing on a particular grade level, they ensure the materials meet local and national standards, and they work with educators to assess the curriculum’s effectiveness. Instructional coordinators may also organize professional development for teachers.

  • Required Education: Master’s Degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29):+6%
  • Median Annual Salary:$66,290

Elementary, Middle School, or High School Principal

School principals manage all operations for their institutions. Working in public or private schools, they oversee teachers and staff, make decisions about what curricula to use in the classroom, and handle budgets. They also communicate with parents, ensure the school meets all applicable standards, and supervise safety measures for students and staff.

  • Required Education: Master’s Degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29):+4%
  • Median Annual Salary:$96,400

High School Teacher

Usually specializing in a specific subject such as English or science, high school teachers typically work with students in grades 9-12. They plan lessons and activities in their subject, prepare their classes for standardized testing, and assist students who encounter difficulty with the materials. Though teachers usually need a bachelor’s degree, higher salaries can accompany a master’s degree. Some states require teachers to earn a master’s degree.

  • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree, at minimum
  • Job Outlook (2019-29):+4%
  • Median Annual Salary:$61,660

Elementary School Teacher

Generally working with students in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade, elementary school teachers provide foundational lessons in math, science, and literacy. They also help children develop social skills and classroom etiquette. Though elementary school teachers usually need a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in education can boost earning power. Some states require teachers to earn a master’s degree.

  • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree, at minimum
  • Job Outlook (2019-29):+4%
  • Median Annual Salary:$59,420

Special Education Teacher

Working with grades pre-k through 12, special education teachers help students with disabilities. They work with teachers to modify lessons for children whose mental, emotional, or physical disabilities require adaptations. Special education teachers create individualized education programs for their students and communicate with parents and staff. Though a bachelor’s degree typically satisfies minimum educational requirements, a master’s in education can provide a competitive edge in hiring.

  • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree, at minimum
  • Job Outlook (2019-29):+3%
  • Median Annual Salary:$61,030

Explore Education Careers

Choosing the Right Education Graduate Program

This list of education master’s programs is an excellent starting point for prospective students. However, degree-seekers need to consider their own preferences and career goals before making a final decision. Other important factors can include accreditation, school size, faculty, and program culture.

Accreditation should always factor into a student’s decision-making process. Regional and national accreditation ensure that the whole institution meets certain minimum standards. Many employers and education programs only recognize degrees from schools with regional accreditation. Students might also look for accreditation in their subject area; for example, the National Council for the Social Studies assesses social studies education programs.

Prospective students may also want to consider school size before committing to a program. Large schools may offer activities like big sporting events, while smaller schools provide a more intimate setting.

Students should also consider the faculty at the schools on their list. Degree-seekers may want to match a particular research interest with faculty expertise, and the diversity of the faculty can demonstrate a commitment to inclusion. Prospective students may also want to speak with current program participants or alumni about the program culture. For example, some learners thrive in competitive environments, while others prefer collaboration and mentorship.

Should You Get Your Degree Online?

Online education represents a convenient path to obtaining a master’s in education. Inspired by the success of distance learning, institutions add more degree options every year. Students can find many programs that equal their in-person counterparts in rigor and prestige. By seeking out the best online master’s in education for their situation, learners can potentially save money and benefit from increased convenience.

In-service teachers may especially prefer an online master’s in education, which allows them to continue working in their own classroom while also obtaining a degree through their preferred school. Online programs that lead to certification can help distance learners to arrange any student teaching in their area. Enrollees should always make sure they understand the teacher certification requirements in their state.

Some programs run online courses asynchronously, making materials available to students on their own schedules. Other courses require face-to-face meetings through webcam. Programs may also call upon students to attend occasional on-campus events. While an excellent option for many learners, online education requires strong self-motivation and time management skills; degree-seekers should think about their preferences before enrolling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth getting a master’s in education?

With a master’s in education, aspiring and practicing educators qualify for higher salaries in the classroom, and a wider variety of careers beyond.

How long does it take to get a master’s degree in education?

Most students can complete a master’s in education in 1-2 years. Many programs allow for accelerated or extended study times.

What can I do with a master’s in education?

With a master’s degree in education, graduates can work as classroom teachers at the pre-K, elementary, or high-school level. Master’s degree-holders also qualify to serve as school principals, instructional coordinators, and sometimes professors.

What comes after a master’s degree in education?

After several years of teaching experience, some graduates decide to return to school to pursue a doctoral degree in education.

Directory of Accredited Master’s Degrees in Education Programs