Online Master's Degree in Educational Leadership

An increasing number of educators have begun to realize the benefits of earning a master's in educational leadership. This degree is a logical extension of what these professionals do on a day-to-day basis -- communicating, organizing, and inspiring students.

A master's degree allows educators to secure more lucrative roles or gain more responsibility in their current schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for principals is almost $93,000, with a projected increase of 8% job growth over the next decade. For those who decide to stay in the classroom, earning a master's degree can account for a 10% average raise in income, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education as reported by the Council of State Governments.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for principals is almost $93,000, with a projected increase of 8% job growth over the next decade.

Some of the nation's top-ranked universities offer online programs, making it easier for students to go back to school while continuing to work full-time. Most master's in educational leadership programs combine the study of traditional classroom skills with management and administrative courses that are similar to those found in business programs. Many programs also prepare teachers for additional licensure or certification and to meet state in-service requirements. Additionally, many programs feature concentrations that allow teachers to further customize their degrees.

Teachers pursuing master's in education degrees choose from a variety of degree options, including master of arts (MA), master of arts in teaching (MAT), master of science (MS), and master of education (MEd) degrees.

The MA and MAT degrees are ideal for classroom teachers seeking to enhance their understanding of practical pedagogical techniques. Many feature concentrations in individual subjects, like secondary math or elementary English. This allows students to tailor the program to better match their professional goals. MS programs are ideal for practicing teachers who want to improve their practical skills.

MEd programs typically focus more on the theory of education than on the practice of teaching. These programs emphasize the ideas behind education, philosophies of pedagogy, and administrative techniques. Instead of featuring subject-specific specialization, MEd programs offer concentrations in curriculum and instruction, school counseling and psychology, and administration and leadership. Most master of education programs, including online master's in educational leadership and administration tracks, prepare students to become administrators and principals.

Average Salary for Educational Leadership By Degree Type
Degree Type Average Salary
Master of Education (MEd), Educational Leadership $64,328
Master of Arts (MA), Educational Leadership $60,270
Master of Science (MS), Educational Leadership $58,646

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master's Degree in Educational Leaderships

Most programs require students to complete about 30 credits and can be completed in two years. Many graduate tracks also involve some sort of internship or classroom practicum and a capstone or thesis project. Some curricula may also feature licensure or certification components.

Prerequisites for an Online Educational Leadership Master's Degree

  • Bachelor's Degree

    Nearly all master's programs require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree. Some require a bachelor's in education, while others accept students from varying fields. The only exception to this rule tends to be five-year programs where students complete an accelerated program to earn both a bachelor's and master's degree. Many schools also maintain GPA requirements for applicants.

  • Test Scores

    Most universities require potential students to submit GRE scores. Some schools waive these requirements for candidates with a certain amount of teaching experience or a high GPA. The best online master's in education programs require minimum scores of 440 and 530 on the verbal and quantitative sections of the GRE, respectively.

  • Teaching Certificate

    Many universities design master's programs with working teachers in mind and require candidates to already hold a current teaching license. This is common practice at the graduate level, although licensure is not always required.

  • Classroom Experience

    Many online master's in education programs require classroom teaching experience; a common requirement is at least two years of teaching experience.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Educational Leadership

Each online education leadership program offers a slightly different curriculum. However, there are some core courses that you can expect to see at any school. Below is a sample curriculum of the most common educational leadership courses.

Example Courses

Strategic Planning for Educational Leaders Students use case studies to craft strategies and plan initiatives. This course emphasizes decision-making and problem-solving skills, which are integral to becoming successful superintendents, principals, and other education administrators.
Governance, Finance, Law, and Leadership for Principals This course provides students with a comprehensive look at budgeting, ethics, and the administrative principles needed to run today's schools. It takes students through many of the fiscal responsibilities held by principals and emphasizes leadership at the K-12 level.
Educational Law and Ethics This class equips students with the tools needed to navigate the legal and regulatory issues facing schools. Educators learn to research and analyze emerging laws, collaborate with communities and lawmakers, and advocate for students and schools. This course prepares graduates for careers as principals, superintendents, and many other decision makers in education.
School Improvement Candidates who enroll in this class study how to improve schools using data analysis, research, and theory. They explore both the teaching and learning processes, analyze the curriculum, and look at educational outcomes. Students also learn about success models, determining how to implement best practices at their schools. The class is ideal not only for principals and superintendents but also future department heads, government officials, and classroom teachers.
Technology Applications in Educational Leadership This course focuses on determining how technology helps educators, emphasizing how administrators can use the latest tools to enrich the learning process and solve problems at their schools.

How Long Does it Take to get an Online Master's in Educational Leadership?

One of the main benefits of online master's in education programs is that they offer ideal schedules for working educators. Most universities construct programs that let teachers earn all required credits while working part-time, allowing them to earn a degree in two or three years. How long it takes to earn your degree depends largely upon the program's format. Some schools offer courses asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework and progress through the curriculum at their own pace. Other programs use a cohort model, where a group of teachers work together online, taking one class at a time in a predetermined sequence. This format can increase the amount of time it takes to earn your degree.

The number of online master's in teaching programs has greatly expanded thanks to the growing popularity of distance learning. With so many options available, choosing the right program for you can seem like a daunting task. Luckily, there are a number of factors you can consider to make the right decision for your needs.

One of the main factors for most students is program cost. For many people, affordability hinges on the ability to continue working and earning an income while pursuing their degree. Thankfully, many programs allow students to attend part-time while they continue to teach. Although most colleges offer master's in education programs that accommodate working teachers, some do require a full-time commitment.

Some programs are available entirely online, while others use a hybrid format that requires some in-person residencies.

Another consideration is the format a program is offered in. Some programs are available entirely online, while others use a hybrid format that requires some in-person residencies. For programs that include residency requirements, it is important to consider whether you can take time away from your work and family to complete these sessions, and how far away you are willing to commute for school. Some students prefer to enroll in a program close to home to make the commute to any required on-campus courses easier. Most schools also offer immersions and residencies during the summer term to accommodate distance learners, with many offering living accomodations in on-campus dorms.

A program's curriculum can be another key factor. While most programs share many commonalities, every master's in education online track is different. The concentrations and focus areas offered also vary greatly from school to school. Additionally, some schools feature licensure or certification elements. You should also consider whether a program includes practicum or field experience requirements.

Finding Accredited Online Educational Leadership Programs

When choosing an online master's in educational leadership program, be sure to select one that is regionally accredited. Academic accreditation is important because it denotes that a school is held to certain academic standards. Graduates from an institution that is not accredited will find that many employers and universities won't recognize their degree. Additionally, state licensing boards won't recognize degrees that lack proper accreditation.

All reputable colleges and universities hold accreditation from one of the six regional accreditation agencies that operate in the United States. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes and oversees these accrediting agencies. Students who earn a degree from regionally-accredited schools receive a high-quality education and enjoy better job prospects.

The best online master's in education programs also typically hold recognition by teaching-specific accrediting agencies, such as the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC), and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).

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Teaching certificates and teaching licenses can help professionals obtain more advanced positions and higher salaries. However, these two types of professional qualifications differ in one important way: licenses receive oversight from state agencies, while certificates do not. Certification shows that an individual has learned a certain skill or demonstrated competency in a specialized area.

Master's in Educational Leadership Careers

Many graduates with an online master's in educational leadership program pursue careers as principals or superintendents, but the degree prepares professionals for a variety of other careers. A master's in educational leadership prepares graduates for positions in state government education departments, district administration, university administration, college provost offices, and registrar offices. Those who want to oversee large educational departments, schools, or agencies can benefit from an online master's in educational leadership.

Elementary School Principal

Elementary school principals run schools at the K-5 level. Responsibilities include setting goals for a school, establishing curricula, managing personnel, budgeting, and community relations.

High School Principal

High school principals oversee schools serving grades 9-12. These professionals run meetings, resolve staffing issues, correct student behavioral issues, set agendas, meet with parents, and solve any other issues. They must be adept at both big-picture thinking and day-to-day management.

School Superintendent

These administrators lead all of the schools in a certain geographic area. They make budgeting decisions, hire and fire principals, allocate resources, and report to local government agencies.

Dean of Students

The dean of students oversees certain programs or departments at a school, serving as an advocate between students and the school administration. These professionals meet with both student groups and faculty. They may also run an academic department or program at a college or high school.

Principal/Headmaster, Middle School

Middle school principals serve the same role as high school and elementary school principals but for students grades 5-8. They manage the entire school population, including students and teachers.

Master's in Educational Leadership Salary

Graduates of online master's in education programs qualify for many different jobs and can earn a range of salaries. There are several factors that can influence how much these professionals earn, with location ranking as one of the biggest variables. According to Sokanu, salaries vary widely by state. For example, principals in North Carolina make just over $63,000 annually, while the same position in Connecticut earns an average of more than $125,000.

Other factors include years of experience and level of education. In fact, those with a master's degree can expect to earn at least 10% more than their peers with a bachelor's degree. Additionally, many educators who earn their online master's in educational leadership decide to continue their education and pursue an online Ph.D in educational leadership, which also typically results in an additional salary increase.

Salary for Education Administrators by Industry
Industry Employment Median Annual Salary
Elementary and Secondary Schools 237,650 $95,540
Local Government 1,150 $102,360
State Government 930 $94,050
Educational Support Services 860 $89,070
Religious Organizations 410 $81,790

Average Employment and Salaries for Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School Employees

Educational costs in higher education have increased dramatically over the past few decades, and students everywhere struggle to pay for school. Fortunately, master's in education online programs tend to be less expensive than their on-campus counterparts, and many students have access to several types of financial aid.

Every student should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which qualifies them to receive federal financial aid. Many scholarships, loans, and grants require applicants to have already filled out the FAFSA.

Prospective students should also look for scholarships, grants, loans, and reimbursement programs that are offered specifically for educators. For example, the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is a federal program that allows graduates to forgive up to $17,500 of their student debt if they agree to serve in a low-income school for at least five years. The federal government also maintains a teacher forgiveness program specifically for its Perkins Loans.

Community organizations, charitable agencies, clubs, corporations, and foundations all offer scholarships to help educators pay for their education. Many programs also offer fellowships or graduate positions where students exchange teaching, research, and other services for tuition reimbursement.

Scholarships for Online Master's Degree in Educational Leadership Students

Students looking for help paying for their master's in teaching online programs may qualify for a wide variety of scholarships, including awards meant for general college students as well as those specifically earmarked for teaching degree students.

PDK Past Presidents Fellowship Varies

Who Can Apply: Phi Delta Kappa offers a fellowship to a graduate student in the fields of education or educational administration in honor of its past leaders. Applicants must be members of PDK. View Scholarship

Educational Administration Scholarships Varies

Who Can Apply: The American Association of School Administrators provides several scholarships for future educational leaders. Applicants must be recommended by the chair of their school of education. View Scholarship

Leon Bradley Scholarships $1,500

Who Can Apply: Administered by the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, the Bradley Scholarships help minority students pursuing master's degrees in school leadership pay for their education. View Scholarship

NACA® Foundation Graduate Scholarships Varies

Who Can Apply: The National Association for Campus Activities offers four graduate scholarships to educators in master's programs for student personnel services. Applicants must be college graduates with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.5 to be considered. Students must also be U.S. citizens and have experience in campus activities. View Scholarship
  • National Education Association NEA is the nation's largest professional employee organization dedicated to improving public education. It offers grants, sponsors events, publishes the latest news, and advocates on behalf of educators and students.
  • American Association of School Personnel Administrators This professional organization is devoted to personnel administrators, including principals, superintendents, and school human resource officers. The organization offers continuing education resources, certification, professional development, publications, networking opportunities, and other services to its members.
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals The leading organization for principals and school administrators, NASSP offers news and online professional development opportunities to educational leaders.
  • School Superintendents Association Founded in 1885, AASA brings together more than 13,000 administrators from around the nation. The organization advocates for public schools and provides members with an array of awards and events, services, programs, and career-oriented information.
  • U.S. Department of Education The federal Department of Education maintains a database of accredited schools as well as education statistics, research, and loan information.
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