How to Choose a Program

Teaching is an incredibly rewarding profession. Teachers shape the future by educating young children and adolescents from elementary school through high school. They provide instruction in subjects such as math and support students through their academic careers. To become a teacher, you must first obtain a relevant degree and apply for your state's teaching license.

Before anything else, prospective teachers must select the best program for their interests and career goals. Thousands of colleges offer education degrees, including both on-campus and online options. Questions to ask include: Does the program offer specializations that interest me? Is the price point fair for the education? Am I eligible for scholarships?

In this guide, you can learn more about the differences between online and on-campus education, how to choose a program that matches your goals, and the process of applying for financial aid. If you still have questions after reading this article, please consult the admissions departments for the schools where you plan to apply.

While most students attend traditional on-campus programs, online courses have become increasingly popular in recent years. Online programs offer greater cost and flexibility than on-campus programs. Distance learning programs also typically cost less than on-campus programs. Many schools offer tuition discounts or in-state tuition rates to online students. Online students also do not pay for campus housing fees or gas to travel back and forth to campus.

Additionally, online programs allow students to listen to lectures and complete coursework at times convenient to them. For this reason, those with families or full-time jobs gravitate toward online learning. Most transcripts and diplomas do not differentiate between on-campus and online courses, and online courses are just as rigorous as their on-campus counterparts.

Succeeding in an online classroom requires an extra level of motivation, self-discipline, and organization compared to on-campus programs. Online students must set and stick to their schedules. If they miss an assignment, they have no one to blame but themselves. Younger students may have trouble adjusting to this high level of responsibility.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Online Teaching Program

Hybrid/Blended Learning

Hybrid and blended learning programs include one or more on-campus components. For example, a hybrid program might include two online courses and a class that meets on campus once a week. These meetings may consist of lectures, labs, seminars, guest speakers, and other events designed to build your interpersonal and teaching skills.

Many students in hybrid and blended learning environments benefit from the most positive aspects of the on-campus experience, including sharing ideas, building professional relationships, and practicing new concepts in a classroom setting. Also, with advances in software technology, your on-campus experiences can blend seamlessly into your online instruction.

When researching a hybrid or blended learning program, ensure that you can commit to the on-campus requirement by examining your other obligations and assessing your distance from campus. Many working students have difficulty attending scheduled campus sessions, and thus prefer fully online programs. Also, you may want to review feedback from former students. Do they believe that what they gained from the blended learning format was worth the commitment?

Synchronous or Asynchronous

When considering online programs, take note whether each program uses a synchronous or asynchronous learning style. In synchronous learning programs, professors and students meet in an online classroom for scheduled classes one or more times a week. During these sessions, professors lecture on a topic and students can ask questions in real time. Synchronous programs resemble the traditional on-campus experience. Synchronous programs appeal to students who desire a more personalized online learning experience.

In asynchronous programs, professors record lectures and post them online. Students view lectures at their convenience, a helpful feature for nontraditional students who work full-time or raise children. To communicate with one another, students and professors rely on electronic communication such as internet message boards. In both types of programs, students must abide by their professors' deadlines for submitting work and taking examinations.

Class Size

Class size affects the quality of online education as much as it affects an on-campus education. An online program where hundreds of students take the same class results in students receiving little to no individualized attention and feedback. Also, students in large online classes have fewer opportunities to form personal and professional bonds with their peers. When selecting an online program, take note of whether the program caps the number of students allowed in each course. If each class includes fewer than 30 students, you will likely receive a more personalized experience that may lead to a better overall quality of education.  

Finally, program cost can all affect class size. Online programs with smaller class sizes typically cost more than programs with larger class sizes. Before deciding on which kind of program to attend, consider researching how professors and students interact online. Some programs with large class sizes have adopted new software platforms to ensure that no student becomes lost in the crowd.

Personal Learning Style

In teacher education programs, future educators discuss how each person learns in different ways. Some students prefer visual learning, while other students prefer verbal learning or kinesthetic learning. Within these groups, students may learn best in a classroom with other students or by themselves. When researching the best online teaching degree programs, you may want to consider your own learning style and how you might react to online learning. Visual learners and students who prefer learning by themselves benefit most from online classrooms. Sitting still in front of a computer may not appeal to kinesthetic learners. However, since these students are at home, they can take regular breaks and stand or work out while reading through material. No matter your learning preferences, you can adapt to online learning after an adjustment period. Succeeding during this transitional period depends on identifying your weaknesses and researching ways to address them.

Internships

The best teacher education programs contain a student teaching component. To earn a teaching license or certificate in most states, students must complete a certain number of hours working in a classroom. At the beginning of each teacher education program, the school helps students find suitable student teaching placements in their local communities. Student teaching may last for one semester or one academic year. Students may spend half of their student teaching experience at one location before switching schools. Changing locations allows teachers-in-training to learn in different environments and interact with students at different grade levels. Student teaching allows future educators to apply their skills and work with experienced mentor teachers. Programs with a student teaching component may require students to work at a school full-time or part-time. Students should check the exact requirements of their prospective college and ensure they can meet all obligations.

Whether online or on campus, the best education programs hold multiple forms of accreditation. Simply put, accreditation refers to the process schools undertake to prove that their programs offer quality education to their students. An accredited program adequately prepares graduates to perform work in their field. Unaccredited colleges and universities may provide an inadequate education. Also, employers usually do not recognize degrees from unaccredited universities. To become a licensed or certified teacher, every state requires applicants to hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university.

To research whether the colleges on your shortlist hold accreditation, check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website. CHEA's database of institutions and programs accredited by recognized U.S. accrediting agencies contains regional and national accreditation information for every school in the nation.

National vs. Regional Accreditation

All reputable colleges and universities hold accreditation from a regional accreditation agency. Seven accreditation agencies oversee schools in different regions of the country. Regionally accredited schools meet the highest standards set by these agencies. Employers, state licensing boards, and graduate schools all prefer degrees from regionally accredited schools.

National accreditation agencies oversee specialized education programs such as distance education and online learning. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission grants accreditation to schools that provide quality online courses. However, many employers and licensing boards do not recognize degrees from schools that only hold regional accreditation. Additionally, credits from a school with only national accreditation may not transfer to a school with regional accreditation.

If possible, consider schools that hold both regional and national accreditation. To find out if the online programs on your shortlist hold both regional and national accreditation, use the CHEA website or contact the university directly.

Programmatic Accreditation

Programmatic accreditation agencies specialize in one academic discipline. These agencies review college programs and research best practices in a particular subject. In the field of education, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) strives to improve teacher preparation programs throughout the nation. CAEP-accredited schools must meet five benchmarks: excellent content, a student teaching component, top applicants, a plan for student learning, and initiatives aimed at continuous improvement. College and universities that partner with CAEP receive ample resources to help their education program grow. When researching online teacher education programs, look for programmatic accreditation from organizations like CAEP.

What do you hope to achieve as a teacher? Do you want to teach students throughout your entire career, or do you want to become an administrator at some point down the road? Answering questions like these can help you set specific career goals and search for programs that match your plans. If you cannot finalize your goals, do not worry. Many teaching students do not have late-career goals in mind before starting their undergraduate education. Try to find a concentration in an area you enjoy, such as early childhood education or math, and your end goals will eventually come to you.

Teaching Specialities

The teaching profession consists of many related specialities that share the same goal: help students earn a diploma and learn to the best of their abilities. Every program offers different specializations, so do not feel surprised if a program does not offer a speciality that interests you. Most master's-level programs require students to choose a concentration, since graduate students spend the majority of their education focusing on a single topic or a narrow range of topics.

  • Special Education Students specializing in special education learn about the many physical and mental disorders that can impact student learning. During student teaching, students work in special education classrooms at different grade levels.
  • English Language Learner Also known as English as a second language (ESL), this speciality prepares college students to teach recent immigrants and other children who speak English as a second language. Many ESL teachers speak Spanish or another language fluently.
  • Reading Specialist This speciality focuses on helping students struggling with reading. Future teachers learn how to apply the latest literacy research when working with students.
  • Primary Education Also known as elementary education, this specialization prepares students to teach children up to the sixth grade. The curriculum focuses on childhood development and modes of learning.
  • Secondary Education A secondary education specialization prepares students to teach learners from seventh to 12th grades. Courses focus on topics such as differentiated learning and building positive student-teacher relationships.
  • Counseling Individuals specializing in counseling learn how to address students' problems calmly and effectively. The majority of courses help students build the interpersonal and problem-solving skills all counselors need.

Explore Teaching Careers

After graduation, most education majors become teachers. However, the specific kind of teacher you become depends on your personal interests, your previous education, and available job postings in your area. Many states require different certifications and licenses for different fields.

Career Description Degree Required
ESL Teachers ESL teachers work one-on-one with students learning English. Responsibilities include tracking student progress and coordinating with parents and classroom teachers. Bachelor's
Adult Education Teachers Adult education teachers help adults learn fundamental skills such as math and English. Some adult education teachers lead classes, while others work as private tutors. Bachelor's
Higher Education Teachers Higher education teachers work at colleges and universities, educating the next generation of teachers. Outside the classroom, they conduct research and publish papers on educational topics. Doctorate
High School Teachers High school teachers teach one academic subject. They often take on additional responsibilities such as coaching a sport or sponsoring a student club. Bachelor's
Middle School Teachers Like high school teachers, middle school teachers focus on one academic subject. They help students polish skills necessary for academic success in high school. Bachelor's
Elementary School Teachers Elementary school teachers introduce students to each academic subject. They also help counselors and special education teachers identify and remedy possible learning disorders. Bachelor's
Kindergarten Teachers Kindergarten teachers instruct students on necessary academic skills such as introduction to reading and arithmetic. They also instill important interpersonal skills into students.   Bachelor's
Special Education Teachers Special education teachers help students with physical or mental disabilities succeed in the classroom. They often meet with parents and write individualized education plans for their students. Master's

For the majority of students, cost is the primary factor in determining which school to attend. Cost depends on the level of degree you obtain, the number of years you remain in school, and your status as a full- or part-time student. Schools also charge wildly different tuition rates depending on the state and type of institution. Many colleges offer lower tuition rates for online learners, but others charge higher tuition fees.

The sections below examine the different factors that can increase or decrease the total cost of your education. Many students use a combination of scholarships, grants, and loans to pay for their education. Through this link, you can learn more about scholarships exclusive to future teachers.

Public vs. Private Schools

All institutions of higher education fall under one of two categories: public or private. Public colleges and universities are financed by the state in which they operate. For example, community colleges and state universities classify as public schools. Public schools typically offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in a wide variety of disciplines. Residents of the state where the public school operates usually pay significantly less in tuition than out-of-state students. Each state sets its own rules concerning who can benefit from in-state tuition.

While private colleges and universities may receive some government funding, they primarily rely on private donors, endowments, and student tuition. Private colleges and universities tend to enroll fewer students, and consequently have a lower student-to-faculty ratio. Private schools may offer fewer majors than public schools, but they boast unique specializations that can make graduates more competitive in the job market. Students at these schools can also benefit from greater financial aid packages to offset the higher cost of tuition. Some private schools even pay the total cost of attendance for some students, such as those from low-income families or those part of a racial minority.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Schools

For students who attend a public college or university, residency status affects the amount of tuition they pay each year. In some states, out-of-state students spend approximately 300% more on tuition each year than in-state students. However, many out-of-state students qualify for in-state tuition once they reside in that state for more than one year. In-state colleges and universities exist to serve the residents of their respective states. As a result, many of these schools only admit a small percentage of out-of-state applicants.

Once admitted, in-state students can benefit from state-run scholarship programs such as those funded through the state lottery. These scholarships can cover the majority of an in-state student's tuition. Some public colleges also offer in-state tuition rates to out-of-state online students.

The table below contains median tuition rates for in-state students attending a public college, out-of-state students attending a public college, and all students attending a private nonprofit college.

In-State vs. Out-of-State College Tuition Prices
Source: College Board
  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public 4-year In-State College $9,670 $9,970
Public 4-Year Out-of-State College $24,820 $25,620
Private 4-Year Nonprofit College $33,520 $34,740

Two-Year vs. Four-Year Schools

Many college students training to become teachers begin their education at a two-year community college, also known as an in-district college. Community colleges confer associate degrees, roughly half of the education required to earn a bachelor's. If you choose this route, you can transfer your credits to a four-year college and earn your bachelor's in an additional two years. For credits to transfer, the community college must hold regional accreditation from the relevant accreditation agency. Two-year schools usually charge much lower tuition than four-year schools. Community college students also save money by not paying for on-campus housing, the cost of which can easily exceed a nice apartment in the same area.

In the table below, you can compare the median tuition of public community colleges with public four-year in-state colleges. Students who earn their associate degree before attending a four-year in-state college save approximately $10,000 on the total cost of their bachelor's.

Two-Year vs. Four-Year College Tuition Prices
Source: College Board
  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public Two-Year In-District College $3,470 $3,570
Public Four-Year In-State College $9,670 $9,970

Online vs. On-Campus Programs

When choosing a teaching program, decide whether an online or on-campus program best matches your learning style and budget. Like with community colleges, online programs spare you from the cost of room and board. Some colleges and universities exempt online students from certain fees, as well. Working students can maintain their careers, and students with small children do not have to pay for expensive daycare while they attend classes. Additionally, online students do not pay for commuting fees such as gas, car maintenance, parking, or bus passes.

The table below illustrates the median room and board fees for both public and private four-year colleges. Since online students do not pay these fees, you can potentially save upwards of $48,000 on your college education by selecting an online program. With these significant cost savings, you can either keep the money or invest in a high-quality program that helps you start your career on the right foot.

Room and Board Fees
Source: College Board
  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public 4-Year In-State/Out-of-State College $10,480 $10,800
Private Nonprofit 4-year College $11,850 $12,210

The academic merits of a teacher education program should always guide your decision on whether to apply. However, a program's reputation can influence your career prospects after graduation, especially if you plan to teach in the same area where you earn your degree. The school's job placement rate, teacher credentials, and accreditation status all influence a program's reputation.

  • Graduate Job Placement Rate

    Many programs with a high graduate job placement rate advertise this statistic on their program website. If you cannot find this information, call the department and ask. Keep in mind that some programs do not track their job placement rate.

  • Teacher Credentials

    The best teaching programs employ the best professors. The school's website should include a faculty directory that describes professors' educational and professional backgrounds.

  • Accreditation Status

    The more accreditation a school holds, the better its reputation. Each school should display its accreditation status on its website. A school with multiple kinds of programmatic accreditation might not list all of its credentials. At the very least, your school should hold regional accreditation. You can check accreditation through the CHEA website.