Graduate Application Guide for Teachers

In many ways, applying to a master’s in teaching program resembles an undergraduate application. Both involve standardized tests, obtaining recommendation letters, and performing significant research. However, applying to graduate school also entails choosing a teaching specialization. A master’s degree likely qualifies you for a leadership position in your school or district. Choosing a specialization directs your future career trajectory. Research specializations that match your strengths and interests before selecting potential universities to earn your master’s in teaching program.

Another way graduate school admissions vary from undergraduate admissions involves additional teaching graduate school application requirements. Some programs require applicants to have five or more years of experience as a full-time teacher. Also, nearly every program when you are applying to teaching grad school requires a background check and possibly a drug test. Keeping track of different universities’ application requirements ensures that you stay on top of important deadlines and materials.

Teaching Graduate Program Prerequisites

Do I Need a Bachelor’s Degree in Teaching to Earn a Teaching Graduate Degree?

Most graduate school programs for teachers require applicants to hold a bachelors in education or a related field. However, some schools offer transitional programs that allow applicants with bachelor’s degrees in other subjects to apply. In these programs, students take supplemental classes to learn foundational knowledge in a condensed format. Transitional programs require one to two more years of study than a master’s program for students with a bachelor’s in teaching, or significant work experience.

Some universities that do not offer transitional programs help interested applicants complete education requirements through other means. This process may involve the applicant passing education courses at an approved community college before beginning their master’s program. It is important to earn credits from a community college accredited by one of the seven regional accreditation agencies that rate the country’s post-secondary schools. Also, if you do not yet hold a bachelor’s degree, only consider accredited colleges when selecting a bachelor’s program.

Some universities may allow applicants to apply to graduate school if they have not completed their graduate school application requirements. Contact the admissions department for each program to verify application requirements and convey your desire to attend the school. This leaves a positive impression on admissions counselors and raises your chances of acceptance.

Is Work Experience a Prerequisite to a Teaching Graduate Program?

Some master’s programs cater to teachers with classroom experience and allow students to apply their professional expertise toward degree requirements. These programs prefer applicants with five or more years of relevant work experience. This way, each student’s cohort represents a group of trained professionals who can hone their skills through specialized coursework, research projects, and internships. Through these programs, many teachers earn an advanced degree and also a specialized endorsement, such as special education or leadership.

Other master’s programs do not require work experience, but may require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree in the subject, or subjects, they intend to teach, especially if applicants plan to teach at the high school level. Programs that do not require work experience usually take longer to finish. These programs typically include a student-teaching component that lasts one or more semesters.

Do I Have to Take the GRE to Apply to Teaching School?

The GRE represents one of the many graduate school requirements that applicants must complete before applying. The $205, computer-based test judges test takers’ reading, English, and math skills. Many universities also accept the MAT, which asks students to complete a series of analogies to judge their verbal and reasoning abilities. Cost depends on the test center, but rarely exceeds $100.

Before taking either test, check with universities’ admissions departments to understand which test they prefer. After signing up for a test, you can use free test resources on the official test website.

In some cases, applicants may ask for a GRE waiver from a university. Review the section below to learn more about GRE waivers, qualifications, and if you should take advantage of the GRE waiver program.

GRE Waiver

Applicants who ask for GRE waivers typically do so for one of a handful of reasons. An applicant may have a physical disability that a local testing center cannot accommodate or they might live far from a testing center. Other reasons for requesting a GRE waiver include having five or more years of teaching experience, which proves their ability to succeed in the classroom. To inquire if a university grants GRE waivers, check with the admissions department. To receive the waiver, you may need to submit documentation and wait for a decision from the university.

Some universities do not require standardized test scores to apply. These universities use other metrics such as work experience and undergraduate GPA. Many programs that omit test scores from consideration only accept applications from experienced teachers.

Breakdown of GRE Scores

You receive three scores after taking the GRE: one verbal reasoning score, one quantitative reasoning score, and one analytical writing score. The first two scores range from 130-170 in one-point increments. The analytical writing score ranges from 0-6 in half-point increments. When you finish the exam, the computer displays your unofficial verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning scores. Within 10-15 days you receive your official scores that also include your analytical writing score.

Like the SAT or ACT, the higher your GRE score, the higher your chances of gaining admission to your dream master’s in teaching program. Earning a 160 on both the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections and a five on the analytical writing section puts you above the vast majority of test takers. To find out what score to aim for, consider researching program admission data.

Focus on the middle 50% range of GRE scores. This range represents the scores for 50% of the previous year’s admitted class. Twenty-five percent of accepted students scored below this range, and 25% of accepted students scored above this range. To make yourself competitive, set your score goal near the top or just above the middle 50% score range.

Review the chart below to see what constitutes a good GRE score. It breaks down the percentile ranks for the GRE verbal and quantitative reasoning sections.

GRE Score Percentiles for 2017 – 2018
Source: ETS
Scaled ScoreVerbal Reasoning Percentile RankQuantitative Reasoning Percentile Rank

Teaching School Application Requirements


Transcripts represent your application portfolio’s most essential component, indicating your ability to succeed in the classroom. If you attended more than one college or university, include all transcripts in addition to a letter explaining your academic timeline and reason for switching schools.

Admission counselors want to admit students with high grades in English, the humanities, and any other fields applicants indicate as the subject they hope to teach. High grades in these subjects demonstrate that applicants can succeed at graduate-level coursework that stresses independent research and peer collaboration. Admissions counselors also value applicants with a high overall GPA, academic honors, and those who double majored.

To request transcripts from the college or university where you earned your bachelor’s degree, contact the registrar’s office and ask that they send official transcripts to your selected graduate programs. Requesting transcripts may involve a small fee. Start the process as early as possible, as processing your request may take up to a month to complete.

Test Scores

On the day you take the GRE or MAT, you can request that test results go to one or more graduate schools. If you are unsure about your test performance, you can also wait until after you receive your scores to decide. Once you receive your scores, you can ask the test companies to send them to universities through an online portal. Sending scores may require a fee depending on the number of graduate programs to which you plan to apply. Always send scores as early as possible so graduate programs can receive them in advance of any deadlines.


Just like your academic transcript, your teaching graduate school application resume gives graduate admission counselors a compelling insight into your future academic performance. A strong resume includes your complete work, volunteer, and educational history, along with any special awards or accomplishments. Also, a strong resume avoids any information that admissions counselors might perceive as negative. Do not use your resume to explain a gap in employment or education. Instead use your essay or personal statement to describe how your life events caused this gap. In the section below, learn more about addressing gaps and other issues in your essay or personal statement.

If you lack required work experience, emphasize your accomplishments in volunteer work. You can also make your resume shine by becoming a substitute teacher. Two or more years of experience may convince admissions counselors to accept you to a program that admits only experienced teachers.

Essays and Personal Statements

You will be asked to complete either an admissions essay or statement of purpose. An admissions essay typically asks you to answer one or more questions about yourself or a hypothetical scenario. Popular essay topics include asking you what you might do if a student was unruly or how you would prioritize work. A statement of purpose, on the other hand, asks you to describe yourself, your interests, educational goals, and professional aspirations. In admissions essays and statements of purpose, you use personal anecdotes to paint a picture of yourself.

Writing an excellent admissions essay or statement of purpose involves the same steps. First, brainstorm ideas, curating life events and accomplishments that you can use to best answer the prompt or question. Be sure to avoid negativity. Essays and statements of purpose represent a vehicle for you to show off without sounding arrogant. Like with any rule, though, there is an exception. If you overcame adversity or grew as a person due to a negative life event, feel free to discuss these topics. Admissions counselors want to accept applicants who are resilient and open to personal change. These twolinks contain multiple successful graduate admission essays. Like any great short story, they make a deep, personal connection with the reader.

Some universities may make the admissions essay optional. In these cases, always submit an essay. Going the extra mile shows your desire to attend that university. Also, your essay may become the deciding factor in whether or not you receive an acceptance letter.

Letters of Recommendation

Recommendation letters give admissions counselors a different and personal point of view when considering your application. Although transcripts and test scores take precedence, a good letter of recommendation can sway an admission counselor’s decision in your favor.

When selecting professors to write your letters, choose those who you developed a relationship with during their classes. For master’s in teaching programs, focus on professors who taught your introduction to education courses and those in the field which you hope to teach. When asking for a recommendation, visit the professor during their office hours. During this conversation, you may discover that they are not the right person to write a letter for you. Once your professor agrees to write the letter, use part of the conversation to jog their memory about your performance and participation in class. Some professors teach hundreds of students every year. Even if you were an excellent student, they might need a little help remembering.

If your professor agrees, give them at least two weeks to write the letter. This timeframe provides your professor the ability to balance their other responsibilities with crafting a shining endorsement letter.

English Proficiency Tests

If you graduated high school or college in a non-English-speaking country, you might need to submit the results of an English proficiency test. These tests include the TOEFL, IELTS, and TOEIC. These tests measure test takers’ proficiency with the English language, a vital skill for academic and career success in the U.S. These tests include writing, speaking, listening, and reading sections. Their length ranges from three to four hours. Graduate school applicants can take one or more of these tests at approved test locations. International applicants can research the test companies’ websites to find testing locations in their home countries.

Background Check and Drug Screening

Depending on the university, you may have to submit the results of a background check and drug test before you apply. Local police stations often perform background checks for a small fee. Independent testing centers offer drug testing services, also for a small fee. Some universities may let you begin their master’s program before submitting drug test and background check results, but will not allow you to work with or around children until results come back.

How Do You Apply to Teaching Graduate School?

Most graduate schools accept applications in the fall and winter for courses that begin the following fall semester. When researching graduate programs, make a note of admission windows to create a personalized application plan. When it comes time to apply, graduate programs use unique admission forms due to the specialized nature of their degrees. Admission requirements may vary widely between programs, so note requirements and the time needed to complete each one.

Most programs ask that applications include online and hard copy components, the latter mainly includes official undergraduate transcripts and possibly recommendation letters. Universities may accept other parts of the application, such as the application form and essays, through a secure online portal. Applicants sign up on these portals with a unique username and password. They should expect to pay $50-$100 to apply to each program. Universities sometimes waive application fees for applicants who can demonstrate financial need.

Rolling Admissions

Universities with rolling admissions accept applications throughout the entirety or majority of the year. Rolling admissions appeal to applicants who want to begin their program as soon as possible or need extra time curating admission documents such as transcripts and recommendation letters.

Compared to on-campus programs, a higher percentage of online master’s in teaching programs offer rolling admissions. Once an online program admits a student, the student can begin completing online coursework almost immediately unless the program uses a cohort learning model. These models require that a group of students take courses together to foster professional relationships and promote collaborative learning. Cohorts stay together until graduation.

Prospective students applying for the majority of on-campus programs encounter rounds admissions. In the section below, you can learn more about rounds admissions and how to prepare for application deadlines.

Rounds Admissions

As an undergraduate, you likely attended a college or university that used rounds admissions. Rounds admissions refers to the limited window, or windows, when a school accepts applications for a specific term. At schools where new students begin their programs solely in the fall, the schools accept applications from some time in the fall of the previous year to January 1. After January, admission counselors review applications to create that year’s incoming class. Many undergraduate and graduate schools use this model.

Fortunately, some graduate programs have multiple rounds in each academic year and begin classes for new students in the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Rounds admissions appeal to students planning to take courses on campus. If a university with rounds admissions does not accept a student, that student may apply during the next round unless the university says otherwise.

Waiting for Acceptance Letters

After submitting your application, you may have to wait one or more months to receive a decision. Programs should let you know when to expect their decision, and it will usually come in the form of an email or physical letter. During this time, try to focus on other tasks. An admissions office might contact you concerning a piece of your application portfolio. Always address their questions as soon as possible.

If you receive an acceptance letter from your desired program, carefully review all included information, especially that pertaining to financial aid. If you have questions, always ask the admissions or financial aid department before making a final decision. If more than one program accepts you, weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each program. For many students, finances play the determining factor as to which school they attend.

If you receive rejections from your top-choice schools, consider the pros and cons of attending one of the safety schools that accepted you. Aim for a program that you feel provides a quality education at a competitive cost. You may need to perform additional research to make your decision.

Finally, some applicants may not receive any acceptance letters. Know that feeling disappointed is a natural response. Once these negative feelings pass, you can take proactive steps. Your first step involves calling each admissions office and asking what rejected applicants can do to improve their chances of acceptance the following semester or year. Apply these recommendations when the time comes to reapply.