25 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs 2021

April 16, 2021 • 6 Min Read

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Some education professionals teach students at the elementary, middle, or high school level. Others work in school administration or as consultants. Whether they work inside or outside of the classroom, professionals in this diverse and challenging field need strong interpersonal and critical thinking skills. They must also demonstrate creative problem-solving abilities and a commitment to students' growth and success.

Earning a master's degree in education can lead to career advancement and increased earning potential. Most master's programs take about two years to complete and require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree.

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Salaries for teachers, administrators, and educational specialists vary based on the individual's experience, specialty, and location. However, median salaries in the field typically exceed the national median for all occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), high school teachers earn an annual median salary of $61,660, and school principals earn a median of $96,400 per year. The BLS projects jobs in these occupations to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029.

This guide explores some of the best online master's in education programs. The following sections include information on coursework, career options, and scholarships for master's students in the field.

Top 10 Best Online Master's Degree in Education

#1 Prescott College Prescott, AZ
#2 Brandman University Irvine, CA
#3 Western Governors University Salt Lake City, UT
#4 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
#5 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY
#6 University of West Alabama Livingston, AL
#7 City University of Seattle Seattle, WA
#8 Colorado State University-Global Campus Greenwood Village, CO
#9 Arizona State University Scottsdale, AZ
#10 Regis University Denver, CO

Graduates of education programs can pursue a variety of careers. Many professionals in the field work as classroom teachers, special education teachers, administrators, or guidance counselors. Other educators find employment in non-traditional settings, such as businesses and community organizations.

Most entry-level teaching positions require a bachelor's degree. School principals and many educational specialists need a master's degree. Some states also require high school instructors to hold a master's degree.

Teachers who work with any grade level can earn a master's degree to enhance their current teaching practice or to qualify for leadership positions. Learners can also pursue a master's degree in education to transition from classroom teaching to roles in academic support or administration.

Aspiring teachers who hold a bachelor's in a non-education field often benefit from master's programs that simultaneously fulfill educational requirements for initial licensure or certification.

Accreditation for an Education Degree

Students applying to online master's in education programs should verify each school's accreditation status. Accreditation demonstrates that the college or university meets national standards for academic quality. Independent accrediting agencies evaluate programs, courses, faculty credentials, and student support services.

U.S. schools can hold regional or national accreditation, and students at either type of institution may qualify for federal student aid. Academically oriented, nonprofit schools typically receive regional accreditation, which is considered more rigorous and prestigious. For-profit, religious, and/or vocational institutions often seek national accreditation. Applicants can verify any school's accreditation status using the searchable database from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

Field-specific accrediting agencies evaluate certain programs within a school. Many reputable education programs hold accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Both online and on-campus programs must meet the same accreditation criteria.


Can I do a Ph.D. after a master's in education?

Master's programs help learners hone the rigorous research skills Ph.D. programs demand. Most doctoral programs prefer or require applicants to hold a master's degree.

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

Full-time students can graduate from most education master's programs in about two years. Learners may complete accelerated programs faster.

What can I do with a master's in education besides teaching?

Master's degree-holders may qualify for a variety of non-teaching educational careers. Graduates can work as principals, educational specialists, teacher trainers, consultants, and school counselors.

What is the difference between a master of education (M.Ed.) and a master of arts (MA) in education?

An MA is a research-oriented, scholarly degree that prepares students for advanced teaching careers and doctoral programs. M.Ed. programs offer professional training for non-teaching vocations, such as school administration positions.

Master's programs typically require applicants to take entry exams, submit bachelor's transcripts, and meet minimum GPA requirements. Most programs prefer applicants who plan to teach a specific subject to have a related undergraduate degree. For example, an aspiring social studies teacher might have a bachelor's in history, sociology, or anthropology. Master's programs designed for practicing teachers usually admit applicants with current teaching licensure or certification.

Many programs, particularly those that lead to certification or licensure, include student-teaching or internship experiences. Students earning their education master's degree online often fulfill these requirements locally. Learners may also need to complete a portfolio, fieldwork project, or thesis.

Courses in an Education Program

Colleges and universities offer a variety of master's degrees in education. Programs may prepare aspiring teachers for certification, enhance practicing teachers' pedagogy, or qualify graduates for specialized positions. Curriculum content depends on the program's focus, but coursework typically covers fundamental topics in educational theory, classroom management, and instructional design.

Throughout their master's studies, learners gain experience conducting, analyzing, and applying research. Specialized courses may prepare students to teach English language learners, special education students, or gifted students. Subject teachers receive advanced training in their focus areas, and prospective administrators take leadership courses.

Many master's programs in education offer the classes below. However, course availability varies by school and program.

Research and Evaluation Methods
Students examine the role that research plays in education. Coursework explores how research-based insights can improve schools and teaching. As they study the scope and purposes of research, students build critical and analytical skills. They learn how to collect and analyze data and how to use their findings to evaluate student achievement and curriculum effectiveness. The course typically covers quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methodologies. Learners often conduct and present original research.
Educational Psychology and Human Development
This course emphasizes child and adolescent development and psychology, helping learners become familiar with current research and theory. Coursework incorporates physical, social, linguistic, cognitive, and emotional perspectives. Students investigate how psychological and developmental factors influence the learning process, and they prepare to draw on theoretical knowledge to implement successful instructional and assessment strategies. Topics may include multicultural issues, gifted students, and developmentally diverse students.
Learning Theory
This course examines how people learn and process information. Students explore major theoretical constructs in the study of learning, including cognitive, motivational, and developmental models. Coursework emphasizes the application of theory to educational situations and helps learners identify appropriate strategies for teaching students of diverse ages and learning styles. Students examine how learning theories inform teaching practice in areas such as curriculum development and assessment procedures.
Curriculum Studies
Incorporating a variety of perspectives, this course examines the historical, philosophical, and sociopolitical underpinnings of curriculum development and educational reform. Learners explore the function of assessment and the role of teachers in standards-based environments. Students learn evidence-based strategies for designing, evaluating, implementing, and modifying lesson plans for diverse learners. Course topics include time management and methods for assessing and reporting student achievement.
Technology and Innovation
This course examines the developing role of technology in education. Learners explore strategies for integrating instructional technology into their teaching practice, including using digital tools to enhance instruction and improve communication with students and families. Students learn to encourage age-appropriate use of emerging technologies. Degree-seekers explore strategies to help students develop safe habits and sound critical thinking skills in regard to digital media. The course may also address assistive technology and issues related to ethics, equity, and access.

Aspiring teachers begin their studies by earning a bachelor's degree. Many prospective teachers major in education. Others, particularly those who intend to teach a certain subject, major in their intended content area with an education minor.

Learners with a bachelor's degree in a field other than teaching can enroll in master's programs to fulfill education requirements for state certification. Aspiring principals, curriculum specialists, instructional technology specialists, and special education teachers often pursue specialized master's degrees.

After earning their degree and completing student-teaching requirements, graduates who plan to teach in public schools sit for certification exams. Many private schools do not require teachers to hold state licensure.

Certifications and Licensure for Education Majors

All educators working in U.S. public school systems need state approval to practice. This approval may be called licensure or certification, depending on the state. Many states participate in reciprocity agreements, which allow teachers to transfer their credentials between states. Teachers can expand their job prospects by earning certification in multiple areas.

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State Licensure or Certification

States certify instructors to teach specific grade levels and subjects. States also grant specific certifications to specialists and administrators. Licensure requirements vary by state, but candidates typically need a bachelor's degree. They must also complete student-teaching requirements, pass a background check, and pass licensing exams.

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National Board Certification

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards administers this voluntary credential, which can lead to leadership opportunities and increased salary potential. The board grants certification to teachers with a bachelor's degree, a state teaching license, and at least three years of classroom experience. Applicants must pass an exam and submit a portfolio.

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ACSI Certification

Christian schools recognize this alternative credential, which demonstrates that the holder meets standards set by the Association for Christian Schools International. The association offers the certification to teachers at the early childhood, elementary, and secondary levels. Specialists and administrators can also obtain the credential. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and must meet criteria for educational and biblical studies.

Professional Organizations for Education Students

Membership with professional organizations can provide a variety of benefits for education students and practicing teachers. Many organizations offer networking opportunities, career guidance, and access to the latest writing and research in the field. Student members often develop professional connections that can help launch their careers.

  • With affiliate organizations in every U.S. state, NEA advocates for accessible public education, social justice, school funding, and improved working conditions for teachers. Members receive a variety of discounts and can benefit from the organization's collective bargaining power. Students preparing to teach in public schools can join the association's program for aspiring educators.
  • KDP membership is open to students earning a doctoral, master's, or bachelor's degree in education. The organization's events, online resources, and peer-reviewed publications provide opportunities for members to network, learn, present, and publish. Members can search for work through the KDP career center and can apply for scholarships, grants, and awards.
  • NSTA members can access journals, lesson plans, and webinars to stay current on the latest developments in science education. The organization also publishes journals and books, hosts several national and regional conferences, and recognizes outstanding teachers through its awards program. Students receive a membership discount.
  • NCTM members enjoy opportunities for networking and learning through the organization's regional and national conferences. NCTM also awards scholarships and produces webinars, publications, and professional development guides to help members stay current in the field. Full-time students interested in mathematics education receive discounted student membership.

Undergraduate and graduate students in all majors can qualify for scholarships. A variety of national, regional, and institutional scholarships are reserved for education majors. Students may also be eligible for general scholarships based on factors such as residency, ethnicity, gender, age, and veteran status. The list below includes a few of the scholarships available to learners pursuing an education master's degree online.

Edward G. and Helen A. Borgen Elementary Teacher Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This merit-based award from the Daughters of the American Revolution is available to students over age 25 who plan to become elementary school teachers. Applicants must attend an accredited college or university and need a minimum 3.5 GPA. The DAR encourages applicants to contact local chapters for application assistance.
Amount: $1,500

PDK Educational Foundation Scholarships

Who Can Apply: With more than 30 awards, PDK International's scholarship program supports full-time and part-time students pursuing careers in education. Applicants must hold membership with one of the student or professional organizations under the PDK umbrella. Candidates must submit transcripts and a recommendation letter.
Amount: $500-$5,000

STEM Teacher Graduate Scholarships

Who Can Apply: AFCEA International connects military and technology communities. The organization awards scholarships to graduate students pursuing STEM teaching careers. Applicants hold a bachelor's degree in a STEM field and must submit transcripts, a resume, and recommendation letters. Candidates must also write an essay discussing their teaching philosophy and how their personal goals align with AFCEA's mission.
Amount: $2,500

Deloris Carter Hampton Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Pride Foundation awards this scholarship to women of color who are majoring in education, dance, or women's health. Applicants must reside in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, or Washington, but they do not need to study in those states. Candidates must demonstrate financial need and leadership or activism within the LGBTQ+ community.
Amount: Average of $4,000

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant

Who Can Apply: The ED awards TEACH grants to students enrolled in eligible bachelor's, master's, or post-baccalaureate education programs. Grantees must maintain a minimum GPA. Recipients must commit to four years of teaching a high-need subject at a school serving low-income students after graduation.
Amount: Up to $4,000 per year

25 Best Online Master's in Education Programs 2021

  1. Prescott College

    Prescott, AZ

    Located in central Arizona, Prescott College offers graduate and undergraduate degrees that emphasize social justice, interdisciplinary learning, and sustainability. The private school's master's degree in education (M.Ed.) program, approved by the Arizona State Board of Education, prepares graduates to work as educators in Arizona and many other states.

    Taking most classes online, enrollees in the limited-residency program can earn the degree in just 18 months. On-campus colloquia provide opportunities for distance learners to connect with professors and peers.

    The program offers multiple emphases that lead to an Institutional Recommendation for Arizona Teacher Certification. Students can specialize in areas including early childhood, elementary, or secondary education; educational leadership; administrator certification; and school counseling.

    Depending on their emphasis, students culminate their degree with a student-teaching experience, practicum, or internship. The school also offers a master of arts in education. Prescott College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  2. Brandman University

    Irvine, CA

    Part of the Chapman University System, Brandman is a private university designed around the needs of working students. About 90% of its students work while attending school, and more than half are parents. Operating over 25 campuses throughout California and Washington in addition to its online division, the school offers a master of arts in education that caters to applicants with academic or vocational experience in the field.

    Brandman's 30-credit online master's in education program begins with a core course sequence covering subjects such as learning theory, research methods, and comparative education. After completing core requirements, students select electives to fulfill one or more emphases. To culminate their degree, candidates submit a research paper, proposal, or final project, depending on their emphasis.

    The program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The school is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  3. Western Governors University

    Salt Lake City, UT

    Founded by a group of U.S. governors In 1997, WGU is a private university based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The university offers courses exclusively online. WGU's Teachers College offers a variety of master's-level degrees suited to diverse professional paths. WGU's competency-based structure allows learners to accelerate through material they have already mastered through previous work or academic experience. Most students graduate in 18-24 months.

    Students planning to earn their education master's degree online can choose from over a dozen programs. WGU's master of arts programs cater to current teachers who want to update their resumes with endorsements in specialized subjects. Master of science programs in educational leadership and curriculum and instruction serve education professionals seeking leadership positions.

    The school also offers two master of education programs, which do not require applicants to hold a teaching certificate. WGU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

  4. Nova Southeastern University

    Fort Lauderdale, FL

    A private research university based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, NSU enrolls over 20,000 students annually across its nine campuses and online division. The school's Fischler College of Education and School of Criminal Justice offers a fully online master of science (MS) in education program with multiple tracks. NSU also offers an MS in educational leadership.

    Students earning the master's degree in education can pursue one of eight tracks in areas such as mathematics, reading, or science education; elementary education; exceptional students; and teaching English to speakers of other languages. A curriculum, instruction, and technology track trains future school administrators and leaders. A Spanish language education track, taught entirely in Spanish, prepares candidates for careers as language instructors.

    Depending on the track, some programs prepare graduates to seek various professional certifications in Florida. NSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. University of the Cumberlands

    Williamsburg, KY

    Located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, Cumberlands is a private Christian university. The school offers two fully online master's degrees in education. Its master of arts (MA) program accepts current teachers. Applicants seeking teacher certification can enroll in Cumberlands' master of arts in teaching (MAT) program.

    The MA program offers concentrations in literacy specialist, school counseling, principal, and teacher leader. MAT candidates can specialize in subjects such as English, math, science, and social studies. Both degrees may qualify graduates to apply for initial or additional certifications in Kentucky. Depending on their concentration, enrollees complete 30-45 credits, with most students completing their degree in about 18 months.

    The education programs are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and Kentucky's Educational Professional Standards Board. The school is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  6. University of West Alabama

    Livingston, AL

    Students at UWA can earn a variety of education master's degrees online through the public university's College of Education. Designed primarily for current Alabama teachers, UWA's graduate programs in education include both certification and non-certification options.

    UWA grants master of arts in teaching (MAT) and master of education (M.Ed.) degrees. MAT students can pursue a 33-credit non-certification track or a 37-credit certification track. Learners typically begin the program with courses in subjects such as educational research methods, technology, and psychology. They then take electives related to their area of interest, followed by a student-teaching experience.

    M.Ed. students can choose from 12 specializations, including library media, school counseling, and instructional leadership. The school also offers master of science programs in adult continuing education and physical education.

    UWA's educator certification programs are accredited by the Alabama State Department of Education and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. The school is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  7. City University of Seattle

    Seattle, WA

    Part of the National University System, CityU caters to working students. Over 80% of its enrollees take classes part time. The Seattle-based private school offers a variety of online master's in education programs for students interested in launching or advancing careers in education.

    CityU's master of education (M.Ed.) programs require 37-45 credits and enroll current educators. The M.Ed. in special education prepares graduates to seek Washington State endorsement. Prospective administrators can pursue the M.Ed. in educational leadership, which fulfills the education requirements for state certification. Students interested in pursuing leadership roles in education benefit from the M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction.

    The school's hybrid master's in teaching program admits bachelor's-trained applicants transitioning into teaching. Taking most of their classes online, students prepare to earn Washington State licensure. Depending on which endorsements students seek, programs range from 54-75 credits. CityU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

  8. Colorado State University-Global Campus

    Greenwood Village, CO

    The distance learning branch of the Colorado State University System, CSU-Global serves almost 19,000 students annually. The online public university offers a customizable master of science in teaching and learning that trains graduates to take on diverse roles in K-12 schools and non-traditional educational settings. Monthly program start dates, accelerated eight-week terms, and asynchronous course delivery maximize flexibility for working students.

    The 36-credit program features a core course sequence that covers subjects such as learning theories, educational technology, and cultural responsiveness. These fundamental courses build skills in research, writing, evaluation, and assessment. Students then pursue one or more specializations.

    Available specializations include English language learning, principal licensure, teacher leadership, and online learning. CSU-Global is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  9. Arizona State University

    Scottsdale, AZ

    A large public university with five Arizona campuses in addition to an online division, ASU offers several fully online master's degrees in education programs. The school's master of arts (MA) and master of education (M.Ed.) programs cater to applicants with various career goals.

    M.Ed. options include degrees in early childhood education, gifted education, educational leadership, global education, leadership and innovation, and learning design and technologies. MA candidates can focus on multilingual education, literacy education, or indigenous education. They can also opt for a general MA in education. ASU also offers master's degrees in special education and teaching English to speakers of other languages. Some programs may lead to certifications in Arizona.

    Professors teach most courses asynchronously. Students enjoy online access to the school library, research databases, tutors, counselors, and student success coaches. The institution is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  10. Regis University

    Denver, CO

    Located in Denver, Colorado, Regis is a private Catholic university affiliated with the Jesuit tradition. Approved by the Colorado Department of Education, Regis' blended and online master of education (M.Ed.) programs may qualify graduates for a variety of state licenses and endorsements.

    The university's M.Ed. programs in elementary, secondary, and special education admit bachelor's-trained applicants seeking initial teaching licensure in Colorado. Learners typically study education fundamentals, research methods, classroom management, and strategies for working with exceptional students and diverse populations. Those pursuing a career in secondary education choose a licensure content area.

    Licensed teachers hoping to change their career focus or enhance their skills can take advantage of M.Ed. programs in educational leadership or reading. They can also pursue a master of arts in education program focused on teaching linguistically diverse students. Regis is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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