Online Master's Programs in Secondary Education

Updated on: 12/12/18

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), high school teachers earned a median salary of $59,170 in 2017, which is roughly $20,000 more than the median salary for all occupations. The top 10% of high school teachers earned more than $95,380 the same year. This page provides information about earning an online master's in secondary education, including how to choose the right program, typical coursework, and potential career paths. It also covers valuable resources to help pay for your education.

What to Know About Online Master’s in Secondary Education Coursework

Most master's in secondary education online programs consist of 35-40 credits. Full-time students usually earn the degree in two years or less, and part-time students may need up to four years to complete graduation requirements. If you earned a bachelor's in education, you can potentially apply some of those credits toward your master's to expedite graduation.

Typical graduate course topics include curriculum development, differentiating instruction for diverse needs, and educational research. Most programs prepare students for teaching roles, though some may also offer classes in education administration and leadership. An internship or practicum is usually not required unless you need to complete student teaching hours to qualify for certification.

Online programs closely resemble their on-campus counterparts. You generally watch the same lectures, complete the same assignments, and take the same exams. The primary difference is that online students can complete courses on their own schedule remotely.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master’s in Secondary Education Program?

The courses offered as part of a secondary education degree online vary by program. Many schools allow students to customize their learning by selecting from diverse electives or choosing a concentration. Detailed below, are five foundational courses commonly that are offered in these programs.

Enhancing Learning for Diverse Populations

Students study the value of diversity in educational settings and the learning opportunities that it affords. Students examine various forms of diversity, including race, ethnicity, culture, language, religious beliefs, and special learning needs. They also review and apply techniques for capitalizing on diversity, such as using anti-bias curricula, ensuring cultural responsiveness in the classroom, and employing appropriate differentiated instruction.

Curriculum Development

Teachers must understand how to develop, assess, and modify curricula. This course reviews the history of curriculum development, curriculum development philosophies, instructional practice theories, relevant contemporary issues, and backward design theory. Students often design and assess a practice curriculum.

Models of Teaching

Equally as important as the design of a curriculum, is how a teacher implements it in the classroom. In this course, students examine pedagogical approaches and practices, emphasizing how they evolved to align with a better understanding of how children and adolescents learn.

Contexts of Schooling

This class focuses on the entire education system. Students study the history of American education, beginning at the dawn of the public school movement and culminating with the modern rise of online learning. Throughout this survey, students answer questions about the role of schooling in our society.

Dynamic Teacher Leadership

Ideal for students pursuing leadership teaching roles, this course provides an introduction to concepts like self-assessment, effective communication with colleagues, leading change, and building supportive learning environments for both students and teachers. Students also examine educational research and its applications for practice.

What Elective Courses are Available in a Master’s in Secondary Education Program?

Elective classes allow you to align your studies with your interests and goals, as well as discover new areas of interest. While course availability varies by program, below, are three sample elective courses you may encounter during your studies.

Looking Into the Future of Science and Education

The next generation of scientists needs the knowledge and skills to tackle challenges like global warming and the rise of infectious diseases. Aspiring teachers learn how to inspire students to pursue careers in science by focusing on issues and opportunities in the field.

Reaching and Engaging All Learners Through Technology

Students study emerging technologies that differentiate learning, expand access to education, and support the needs of groups like English-language learners and gifted children. The course emphasizes hands-on and experiential learning, empowering teachers to apply these technologies to their future classrooms.

Special Education Law

This course explores the history of special education legislation, focusing on the Individuals affected by the Disabilities Education Act of 1990 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Students earning online degrees in secondary education can often choose the kind of final exam or project they complete. For example, some students might follow a thesis track to improve their chances of admission into a doctoral program. These students often conduct research and work closely with a faculty adviser to develop and write their thesis.

Other students may complete a capstone project instead. A capstone allows students to apply graduate-level learning to a real-world education issue. For example, a student may partner with a local high school to make recommendations about how it can improve its civic education curriculum.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master’s in Secondary Education Program?

When reviewing secondary education programs online, look for accreditation status. Accredited schools expand financial aid, education, and employment opportunities.

Your school may hold one or several kinds of accreditation: regional, national, and/or programmatic. Most nonprofit colleges and universities receive regional accreditation, while for-profit and technical schools often seek national accreditation instead. Regional accreditation is generally considered more prestigious than national accreditation. Programmatic accreditation applies to particular programs within a school. For example, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) provide accreditation services to graduate schools of education.

Check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's online directory of accredited institutions to determine whether your school holds regional, national, NCATE, or TEAC accreditation.

In addition to accreditation, you should research graduation rates, the academic background of faculty, and costs of tuition relative to other schools.

Career Opportunities With a Master’s in Secondary Education Degree

Education offers diverse career paths. After earning your master's in secondary education, you can work as a high school teacher, a teacher for students with special needs, or teach adult learners seeking their high school equivalency diploma. You can also pursue administrative roles, such as assistant principal or director of curriculum development.

Regardless of your career path, jobs in K-12 education require exceptional communication skills and knowledge.

High School Teacher

High school teachers help students prepare for college and careers. They develop and implement lesson plans in subject areas such as math, science, or a foreign language. They may also provide advice or individualized instruction to students, communicate with parents about their child's progress, and perform administrative functions. Most states only require teachers to hold a bachelor's degree, though a master's boosts your job prospects and earning potential.

Median Salary: $59,170 per year

Currently Employed: 1,018,700

Expected Job Growth Rate in the next 10 years: 8%

High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher

A high school equivalency teacher offers instruction in math, science, social studies, and language arts to prepare adult students to pass a high school equivalency exam, such as the General Education Development test. These teachers often provide individual attention to help students overcome learning barriers, such as a lack of English language proficiency, reading difficulties, or behavioral issues. The increase in the national high school graduation rate may reduce the long-term demand for these teachers.

Median Salary: $52,100 per year

Currently Employed: 68,200

Expected Job Growth Rate in the next 10 years: -5%

Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers work with students who need additional assistance because of mental, emotional, or physical challenges. A significant component of their work involves the creation and implementation of individualized education plans (IEPs). Special education teachers draft IEPs in consultation with fellow teachers, school counselors and administrators, and parents. While you can often work as a special education teacher with just a bachelor's, some states require a master's degree for full certification.

Median Salary: $58,980 per year

Currently Employed: 439,300

Expected Job Growth Rate in the next 10 years: 8%

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers instruct students and conduct research at colleges, universities, and trade schools. They may also write articles and books, advise students, and perform various administrative functions, such as leading a department or reviewing candidates for other postsecondary teaching positions. Most professors at larger institutions hold a doctorate, though you may qualify for teaching positions at a community college with just a master's degree in secondary education.

Median Salary: $76,000 per year

Currently Employed: 1,314,400

Expected Job Growth Rate in the next 10 years: 15%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

What’s the Expected Job Growth for Secondary Education Careers?

The BLS projects the employment of high school teachers to grow 8% through 2026, which is comparable to the growth rate of all occupations.

Certain positions may experience higher demand. For example, many schools report difficulty finding teachers trained in math, science, English as a second language, or special education. Focusing on one of these areas may qualify you for more secondary education jobs.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Secondary Education

Joining a professional organization can give you skills and connections to advance your career. Many of these groups host networking events, allowing you to meet other teachers, share best practices, and discover professional opportunities. They may also offer continuing education programs, an important aspect of remaining certified as a teacher.

  • National Education Association

    The NEA represents more than 3 million education professionals nationwide. The association advocates for increased funding in public education, provides free tools and lesson plans for teachers, and offers scholarships for continuing education.

  • American Federation of Teachers

    Founded in 1916, the AFT serves more than 1.7 million teachers and school personnel. The national organization primarily advocates on behalf of its members, though its state and local chapters provide services directly to education professionals.

  • National Science Teachers Association

    The NSTA works to improve science education in public schools. Member teachers can access professional learning resources, curricula and classroom activities, and scholarly articles discussing the latest research in STEM education.

  • National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

    The NCTM boasts more than 60,000 members in the United States and Canada. The council offers many classroom resources, develops standards for mathematics instruction, and creates grants to stimulate new research in mathematics education.

  • National Council of Teachers of English

    Representing English teachers at every level of education, the NCTE organizes affinity groups, hosts networking and training events, curates research on literacy instruction, and maintains a national job board.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Secondary Education Degree

Whether you are an aspiring teacher looking to earn your initial certification or an established professional aiming to continue your education, you can access many types of financial aid to help pay for your degree.

Federal Financial Aid

The first step in financing your master's is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Submitting the FAFSA allows the federal government to determine your eligibility for grants, work-study opportunities, and low-interest student loans. As a current or future teacher, you may qualify for the TEACH Grant program if you commit to working in a high-need area for at least four years after graduation.

State Financial Aid

Many states offer grants or student loan forgiveness programs to individuals who commit to teaching for a period of time after graduation. For example, the Virginia Teaching Scholarship Loan Program provides up to $10,000 per academic year to students who agree to teach in a critical shortage area upon graduation.

Private Scholarships

Some private organizations provide scholarships to support teacher education. The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, for example, has given close to $1 billion in funding to minority students seeking teaching careers. Look for scholarships that serve students from your background and with your professional goals.

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate assistantships allow students to earn money by providing instructional, research, and administrative support to faculty at their school. For example, the William and Mary School of Education awards approximately 100 assistantships each year, with qualifying graduate students receiving tuition assistance and an annual stipend.