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Ambitious educational leaders, driven by a commitment to improving learning environments and shaping the future of education, often find themselves at a crossroads — where pursuing an advanced degree becomes essential to achieve their professional goals.

Here, we provide a comprehensive guide to navigating this educational crossroads, with ample direction on the best master’s in education leadership programs currently available. We will highlight curriculum expectations and the nuanced distinctions between education-related master’s degrees. We will provide an up-to-date career outlook, potential career trajectories, and tips on choosing a program that aligns with your aspirations.

What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Educational Leadership Degree?

If you’re ready to take the next step in your educational career and make a lasting impact on students, schools, and communities, a master’s in educational leadership may be just what you need to get there. Students can choose from specialties such as school administration, curriculum and instruction, higher education leadership, educational policy, and more. These programs feature robust curriculums that focus on:

  • Leadership Skills Development: The primary focus of a master’s in educational leadership program is to equip educators with the necessary leadership skills to manage educational institutions and improve student outcomes effectively. You will learn about leadership theories, decision-making, and management strategies tailored to educational settings.
  • Curriculum Development: Many programs cover curriculum design and evaluation, as educational leaders often play a pivotal role in shaping their institutions’ educational content and standards.
  • Policy and Administration: To understand educational policy development and administration, you will learn about legal and ethical issues in education, budgeting, and resource management.
  • Instructional Improvement: Educational leaders are responsible for fostering instructional improvement. You may learn about methods for evaluating teaching effectiveness, implementing professional development programs, and using data to drive decision-making.
  • Practical Experience: Some programs include internships or practicum experiences, allowing you to apply your knowledge to real education settings.

How educational leadership differs from other education-related master’s degrees

Educational leadership involves guiding, managing, and transforming educational institutions to enhance the quality of education and student outcomes. However, it’s important to note that there are other education-related master’s degrees that might be worth considering depending on your career goals.

  • Master of Education (M.Ed): An M.Ed typically focuses on pedagogy and classroom instruction. It’s suitable for teachers looking to enhance their teaching skills, while a master’s in educational leadership is designed for those aspiring to take on administrative or leadership roles.
  • Master of Arts in Education (MAE): An MAE is similar to an M.Ed but may have a broader academic focus. It may include coursework in educational theory, curriculum design, and classroom management but is still distinct from educational leadership in its emphasis on leadership and administrative skills.
  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D): An Ed.D is a doctoral degree that often prepares individuals for high-level leadership positions in education, such as superintendent roles. It involves a deep dive into research and often includes a dissertation.

State-level certifications for graduates with a master’s in educational leadership

Each state has its own regulations to ensure that educators and leaders meet specific standards and qualifications to work in leadership positions within the education system. The types of certifications a master’s in educational leadership can lead to vary, but some of the most common include Principal Certification and Superintendent Certification.

State-Level Certification Requirements

Many states require candidates to hold a master’s degree in educational leadership or a related field from an accredited institution to be eligible for state-level certification. Earning your master’s in educational leadership online is an excellent way to meet this requirement in a flexible, virtual learning environment. Other requirements might include:

  • Classroom teaching experience
  • Licensure exams, such as the School Leaders Licensure Assessment (SLLA)
  • Internship or practicum in a leadership role, often part of a master’s program

Best Online Master’s in Educational Leadership Degree Programs

Best Master's in Educational Leadership Programs Badge
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Arizona State University
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Florida State University
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Michigan State University
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Penn State World Campus
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University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development
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UF College of Education
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Indiana University Bloomington
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Texas A&M Education & Human Development
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University of Central Florida
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University of Illinois Urbana at Champaign
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Ball State University
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George Washington University
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Auburn University
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Clemson University
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Seton Hall University
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University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
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George Mason University
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City University of Seattle
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Florida Atlantic University
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North Carolina State University
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University of West Alabama
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University of Northern Colorado
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DePaul University
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Oklahoma State University
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University of South Carolina
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Fitchburg State University
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Liberty University
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Texas A&M International University
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Southern New Hampshire University
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Tarleton State University
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Webster University
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University of North Texas
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University of Louisiana at Monroe
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Western Governors University
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Southern Wesleyan University
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CSU Global
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Northwestern College
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LeTourneau University
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Mississippi College
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University of West Florida
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South Dakota State University
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Baldwin Wallace University
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Umass Global
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Cairn University
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Concordia University at St. Paul
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Concordia University Chicago
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New Mexico State University
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University of St. Thomas

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best online master’s degree programs in educational leadership in the U.S. All are offered at nonprofit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each degree program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, reputation, and student resources. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can I Do With an Online Master’s in Educational Leadership?

Career outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for education administrators, which includes school principals and other leadership roles, is steady and growing at a stable pace. Moreover, the financial rewards are notable, with median annual salaries reaching six figures in 2022. School principals, in particular, enjoy a median salary of $101,320, while educational administration roles overall boast a median salary of $106,690.

Career paths

For aspiring educational administrators, a master’s in educational leadership can open up a wide range of career opportunities — including options like school principal, assistant principal, superintendent, higher education administrator, and more.

School Principal

A school principal is the heartbeat of educational excellence, shaping the future of students, teachers, and the entire school community. As a leader, they inspire, innovate, and drive positive change, ensuring every child has the opportunity to thrive. For students seeking their master’s in educational leadership, this role allows them to lead, empower, and make a lasting impact — transforming lives and building brighter futures.

District Superintendent

A district superintendent is the visionary architect of an entire educational system, steering the course for multiple schools, educators, and students. This role offers the unique opportunity to enact system-wide change, champion innovation, and create equitable, high-quality education for an entire community. The prospect of becoming a district superintendent is an invitation to lead on a grand scale, shaping the future of education for generations to come.

Higher Education Administrator

A higher education administrator is the orchestrator of academic excellence in colleges and universities, shaping the educational experience of countless students. They oversee diverse areas such as admissions, student affairs, or academic departments, fostering an environment where learning thrives. This role offers the chance to guide the path of higher learning, drive institutional success, and impact the educational journey of emerging scholars.

How to Choose the Online Master’s in Educational Leadership Degree That’s Right for You

Step 1: Choose your area of study

While a graduate degree in educational leadership is an excellent way to obtain an administrative role at many institutions, you can focus your studies further on your future career by choosing a specialization that aligns with your professional goals.

For example, students aspiring to become school principals might pursue a concentration in School Administration. At the same time, those more inclined toward curriculum development might focus on Curriculum and Instruction. Individuals interested in leadership roles within colleges and universities will be well-suited to pursue a concentration in higher education leadership.

It’s also essential to assess your learning preferences and lifestyle when choosing your study area. Consider whether synchronous or asynchronous learning suits your needs and whether full-time or part-time enrollment aligns with your schedule and commitments. The right program format and scheduling can significantly impact your academic success and overall experience.

Step 2: Research schools and programs

With your intended specialization and format preferences in mind, it’s time to research the programs you’d like to attend. Begin by verifying each program’s accreditation to ensure its credibility, and speak with an admissions counselor to get firsthand information. Ask questions like:

  • What’s the program’s reputation in my chosen specialization?
  • Are there opportunities for hands-on experience?
  • What scholarships are available?
  • What’s the average class size?
  • How do professors support online students?

You can also look for information on school websites, from alum networks, and through professional organizations like the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Combining information from multiple sources will help you make informed decisions on which schools you will apply to.

Step 3: Prepare for applications and tests

Submitting applications can be an intimidating — albeit exciting — time. Many graduate programs are competitive, so it’s essential to prepare meticulously. Allocate ample time to write an engaging application, including a standout personal statement that illustrates your enthusiasm and goals. Simultaneously, gather strong letters of recommendation from professors or employers who can attest to your abilities. Since many programs require GRE scores, consider enrolling in a test prep program to boost your scores.

Review each program’s specific requirements, deadlines, and prerequisites to ensure a robust application that makes a lasting impression on admissions committees. By preparing diligently, you’ll have a better chance of securing your spot in the program of your choice.

Step 4: Select your program

After your acceptance letters arrive, it’s time to select your program. Consider factors like specialization alignment with your career goals, financial aid opportunities, and program reputation. Revisit details like class sizes, networking opportunities, and internship possibilities.

Ultimately, choosing your program is a personal decision. Select the one that aligns with your academic needs and vision for a successful career in educational leadership.

Step 5: Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Determining how to finance your degree is a critical step in your educational journey, as thorough financial planning can significantly impact your degree’s affordability and the return on your investment.

Seek out scholarships and grants first, as they don’t require repayment and can significantly reduce your financial burden. Federal loans can help bridge gaps in funding, but be sure to borrow responsibly to avoid long-term debt.

For educators, programs like Teacher Loan Forgiveness can provide relief after a certain number of years in the field, while Public Service Loan Forgiveness offers options for those in public education or nonprofit roles.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Online Master’s in Educational Leadership Degree Programs

Should I get a master's in educational leadership degree in person or online?

Deciding whether to pursue your master’s in educational leadership in person or online depends on your specific situation. In-person degrees are great for students who excel in traditional classroom settings. However, online learning is an excellent option for those juggling commitments like full-time jobs or raising a family, offering flexibility and convenience to achieve their educational goals.

What are the admissions requirements for an online master's in educational leadership degree?

Admissions requirements for an online master’s in educational leadership degree typically include the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA, often around 3.0
  • Official Transcripts
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Resume or CV
  • Standardized test scores

While many programs still require GRE or other standardized test scores, some have moved to test-optional policies. Some programs may prefer applicants with teaching experience or require an initial teacher certification.

What is the average cost of an online master's in educational leadership degree?

For the 2020-2021 academic year, tuition for graduate degrees averaged $12,934 at public universities and $26,621 at private colleges. Public schools typically offer more affordable tuition than private institutions because they receive funding from the state government, reducing the financial burden for in-state students.

Online students can save money by:

  • Opting for a public university
  • Pursuing in-state tuition when available
  • Exploring grants, scholarships, and financial aid opportunities
  • Inquiring about employer tuition reimbursement programs

These strategies can help you manage the cost of your graduate degree and make it more affordable.

How long does it take to complete an online master's in educational leadership degree?

The time it will take to complete your master’s in educational leadership will vary depending on the institution you attend and your specific course load. Some programs may offer accelerated options, resulting in faster degree completion but often requiring a more significant time commitment.

Delivery Format  Enrollment Type Program Duration
Fully Online Full-Time 1-2 years
Fully Online Part-Time 2-3 years
Accelerated Online Full-Time 1-1.5 years

 

How hard is an online master's in educational leadership degree?

The difficulty of an online graduate degree depends on your prior education, experience, and time management skills — but it generally demands a significant commitment due to the combination of complex coursework and the need to balance studies with other obligations. Your success will largely depend on your dedication, organizational skills, and genuine passion for educational leadership.

Is an online Master's in Educational Leadership degree worth it?

For students with their sights set on advancing their careers as educational leaders, a Master’s in Educational Leadership can be worth it. It provides the unique skill set needed to excel in positions like school principal, district superintendent, or curriculum director, often leading to increased earning potential and more significant influence in education.


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