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Teachers who like working with children but want leadership opportunities beyond the classroom should consider an online master’s in K-12 education. While this degree helps people teach effectively and build positive relationships with students and families, it also prepares graduates for work as school administrators.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 4% for kindergarten and elementary school teachers and middle school teachers from 2021 to 2031 and job growth of 5% for high school teachers, all with a median annual salary in 2021 of about $61,000. The BLS projects job growth for elementary, middle, and high school principals at about 5%, with a median annual salary in 2021 of about $98,000.

Most schools estimate their online master’s degrees in K-12 education need two to three years to complete, but that depends on how many credits you take each year. Many programs range from 30 to 45 credits. As for tuition costs, schools charge from about $300 to $500 per credit, with higher prices for out-of-state students than state residents.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in K-12 Education Program

Choose your area of study

The first step in choosing an online master’s in K-12 education program is deciding on specific goals. Some schools offer this degree as a Master of Arts, a Master of Education, or a Master of Science. To focus on applied education skills, look for a Master of Education. If you’re more interested in a research-based approach, look for a Master of Science or a Master of Arts, respectively.

Some programs are designed for people already working in education, while others will prepare students to become certified teachers. In addition, some schools offer concentrations in areas such as special education, classroom management, work-based learning, and educational leadership. Others might provide training in developing and implementing teaching standards and curricula.

Research schools and programs

If you’re earning a master’s degree to enhance your teaching credentials, check whether a respected authority accredits the prospective school or program. Accreditation ensures that schools and programs meet specific educational standards and impacts whether the school receives federal financial aid. Students can check accreditation status through the Department of Education and the Council for the Accreditation of Educational Programs (CAEP), all reputable entities that accredit these master’s degree programs.

As you research schools and programs, consider requirements beyond online learning. For instance, depending on the school and your concentration, you might need to complete a thesis project or an internship demonstrating practical experience. How does the school facilitate online students meeting these requirements? Some schools have an on-campus childhood development center or approved schools or organizations where you can gain such experience. If you’re currently teaching, ask whether your employment helps fulfill this requirement.

Remember to look for other support services the school offers for online students so that you have a well-rounded learning experience. Is there career coaching or mentoring? Are there networking opportunities, such as an alum association? You might find this information on the school’s marketing materials, website, and social media profiles, as well as by talking with program representatives.

Prepare for tests and applications

Each program varies in its application requirements and process. However, most online master’s degree programs in K-12 education require:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Transcripts from previous colleges
  • Letter(s) of recommendation from professional and academic references
  • A resume or record of employment history
  • A statement of purpose or personal essay describing your achievements and plans

Applicants also likely need to submit standardized test scores like those from the GRE. If you need to take the GRE, prepare and sit for the exam while researching schools.

Select your program

Some students apply to a single program based on their needs and interests, while others apply to multiple schools to boost their chances of acceptance. Whatever path you choose, application fees can add up. If you need financial assistance with these fees, contact the school to ask about a fee waiver.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Every school with an online master’s in K-12 education program should specify the financial support students can receive, including grants, scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, and work-study.

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines eligibility for federal student loans and need-based institutional aid. There also are several financial programs for prospective teachers, even those supplementing their education. For instance, the TEACH Grant Program assists those willing to teach in high-need fields.

Students already working in the education field should consider whether employer tuition assistance benefits can offset their costs. Talk with each school’s financial aid office for more detailed information about how to pay for a degree.

The Top 34 Online Master’s in K-12 Education Degree Programs

Best Online Master's in K-12 Education Degree Programs

University of Georgia

Boston University

TAMU School of Education and Human Development

Harding University

Auburn University College of Education

Clemson University

Holy Family University

Missouri State University

Texas A&M International University

The University of Alabama in Huntsville

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How We Rank Schools

We focused our research on masters-level programs in K-12 education and related areas. The most common types of degrees in this subject are Master of Education (M.Ed), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), and Master of Science (MS).

One of our main criteria was that programs be delivered entirely or primarily online. We wanted the programs on this list to be available to the greatest number of students, regardless of location or schedule.

All of the programs are offered by schools that have regional accreditation. Additionally, many programs are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educational Programs (CAEP), a specialized agency overseeing postsecondary education programs.

We evaluated each program based on faculty, flexibility, reputation, cost, and outcomes. Then, we calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in K-12 Education Program?

Online master’s in K-12 education programs vary based on the school, but students can expect a core curriculum about child development, the principles of teaching, and professional communication.

In addition, some programs may focus more on instructional technology and developing advanced curriculum skills — others may provide a concentration and expertise in special education, math, reading, science, or English as a second language.

Students pursuing this degree to teach or advance as an administrator might need in-person field training, which can interfere with other responsibilities such as a full-time job. A part-time or self-paced program might help you balance your education requirements with other commitments. Talk with an admissions counselor about in-person requirements and how the school helps facilitate these.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in K-12 education degree program

  • Foundations of Classroom Management. Students learn techniques and strategies to manage their classrooms effectively. A course like this also covers forming stronger relationships with students and their families.
  • Applied Classroom Assessment Techniques. Students in a course like this learn how to interpret and evaluate data from different assessment procedures. They’ll also cover using assessments such as standardized testing to improve their students’ learning.
  • The Teacher as Leader. This course discusses how teachers can set goals for their professional growth while becoming leaders in the classroom and around the school campus.
  • Culturally Responsive Instruction. Teachers must understand how to work with students from various backgrounds and cultures. A course like this discusses creating teaching strategies and differentiating instruction for students with multiple needs.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in K-12 Education?

Career outlook

The career outlook for individuals with an online master’s in K-12 education is robust, given the ongoing demand for highly qualified educators and administrators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of education administrators at the elementary and secondary levels is projected to grow 11 percent from 2022 to 2032, driven by the need for effective school leadership. The mean annual wage for this position is $106,690. The BLS also notes that the demand for qualified teachers remains steady, emphasizing the importance of well-trained educators in meeting the evolving needs of diverse student populations.

Career paths

Graduates with an online master’s in K-12 education possess the skills and knowledge needed for various roles in the education sector. Here are some common career paths for individuals with advanced education in K-12 education:

  • Instructional coordinator — collaborates with teachers and administrators to develop and implement effective teaching strategies
  • Special education coordinator — oversees special education programs, collaborating with teachers, parents, and support staff to ensure the provision of appropriate services for students with special needs
  • Director of student services — manages programs related to student support, including counseling, health services, and behavioral interventions
  • School counselor supervisor — provides leadership and supervision for teams of school counselors, ensuring that counseling services align with the school’s goals
  • Director of early childhood education — leads and coordinates early childhood education programs, ensuring high-quality instruction and support for young learners

School Principal

Earning Potential: $80,000-$120,000 annually
Education Required: Master’s degree in K-12 education, educational leadership, or a related field

A school principal is responsible for a school’s overall management and administration. They oversee curriculum implementation, teacher development, and student achievement. Principals manage daily operations, address disciplinary matters, and engage with parents and community stakeholders. Setting the school’s vision, they create a positive learning environment, foster a collaborative culture, and ensure adherence to educational standards. Principals also manage budgets, allocate resources, and make strategic decisions to enhance the educational experience. Through effective leadership, they play a pivotal role in shaping the school’s culture, promoting student success, and facilitating a conducive environment for teaching and learning.

Curriculum Specialist

Earning Potential: $60,000-$90,000 annually
Education Required: Master’s degree in k-12 education, curriculum and instruction, or a related field

A curriculum specialist is an educational professional dedicated to shaping effective learning experiences. They design, implement, and evaluate educational programs and curricula, ensuring alignment with academic standards and fostering innovative teaching practices. Collaborating with teachers and administrators, curriculum specialists assess the effectiveness of instructional materials, identify areas for improvement, and provide professional development opportunities. Their role involves staying abreast of educational trends, incorporating technology, and adapting curriculum to meet diverse student needs. Through continuous evaluation and enhancement, curriculum specialists help create dynamic and engaging learning environments that support student success and educational excellence.

Education Consultant

Earning Potential: $50,000-$80,000 annually
Education Required: Master’s degree in K-12 education or a related field

An education consultant offers specialized expertise to enhance educational practices and outcomes. Working independently or with organizations, they provide insights on curriculum development, pedagogy, and school improvement. Education consultants offer tailored solutions to address challenges, deliver professional development training for educators, and facilitate strategic planning. They stay informed about emerging trends in education, analyze data, and recommend evidence-based practices. By collaborating with schools, districts, or educational agencies, education consultants contribute to the continuous improvement of educational systems, fostering positive learning environments and promoting effective teaching strategies for student success.

Online Master’s in K-12 Education Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master’s in K-12 education degree program?

Each school’s application process varies. Start by checking the application webpage for your school of choice. Most schools accept applications and supporting documents electronically, so gather electronic or digital versions (PDFs) of all required documents, such as transcripts, a resume, test scores, and letters of recommendation. Talk with a school admissions counselor if you have questions or concerns about submitting application materials, deadlines, or eligibility requirements.

How much does an online master’s in K-12 education cost?

In the 2020-21 academic year, the average tuition for graduate programs was $12,394 at public universities and $26,621 at private institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

However, what students pay varies based on additional fees, costs per credit, credits per course, and other expenses, such as books or course-specific software. Additionally, if out-of-state students are attending a public university, they may face higher tuition charges than in-state students. If your school requires hands-on experience, also factor in how this takes away from your earning time at your current job.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s in K-12 education degree?

While this depends on the curriculum, most schools estimate their online master’s programs in K-12 education take about two to three years to complete. The total number of credits affects the program’s length, as does attending part-time or full-time. Some schools offer asynchronous learning, where students can complete the lessons and assignments on a syllabus at their own pace. Others offer certificate programs that can be completed in a shortened time frame.

Is an online master's in K-12 education worth it?

Earning an online master’s degree in K-12 education offers numerous benefits. According to the BLS, school principals with a master’s degree typically earn higher salaries and are more competitive in the job market. Meanwhile, curriculum developers earn a median salary of $79,400, according to The median annual salary for education administrators at the elementary and secondary levels is $98,490.

An advanced degree equips educators with leadership skills, pedagogical knowledge, and a deeper understanding of educational theory. Graduates are better positioned for roles such as school principal, curriculum specialist, or education consultant, where they can contribute to school improvement and student success.

Pursuing a master’s degree online offers numerous benefits, especially for adult learners with other personal or professional commitments. Online programs provide flexible scheduling as well as increased accessibility for those who do not live in a region with higher education opportunities. There may also be cost savings, as there will be no need for commuting or housing expenses. Many online programs offer financial aid options for students in need.

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