What Is Education? A Complete Guide to Education Degrees, Jobs, and Salaries

page hero

What Is Education and Teaching?

Summers off, casual attire, and supervising awkward school dances are just a few of the perks of being a teacher.

But teaching isn’t the only job you can get in education — you can also work in curriculum design, administration, leadership, and educational politics.

Educating minds is an honorable and essential profession, with abundant opportunities to make a positive change. If you have a passion for teaching, our guide can help you discover your options.

Explore Education Degree Programs

What Is an Education Degree? 10 Popular Specializations

You have a variety of educational options if you wish to become a teacher or education leader. You can pursue an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, a graduate degree, and even certificates.

An education degree prepares you to teach, manage classrooms, design instructional content, and become an education leader.

During the course of your journey in education, you must choose an area to specialize in. Here are 10 of the most popular education specializations.

1. Teaching

A teaching degree is exactly what it sounds like: a degree that prepares you to teach others. You can specialize in administration, leadership, curriculum design, a grade level, or a particular subject like math or social studies.

Most teaching programs offer courses like student engagement, the science of learning, differences in learning, and instructional design.

You can also pursue a teaching certificate to learn new skills or qualifications. You can find certificates for educational policy, gifted education, educational technology, higher education administration, and STEM learning.

2. Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education grads typically go on to careers in childcare, preschool education, and elementary education.

This specialization can also prepare you to work with families in your community, design curricula, and conduct original research.

In this major, you’ll usually take classes like child development, family development, childhood psychology, socioemotional development, and disabilities in early childhood education.


3. Elementary Education

Students who major in elementary education learn to teach elementary-level curricula to children. You’ll be qualified for school counseling jobs and to teach kindergarten through sixth grade.

Common courses include assessment of young children, classroom management, foundations of education, child development, and lesson design.

Best Elementary Education Bachelor’s DegreesBest Elementary Education Master’s Degrees

4. Secondary Education

A secondary education specialization involves educating middle school and high school students. Your program may focus on comprehensive education or may allow you to choose a specific subject to teach, like math, history, or counseling.

In this specialization, you’ll typically take classes covering topics like secondary classroom and behavior management, secondary curriculum and instruction, and educational psychology.

5. Higher Education

Specializing in higher education prepares you to work at colleges and universities.

Higher education majors often hold roles at colleges in economics and finances, policy, curriculum development, faculty relations, higher education law, student services, marketing and promotion, and institutional research.

You’ll likely take courses in subjects like educational evaluation, sociology in education, education policy and law, and leadership.

6. Adult Education

Specializing in adult education will equip you to educate adult learners. An adult education major prepares you to work in fields like athletic coaching, corporate training, health education, and outdoor education.

Some common courses for this specialty include adult education, workforce education, program development, instructional design, evaluation in adult education, and multicultural populations.

7. Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)

TEFL certification qualifies teachers to teach English to students whose first language is not English.

With TEFL certification, you can teach English abroad and online, work in international schools and language institutes, and develop curricula.

TEFL certification also allows you to educate K-12 students as an ESL teacher.

8. Special Education

A special education program prepares you to teach students with disabilities, typically at the K-12 level.

You can choose a concentration for your special education major, such as adapted curriculum, communication disorder, Deaf education, early childhood education, and elementary education.

Special education majors take courses like assistive technology, behavior management, human development, and assessment for students with disabilities.


9. Educational Administration and Leadership

An education degree in administration prepares you for roles in educational leadership, like principal, dean, and superintendent. Graduates can also pursue roles as education policymakers and division chairs.

You’ll study subjects like school law, supervision of instruction, critical issues in schools, and school finance.

While you can major in educational administration as an undergrad, many students choose to earn a master’s degree.


10. Curriculum and Instructional Design

In this major, you’ll learn to develop curricula and design methods to educate students. Instructional design is an innovative field that focuses on increasing student engagement and creating interactive 21st-century classrooms.

Many graduates go on to train teachers and introduce new curricula to schools.

Curriculum and instructional design is often a master’s degree, with teachers pursuing this path after gaining experience as an educator.

How Does Accreditation Work for Education Programs?

When a school is accredited, it means it’s been reviewed for high-quality curricula, qualified faculty, and satisfactory educational outcomes.

Accrediting agencies should be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Colleges can receive institutional accreditation and programmatic accreditation.

Accreditation ensures that future employers will recognize the legitimacy of your education degree. If you wish to further your education down the road, graduate programs will also require you to have an accredited degree.

Finally, to receive your teaching license, you must attend an accredited school.

Here are some teaching program accreditors to look for:

Do You Need Licensure for Teaching Jobs?

If you want to teach in the public school system, you’ll need a state teaching certification or license. Some private and charter schools may not require a teaching license.

The licensing process and requirements vary from state to state, but the steps are generally the same: You must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and complete a teacher preparation program.

Most college education programs include the teacher preparation curriculum in the coursework — this often involves classroom experience through student teaching.

You’ll also need to pass your state’s teaching exam, which covers basic education skills and specific subject areas like math and writing.

Popular States to Teach In

Education Careers: Outlook and Salary

In general, careers in education are growing equal to or slower than the national average for 2021-2031, which is 5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Several teaching careers fall just below the national average. In fact, adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers are projected to have a negative growth rate of -6% over the next decade.

One education career — postsecondary teachers — is an outlier, with an above-average projected growth rate of 12%. So if you’re interested in teaching at the college level, you can expect more employment opportunities.

The median salary for teaching careers ranges between $29,000 and $98,000. Administration roles tend to earn significantly more than entry-level teaching jobs.

To advance in your education career, you’ll often need a master’s degree.

Common Education and Teaching Jobs
JobMinimum Education RequiredMedian Annual Salary (May 2021)Job Growth Rate (2021-2031)
Teacher AssistantsSome college, no degree$29,3605%
Preschool TeachersSome college, no degree$29,3605%
Kindergarten TeachersBachelor’s$60,9004%
Elementary School TeachersBachelor’s$61,4004%
Middle School TeachersBachelor’s$61,3204%
High School TeachersBachelor’s$61,8205%
Special Education TeachersBachelor’s$61,8204%
Career and Technical Education TeachersBachelor’s$61,1602%
Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL TeachersBachelor’s$59,720-6%
Instructional CoordinatorsMaster’s$63,7407%
Elementary, Middle, and High School PrincipalsMaster’s$98,4205%
Postsecondary Education AdministratorsMaster’s$96,9107%
Postsecondary TeachersMaster’s or doctorate$79,64012%

Frequently Asked Questions About Education and Teaching

What is the difference between education and teaching?

The terms “teaching” and “education” are often used interchangeably to describe education jobs.

Teaching more often refers to the in-classroom act of educating students. Education, in contrast, can be used more broadly to refer to academic institutions, administration, leadership, and policymaking.

What are the different types of education?

The three types of education are formal, informal, and nonformal. Formal education refers to a traditional school or institution that awards diplomas, degrees, and/or certificates.

Informal education can take the form of lessons taught at home, reading or researching to gain new knowledge, and learning through practical experience.

Finally, nonformal education entails programs and courses that contain instruction but without any formal credentials. This includes fitness programs, art classes, and swimming lessons.

What can teachers do instead of teaching?

There are many jobs in education that don’t involve teaching. You can work in administration, develop curricula, evaluate other schools for accreditation, try your hand at educational politics and lobbying, or work for teachers’ unions.

Many teachers also go on to work in other fields like human resources and customer service.

How hard is an education degree?

Education degrees don’t have a reputation for being as rigorous as, say, a medical or STEM degree, but difficulty is subjective. If you’re naturally inclined to the skills and content of an education degree, the program may come easier to you than it does for others.

Ultimately, your education specialization, program, and degree level will all help to determine how hard your education degree is.

Is an education degree worth it?

Education professionals typically earn $30,000-$100,00 a year, while tuition costs can range anywhere from $3,000-$40,000 a year. Gauging whether an education degree is worth it will depend on what you value — earning potential, career opportunities, or job satisfaction.

Some careers in education may have a low average salary but are very personally rewarding.

Shape your future with an online degree

Connect with a community of peers, and find a program that will allow you to continue your education in a fast and flexible way.