Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

James M. Tobin
Updated March 13, 2024
Edited by
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If you’re looking to build advanced or specialized teaching skills, consider a master’s in education. These graduate programs help educators develop stronger skills for classroom management, assessment, and student development. They’re also popular with non-education majors seeking an alternative path to teaching licensure.

Educators can pursue master’s degrees to boost their earning power. In 2019, the National Council on Teacher Quality found that 92% of sampled school districts offer higher pay to teachers with graduate degrees. Payscale data from Feb. 2024 indicates a pay bump of about 6.6% compared to average bachelor of education pay rates.

This degree guide explains common features of master’s degrees in education and includes a ranked list of top-rated programs. Use it to research and identify opportunities that meet your learning goals.

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Best Master’s in Education Degrees

#1 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

  • Location-markerChampaign, IL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$14,446
  • Out-of-state$34,444
  • Retention Rate93%
  • Acceptance Rate60%
  • Students Enrolled56,607
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment84%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Location-markerChapel Hill, NC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,019
  • Out-of-state$34,882
  • Retention Rate97%
  • Acceptance Rate20%
  • Students Enrolled31,641
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment29%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

Johns Hopkins University

  • Location-markerBaltimore, MD
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$58,720
  • Out-of-state$58,720
  • Retention Rate96%
  • Acceptance Rate8%
  • Students Enrolled32,049
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment80%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

University of Southern California

  • Location-markerLos Angeles, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$60,446
  • Out-of-state$60,446
  • Retention Rate96%
  • Acceptance Rate13%
  • Students Enrolled49,318
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment46%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

Purdue University Global-Indianapolis

  • Location-markerWest Lafayette, IN
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$10,080
  • Out-of-state$13,356
  • Retention Rate75%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled43,458
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment100%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

Boston University

  • Location-markerBoston, MA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$58,560
  • Out-of-state$58,560
  • Retention Rate94%
  • Acceptance Rate19%
  • Students Enrolled36,104
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment15%
  • AccreditationYes
#7 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

National University

  • Location-markerSan Diego, CA
  • 4 year
  • Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$13,320
  • Out-of-state$13,320
  • Retention Rate100%
  • Acceptance Rate55%
  • Students Enrolled17,135
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment80%
  • AccreditationYes
#8 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

University of South Carolina-Columbia

  • Location-markerColumbia, SC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$12,288
  • Out-of-state$33,528
  • Retention Rate87%
  • Acceptance Rate62%
  • Students Enrolled35,471
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment56%
  • AccreditationYes
#9 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

Biola University

  • Location-markerLa Mirada, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$44,382
  • Out-of-state$44,382
  • Retention Rate88%
  • Acceptance Rate61%
  • Students Enrolled5,551
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment50%
  • AccreditationYes
#10 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs

Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale

  • Location-markerFort Lauderdale, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$20,800
  • Out-of-state$20,800
  • Retention Rate72%
  • Acceptance Rate96%
  • Students Enrolled19,861
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment50%
  • AccreditationYes

Did You Know…

The 2020–2021 National Teacher and Principal Survey found that 51% of K-12 public school teachers hold a master’s degree, while just 38% have only a bachelor’s.

What to Expect From Master’s in Education Programs

Your program’s focus will vary based on the concentration, degree type, and programmatic accreditation status. The curriculum may also depend on your specific undergraduate degree and whether the program includes a pathway for licensure or administration.

In any case, you’re likely looking at a graduation timeline of 1-2 years of full-time enrollment. Part-time programs can extend this timeline by several years. Master’s in education programs usually cover about 30-40 credits.

Typical costs vary, and they may depend on the delivery method. For face-to-face programs, you can use averages cited by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as a guideline. Here’s what graduate students paid on average in tuition and required fees, according to NCES data from the 2021–2022 school year:

Online programs may cost less. According to the NCES Data Lab, graduate education students attending schools that offer fully online instruction paid an average of $5,187 in tuition and required fees in 2020.

Popular Courses

Master’s in education curricula vary, sometimes significantly. Programs typically culminate in a capstone experience, self-directed research project, or thesis.

Highly specialized programs often cover topics that supplement or depart from the general classes described below. However, many education master’s programs feature the following courses or similar offerings.

Learning Environment Design

Effective learning environments are built on more than just academic content. They demand careful consideration of social, emotional, and physical elements to establish and maintain inclusivity. Drawing on contemporary theories and current research, this course examines principles and best practices for optimizing classroom-based learning.

Innovation in Teaching and Learning

Modern technologies have had profound effects on student learning experiences. This survey course explores current and emerging educational innovations. Coursework equips learners with actionable insights on integrating technological innovations into their classrooms.

Curriculum Development

This foundational course explores approach-based frameworks for curriculum and academic content development. Students seeking careers in education policy or administration may find this course particularly valuable for its emphasis on diversity and inclusivity.

Instructional Strategies

In this course, educators consider teaching methods, student assessment techniques, and collaborative learning strategies. The course also examines ways to engage colleagues, parents, and students’ peers in advancing desirable outcomes. Specialized education programs often configure this course to focus on specific student demographic groups. For instance, a master’s in special education will likely emphasize instructional strategies for students with learning disabilities.

Advanced Topics in Classroom Management

Learners explore how teachers can build and maintain effective control over classroom environments. Course content may cover managing interpersonal dynamics, motivating students, and disciplinary issues.

Degree and Specialization Options

Master’s in education degrees include four main designations:

  • Master of Education: Typically favored by established or emerging full-time classroom teachers, M.Ed. programs emphasize practical training.
  • Master of Arts in Education: MA programs typically cover a specialized content area, such as English or mathematics. Learners develop advanced teaching skills specific to their subjects.
  • Master of Science in Education: MS degrees are similar to MA programs but often include a stronger emphasis on research and analysis.
  • Master of Arts in Teaching: MAT programs engage students in a combination of theory and field training in classroom teaching.

Beyond these variations, you can also pursue a specialized master’s in education. Popular examples include:

Early Childhood Education

These master’s in education programs focus on students’ critical formative years. They may cover birth to age eight or a narrower range, such as pre-kindergarten or primary grades.

Special Education

Master’s degrees in special education cover the learning needs of students with disabilities. Programs may emphasize particular disability classifications, such as “mild to moderate” or “moderate to severe.” Some feature an alternate focus on the unique needs of gifted students.

Curriculum and Instruction

These specialized programs maintain a dual focus on curriculum development and instructional methods. They typically balance theory and practice. Students may be able to declare subspecializations in areas like literacy education, early childhood education, or English as a second language.

Graduation Requirements

To graduate from a master’s in education program, you must meet the degree’s credit and academic performance requirements. For instance, a school might specify a B or C average in all core courses to qualify for graduation.

A master’s degree in education often culminates in a capstone project or thesis. In a capstone, you’ll complete a self-directed project requiring you to synthesize everything you’ve learned throughout the program. Thesis projects include original research-focused work on a targeted, relevant topic approved by a supervising faculty member.

Some master’s programs also include practice teaching components. These usually apply to degrees designed for non-education majors. If they apply, you’ll also need to complete supervised student teaching experiences.

Careers for Master’s in Education Graduates

After graduation, you can pursue teaching roles and other career paths. In some cases, employers or state regulations may mandate additional training or certifications. For example, many states require candidates to complete principal preparation programs to qualify for principal licensure.

Here’s a partial list of some of the roles other than classroom teaching that you can pursue with an education master’s:

Educational Consultant

Educational consultants advise schools, school boards, organizations, and institutions that offer teacher training programs. Their work often focuses on implementing more effective educational strategies or addressing specific deficiencies or systemic issues. To build credibility in this role, you’ll need extensive experience in classroom teaching and/or education administration.

  • Required Education/Licensure: Varies by state
  • Average Annual Salary: $66,120

Corporate Trainer

Businesses often seek to build a competitive advantage by integrating professional development programs into their operations. Corporate trainers design programs, assess participants, and track progress toward learning goals. They often hold master’s degrees in curriculum and instruction.

  • Required Education/Licensure: Some employers may prefer or require professional certifications in corporate training.
  • Median Annual Salary: $63,080
  • Job Outlook (2022-32): +6%

Career Counselor

Career counselors advise students seeking help selecting an educational or professional vocation. They provide aptitude testing, advice on schooling, and supportive guidance on specific career paths. Many professionals hold specialized education degrees in career counseling.

  • Required Education/Licensure: Licensure requirements vary by state. Some employers may also prefer or require certified career counselor credentials.
  • Median Annual Salary: $60,140
  • Job Outlook (2022-32): +5%

Instructional Designer

Instructional designers specialize in developing instructional curricula. They may design entire education programs or focus on particular subjects, grade levels, or courses. Instructional designers also monitor advancements in educational technology and offer analysis on how to incorporate emerging innovations into learning programs.

  • Required Education/Licensure: Some employers may prefer or require specialized professional certifications.
  • Median Annual Salary: $66,490
  • Job Outlook (2022-32): +2%

Admissions Counselor

Admissions counselors usually work for vocational schools, community colleges, and universities. Some private K-12 schools also employ these professionals. Their roles focus on recruiting new students, guiding them through the admissions process, and helping schools market themselves to prospective learners.

Choosing the Right Education Graduate Program

To select the right master’s in education, you need to evaluate programs in the context of your learning goals and career plans. First, determine whether you’re more interested in a generalist or specialized degree. If it’s the latter, seek concentrated programs that emphasize the topics and skills that align with your interests.

As you compare options, consider the following factors:

  • School prestige and its reputation among employers
  • Placement support for internships, student teaching experiences, and other practical training requirements
  • The program’s underlying philosophy or academic culture

Finally, pay attention to accreditation. Only consider programs hosted at accredited institutions. You can research a school’s accreditation status using tools provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Some master’s in education degrees also hold optional programmatic accreditations. Accreditors of education programs include the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Endorsements from these agencies may signal elevated program quality.

Paying for a Master’s in Education

Master’s-level public school educators often earn higher salaries than those who only hold bachelor’s degrees. Some states also require teachers to upgrade to master’s degrees for licensure renewal purposes. For example, New Mexico features a tiered system with three licensing levels. To reach the top level, you must have a master’s degree.

However, graduate degrees are expensive. Consider these strategies to help reduce or control your costs:

Seek Scholarships

Scholarships are ideal sources of financial aid. You don’t have to repay them, so they directly reduce your education costs without creating debt.

Educational institutions, philanthropic organizations, private donors, corporations, and other organizations offer scholarship programs specifically for educators. Students typically qualify based on need, identity, or achievement.

Well-known scholarships for emerging educators include the James Madison Graduate Fellowship and funding programs from the National Education Association Foundation.

Study Online

Online learning can provide several financial benefits. Public institutions may extend in-state rates to out-of-state learners enrolled in online courses. In other cases, schools maintain separate, lower tuition rates for students in 100% online programs.

Take Advantage of TEACH Grants

The federal government offers TEACH Grants valued at up to $4,000 per year. To qualify, you must meet basic federal financial aid eligibility requirements and enroll at a participating institution.

Your aid is non-repayable if you:

  • Agree to work for at least four years as a teacher in a setting that serves low-income students
  • Offer instruction in a recognized high-need subject or field
  • Complete your four years of teaching service within eight years of graduating

If you don’t meet these requirements, your TEACH Grants will become unsubsidized federal loans.

Claim Tax Credits

The Internal Revenue Service recognizes Lifetime Learning Credits. You’re eligible for these valuable tax credits if you pay tuition at an accredited postsecondary institution.

Lifetime Learning Credits allow you to claim up to $2,000 per year in tax incentives. There’s no time limit on your eligibility, so you can claim the credit on qualifying expenses at any point in your education.

Questions About Master’s in Education Degrees

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