There is no better way to positively impact the lives of children or assure a brighter future for our world than to become an educator. Maybe you see yourself working to shape young, curios, and impressionable minds, or you picture yourself in a rigorous collegiate environment. Perhaps you want to help young people as a special–needs instructor or a guidance counselor. Or maybe your passion draws you to science, physical education, or literature. If any of this sounds like you, then your path to a fulfilling career begins with a degree in education.
An education degree prepares graduates to teach in a variety of settings, usually in a specific subject matter. Depending on your background, interests, and career goals, you might be best suited to an undergraduate or graduate degree in education.
When you choose an education degree, it’s important to consider the age of students, type of educational institution, subject matter, and job description that fit your skills and interests. Since education is a diverse field with many different paths, you have a lot of different degree options. Ultimately, if you hope to become a public school teacher, a librarian, a guidance counselor, or any number of other important positions in the education sphere, you will need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. Then you will need to take your chosen state’s licensing exam. Some states, districts, schools, or positions may even require a master’s degree in teaching or education. However, there are a lot of different paths to earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree. There are also many non–teaching educational roles that you could qualify for with an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Your degree level will have a direct impact on how far you can advance in your education career, and will likely determine the kinds of settings where you can practice your skills.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
This is true of education, where the credibility of your degree depends very much on whether you’ve earned it from an institution accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
CAEP was formed in 2013 by the merging of two leading accrediting agencies, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)—which was founded in 1954—and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC)—which was founded in 1997.
The merger ultimately made CAEP the singular accreditation group in the education sphere. As of 2016, any accreditation standards imposed by both NCATE and TEAC have been replaced by CAEP standards.
Stated simply, when you’re seeking any type of education degree, at any level, make sure that it has been accredited by CAEP.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the CAEP website, which provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Types of Education Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Education
As with most professions, the associate degree in education is a good starting point, one that can make the pursuit of a higher degree more affordable in the long run. Typically, a two–year engagement, an associate degree program in education will provide you with some introductory level instruction, a focus on basic teaching theories, and practical instruction in teaching, most likely at the elementary education level. You’ll also typically take a requisite set of liberal arts courses alongside your concentration in education. Earning an associate degree will immediately qualify you to work as a teacher’s assistant. In some contexts, you may also be qualified to work as a preschool teacher or in a daycare/childcare setting. However, if you ultimately plan to become a public school teacher at the elementary school level or beyond, or to serve in a more advanced role in the field, you will need to continue into a bachelor’s degree program.
What Courses Will I Take in an Associate Education Program?
- Child Psychology and Development
- Current Trends in Education
- Education Technology
- Introduction to Elementary Education
- Instructional Techniques
- Theories of Learning
What’s the Difference Between an AA and an AS in Education?
Both the associate of arts (AA) and an associate of science (AS) in education are designed to help you transition into a four–year program upon completion. The AA is your best bet if you’re seeking a general introduction to the discipline of education alongside a traditional liberal arts education. The AS, by contrast, provides a greater focus on math and science courses, making it an attractive option for those who ultimately plan to teach in STEM–related fields.
Now that you know what to look for, check out our rankings of The 14 Best Online Associate in Education Programs, The Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Degree Programs, or The 10 Best Online Associate in Elementary Education Programs.
Bachelor of Education
If you plan to become a teacher at the early education, elementary school, or high school level, the most basic threshold for qualification is a bachelor’s degree. All states require that you have at least a bachelor’s degree in order to sit for a licensing exam. In fact, many bachelor’s programs come with a built–in teacher education program that leads to licensure. If you complete an education program that does not include licensure, you will have to enroll in an alternative teaching certification program after earning your bachelor’s degree (though some certification programs may allow you to be simultaneously enrolled in your bachelor’s program). It will typically take 4–5 years to complete both an education degree and certification program. This investment of time is necessary if you plan to teach at the public elementary, middle, high–school or special education level. Some private schools may not require you to hold a bachelor’s degree and state–issued license. Still, even in a private school setting, these credentials will give you an edge when it comes to hiring. As part of your bachelor’s program, you will typically choose a specific area of concentration in education, including such features as age group; public, private or religious setting; subject matter, etc. It’s also not a bad idea to minor in the subject matter you eventually hope to teach. Determining where and who you hope to teach will help you choose courses and earn a bachelor’s degree that makes the most sense for you. If you’re someone who needs a more flexible schedule while pursuing your degree, an online bachelor’s degree in education could be the perfect fit.
What Courses Will I Take in an Education Bachelor’s Program?
- Curriculum Foundations (multiple subjects)
- Diversity in Education
- Early Language and Literacy
- Educational Psychology
- Introduction to Pedagogy
- Instructional Technology
- Learning, the Mind and Education
- Research in Education
What’s the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Education?
As with an associate degree, the primary difference between a bachelor of arts (BA) and a bachelor of science (BS) in education is that the former will provide a parallel liberal arts education while the latter will include a greater focus on math and science courses.
Bachelor’s of Education Rankings
Master of Education
When it comes time to earn your master’s degree, you have a lot of options. A master’s program in teaching is typically about 30 credit hours, or one year of study. In fact, a lot of undergraduate education programs will give you the option of continuing directly from your bachelor’s degree into a one–year master’s program. If this is an option for you, it could be a tremendous way to save time and money.
If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree, your master’s program will be all about your area of focus or specialization. If you haven’t yet earned your state–issued license to teach (either through your bachelor’s or alternative certification program), you may be able to enter directly into a master’s program that leads to both certification and a degree. This is another cost–effective way to kill two birds with one stone.
If you have already earned your license—and perhaps even a job teaching out in the real world—a master’s degree is a great way to advance your professional knowledge, not to mention your job prospects and pay grade.
During your master’s program, you’ll study advanced concepts in curriculum, educational psychology, policy, and special education. You’ll also develop a master’s thesis, preferably related to the area of education where you hope to ultimately work. While a master’s degree is optional for some teachers, it may be mandatory for licensure in some states. A master’s degree is also highly recommended for aspiring principals, college administrators, and professors, as well as those with specialized areas of interest like special education, childhood development, curriculum development, or education policy orientation.
What Courses Will I Take in an Education Master’s Program?
Your master’s degree will revolve closely around your chosen area of concentration. While there are likely some core courses specific to your degree program, your electives and the capstone course in which you develop your thesis will be tailored directly to the focus of your studies. You will likely work directly with a mentor on your thesis project, as well as on the research, composition, and analytical skills needed to complete this project.
What’s the Difference Between a MIT and an MEd in Education?
The degree that you pursue will have a lot to do with how you ultimately plan to apply it in a professional setting. The master’s degree in education (MEd) is the more general option, one that provides classroom educators with pathways to organizational leadership and administration, as well as a segue into possible doctorate programs or other specialized degrees. The master’s in teaching (MIT) is the preferred degree for those educators who hope to improve their skills and salary prospects while remaining in the classroom. Specific areas of concentration include the master of arts in curriculum and instruction, master of arts in special education, and several others.
In fact, once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree in education, there are a lot of directions you could turn in pursuit of a master’s degree.
If you’re looking for a general education degree program, start with The Best Online Master’s in Education Degree Programs. Or check out our rankings of the many master’s in education specialization programs:
Master’s of Education Rankings
- The Best Online Master’s in Child Development Programs
- Best Online Master’s in Coaching Programs
- The 30 Best Online Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction Degree Programs
- The 30 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Degree Programs
- The 25 Best Online Master’s in Educational Administration Degree Programs
- The 30 Best Online Master’s in Educational Leadership Degree Programs
- The 30 Best Online Master’s in Educational Technology Degree Programs
- The 30 Best Online Master’s in Elementary Education Degree Programs
- The 25 Best Online Master’s in English Language Learning Programs
- The 30 Best Online Master’s in Gifted & Talented Education Programs
- The 25 Best Online Master’s in Higher Education Degree Programs
- The 25 Best Online Master’s of Library and Information Science Degree Programs
- The 10 Best Online Master’s in Math Education Programs
- The Best Online Master’s in Online Teaching Programs
- The 30 Best Online Master’s in Reading Programs
- The 20 Best Master’s in School Counseling Online Degree Programs
- The Best Online Master’s in Science Education Programs
- The 30 Best Online Master’s in Secondary Education Programs
- The 10 Best Online Master’s in Social Studies Programs
- The 30 Best Online Master’s in Special Education Degree Programs
Doctor of Education
If you ultimately aspire to pursue a career in academic research, in administrative leadership, or as a university professor, you may want to consider pursuing a doctorate degree. In order to do so, you must have earned a master’s degree in education or a related field. This is a terminal degree that qualifies you to engage high–level policy, curriculum, and pedagogy issues, as well as to work in the top positions at an array of educational outlets, research institutions, and private companies. This could be a good step if you ultimately hope to become university faculty, hold office in the Department of Education, serve as an executive officer in a school district, or oversee professional development for a large corporation. The length of your degree program will depend on your area of focus, as will the nature of the courses that you decide to take.
What’s the Difference Between an Education Ph.D. and an Education Ed.D.?
If you ultimately intend to pursue a career in academia, you’ll likely want to earn your Ph.D. in Education. This will provide you with the theoretical basis and research experience to both work in and contribute to the field. If you anticipate landing a hands–on leadership role in the field of education, the doctorate of education (Ed.D.) might suit your needs. This degree will provide you with the practical skills to serve in a leadership role in educational administration, government agencies, non–profits, or in the training department of a business or corporation.
Doctor of Education Rankings
- The Best Online Doctorate in Child Development Programs
- The eight Best Online Doctorate in Counselor Education Programs
- The Best Online Doctorates in Curriculum & Instruction
- The Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs
- Best Online Doctorate in Education Programs
- The Best Online Doctorate in Educational Administration Degree Programs
- The Best Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Degree Programs
- The Best Online Doctorate in Educational Psychology Programs
- The Best Online Doctorate in Educational Technology Degree Programs
- The Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education Degree Programs
- The Best Online Doctorate in Reading and Literacy Programs
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
In order to become a classroom teacher in a public school setting, you must earn a bachelor’s degree and complete a teaching certification program. In many cases, your undergraduate program will include the courses required to earn your teaching certification. If that is not the case—or if you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in an alternate field—you can enter a standalone teaching certification program. This will provide you with the coursework and experience needed to earn licensure in your state. (Bear in mind that some states require you to have a master’s degree in education before you can enter your certification program. Contact the Department of Education in your state to learn more). Depending on the amount of coursework you’ve completed up to this point, your certification program could take between one and two years to complete.
Once this is complete, you will qualify to sit for the licensing exam in your state. Some states use a national exam like PRAXIS, while others employ their own licensing examination.
Once again, we would advise visiting the Department of Education for your state to find out more.
Continuing Education Certifications
As an educator, you also have a vast spectrum of opportunities for continuing education. While working as an educator in the field, you can engage in certification programs in a nearly endless array of specializations and areas of interest. Depending upon subject matter and rigor, a certification could take anywhere from a few credits and hours to a full year of study. The decision to pursue post–professional certification is entirely optional and depends largely upon your interests and ambitions, as opposed to any professional mandate.
With that said, before entering a licensing or certification program, be sure that it is awarded by a reputable association or group. Most associations or groups will require you to complete an education program or workshop to earn your certification.
What Can You Do With an Education Degree?
If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do with an education degree?” you’re in the right spot. Your education degree can be the key to a wide range of Education Careers. As we’ve noted, you have a lot of options when it comes to the level, setting, and discipline in which you’ll practice your skills. To learn more about your options, check out these careers for people with education degrees:
- Adult Literacy and GED Teachers
- Career Teachers and Technical Education Teachers
- Curators, Museum Technicians and Conservators
- Health Educators
- High School Teachers
- Instructional Coordinators
- Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers
- Library Technicians and Assistants
- Middle School Teachers
- Postsecondary Education Administrators
- Postsecondary Teachers
- Preschool and Childcare Center Directors
- Preschool Teachers
- School and Career Counselors
- Self–Enrichment Teachers
- Special Education Teachers
- Teacher Assistants
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With an Education Degree?
As noted above, you have a lot of options as an aspiring educator. Your area of specialization and the academic level at which you choose to teach will have a direct bearing on your earning potential.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a look at the median annual salaries you can expect for several popular teaching roles, as of 2018:
|Library Technicians and Assistants||$29,640|
|Adult Literacy/HS Equivalency Diploma Teachers||$53,630|
|School and Career Counselors||$56,310|
|Career and Technical Education Teachers||$56,750|
|Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers||$57,980|
|Middle School Teachers||$58,600|
|Special Education Teachers||$59,780|
|High School Teachers||$60,320|
|Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals||$95,130|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Are There Professional Education Associations or Societies I Should Join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for education associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.
- National Education Association
- The NEA is not just the largest professional teaching organization in the U.S. but the largest professional association of any kind in the country as well. With three million members across all 50 states, the NEA also serves as the lead union providing labor advocacy for educational professionals and a key lobby group in Washington, D.C., where the organization is headquartered.
- Association of American Educations
- The AAE is the largest non–union professional association of teachers in the U.S. and provides members with access to professional resources, the opportunity to apply for scholarships and grants, lobby activities, and legal advocacy as needed.
- State Teachers Associations
- Each state also has an affiliate teaching association that is at once affiliated with the NEA and acts independently on behalf of a state’s teachers. Active membership in your state teacher’s association could provide a wide range of benefits from networking and access to resources to discount convention admission and participation in professional development workshops.