Best Online Teaching Degrees

by TBS Staff

Updated September 26, 2022

reviewed by TBS Rankings Team
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Online Teaching Degrees

An online teaching degree prepares students for rewarding, in-demand teaching careers. Online learning gives students the flexibility to balance their studies with professional and personal obligations. Teachers with an online education degree can work with students of all ages, and they have a variety of options when it comes to work environments. They can work in public or private schools or at universities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that high school teachers earn a median salary of just over $60,000 per year. Professionals with postsecondary teaching credentials can expect higher wages, earning a median of 80,790 per year. Graduates of online teaching master's programs can work as elementary, middle, and high school principals, earning a median of $98,490 annually.

This guide aims to help students find the right programs for their needs and professional goals by considering cost, student outcomes, and school reputation to rank the best online teaching degrees.

Obtaining a Teaching License or Certificate

Certificates and licenses are not the same thing. Certification programs usually signify mastery of a specific career focus. Licensure is a professional requirement to practice. Typically, aspiring instructors need state licensure to teach public school at any level, though rules for private schools vary.

The traditional route to becoming a teacher is to complete a four-year bachelor's degree in education or a related specialization, followed by a teacher preparation/certification program. Some educators pursue master's degrees in education or teaching. All teachers must complete a practical classroom component, pass a certification test in the area they plan to teach, and apply for state licensure.

Applicants for some administrative need a master's degree and an appropriate specialization to obtain licensure. Postsecondary teachers typically need master's or doctorate degrees in their areas of expertise. It takes approximately 5-6 years to complete the education and training to become a teacher.

Featured Online Teaching Degrees

Alternative Paths to Teaching

Aspiring teachers can pursue alternative pathways as well. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 18% of public school teachers earned alternative teaching certifications after completing degrees unrelated to education.

Candidates can also pursue emergency teaching credentials, which allow them to teach in a classroom setting for a limited time until they receive the proper certification. While state requirements vary, most emergency credential applicants need bachelor's degrees. Similarly, some states do not require licensure for substitute teachers.

Other pathways include teaching at a private or charter school, for which some states and institutions do not require licensure. Many private schools, for example, value experience over an education or teaching degree. Students interested in this route should contact individual private schools to determine their qualifications.

Choosing an Online Teaching Program

Choosing the right teaching degree online requires careful consideration of your unique goals, needs, and circumstances. Our list is a good starting point, but you should also perform your own research to find the program that's right for you.

The Best Online Teaching Degree Programs

#1

University of Georgia

School Information
Location Athens, Georgia
Admission Rate 45%
Graduation Rate 87%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 14% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Students looking to earn a flexible college degree should consider the University of Georgia's online B.S.Ed. in special education. The college offers two fully online bachelor's degree programs to undergraduate students. The special education program is an attractive option for students seeking to advance in the field. The program provides flexibility through customizable study options and classes.

Students complete industry-relevant classes throughout the program, gaining broad and specific knowledge of the field. Enrollees also complete general education and advanced coursework, gaining broad and specific skills. Students can customize their special education degree through electives, minors, and concentrations.

A bachelor's degree often greatly increases one's earning potential. The institution reports that graduates six years out from their program earn a median salary of $45,200. Typically, undergraduate students pay $15,961 in tuition and fees each year. Students can contact the education department to inquire about admission requirements, application materials, and more.

University of Georgia at a Glance:

Online Enrollment: 5,389

Total Online Programs: 29

Online Bachelor's Programs: 2

Admission Rate: 45%

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#2

Arizona State University

School Information
Location Scottsdale , Arizona

Learners looking for competitive online learning opportunities should consider Arizona State University's online bachelor's degree programs. A leader in online education, the institution supports distance learners. Of the remote programs, the bachelor's program in educational studies stands out as a competitive option for students interested in teaching careers.

The educational studies program prepares students for the demands of the education field. Learners work with academic advisors to create a course schedule meeting career and academic goals. Students also have the option to choose a minor and select electives as part of their curriculum.

Students can receive financial aid to offset the cost of their degree.

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#3

Penn State World Campus

School Information
Location University Park, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 76%
Graduation Rate 71%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Learners looking for competitive online learning opportunities should consider Penn State World Campus's online bachelor's degree programs. Distance learners can choose from 67 fully online bachelor's degree programs. Distance learners looking to earn an online education degree can enroll in the bachelor of science in special education program.

The special education program curriculum enables flexible study. Students complete general and advanced coursework, with the opportunity to modify the curriculum. Enrollees can work with their academic advisor to adjust coursework, choose electives, and pursue other educational opportunities relevant to their career goals.

Undergraduate students can expect to pay $13,484 in tuition. Learners can access numerous funding opportunities through the accredited institution.

Penn State World Campus at a Glance:

Total Online Programs: 207

Online Bachelor's Programs: 67

Admission Rate: 76%

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Online Teaching Degree Programs Ranking Guidelines

We selected schools providing online education programs based on the quality of their programs and the types of courses offered, as well as the faculty, rankings, awards, and reputation, including the school's reputation for effectively providing quality online teaching degree programs.

The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:

The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.

To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):

1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]

  • Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
  • Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
  • Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
  • Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
  • Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
  • Considers range of electives within that discipline
  • Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline

2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]

  • Considers education background of the faculty
  • Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
  • Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
  • Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
  • Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources

3. Reputation [weight = 20%]

  • Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
    • Faculty
    • Curriculum
    • “Freshness” of academic knowledge
    • Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
    • Suitability of graduates for the workplace

4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]

  • Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
  • Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants

5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]

  • Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
  • Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business

6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]

  • Considers the following of the online classes:
    • Types of online technology used to deliver content
    • Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
    • Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
    • Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
  • Considers the following of instructors:
    • Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
    • Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
    • Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
    • Ratio to number of students in a class
  • Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees

Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.

To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:

  • Accreditation
  • Public or private status
  • Acceptance rate
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • ACT/SAT requirements
  • Cost in-state / out of state
  • Undergrad, grad, or both offered
  • Region
  • State
  • City

Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!

If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.

Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!

Accredited Online Teaching Degree Programs

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) serves as an accreditation organization for teacher education programs in the United States. CAEP was established in 2013 through the consolidation of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council.

CAEP has received recognition from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the nation’s largest institutional higher education membership organization. CHEA provides quality assurance and oversight of accrediting agencies alongside the U.S. Department of Education.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The Federal Student Aid Office of the U.S Department of Education mentions two types of loan forgiveness programs for teachers:

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

Under this program, teachers who teach full–time for five complete and consecutive academic years in specific elementary and secondary schools or in educational service agencies which serve low–income communities may qualify for forgiveness of up to a combined total of $17,500 on their Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans as well as their Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans. If teachers have only PLUS loans, they are not eligible for this type of forgiveness.

The Teacher Cancellation Program

Teachers with a loan from the Federal Perkins Loan Program may qualify for loan cancellation for full–time teaching at a low–income school, or for teaching in specific subject areas. They can also qualify for deferment for these qualifying teaching services. Teachers should check with the school which made their Federal Perkins Loan for more information.

Graduate Teaching Degrees

Master of Education

Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree programs attract individuals who want specialty training in the educational field or who want to prepare for leadership positions, such as a school principal or an educational administrator. M.Ed. programs meet the academic and professional interests of professionals in the education field.

Some M.Ed. programs cater to educators who already have a teaching license and some cater to individuals seeking education employment outside of a traditional classroom. Some programs provide M.Ed. degrees to individuals without teaching experience.

Master of Education programs typically cover the strategic and theoretical aspects of education as well as subjects related to human psychology and behavior which apply to the science of education and instruction. They cover instructional and professional subjects applicable to school and student performance.

Graduates can use this degree to advance careers as educators, but the leadership and organizational skills they've learned could also apply to a wide variety of industries unrelated to education.

Typically, students in Master of Education programs must gain practical experience through student teaching, a fellowship, internship, or formal observation hours. Programs generally take one to two years to complete.

Master of Education degree specializations include:

  • School counseling.
  • Curriculum and instruction.
  • Adult education.
  • Museum education.
  • Classroom technology.
  • Economics and policy.
  • Reading and literacy.
  • Leadership.
  • Instructional design.
  • Curriculum development.
  • School psychology.
  • Administration.

Master of Arts in Teaching

Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree programs attract current and prospective K-12 teachers who seek their teaching license or wish to obtainadditional certification to advance in their careers. MAT degree programs attract individuals interested in improving teaching methods and style or enhancing their expertise in a specific content area.

Master of Arts in Teaching programs have a focus on the act of teaching as well as the practical skills and knowledge teachers use to teach groups and individual students. MAT degree programs examine education theories, methods, philosophies, concepts and styles and develop skills in areas such as curriculum design and literacy. Enrollees learn how to improve student performance. Students also learn how to effectively integrate technology into instruction.

Students study theoretical and practical educational research and conduct their own research. Students in a Master of Arts in Teaching degree program typically select a specialized subject in the education field.

Master of Arts in Teaching specializations include:

  • Specific subject area such as English or mathematics.
  • Elementary education.
  • Special education.
  • Secondary education.
  • Teaching English as a second language (ESL).
  • Gifted education.

Some MAT degree programs require students to complete a master's thesis. Online MAT degree programs typically include a student teaching experience. Everyone seeking their initial teaching license must gain student teaching experience and teachers who seek to gain additional certification in a different grade and/or subject must gain teaching experience. Student teaching typically spans between one and two semesters.

Program lengths vary, generally between one and two years.

Doctorate in Education

A doctorate in education (Ed.D.) focuses on applying foundational knowledge and research to real-world issues in education. Ed.D. programs prepare students for administrative, academic, professional, clinical or research positions in K-12 and higher education, public institutions, civil service, and private organizations.

Instead of focusing on developing new research (such as with a Ph.D. program), doctorate of education students utilize existing research to inform decisions about specific issues which can lead to improving practices within their specialization areas.

Doctorate in education programs prepare students for leadership positions such as school district executives, training supervisors, chief learning officers in large corporations, faculty at the university level and more.

Doctorate in education programs include specializations such as counseling, educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, postsecondary education, administration, special education and more.

Ph.D. in Education

Ph.D. in education programs prepare professionals to become education researchers, university faculty members, senior-level education leaders, policymakers, practitioners and scholars in many settings.

Professionals with a Ph.D. in education can work in education research, practice, and policy.

Ph.D. in education programs typically emphasize producing new knowledge in the education field while improving research and analytical skills. Ph.D. students can specialize in areas such as education policy and program evaluation, education leadership, literacy studies, higher education administration and policy, education, special education, society and culture, human development, learning and teaching, and more.

Featured Online Master's in Teaching

Teaching Careers

Teachers can pursue many different career opportunities based on their training, interests, and expertise. Below, you will find some of the most common teaching careers, along with the standard degree requirements and median salaries for each.

Preschool Teacher

Required Degree: Associate Median Annual Salary: $31,930

Preschool teachers take care of preschool children by teaching them, encouraging them, and keeping records of their habits and progress. These teachers may need to develop their own curricula, assess individual students, and support the development of basic skills, like movement and speech.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher

Required Degree: Bachelor's Median Annual Salary: $60,660

Kindergarten and elementary teachers help prepare students by developing their basic reading, math, and social skills. These teachers provide students with lesson plans that allow for creativity and practical exploration.

Middle School Teacher

Required Degree: Bachelor's Median Annual Salary: $62,870

Middle school teachers prepare students for high school. They teach grades 6-8. Teachers develop curricula, foster productive learning environments, and evaluate students to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

High School Teacher

Required Degree: Bachelor's Median Annual Salary: $62,870

High school teachers educate students in a particular subject areae, preparing them for college or the workforce after high school. They create effective learning plans while accommodating each learner's needs and abilities.

Postsecondary Teacher

Required Degree: Master's or Doctorate Median Annual Salary: $80,790

Postsecondary teachers instruct college and university students in specific disciplines while conducting research and publishing scholarly work. These teachers develop instructional plans based on their research and departmental needs.

Other Education Careers

Career Required Degree Median Annual Salary
Childcare Center Director Bachelor's $49,160
School and Career Counselor Master's $58,120
Instructional Coordinator Master's $66,970
Postsecondary Education Administrator Master's $97,500
Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal Master's $98,490

Featured Online Bachelor's in Elementary Education

Common Questions About Online Teaching Degrees

Which Degree Is Best for Teaching?

The most traditional way to become a teacher is to complete a bachelor's degree in education. However, postsecondary teachers typically need master's or doctoral degrees.

Is a Master's Worth It for Teaching?

Master's degrees can lead to various teaching careers, including roles in leadership and administration. Graduates can also pursue postsecondary teaching roles in some schools.

Can You Get a Teaching Job With an Online Degree?

Yes. Students who earn online degrees in teaching can pursue the same careers as on-campus learners. Most programs only differ in their method of delivery.

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