Study Secondary Education: Masters Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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What can you learn in a master's or Ph.D. program in secondary education? Read about program requirements, pros and cons of a master's degree or Ph.D. and potential careers.
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Secondary Education Master's and Ph.D.: Degrees at a Glance

If you're already teaching, a master's degree in secondary education could allow you to teach dual-credit courses, pursue secondary school leadership roles or teach education at the community college level. Other master's programs are designed for those without bachelor's degrees in teaching or teaching experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that jobs for secondary teachers would grow by 7% between 2010 and 2020, while all principal positions would increase 10%. However, job growth for teachers was expected to vary by region, with the most growth occurring in the southern and western parts of the country due to increased enrollment numbers. School and state budgets could temper growth in public schools.

Earning your Ph.D. can enable you to obtain a college-level teaching position or a leadership position in administration or curriculum design. According to the BLS, postsecondary teaching positions were expected to grow by 17% over the 2010-2020 decade, and postsecondary administrator positions were expected to grow by 19%.

Master's Doctorate
Who Is this Degree For? Individuals interested in expanding their teaching practice and abilities, pursuing leadership roles in secondary schools or beginning a teaching career People interested in teaching at the college level or obtaining leadership positions in education
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Secondary school teacher ($57,000)*
- Junior college-level education teacher ($67,000)*
- Elementary and secondary school administrator ($90,000)*
- University-level education professor ($65,000)*
- Postsecondary education administrator ($97,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years or less, full-time 3-6 years after the master's, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 36 credit hours
- Master's action project
- Teaching practicum and internship(s)
- Approximately 66 credit hours (varies widely)
- Doctoral dissertation
- Practicum, internship and/or residency
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree (some require the degree to be in the subject you teach)
- Teaching certification and experience
- Master's degree
- Teaching experience
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Secondary Education

Master's degree programs in secondary education can vary greatly in their aim. Some are designed for existing teachers who wish to further their education or credentials. These programs can prepare you to teach at community colleges or teach dual-credit courses at the high school level. Other programs can provide you leadership, research and curriculum concentrations that will qualify you for positions outside of teaching. You should look into these if you are a teacher and would like to become a principal or pursue another leadership role in your school.

Other programs are for individuals who don't already hold teacher certification and have earned a bachelor's degree in a subject other than teaching. Either type of program could require classroom observation experiences or a practicum as part of the program. You also might need to fulfill additional testing, certification and licensure requirements to be able to teach.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Master's degree programs can open doors to career opportunities beyond teaching
  • You can be admitted to a master's degree program in secondary education regardless of your undergraduate major
  • Some programs can be completed in as little as 10 months

Cons

  • Cost of tuition may not translate to a higher salary potential
  • You may be applying for many of the same jobs as those who only hold a bachelor's degree
  • There can be many testing, certification and licensure requirements depending on the state you plan to teach in

Courses and Requirements

Courses vary depending on your program and concentration, but you can expect to take graduate courses in arts and sciences, as well as multiple courses in your teaching focus area. Specific courses might include:

  • Educational leadership
  • School law
  • Special education
  • Human learning and development
  • School and community relations

You'll also likely be required to complete some form of an internship or practicum. They vary in duration, but a minimum of 100 hours is typically required. Additionally, an action project or another project that demonstrates your skills is often required prior to graduation.

Online Degree Options

There are some online master's degree programs in secondary education available from reputable schools, but they aren't abundant. Although all degree coursework can be completed online, there are still fieldwork/observation and student teaching requirements that must be completed in person.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Education administrators and principals have a better job outlook and make significantly higher salaries than do teachers with this degree; thus, if you already have teaching experience, finding a program that offers a concentration that can lead to licensure as a principal can open up more opportunities to you.

Some programs also offer the Teaching English Language Learners (TELL) certificate, which can better prepare you to work in classroom settings where students are learning English as a second language (ESL). According to the BLS, schools often have difficulty finding ESL teachers, so becoming certified in this area could open job opportunities for you.

Ph.D. in Secondary Education

Ph.D.s are typically not available in secondary education; however, there are Ph.D. programs that offer concentrations or emphases in related areas, such as educational research or curriculum and instruction.

The concentration you choose determines what you can do with your degree. Doctorates in educational leadership can be used to obtain a higher education cognate or superintendent certification as part of the degree program. Curriculum and instruction programs, sometimes called curriculum and social inquiry programs, prepare you for leadership and evaluative roles in curriculum development. There are some higher education administration positions that only require a master's degree, but most dean and provost positions require a doctorate.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Ph.D.s are a testament to your distinction and achievement
  • A Ph.D. can enable you to teach education at the university level
  • Some programs allow you to begin your graduate studies during your undergraduate senior year

Cons

  • The cost of your education may outweigh possible salary benefits
  • You'll likely be applying for some of the same jobs as master's degree holders
  • Programs can take an additional 3-6 years to complete after a master's degree

Courses and Requirements

Coursework requirements vary significantly depending on your chosen degree emphasis. Most programs will assign an adviser to you, and you'll work closely with him or her in the shaping of your specific program and goals. Some courses you might take at the doctoral level are:

  • Leadership theory
  • Organizational and human interaction
  • Educational policy
  • Change in educational systems
  • Cultural and societal patterns
  • Curriculum theory

You'll also likely be a member of a cohort and have coursework specific to that cohort, as well as repeated evaluation and assessment by faculty with regard to your portfolio and progress. You'll have to complete an original dissertation, as well as complete some combination of practicum, internship and residency requirements.

Online Degree Options

There are accredited online options available for Ph.D. programs in education. However, their acceptance rates can be very limited, so make sure you plan ahead and apply as early as possible. Also, some on-campus time is generally required, but this can be as little as one week per year.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

You can choose a concentration in some programs, which can elevate your experience and aptitude in specific areas. Since postsecondary teachers tend to teach specialized subjects, it can help your teaching career to learn all you can about a specific area of interest. You could also try to get your research published while earning your degree, since research accomplishments are a factor in whether you're granted tenure as a professor. Earning tenure could also later lead to job opportunities in higher education administration. If your program offers it as an option, you can choose to obtain additional certification so that you're eligible for superintendent or similar positions in higher education.

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