Study Teaching: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's or Ph.D. degree in teaching? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses and teaching programs.
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Teaching Master's and Ph.D.: Degrees at a Glance

Master's degrees in teaching are typically designed for individuals who want to work in the K-12 classroom, and some states require them for licensure. Some programs are intended to help licensed educators improve their general teaching skills, gain specialized knowledge or meet licensure requirements, while other programs prepare students with bachelor's degrees in other fields for their first teaching job. A doctoral program in teaching will place you on track for a career in postsecondary teaching and research or administration.

If you're considering an education career, you should know that the predicted job growth rates in this industry vary significantly depending on the area in which you choose to teach. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of high school teaching jobs will increase by just 7% between 2010 and 2020, while job growth for elementary, middle school and postsecondary teachers is projected to be 17%.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Aspiring K-12 teachers and licensed teachers seeking professional development Those who want to work as postsecondary education teachers or administrators
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - K-12 teacher ($57,000)*
- Adult literacy/GED teacher ($51,000)*
- Instructional coordinator ($62,000)*
- University education professor ($65,000)*
- Postsecondary education administrator ($97,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Master's thesis or research project
- Student teaching (for programs offering licensure)

- Ph.D. candidacy exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Same as those for master's, except that some programs require a master's degree and/or teaching experience
Online Availability Yes Yes, but programs are rare

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

Master's Degrees in Teaching

Master's degree programs in teaching typically allow you to study general teaching or choose a specialization, such as curriculum development, special education or elementary reading. If you're just beginning your teaching career, you'll need to choose a program that prepares you for licensure in your state. Such programs usually allow you to specialize by grade level (elementary, middle or high school), and they may also offer specializations or endorsements in areas like special education or English as a Second Language (ESL).

It's important to note that master's degree programs in teaching don't usually provide you with subject-specific training - it's expected that your bachelor's degree program will have provided you with the content knowledge you need. This means that if you want to teach a specialized subject, like high school chemistry or calculus, you should already have an academic background in that subject.

Pros and Cons


  • Many states offer higher salaries to teachers who hold master's degrees
  • Allows you stand out in a competitive job market
  • Can give you the option of working in a specialized area, such as instructional design


  • Earning your master's degree may be costly, especially considering that K-12 teachers' salaries are not particularly high
  • Will require 1-2 years of additional education after your undergraduate degree, or even longer if you take classes part-time
  • Maintaining a full-time teaching job while going to school part-time can be stressful

Courses and Requirements

Because of the many different specializations available, course requirements for non-licensure programs vary. Teachers in reading specialist programs may study specific techniques for assessing reading ability and working with struggling readers, while those studying special education may learn methods for helping students with specific learning disabilities. These programs typically require you to complete a thesis or research project.

If you're enrolled in a licensure program, you'll usually need to complete core courses, a capstone project and a student teaching experience. Some general studies courses you can expect to take include the following:

  • Decision-making in teaching
  • Diversity in education
  • Teaching reading and writing
  • Classroom management

Online Availability

Master's degrees in teaching can be earned on-campus, online or through hybrid programs. If you are already employed as a teacher, you may find that an online program provides the flexibility you need to obtain your graduate degree while working full-time. Coursework offered through online programs is usually comparable to what's offered on campus.

If you're seeking licensure, you can also earn your degree online, although you'll still need to complete student teaching in person. Most online programs will assist you in arranging a student teaching experience in your area. However, before you begin an online program, ensure that it meets your state's licensure requirements.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

One way to stand out on the job market is to specialize. You might do this by choosing a specialty program or taking some specialized courses in a high-demand area, such as special education or ESL. It's also a good idea to gain experience with educational technology and practice integrating it into your lessons.

Another way to stand out on the job market is to compile a teaching portfolio that includes your resume, teaching philosophy statement, recommendation letters and test scores. It can also contain work samples, such as lesson plans, activities and tests you've prepared. Although you won't have a finished portfolio until you're a fully licensed teacher, it's a good idea to begin collecting items for it while you're still in school, especially during your student teaching experience. A well-designed portfolio will help you present your qualifications to potential employers and highlight your practical teaching skills.

Ph.D. Degrees in Teaching

Courses for doctoral teaching programs tend to be more theoretically oriented than those for master's degree programs, since they are designed to prepare you for a career in university teaching and research. Since Ph.D. programs require you to complete an original research project (a dissertation), you'll also need to take advanced research methodology courses and elective courses in your area of specialization. Ph.D. programs in education are typically structured to include 2 years of core courses and 2-3 years of dissertation research.

Pros and Cons


  • Holding a Ph.D. will give you the option of pursuing an academic career
  • University professors and administrators have higher median salaries than classroom teachers*
  • You may have the opportunity to substantially impact many children's education through your research

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011.


  • Even with full-time study, it may take you up to 5 years to earn this degree
  • A Ph.D. is unnecessary for those who want to work as K-12 teachers
  • Earning a Ph.D. can be a long and stressful process, especially if you're required to work as a graduate teaching assistant during your studies

Courses and Requirements

Core courses for Ph.D. programs vary depending on the type of program you choose. General studies programs exist, but many doctoral programs focus on areas like early childhood education, special education, counseling and development or educational psychology. In addition to core education courses, you may be required to take advanced methodology courses like these:

  • Statistical methods
  • Qualitative research
  • Case study methods
  • Modeling structural equations

You'll also need to pass a Ph.D. qualifying exam, which usually covers the material you learned in your core courses. In addition, you'll need to complete and gain approval for a dissertation plan, or prospectus. Once you've completed these requirements, you'll be admitted as an official Ph.D. candidate, and you may begin working on your dissertation.

Online Availability

Accredited online Ph.D. programs in teaching are rare. However, if you do enroll in one, you'll most likely complete the same types of courses that on-campus students do, and you'll still be required to write a dissertation. The main difference between online and campus-based Ph.D. degree programs is that online programs allow you to complete coursework when it's convenient for you, and you won't be restricted to programs in your geographic area.

Stand out with This Degree

One way to stand out is to choose a dissertation research topic that is timely and has practical significance. For example, since education technology is becoming increasingly prevalent, you might examine how it can be used effectively in the classroom. Since your publication record is also an important consideration on the job market, develop articles for submission to academic publications, or work with a professor to co-author an article. It's also a good idea to network by attending professional conferences and presenting papers or serving on panels.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

      • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - Online College Teaching
      • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Educator
  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Nashville, TN

    Vanderbilt University

  • Online Programs Available
    4. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

      • MS - Secondary Education with Autism Specialization
      • MS in Education - Special Education and Wilson Reading System Certification
  • Gainesville, FL

    University of Florida

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
  • Master: Higher Education - Online College Teaching
  • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Secondary Education with Autism Specialization
  • MS in Education - Special Education and Wilson Reading System Certification

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