Different Types of Masters in Education Degrees

Educational professionals who want to move into positions of higher responsibility and possibly higher compensation often earn their master’s degree in education.

Whether you want to continue your teaching career with an advanced degree, or contemplate a shift to educational administration, earning your MEd can be an excellent career move. After all, a recent study by the Georgetown Center on Education in the Workforce found that 65% of all jobs in the US will require at least a bachelor’s degree by 2020, and many will require a master’s. This will certainly be so in the educational field.

If you are thinking about getting an MEd, know that there are four major types that you can earn:

Master of Education

This is the most common type of master’s degree in education. This is more of a generalist master’s degree, and often is a good choice for people who are entering education from other backgrounds.

The MEd is what is referred to as an applied degree, meaning that it can be applied to many different industries, not only education. It is a solid choice for people who want to obtain a good, well-rounded overview of education, from the theories of education to leadership, to curriculum.

Depending upon your career interests, you can choose several different specialties with your MEd. The common specialties are:

  • Elementary Education: This specialty often is selected by professionals with a bachelor’s degree in another field who want to earn their teacher’s license in elementary education.
  • Secondary Education: Similarly, this speciality is usually the choice for the bachelor-degree-educated professional in another field who wants to make a career change into secondary education teaching. Most of these programs result in licensure.
  • Special Education: The focus here is on learning evidence-based practices to provide educational support to those with special needs, or at risk. Learn how to effectively manage behaviors, special needs curriculum design, and developing and administering educational assessments. Some programs, such as Penn State World Campus, offer specialities in applied behavior analysis and autism.
  • Educational Administration: This option is a common choice for a former teacher or educator with a bachelor’s degree who wishes to transition into becoming a principal for a K-12 school.
  • Higher Education: This specialty will prepare the experienced educator for a higher education career in administration, executive areas and academic positions. Most professionals who earn this degree work for colleges and universities.

Most master of education programs feature a core curriculum followed by a set of speciality classes. At Southern New Hampshire University,  these are the required courses for the higher education master’s:

  • Philosophy and History of Higher Education
  • Contemporary Issues of Higher Education
  • Program Evaluation
  • Leading Change in Higher Education
  • Enrollment Management and Marketing
  • Higher Education Law and Regulation

Master of Arts in Education

A master of arts in education provides students with a degree that is usually tailored to a specific subject or subjects within education. It might be a better choice for professionals who want to enhance their expertise and knowledge in one subject. For example, if you have been a Spanish teacher, you may decide to earn your master of arts in education to obtain a certification in that language. Or, you might decide to focus on a related language, such as Italian. There also are a variety of specialities in master of arts programs.

One of the most common is curriculum and instruction. A focus on curriculum and instruction provides you with the skills and knowledge to integrate technology and the latest learning tools into your lessons. YOu also learn how to improve your instructional strategies, and to leverage your skills to bring more critical thinking to your instructional practice.

Some of the common courses in this type of master of arts in education program are:

  • Theories and Best Practices of Curriculum and Instruction
  • Critical Thinking and Innovative Skills
  • Advocating for Learning
  • Research for Improved Practice
  • Using Technology for Teaching and Learning
  • Engaging in Communities of Practice
  • Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement

Master of Science in Education

Generally, a Master of Science in Education focuses more on the science and pedagogy of education, as well as curriculum methodology and instructional design as it relates to sciences and mathematics. However, every university may have a somewhat different focus for their master of science in education. It is important for the student to conduct research about the specific college to determine if this or a similar master’s in education degree is the best choice.

Many universities focus their Master of Science in Education offerings on the administrator or principal role. For example, Walden University offers an online MS degree with a focus on educational administration and leadership. There also are many other specializations available at Walden for the MS program:

  • Adolescent Literacy and Learning
  • Elementary Reading and Mathematics
  • Educational Administration
  • Curriculum Instruction
  • Integrating Technology in the Classroom

For the educational administration speciality, these are the required courses:

  • Foundations of Educational Leadership and Administration
  • Teaching and Learning for School Leaders
  • Field Experience
  • Policy and Law in School Organizations
  • Communication and Collaboration for Leaders
  • Ensuring Quality Education for Students with Diverse Needs
  • Budgeting and Allocating Resources

Master of Arts in Teaching

The MAT degree is a good option for the experienced teachers who want to enhance their teaching skills with a master’s degree. It will teach the experienced teacher to use advanced teaching theories, principles and skills to make a major difference with K-12 students.

The MAT program at the University of Southern California, for example, with provide you with the knowledge in psychological and sociological theories and the understanding of how to apply them to the K-12 environment. Also, students learn different frameworks for differentiating instruction for every learner, especially those who have learning disabilities.

Courses in this MAT degree program are as follows:

  • Introduction to Curriculum and Pedagogy in Urban Schools
  • Contexts for Educational Equity, Access and Agency
  • Integrated Language Development Across the Curriculum
  • Applications of Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Identifying and Teaching to Student Differences
  • Literacy Development Instruction in Elementary Education


  • American Intercontinental University. Types of Master’s Degrees in Education. (2015, May). Retrieved from http://www.aiuniv.edu/blog/may-2015/types-of-masters-degrees-in-education
  • Grand Canyon University. Master of Education in Educational Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gcu.edu/degree-programs/master-education-educational-administration.
  • Southern New Hampshire University. Master’s in Higher Education Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/ms-in-higher-education-administration
  • Walden University. Master of Science in Education Curriculum. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.waldenu.edu/masters/ms-in-education/curriculum
  • University of Southern California. Master of Arts in Teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.waldenu.edu/masters/ms-in-education/curriculum