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How to Get an Educational Specialist Degree: Programs, Jobs, Salaries, and More

How to Get an Educational Specialist Degree: Programs, Jobs, Salaries, and More
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Alicia Betz profile
Alicia Betz June 5, 2019

It will have you at “less time and money than a doctorate.” We've got the top educational specialist programs (online and on-campus), the jobs you'll qualify for, and the salary you'll earn once you complete your degree.

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Getting an Educational Specialist Degree

As a teacher, I’ve thought a lot about continuing my education. It’s almost become standard for teachers to get their master’s now, so what comes after that? Should I pursue additional certifications? Consider a master’s in educational leadership? Should I become a reading specialist? Should I get my principal certificate? A Ph.D.?

These are all questions I’ve asked myself over the years and honestly, an Ed.S. degree is kind of the perfect answer. It doesn’t require the commitment of a Ph.D., but it still opens the door for a lot of new career opportunities.


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Graduate degrees for teachers fall into two categories: the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and the Master of Education (MEd). Many resources indicate that the MAT is the best master’s degree for teachers, while MEd programs are primarily for aspiring educational administrators, policymakers, and other current education professionals who aspire to work outside the classroom. In reality, it’s not quite that simple.

Both MAT and MEd programs tend to be concentration-based, and while there are more part-time and full-time Master of Arts in Teaching programs focused on advanced pedagogic theories and skills, there are also plenty of Master of Education programs with grade-level, subject-area, and student-population concentrations.

In some areas of the US, a teacher with a master’s degree at the top of the salary schedule can earn close to $40,000 more than a teacher with a bachelor’s degree. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that going to graduate school will lead to a substantially bigger paycheck. The only way to know how much you’ll earn after graduating with a master’s in teaching or master’s in education is to look at the salary schedule in your district. You should be able to see at a glance how your education and experience will translate into dollars. (source)

University and Program Name Learn More

What does an educational specialist degree qualify you for?

Educational specialist programs are postgraduate degree programs, and they’re a great option if you want to further your education and advance your career without committing to a doctorate degree. An Ed.S. degree is also a great option for secondary school employees who want to make the jump into higher education.

Most people who earn an Ed.S. degree work in education, whether they’re actually employed by a public or private school, or if they work with school employees. With so many teachers experiencing burnout, earning an Ed.S. is a great way to continue work in education but get out of the classroom.


What industries have jobs for someone with an educational specialist degree?

When you decide to pursue an educational specialist degree, you’ll have many specialties to choose from, including teaching, administration, educational coaching, curriculum coordination, leadership roles, and more.

Becoming an educational specialist also gives you an opportunity to focus on your favorite thing about education. Some program options include school psychology or early childhood education. Special education teachers looking to move out of the classroom and into leadership or supervisory roles can benefit from an Ed.S. as well.


What is the average salary for someone with an educational specialist degree?

The average salary for an educational specialist is typically more than that of someone with a bachelor’s degree and hovers around $60,000. This can vary widely based on the career that you pursue.

For example, if your goal is to become a superintendent at a large school, you will make more than if you want to continue as a classroom teacher. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, superintendents and school psychologists can both make upwards of $100,000 per year.

Earning your Ed.S. degree will likely cost less than earning a doctorate degree. If the cost of earning your degree is an issue, consider financial aid. More on that to come.


Prerequisites for an educational specialist degree

What educational background do you need to get an educational specialist degree?

Because an Ed.S. is a graduate program, you will need to at least hold a bachelor’s degree. Almost all education specialist programs require a master’s degree as well.

Most programs also require applicants to have a teaching certificate, previous work experience in education, and Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or Miller Analogy Test (MAT) scores. These prerequisites will not only help you succeed in your graduate studies but ensure success after you graduate, especially if you’re looking to go into education administration.

How do you prepare for entrance exams for an educational specialist degree?

Preparing to take the GRE or MAT can be difficult, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been a student. Many programs require students to score in the 50th percentile or above to be considered for admission. Enrolling in a GRE test prep course can help you refresh on the information you’ll need to know.

You could also prepare for the GRE by reading the following articles:


How to choose an educational specialist program

There are many factors to take into account when choosing a degree program, and since every student needs to find the school that’s right for them, it’s hard to say which school is best.

For example, do you want to sit on your couch and work while “The Office” plays in the background, or do you want to be a more traditional student and go to a physical classroom? In this case, an online program might be right for you.

Are you looking to get your degree and spend as little money as possible, or is the cost of tuition unimportant? If cost is a factor, it will be important to fully understand how much you’ll pay for your degree—and how tuition varies by program.

How much does it cost to get an educational specialist degree?

The average cost for an educational specialist degree program is just under $20,000, with programs ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 in cost.

Although the cost of some schools might seem prohibitive, there are plenty of options available to help pay for your tuition, like grants, scholarships, and federal financial aid.

If you are currently employed by a school, see if your school district offers tuition reimbursement programs. Many schools will pay for all or part of continuing education for current employees — often, with some strings attached (like maintaining a minimum GPA and committing to work for that company for a number of years after your degree is completed).

If you don’t work for a school or company that offers tuition reimbursement, there are many other ways to save money for grad school and pay for a teaching master’s degree—like considering an online program, which will allow you to continue working full-time (and earning a salary) while you complete your degree.

How can you decide between pursuing an educational specialist degree online or on campus?

Due to the flexible hours offered by online programs, it’s often easier to complete a degree online if you’re already working full-time as a teacher — which is why many people choose to go with an online Ed.S. program. However, even with a fully online program, you may still need to complete in-person internships. And chances are, you’ll need to be teaching or have access to students in some capacity to complete your coursework.

Another important consideration is how you want to specialize within your program, whether that’s psychology, educational technology, higher education, or special education.

If you already have an educational leadership degree , maybe you’ll consider branching into curriculum and design with this degree. Not all specialist programs are offered online.


What is the most respected education program?

While it’s normal to want to choose the most respected program possible, it’s more important to decide what matters most to you. Once you’ve determined whether you want to complete your degree online or on campus, full- or part-time, whether you want to specialize, and how cost-sensitive you are, you’re ready to check out the top programs below. What follows are a few of the top programs, according to U.S. News & World Report’s education rankings.

Top schools for an educational specialist degree

University of Washington

The University of Washington offers a three-year Ed.S. in School Psychology program, which includes a year of internship in a school setting. If you follow the program requirements and pass the Praxis, you will be eligible to apply to become a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). Because this is a full-time three-year on-site program, this program would be best for someone who is not currently working full time in a school.

Clemson University

If you’re looking for more flexibility, Clemson University offers an online Ed.S. in Administration and Supervision as well as Counselor Education. In addition to the flexibility of these programs, both also offer different paths to pursue. If you choose the Counselor Education program, you will be eligible to apply for a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential. If you choose Administration and Supervision, you can pursue an administrative certificate.

Fort Hays State University (FHSU)

FHSU offers three online Ed.S. degrees: Education Administration (Superintendent), Educational Leadership, and Reading Leadership (Reading Specialist). Courses are offered in four, eight, and 16-week formats, and most students are able to finish their degree in 1-2 years. These programs cater well to full-time teachers.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does give a good impression of what the top schools in graduate education may be like. Once you choose a program, make sure you check out their admission requirements and take your time to create a strong graduate school application.


Commitment required for an educational specialist degree

Most Ed.S. degree programs require students to complete 30 credit hours, with some programs requiring up to 60 credits, which translates to a two to three-year program for students completing part-time coursework.

Other programs require students to complete courses full-time and in-person with their cohort, and they may even require an internship. Think about how much time you are willing to commit to your degree before choosing a program. Enrolling full-time can help you finish your degree more quickly. This route could also help you focus more on your coursework, instead of splitting your time between work and school.

Students pursuing traditional Ed.S. degree programs need two years to complete their degree. If you’re looking to go into specific areas, such as educational leadership or school psychology, you may also need to complete additional credit hours or internships to earn additional certifications.

The courses you take on your way to becoming an educational specialist depend largely on what you choose to specialize in. Potential courses include school district leadership, behavior management, educational politics, and school finance.


Exams and certifications to complete an educational specialist degree

An educational specialist degree qualifies you for many different positions within education, and the exams and certifications required will depend on what field you pursue.

For example, if you’re going into educational leadership, you may need to earn your principal’s certification. School psychologists will also need to apply for certifications within the state they wish to work.

To understand which exams and certifications you’ll need to complete, be sure to familiarize yourself with the educational policy of both regional and national accreditation.


Possible career paths for someone with an educational specialist degree

Depending on what certifications and specialties you pursue, your Ed.S. degree may qualify you for a variety of education careers, including:

  • Principal
  • District Administrator
  • Higher Education Administrator
  • Dean
  • Curriculum Coordinator
  • Provost
  • Registrar
  • School psychologist
  • Special education coordinator
  • Instructional Technology Coordinator
  • Academic advisor
  • Education consultant
  • Reading Specialist

Because there is such a wide variety of options to pursue, you’ll find a wide range of requirements to complete your degree. Once you know the path you want to head down, check with your program and your state to make sure you meet all requirements, certifications, and licenses.

It’s always a good idea to double-check requirements within your state as well, especially if your desired degree program is out-of-state.

Earning your Ed.S. degree can help open your career options, and it’s a great path for someone who wants to continue their education but doesn’t want to take the time required to earn their Ph.D. And if you’re thinking about earning a Ph.D. but not quite sure if the timing’s right, consider this a stepping stone that’ll open all kinds of career opportunities in the meantime.


Alicia Betz is a writer and high school English teacher. She earned her bachelor’s in education from Pennsylvania State University and her master’s in education—as well as a certificate in online teaching and learning—from Michigan State University.

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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