Reading & Literacy

Is a Master’s Degree in Literacy and Language Worth It?

Is a Master’s Degree in Literacy and Language Worth It?
To become a literacy coach, you'll most likely need a master's degree—and a master's in literacy and language will probably be the most useful to you throughout your career. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry January 7, 2020

Literacy is a social justice issue. If it's one that's close to your heart, consider making literacy promotion your life's work by earning a master's in literacy and language. With it, you'll have what it takes not only to help people learn to read but also to help them thrive.

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Reading is fundamental, according to the old RIF PSAs, and that message is as true today as it was way back when. Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the message. Sources disagree on the country’s overall literacy rate, but data from the National Center for Education Statistics suggest that about 16 percent of American adults are functionally illiterate, and a whopping 25 percent have low literacy skills.

It’s pretty clear that literacy is essential—it’s the key to both learning and earning—and it’s equally clear we could do more to promote it.

That’s where literacy experts come in. These teachers, who specialize in the field of literacy and language, develop literacy programs and materials for learners who need help learning to read, and they coach the teachers who work with them. Students in these literacy programs fall into five broad categories:

If you’re committed to increasing literacy rates and helping people learn to read, you have two options. You can work as a classroom teacher, or you can become a literacy coach, reading specialist, curriculum specialist, or policy advocate.

You can pursue any of these options with a master’s in literacy and language. It’s a highly customizable and versatile degree offered as both a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master of Education, and it can help you help more people learn to read.

In this article about whether a master’s in literacy and language is worth it, we’ll cover:

  • Careers for people with a master’s in literacy and language
  • What to expect from a master’s in literacy and language program
  • Literacy MAT or literacy MEd?
  • Best programs for earning a master’s in literacy and language
  • Concentrations and subspecializations in master’s in literacy and language programs
  • Pros and cons of getting a master’s in literacy and language
  • Is a master’s in literacy and language worth it?

Careers for people with a master’s in literacy and language

Graduating from a master’s program in literacy and language qualifies you to work in many roles in education at the school, district, state, and federal levels. You can also work in the private sector. With this degree, you can become a/an:

  • Reading specialist In this role, you’ll teach classroom teachers in elementary and secondary schools about best practices in literacy instruction, and also how to reach students who are struggling. Reading specialists (sometimes called literacy coaches) are certified by the state; many states require that they have graduate degrees. According to Glassdoor, reading specialists earn about $60,000 a year in base pay, plus another $2,000 to $8,000 in additional incentive pay.
  • Adult literacy educator These are teachers who have chosen to specialize in working with adults. In some cases, these students may be entirely illiterate. More often, students struggle with comprehension and need help with reading and writing to earn a GED diploma. The BLS reports that adult literacy instructors earn $53,630 per year.
  • K-12 teacher While some educators pursue master’s degrees so they can transition to non-classroom roles, there are master’s in literacy and language programs designed for teachers who want to keep teaching in early childhood, elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms. According to the BLS, average annual income for elementary school teachers is $58,230. Middle school teacher earn $58,600 per year. High school teachers earn $60,320 annually.
  • Resource teacher These educators specialize in teaching literacy and language skills to students with intellectual or physical challenges that make it hard to learn to read. In this role, you’ll likely work closely with students’ regular classroom teachers and also provide one-on-one or small-group instruction outside the classroom. Payscale.com reports that resource teachers earn a salary of $45,293.
  • Literacy curriculum specialist In this role, you’ll work with schools or districts to design or select curriculum and instruction materials that promote literacy. You may also be responsible for training teachers to implement literacy-focused lesson plans in the classroom and assessing the impact of new curricular materials.
  • Literacy education editor With a master’s degree in literacy and language, you can build a career creating textbooks, worksheets, and other materials designed to promote literacy and help students learn to read.
  • Policy advocate There are many nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups focused on promoting literacy, and they need experts who can identify specific problems and formulate workable solutions to them.
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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)

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What to expect from a master’s in literacy and language program

Earning a master’s degree takes time, and for many, that time investment is definitely worth it. Most literacy and language graduate degree programs can be completed in two years or less by full-time students. If you have to—or prefer to—enroll in a part-time program, it may take you twice as long to earn your degree. In both cases, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to apply and possibly also previous teaching experience and a current teaching license.

The curriculum in literacy and language master’s programs varies but typically touches on how people learn to communicate and read, the intersection between neuroscience and reading, learning challenges like dyslexia, social disparities in literacy, research and statistics, and assistive technology in literacy learning. You’ll take courses like:

  • Child Rearing, Language, and Culture
  • Children’s Literature
  • Diversity in English Language Learners
  • From Language to Literacy
  • Literacy Assessment and Intervention
  • Literacy Coaching
  • Literacy Curriculum Development
  • Literacy Development
  • Psychoeducational Assessment
  • Reading Difficulties
  • Reading for Socialization, Language, and Deep Comprehension
  • Reading Instruction and Development

MAT or MEd?

As noted above, master’s in literacy and language programs come in two flavors: MAT or MEd. Consider your career goals in choosing the best one for you. Teachers who are interested in becoming literacy experts but want to advance in the classroom typically opt for MAT degrees. Educators who plan to transition to literacy-specific roles inside or outside the school system choose MEd programs. That said, the curriculum in MAT and MEd programs can be quite similar, so don’t rely on naming conventions alone when researching programs. Always read course lists carefully to make sure a program has the kinds of classes you’re looking for.

Take note that naming conventions at different colleges and universities vary when it comes to master’s in literacy in language programs. Some examples of degrees offered in this field are:

  • Reading/Writing/Literacy MSEd
  • MAT in Reading and Literacy
  • Literacy, Culture, and Language Education MSEd
  • MEd in Literacy, Language, and Equity
  • Master’s in Literacy Education
  • MA in Literacy Education
  • MEd in Literacy
  • MS in Reading
  • MS in Reading Education
  • MA in Reading Education

Best programs for earning a master’s in literacy and language

Some of the best master’s in literacy and language programs can be found at:

While a degree from a prestigious school can definitely help you stand out from other applicants when you’re looking for work, getting a fancy degree from the best school isn’t necessarily worth it. It’s definitely not worth it if really can’t afford it. It’s probably not worth it if enrolling in the program will cause significant upheaval in your life.

Regardless of which school you choose, you need to be sure that you graduate with not just a degree, but also whatever else you’ll need to work in the field of literacy education. Many states require reading specialists to have a special certificate, license, or literacy education endorsement. As you research master’s degree programs, look for those that will help you meet the standards for literacy specialists in the state or region where you plan to work and have curricula designed to meet certification exam requirements.

Concentrations and subspecializations in master’s in literacy and language programs

Some programs treat literacy and language as a discipline. Some treat it as a specialty. In both cases, graduate students may have the opportunity to customize their degrees by choosing a concentration or subspecialty, such as:

Pros and cons of getting a master’s in literacy and language

Getting a master’s degree means making a significant investment in both time and money, so it’s essential to look at the pros and cons when deciding whether any degree is worth it. If you’re even considering getting a master’s in literacy and language, however, chances are you’re probably already something of a literacy fanatic, so the number one drawback of getting a master’s degree—the cost—likely won’t factor into your decision. Just keep in mind that jobs in education usually aren’t big moneymakers, even when you’ve earned an advanced degree. If you decide that getting a master’s in literacy and language is worth it, look for programs that you can attend without taking on crippling student loan debt.

The two biggest pros of getting a master’s in literacy and language include:

Is a master’s in literacy and language worth it?

Whether a master’s in literacy and language is right for you depends on what kind of career you want. You can teach people to read in or out of the classroom without a master’s degree or a reading specialist certification, but is that where you’ll be able to do the most good? You should also think about where you’ll experience the greatest fulfillment. Some teachers can’t get enough of seeing students’ ah ha moments, but to see those moments, you need to be in a position where you’re working one-on-one with them. You can do that with a MAT in literacy and learning, but you can also do it with many other master’s degrees for teachers. Or with only a bachelor’s degree.

On the other hand, you’ll be able to help many more students who are struggling with reading and writing as a literacy coach working with teachers in K-12 classrooms, schools, and districts to build literacy-promoting learning environments. To become a literacy coach, you’ll most likely need a master’s degree—and a master’s in literacy and language will probably be the most useful to you throughout your career.

(Updated on February 21, 2024)

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

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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