Teaching

Deciding to Pursue a Master of Science in Teaching

Deciding to Pursue a Master of Science in Teaching
Unfortunately, most colleges and universities offer only the MAT or the MST (suggesting that these pathways are equivalent, if not identical), and at schools that offer both, it's not always clear why the MAT is the MAT and the MST is the MST. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry November 1, 2020

Are Master of Science in Teaching programs the better choice for educators who want to teach in STEM classrooms? Sometimes. Most MST programs aren't that different from MAT programs, so keep reading to find out when an MS can be the right option.

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Master’s degree programs for teachers typically confer one of two degrees: the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) or the Master of Education (MEd). As you research these options, however, you may come across a third alternative: the Master of Science in Teaching (MST). Some resource guides refer to the MAT/MST, implying that the Master of Science and Master of Arts are essentially the same degree. Other guides make all kinds of distinctions between these degrees—most often that MAT programs take a more creative, feeling approach to pedagogy, while MST programs advance evidence-based, hard science approaches.

If the differences between MAT programs and MST programs were that clear-cut, deciding to pursue a Master of Science in Teaching would be simple. Unfortunately, most colleges and universities offer only one or the other (suggesting that these pathways are equivalent, if not identical), and at schools that offer both, it’s not always clear why the MAT is the MAT and the MST is the MST.

As confusing as this can be when you’re searching for the right degree program, rest assured that a Master of Science in Teaching will carry the same weight as other master’s degrees for teachers. You’ll learn about advanced teaching strategies and theories in an MST program. Upon graduating, you will qualify for the same salary boost as MAT and MEd holders.

That’s not all you need to know about this graduate degree pathway, however. In this article about getting a Master of Science in Teaching, we cover:

  • What is a Master of Science in Teaching?
  • How does the MST differ from the MAT?
  • Is this the same degree as the Master of Science in Education?
  • Are there MST concentrations that can support my career?
  • Which schools have the best Master of Science in Teaching programs?
  • What can I do with an MST?
  • Do all Master of Science in Teaching programs lead to licensure?
  • Will I earn more if I decide to earn a Master of Science in Teaching?
  • Is earning an MST worth it?

What is a Master of Science in Teaching?

The MST is a graduate-level teacher education pathway most often designed for either aspiring teachers who want to launch careers in the classroom (and other learning environments) or experienced teachers who hope to advance in their teaching careers. Programs typically require students to complete 30 to 40 credits of core coursework and graduate-level elective classes, plus supervised teaching fieldwork and/or a research thesis. There are Master of Science in Teaching programs that accept applicants with no previous teaching experience and bachelor’s degrees in content areas other than education, as well as programs that require incoming students to have a set number of years of teaching experience.

The curriculum in part-time and full-time MST programs is state-specific. While core classes in Master of Science in Teaching programs convey concepts that can be applied anywhere, these programs are also designed to prepare teachers to meet the standards set forth by a state’s Department of Education. A student in Boston University‘s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching in Science Education, for example, graduates with the credentials necessary to take the Massachusetts teacher exams and apply for teacher certification in that state. They may be able to teach in another state with an MST and Massachusetts teaching license if that state has teacher reciprocity with Massachusetts.

Almost all students in MST programs take some foundational core courses focused on:

The majority of coursework in Master of Science in Teaching programs is concentration-based (more on this below). There are MST programs focused on grade level, subject area, student population, or all three. The curriculum in one program may be very different from that of another.

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How does the MST differ from the MAT?

The answer to this question varies from school to school. At some colleges and universities, the difference between MST and MAT programs can be found in the academic requirements. Master of Science in Teaching students may have to do more technical work and write a thesis, while Master of Arts in Teaching students only have to meet fieldwork requirements. At others, the difference can be found in the concentrations offered.

There are also schools that treat the MST as a research degree and the MAT as a practical teaching degree. Others still offer Master of Science in Teaching students higher-level courses in their fields while Master of Arts in Teaching students spend more time in classes related to education. Consequently, the only way to know for sure how an institution of higher education distinguishes between these two degrees is to read program guides carefully.

Is this the same degree as the Master of Science in Education?

The frustrating answer to this question is sometimes because universities use different naming conventions for their teaching and education degrees. Master of Science in Education programs are typically designed for students who want to become researchers or administrators in education, and there are some MST programs with the same focus. One school’s MST may be nearly identical to another’s Master of Science in Education or Master of Education. Again, never make assumptions about degrees based on names alone. Always look carefully at what each program requires of students before applying.

Are there MST concentrations that can support my career?

At some colleges and universities, all Master of Science in Teaching specializations are related to science or mathematics. Schools that offer an MST in place of an MAT will often offer students a wide range of concentration options, including:

Which schools have the best Master of Science in Teaching programs?

The list of colleges and universities with MST programs is relatively short, and so the list of top Master of Science in Teaching programs is brief:

What can I do with an MST?

Most Master of Science in Teaching programs prepare teachers to advance in teaching. Are MST holders more likely to teach science or math? Maybe, but not all programs are focused on STEM education, so you’re not necessarily going to become a high school science teacher or a high school math teacher with this degree. There are also career options for MST holders that don’t involve becoming a licensed teacher. With a Master of Science in Teaching, you might become a/an:

Do all Master of Science in Teaching programs lead to licensure?

Most MST programs lead to licensure and, as such, have core coursework, field experiences, practicum requirements, and student teaching placements built into the curriculum. In some states, students without teaching experience are able to pursue initial teaching licenses after graduating with a Master of Science in Teaching. At colleges and universities in states with multiple levels of licensure, MST programs and other master’s programs for teachers help experienced educators meet the educational requirements to achieve the next level of teaching license.

Will I earn more if I decide to earn a Master of Science in Teaching?

You will almost certainly earn more after graduating with an MST. Almost 90 percent of large school districts in the United States automatically give bonuses, stipends, or higher salaries to teachers who complete graduate programs. On average, a teacher with a master’s degree can earn 10 to 20 percent more per year than a teacher with just a bachelor’s.

If you already have some teaching experience, you may earn close to $3,000 more immediately after completing a master’s program. By the time you reach the top of your earning potential, you could earn $10,000 more than colleagues who’ve been teaching just as long. And in some states, the premium paid to teachers with graduate degrees is even higher.

Is earning an MST worth it?

The quick answer is yes, but not just for the salary boost. You should never enroll in a master’s program for teachers just because you’re looking for more money. As teacher Michael Brown put it in a Quora thread about whether a Master of Education is worth it, “if you want to get a master’s, find one that interests you and get it because it will feed your passion in teaching. Don’t pursue the degree because you expect to make more money. You won’t be happy.”

Earning an MST is certainly worth it in states where teachers must earn master’s degrees to maintain licensure. In Connecticut, Maryland, and New York, public school teachers must earn either a master’s in teaching or master’s in education within a certain time frame to continue teaching. Teachers in states like Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon can teach without a master’s degree, but don’t qualify for the highest-level professional licenses (and the highest salaries) without them.

Pursuing a Master of Science in Teaching may still be worth it, even if you teach in a state that doesn’t require teachers to hold graduate degrees, because earning credits toward an MST can be one of the easiest ways to meet continuing education requirements. This may be why about 50 percent of teachers across the US have graduate degrees even though so few states require them for licensure.

Here’s one last thing to consider: Before you decide to pursue a Master of Science in Teaching over a Master of Arts in Teaching, be aware that the differences between most MAT and MST programs are minimal. The only reason MST and MAT programs have emerged as two distinct academic pathways comes down to naming conventions. To make an informed decision when researching master’s degrees for teachers, you’ll need to dig into each school’s program guide. That’s the only way to know whether a college or university’s MST, MAT, or even MEd program will support your professional development goals.

This article was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most recent data on the subject.

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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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