Curriculum & Instruction

Who Gets a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction?

Who Gets a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction?
A practicing educator is also a professional student, learning through both experience and continuing education. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly November 20, 2020

With a master's in curriculum and instruction, you can get a job designing curricula, creating textbooks, or developing online instruction. Or,maybe you'll use your degree to improve your impact as a classroom teacher or move into school or district leadership roles.

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In most states, a bachelor’s degree in education is all you need to earn your initial teacher certification. It’s rarely enough to keep you teaching in the public schools when recertification times arrive, however. Once your initial license expires—typically after five years—some states require that you hold a master’s to renew. Many others require substantial professional development. While that needn’t include earning a master’s, many teachers conclude that this requirement is most easily—and most profitably—fulfilled through graduate study.

So, what do you do? You can throw up your hands, say, “Ah, well, that’s that!” and go find another profession. Or you find work in a private school, where hiring rules may be less stringent. You can just keep coming to work and hope nobody notices that you no longer have a job, like Milton in Office Space.

Or you can do what many teachers do: earn a master’s degree. Likely, you don’t mind. Your love of education—both as an instructor and as a student—drove you to choose this profession. A practicing educator is also a professional student, learning through both experience and continuing education.

So, which master’s degree to pursue? A Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) will hone your teaching skills and your expertise in your chosen subject area. A Master of Education (MEd), on the other hand, will better prepare you for a post-teaching career in administration and school and teacher leadership.

But if your goal is to explore the theories and styles of instruction, learning, and assessment, a master’s in curriculum and instruction will ready you to do that—and open doors to roles both in and beyond the classroom.

In this article, we will cover:

  • Career paths with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction
  • Admission requirements for a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction
  • What you’ll learn in a curriculum and instruction master’s program
  • Top schools for a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction
  • Considerations when choosing a master’s in curriculum and instruction program
  • Commitment required for a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction

Career paths with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction

While this degree strongly emphasizes academic learning environments, career options for graduates exist not only at schools and colleges but also with:

  • Business and technology concerns
  • Healthcare organizations
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Government agencies at the local, state, and national levels

Many career paths require expertise in teaching and learning, curriculum and instruction development and implementation, and instructor training and mentorship. What’s more, many often require an in-depth understanding of state and federal regulations, as well as those outlined by local governing bodies.

Opportunities with a masters in curriculum and instruction include:

  • Pursuing advanced teacher or teacher leadership roles
  • Becoming a principal, vice-principal, or an administrator
  • Working as a curriculum or education specialist, instructional coordinator, instructional designer, educational technology manager, or director of curriculum and instructional design
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Admission requirements for a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction

While specific prerequisites vary by graduate program and school, they generally require prospective graduate students to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited higher education institution with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Frequently, applicants with majors outside education or closely related areas must complete additional preparatory or prerequisite coursework before enrolling in a master’s program.

Some schools also require applicants to submit scores from standardized entrance exams like the GRE. Others may require it only for students who do not meet the outlined undergraduate minimum GPA requirement. Some programs make GRE scores optional.

Most graduate-level education programs require applicants to hold a teaching license from their state of residence and have at least two years of teaching experience. Some programs do not require applicants to hold licensure as a prerequisite. Instead, students earn their initial teaching certification while working towards their master’s degree.

Additional admission requirements may include:

What you’ll learn in a curriculum and instruction master’s program

Curriculum and instruction master’s programs typically require 30 to 36 credit hours. Coursework focuses on helping students apply principles of pedagogy, methodology, and instruction to the classroom. Courses span a mix of core courses and electives covering educational technology, real-life instructional challenges and issues, classroom management, curriculum development and planning, educational research, and student learning evaluation.

Many programs allow students to specialize within their program by tailoring their coursework to emphasize a particular concentration. Specialization options may include a content area, such as STEM education, English language arts, world languages, and social studies. Specialization may also focus on a type of student demographic, such as special education learners and students enrolled in English as a second language programs, or elementary school, middle, and high school education.

Many programs in the field require students to complete either a capstone or thesis project. Research-based programs, such as a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction (MS), may require a research-oriented thesis. Other programs, such as the MEd, typically have a more practice-based approach. In this vein, a capstone may take the form of a hands-on experience, such as an internship or practicum, or a final project addressing an educational problem or issue.

Top schools for a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction

Many schools offer a master’s in curriculum and instruction, either in an on-campus, online, or hybrid format. Some offer more than one option; in fact, most online programs have identical, or near-identical, on-campus analogs. Top programs include:

Considerations when choosing a master’s in curriculum and instruction program

You’ll consider many factors when choosing where—and how—to earn your master’s in curriculum and instruction degree, including:

  • Cost
  • Accreditation
  • School size and type
  • Curricular focus
  • Enrollment options
  • Thesis and practicum requirements

Since program cost is a chief concern for many, running a cost-benefit analysis of your long-term goals vs. the financial commitment of prospective programs is a smart move. Keep in mind that many schools and colleges offer financial aid, including:

  • Scholarships
  • Work-study
  • Federal financial aid (FAFSA)
  • Student loans

If convenience is your top priority, consider pursuing an online degree. Online learning broadens your program choices considerably—you’re no longer limited to what’s available locally or schools to which you’d be willing to relocate—and usually allows you to complete academic work on your desired schedule.

Commitment required for a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction

Time and energy commitment are critical factors in pursuing a master’s degree, especially if you are a working professional. Part-time students in a curriculum and instruction graduate degree program can expect to complete their courses in two to three years. Full-time programs typically take ten months to a year to complete, although some may require a second year.

Students may choose accelerated programs to earn their master’s degree in significantly less time than a traditional program would take; these options may also be less costly. Some accelerated options may require students to complete core and elective coursework in a more immersive, intensive experience than the standard 16-week, semester-based schedule. The master of education in curriculum and instruction at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, for example, allows students to earn their degree in just ten months.

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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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