If you don’t feel like you’re cut out for the classroom, don’t worry! There are many ways to pursue your passion for education without teaching, and working in school leadership is one of them.
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Christa Terry
Noodle Expert Member

September 20, 2021

With available concentrations as varied as science instruction and educational psychology, a master's in teaching or education can take your career in many directions.

It’s possible to work in education without a graduate degree, but having a master's in teaching or education can lead to a host of opportunities—some in specialized, higher-paying careers in the classroom, while others are in school administration postions. Still others lead to roles outside the public school system, in fields like consulting and corporate training.

In this article about what you can do with a master's in teaching, we cover:

  • Are there different kinds of master's in teaching and education degrees?
  • Do you need a master's to advance in education?
  • What can you do with a Master of Art in Teaching or a Master of Science in Teaching?
  • What can you do with a Master of Education?
  • Do educators with master's degrees earn more money?

Are there different kinds of master's in teaching and education degrees?

Master's in teaching and education degrees fall into three broad categories:

_Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)_

A MAT can advance your teaching career—you may pursue a specialized role in elementary education. This degree can also lead to administrative positions.

_Master of Science in Teaching (MST)_

Many think of MSTs as identical to MATs. However, MSTs can have a more scientific focus.

_Master of Education (MEd)_

This degree typically prepares educators to move out of teaching careers and into administrative positions.

The MAT and MST are commonly held up as the best degrees for students who want to spend their careers in the classroom. In contrast, the MEd is regarded as the best degree for aspiring administrators, policymakers, and curriculum designers. It might make more sense to say that most MAT and MST programs narrowly focus on advanced pedagogic skills, while MEd programs cover a broad range of education topics.

That said, all three master's in teaching pathways are typically concentration-based and/or subject-specific. The coursework in an MAT or MST program with a mathematics concentration for grades 9-12 is very different from an MAT or MST program with a special needs education concentration. Master of Arts in Teaching programs and Master of Science in Teaching programs may focus on grade level, subject area, student population, or all three. There also are numerous MEd specializations designed for teachers, administrators, researchers, and specialists.

While part-time and full-time MAT programs and MST programs nearly always lead to a teaching license, they aren't the only master's degrees for aspiring teachers or teachers who want to pursue the next level of licensure. Many Master of Education programs also have a teacher certification track. These degree programs feature core coursework, field experiences, practicum work, and student teaching placements built into the curriculum to support students as they meet initial or professional certification requirements.

As you see, the distinction between master's in teaching and education degrees isn't as clear-cut as most people assume. Colleges and universities approach teacher education programs differently, so the only way to get a clear picture of how a given program will support your goals is to read each program guide carefully.

Do you need a master's to advance in education?

The answer to this question varies by state. Check your local department of education's website to learn the requirements in your state.

First, you need to know that you won't need to complete an education graduate program to become a teacher anywhere in the US. All 50 states allow educators to start teaching with a bachelor's degree; many continue to license educators without advanced degrees. In other states, earning a master's degree in teaching or education is the only way to maintain licensure after a set number of years. Often, earning credits toward an advanced degree is one of the easier ways to meet professional development requirements, so graduate degrees are common among classroom teachers in certain states. How far you can advance in teaching without a graduate-level teaching degree depends on where you're located and your teaching experience.

While you might not need a master's in teaching or education to advance in careers related to corporate education or curriculum design, having an MAT degree, MST degree, or MEd degree can certainly help you climb the ladder more quickly. And you'll almost certainly need to go to graduate school if your goal is to advance into school leadership positions. Most states require school principals and higher-level district administrators to have master's degrees, though those degrees don't necessarily have to be related to education.

What can you do with a Master of Art in Teaching or a Master of Science in Teaching?

MAT and MST programs train educators (and aspiring teachers) to step into more specialized roles reflecting the needs of today's classrooms. What you do after earning a Master of Art in Teaching or a Master of Science in Teaching depends on the concentration you choose. Popular concentrations include early childhood education, special education instruction, elementary education, middle grades education, secondary education, and English as a second language. Some MST and MAT concentrations are subject-based, like science education and social studies education. Each of these specializations can help you become a better teacher by adding new expertise to your skill set.

You can pursue many career paths with an MAT or MST, including many outside the classroom. Possibilities include:

Academic advisor

These professionals help students plan their school year and address any academic issues. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), academic advisors earned a median pay of over $58,000 in 2020. The BLS also projects an 11 percent growth in employment for this job from 2020 through 2030, much faster than average.

_Adult literacy coach_

With a graduate degree, you'll likely become a literacy coach and work with teachers to develop better programs for their students. You probably don't need a master's to become an adult literacy coach who helps adults improve their reading and writing skills. Adult literacy professionals earn around $55,000 in median pay according to the BLS and the overall number of professionals is expected to decline by five percent over the next decade.

_Art teacher_

Depending on where they work, art teachers may need a master's degree after their initial certification runs out. A master's may qualify you for art teaching positions above the high school level; the subject does not typically influence teacher salary. That means high school art teachers typically earn around $63,000 per year in median pay, while kindergarten and elementary school teachers earn closer to $61,000, according to the BLS. The need for all teachers is growing at an average rate, according to the BLS.

_Elementary school teacher_

A master's degree can be useful for elementary school teachers, especially if you want to take on a teacher leadership role or start working with special needs students.

_English teacher_

Earning an MAT in English can help broaden your subject knowledge and lead to better classroom practices.

Gifted and talented program director

These professionals perform supervisory tasks, including complying with state regulations, improving program content, and obtaining grants. According to the salary website PayScale, the average education program director earns a salary of around $62,500 per year.

_Gym teacher_

Though not common, gym teachers may have master's degrees, especially in states like New York State that require them after initial licensure.

_High school teacher_

Secondary school teachers may earn a master's after initial licensure to complete subject-specific training.

_Kindergarten teacher_

Kindergarten teachers who choose to earn this degree commonly do it to obtain a teaching leadership role, transition to curriculum development, or focus on early childhood development—especially among special needs students.

Math coach

These professionals are hired to coach teachers, helping them develop more impactful teaching strategies. There isn't accessible information about how much math coaches earn, but instructional coordinators make nearly $67,000 per year in median pay and are in average demand.

_Middle school teacher_

Middle school teachers typically earn a master's to advance their certification or learn better teaching strategies.

_Music teacher_

You may decide to pursue advanced music education to specialize in an area like teaching music during early childhood or music technology.

Private tutor

While you do not need a master's degree to be a private tutor, it can certainly help, especially if you want to charge more money. What you make as a private tutor depends heavily on your education and experience. According to PayScale, the average tutor charges $25 per hour, but top professionals can earn far more.

_Special education teacher_

Most states don't require special education teachers to have a master's degree, but having one can better prepare you to work with students with learning disabilities. According to the BLS, the median pay for special education teachers was $61,500 in 2020.

_Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher_

Though certification is often good enough to teach English as a second language, a master's degree can provide better qualifications. You'll likely learn about English language history, how to teach another subject while teaching English, and how to improve reading comprehension. BLS notes that adult basic and high school ESL teachers earned a median pay of $55,350 in 2020. The demand for this position is expected to decline in the coming years.

_Corporate trainer_

Corporate trainers are teachers for companies, doing things like developing and implementing training workshops. These professionals fall in the BLS' training and development specialist category, meaning they earn around $70,000 annually.

Curriculum developer

These professionals typically work with teachers to improve their lesson plans. Other names for this position include curriculum consultant and education consultant. As instructional coordinators, they earn close to $70,000 per year.

_Education policy analyst_

Analysts can work for government agencies and school districts assessing policies and even working to create laws. They earn around $60,000 per year, according to PayScale.

_Instructional designer_

Instructional designers can work in and outside the school system (including for businesses and the military) to design, review, implement, and refine learning systems, models, and materials. Instructional coordinators who work for the government earn nearly $77,000 per year.

Literacy specialist

Graduates from the Columbia University literacy specialist program typically "become teachers who develop best practice methods and illustrate what's possible in the teaching of reading and writing." This kind of degree can lead to leadership positions in literacy, curriculum development, and school leadership. These professionals are another kind of instructional coordinator.

Museum educator

Museum educators may work with school groups on class field trips. They also may design workshops and perform administrative tasks, such as running outreach programs. According to PayScale, museum educators earn around $14 per hour. Those in high-level positions earn more.

Standardized test developer

As a standardized test developer, you will be responsible for creating and refining tests. The average test developer salary is $70,000, according to PayScale.

Test prep specialist

Test prep specialists can work with standardized test preparation companies to tutor students or teach classes. They may work as private tutors, meaning they can set their rates. Most companies pay hourly rates, which can vary by organization.

Textbook author

Textbook authors write the books schools use. According to the BLS, the demand for authors (as a whole) is growing nearly as fast as average. These professionals earned a median pay of over $67,000 in 2020.

What can you do with a Master of Education?

Career pathways for MEd holders vary more widely. There are many more MEd concentrations than there are MAT and MST concentrations, making this the most versatile graduate degree option for educators. You can even complete an online program. There are Master of Education programs that focus on classroom management, student engagement, learning theories, models of instruction, specific grade levels, and specific subjects, which means you can advance in the classroom with an MEd. Then there are master's in education programs for teachers who want to transition into related fields like educational administration, curriculum design, instructional technology, educational consulting, or school counseling. Examples of common MEd concentrations include:

Applied human development

Students specializing in Applied Human Development at Boston University "develop an understanding of the intersecting dimensions of human development."

Athletic leadership

This concentration leads to a career as an athletics administrator—usually at the collegiate level.


A counseling concentration provides the necessary tools to help kids through the developmental stage of their lives, typically as a school counselor.

_Curriculum and instruction_

This specialization prepares you to complete job functions like designing curricula, developing education policies, and implementing best pedagogical practices.

_Educational psychology_

Similar to counseling, an educational psychology concentration prepares you for careers in program evaluation and therapy. You may work with students with learning disabilities and those with behavioral issues.

Educational technology

Almost every classroom already utilizes technology, but this concentration prepares you to bring technology improvements into schools. That often means identifying learning-enhancing equipment rather than adding more screens to the classroom. Graduates can be teachers, as well as government officials.

Experiential learning for early childhood

Most MeD programs offer an early childhood education program, though not all go by this exact title. The Clemson University program prepares students to create modern "experiential learning opportunities for young children that are grounded in inquiry practices."

Higher education administration

With a degree in higher education administration, you'll be qualified to work in program development at the undergraduate level.

Instructional design and development

Often combined with education technology coursework, this is another focus that prepares students to create education programs.

Global and comparative education

This program is popular among those who want to teach internationally, or work with multicultural students. Students complete globally focused teacher leadership and pedagogy courses.

Literacy and languages

This degree can help you become a literacy specialist—both in teaching and policy. Another specialization with a multicultural focus, this concentration also prepares you for an ESL career.

_Measurement and evaluation_

This is a data-focused concentration. Having an analytics-focused background can prepare you for varied roles, including as a program evaluator, policy analyst, and even admissions director.

Given the varied nature of MEd concentration options, it should come as no surprise that earning a Master of Education can lead down a variety of career paths. You might become a:

Career counselor

In this role, you can support students, especially high schoolers or undergrads, in figuring out where they want to go next in life. This could mean helping students apply for further education or find a trade or profession they enjoy. According to the BLS, school and career counselors and advisors earn a median pay of around $58,000. The market for these professionals is growing at a faster than average rate.

Curriculum designer

Work with a group to create and improve the lesson plans and program materials that are taught in schools.

Director of digital learning

These professionals typically help determine which new technology is utilized in schools. They ask the questions like, "are kids going to use the iPad to learn or just play games?" They can work with IT staff and help lead the media center.

District administrator

There are several kinds of district administrators, including superintendents. These professionals help facilitate education across dozens of schools.

Education consultant

These professionals work towards the goal of improving learning outcomes by providing an outside perspective. They can work with teachers or on a community level. Educational consultants may have a specialty area.

Educational coordinator

These professionals help to develop and implement curricula, which includes taking feedback from teachers and parents.

Guidance counselor

Guidance counselors are needed at all levels, including college, and help students through academic and social difficulties. They have overlapping job requirements with career counselors.

Instructional coordinator

According to the BLS, these professionals "oversee school curriculums and teaching standards." They earn a median pay of nearly $67,000, and the projected percent change in employment from 2020 through 2030 is 10 percent.

Program director

According to PayScale, the average education program director earns around $62,500 per year to ensure schools are meeting policy standards and correctly implementing programs.


These professionals assess how students perform in a program and make changes to enhance learning. PayScale lists the <a href="https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Assessment_and_Education_Researcher/Salary" target="_blank"average salary for assessment and education researchers as nearly $65,000.

_School principal_

In the highest administrative role you can have at any school, principals make sure everything runs smoothly. BLS figures indicate the median pay among elementary, middle, and high school principals is close to $100,000 and the job is growing at an average rate.

School psychologist

As a school psychologist, you can help students through difficulties and conduct interventions. You'll also likely help diagnose learning disabilities and perform behavior assessments. The median annual wages for a school psychologist are nearly $80,000, according to the BLS.

_School superintendent_

As a superintendent, you'll oversee a school district. This requires collaborating with multiple principals (plus hiring and firing them), working on the school board, and managing budgets. According to PayScale, the average superintendent earns over $120,500 per year.

Training and development specialist

This is a career you can have outside the school system. As a specialist, you'll help develop and conduct employee training programs.

_Vice principal_

Vice principals are in charge of most day-to-day operations at individual schools, allowing principals to focus on big picture issues. According to PayScale, the average salary for a high school vice principal salary is $90,000 per year. The overall average assistant principal salary is over $74,000 annually.

Do educators with master's degrees earn more money?

Yes, and so do administrators, consultants, and specialists.

Let's look at teachers first. It's not uncommon for districts to offer additional pay to teachers with master's degrees—about 88 percent of large districts base teacher salaries on education level. In the first year after graduation, a teacher with an MAT, MST, or MEd earns about $2,800 more. When that teacher reaches the top of their earning potential, they may be earning $10,000 more than their colleagues without advanced degrees.

"When I first earned my master's degree, it was a $3,000 difference each year," wrote elementary principal Phillip Crisostomo in a Quora thread about the value of master's degrees in education. "That wasn't a lot, but in 10 years, that is a $30,000 difference, which is more than enough to pay my student loan. Even if I didn't become an administrator, I estimate that my degree would have earned me at least $90,000 more than I would have received otherwise."

Because administrative positions often require master's degrees, there's not much data out there related to salaries for school administrators who haven't completed graduate school. Plenty of jobs in education administration pay between $90,000 and $100,000—even higher. This means earning a master's degree and transitioning out of teaching into other areas of education can lead to a salary boost.

The more important question is, 'Is a master's in teaching or education worth it?' The answer is an unequivocal yes. A master's degree can help you earn more money, whether you stay in the classroom or explore other careers in education. It can lead to opportunities outside the public school system in fields like consulting, curriculum design, and corporate training. And it can make your teaching career more secure because when budget cuts happen, having a master's in education can help you avoid layoffs. Even if you don't need a graduate degree to do your job, it's worth looking into the opportunities it might provide you.

This article was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most recent data on the subject.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com