Q?What kinds of master’s degree programs are available for teachers?
A.Master’s degree and teacher-certification programs are numerous, as are the number of disciplines in which you can obtain a degree or certification.
Types of master’s programs vary from traditional programs to practice-oriented programs geared more specifically toward working professionals seeking graduate degrees (especially online). In addition, graduate-level programs are becoming increasingly available online (see “MIXING GRADUATE STUDY WITH LIFE”). Beginning teachers who have achieved a bachelor’s degree might also consider a fifth-year master’s degree program, which enables them to take another year of coursework and intensive student teaching in order to qualify for a teaching credential and a master’s in education in one year.
Before enrolling in any master’s program, be certain to check your state’s teaching certification requirements for your particular teaching specialty, as well as to determine what other prerequisites to certification might exist.
There are also a variety of alternative certification programs available to those who want to enter the teaching profession, and already have a bachelor’s degree, but lack an education degree or specific education classes. Almost every state has some alternate route to teacher certification. Many include “non-classroom” programs that are more oriented toward academic research.
Sometimes the difference between certification and a master’s degree is only a semester’s worth of credits; other master’s programs take an additional year or more to complete. It all depends on the education you already have, and the education you need to meet your state’s requirements. Visit teaching-certification.com for more information on alternative certification programs.
Q?How do I determine which graduate program/teacher certification program is best suited for me?
A.Check your state’s teaching certification requirements for your particular teaching specialty before enrolling. Once you’ve determined the kind of graduate program you need, research each school’s program requirements. What specific courses will you need to take? Is a thesis necessary or optional? How many credits must you earn to complete your master’s studies, and how long do you have to complete it?
As you look at these and other factors, be realistic about what you can accomplish and in what timeframe. Also, learn about the faculty at the school, and what mentoring and advising programs are available. This could be especially important if you’re considering an online program, since you won’t have direct interaction with instructors.
Also consider what kind of support services are provided by each school. Again, this becomes even more important when considering an online program. Will you have the same kind of access to library resources and services, testing procedures, and other services?
And then, of course, there are financial issues(see “PAYING FOR A MASTER’S EDUCVATION”). How much will you school cost, and what financial support might be available? Also check with your employer to see whether it has an employee tuition reimbursement program; look into possible scholarship and grant money.
Once you’ve taken all these factors into consideration, make the call and get started!
Q?What is accreditation, and how important is it to me to find an accredited program?
A.Accreditation is a voluntary review process by which educational institutions and programs are evaluated. Accreditation ensures that colleges and universities have been evaluated and have met the accrediting organization’s standards of quality. A college or university’s accreditation is maintained by continued adherence to these standards.
As opposed to most countries, where it’s usually a function of the government, accreditation is performed by private membership associations in the United States. The Council for Higher Education, Accreditation (CHEA), the U.S. umbrella organization, currently recognizes approximately 60 accrediting organizations.
The most respected accrediting organizations in the U.S., however, are the six regional ones: The New England Association of Schools and Colleges; The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools; The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; The Northwest Accreditation Commission; and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
One huge advantage to attending an accredited school is that credits or degrees received there are almost always accepted by other accredited colleges or universities, as well as by state certification programs. However, check your state’s requirements and/or list of accepted programs to be sure.
Q?How long does it take to complete a master’s program? Is there a time limit on the required coursework?
A.The “normal” period of time it takes for a full-time student to complete a master’s program is two years. However, in order to coordinate work and school schedules, it’s not unusual for some students to take three years.
In many ways, the time it takes to complete a master’s program is entirely up to you. Nonetheless, many schools do have time limitations. Usually, you’ll be expected to complete your master’s studies within five to seven years of taking your first course.
Conversely, beginning teachers who have achieved a bachelor’s degree might also consider attending a fifth-year master’s degree program. Schools which offer this program allow graduating bachelor’s students to take another year of coursework and intensive student teaching, so that they can qualify for a teaching credential and a master’s in education within a year.
Be sure to check your school’s requirements and programs, to figure out what works best for you.
Q?Is it possible to obtain a dual master’s degree?
A.Many graduate programs offer dual-degree programs, which allow students to complete two degrees in less time than it would take to complete them separately. Depending on the school, these might also be called concurrent degree programs.
In addition, the degrees themselves can be combined. In addition to master’s double-degree programs, a master’s degree can be also combined with an undergraduate program (i.e., fifth-year master’s degree program), or even with a doctoral program. It can be a great way to combine a specific long-term passion with a more immediate career goal.
You’ll need to be accepted by both programs separately; however, it’s usually not necessary to apply to both programs simultaneously. Students often “test the waters” by completing one year of study in one program, before applying to the other degree program.
While a dual degree takes less time than two separate degrees, it still takes more time than just one degree. A full-time student can complete a dual master’s program in three years, on average; obviously the time increases further for part-time students. In either case, completion time can be reduced further by taking summer-school classes.
Talk to the school(s) you’re interested in to get more specific information on the dual-degree programs offered there.
Q?Can I change my area of concentration after I am admitted into one program?
A.Nearly all schools permit a transfer between graduate programs. Students can switch concentrations, or decide to add a degree (see DUAL MASTER’S QUESTION ABOVE?). However, this is subject to the approval of your student advisor and/or the administrators of the other program.
In addition—since it’s similar to a brand-new application—the transfer process requires completion of a lot of paperwork. After requesting a transfer to another program, you may also need to submit transcripts, a new statement of intent, new letters of recommendation, a resume, GRE scores, or whatever else your particular school might require.
Also, you’ll need to fulfill the requirements for your new program — and it’s likely that not all of your previous credits will apply. This, in turn, will mean a greater financial investment. However, as your beginning master’s courses are more general, many of your credits could transfer, especially if they’re in a related concentration.
For all these reasons: If you’re considering switching or adding degrees, it’s better to make that decision as early in your educational process as possible. Speak with your student advisor before initiating the process, so you’ll have a better idea of what’s up ahead.
Q?Do I need to be a full-time student? Are part-time programs available?
A.Many schools offer master’s programs for part-time students. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that there may still be limitations upon how long you have to complete your degree (see “TIME LIMIT”).
However, not every school offers part-time programs. Check with the school(s) you’re interested in, to find out what their respective attendance requirements are.
Master’s Programs and My Career
Q?Will completing this program allow me to become licensed/certified in my state?
A.A master’s education doesn’t automatically equal licensing. Each state has its own educational requirements for certification. Before enrolling in any master’s program, be certain to check teaching-certification.com for your state’s requirements for your particular teaching specialty, as well as for approved programs in your state.
Also bear in mind that attending the right school, and taking the right courses, is not the only qualification for certification. Most states also require you to pass either Praxis tests or state-specific tests to prove proficiency in your field, among other requirements. However, a master’s-level education should give you the information and skills you need to tackle whatever proficiency requirements your state has.
In addition, you may need to be qualified both in terms of subject matter and grade level, depending on your state. Again, check teaching-certification.com to confirm that your master’s education covers all the qualifications needed for both your area of specialty and grade level.
Q?What can I do with my master’s degree in education?
A.Additional salary isn’t the only reason to earn a master’s degree (although it’s a good one) . A master’s degree in education opens up a variety of career opportunities, and gives you greater flexibility in your existing work. You can also use a master’s education to open new doors in your development as a teacher, in areas such as English as a Second Language, gifted and talented classes, and special education.
A master’s education also makes you eligible for leadership positions in your district—in which case, you’ll want to explore master’s programs in Education Administration, Educational Leadership, or a similar area. School districts also need mentor teachers and grade-level leaders among their teaching staff. By pursuing a master’s with an emphasis in technology, literacy development, or educational research, you can become equipped to head such programs in your school or district.
Curriculum development is another career requiring a master’s degree. Curriculum developers and specialists perform a number of specialized tasks, including researching and evaluating new teaching methods and materials, planning and conducting teacher training, and designing and adapting new curriculum materials and modules.
Finally, some states require teachers to obtain a master’s degree in order to maintain their teaching credential, as part of their ongoing professional development. In addition, a master’s education can also increase job security, as teachers with additional endorsements can be reassigned rather than released if job layoffs should hit.
No matter what your career track, a master’s education will prepare you to become a better teacher.
Q?After completing the program, can I work outside of my state?
A.Your ability to become certified in another state depends on that state’s particular requirements. Also, depending on which state you’re considering, you may need to be qualified both for subject matter and for grade level. In addition, it’s worth remembering that certification isn’t totally contingent upon what education you’ve completed; you may also need to pass Praxis tests or other state-specific tests in your area(s) of specialty.
If you’re already certified, you’ll want to pay close attention as to which states offer reciprocity, which would allow your teaching certification to be valid in your target state. In addition, many states offer provisional certification for transferring teachers, which allows them to continue teaching while they fulfill the education and other certification requirements of their new state.
Before enrolling in any master’s program, check teaching-certification.com for your target state’s requirements concerning your particular teaching specialty, as well as for information on approved teaching programs and reciprocity agreements.
Q?Can I become a certified teacher if I do not have a teaching certificate?
A.In order to become a certified teacher you WILL have to have a teaching certificate. You don’t necessarily have to have a background in education but, you will have to go through a certification program in order to be considered a certified teacher.
There are ways to get a teaching certificate without going through a university program. Many states and schools have alternative teacher programs that allow people with a bachelor’s degree in a different field to become certified as teachers. After successfully completing an approved alternative teacher program, the candidate is recommended by the approved agency for a provisional teaching license. Learn more about alternative teaching certification, here.
Some programs offer placement services while you complete the certification process. You will have a mentor teacher or principal that can guide you through the teaching process. Training may be modified for each individual; however everyone is required to complete a certain amount of hours before you will become certified.
Many state departments of education encourage alternative teacher programs to prepare teachers for high demand, urban and rural areas, or teaching specialties such as bilingual, mathematics, and special education. These programs will allow certification candidates to become interns and serve as full-time teachers while completing all of the course requirements.
Q?How do I know whether my graduate credits will be accepted by my school district?
A.It’s your responsibility to verify whether your graduate credits will be accepted with your district or state prior to enrollment. If you’re currently teaching, be sure to obtain prior approval from your state, district or school’s personnel office to ensure that your graduate credits meet the requirements for licensing or salary advancement. Student advisors at your college or university should also be able to give you guidance on this; many postsecondary schools have agreements with multiple states concerning acceptance of credits.
Each state takes its own approach toward what courses and programs they’ll accept. Some states may not accept credit from universities that are located outside the state; other states have requirements that aren’t fulfilled by another state’s programs. In addition, requirements may vary from district to district in certain states.
Teaching-certification.com provides a solid overview of each state’s requirements; however, be sure to also confirm requirements with the district where you teach (or wish to teach).
Q?I already have a master’s degree in a field other than Educational Leadership. Must I obtain another master’s degree to become certified as a principal?
A.It’s not necessary to obtain an additional master’s degree in Education Leadership. However, different states have different requirements for licensure as a principal, and thus certain leadership courses may be required prior to issuance of a principal (or administrator) license. There are non-degree programs available to provide aspiring leaders the opportunity to meet requirements for leadership positions in public or private schools in their states.
While it’s not required, a master’s degree in Educational Leadership, or a similar degree, will better equip you for school leadership and will also give you an educational advantage when seeking a position as a principal. These programs include all the requirements for state licensure of principals and administrators, and will help you dig deeper into leadership theory, organizational communication, curriculum assessment and development, legal understanding, applicational practices, examination of school culture, and perceptions of power. In addition, enrollment in an Educational Leadership program will also expose you to more job-specific support from faculty, as well as from a cohort of peers who are also seeking to advance in school leadership.
Learn more about principal-certification requirements in your state.
Q?What educational organizations can help me advance my knowledge of the teaching profession? Are there opportunities to get involved in through my master’s program?
A.There are many educational organizations you can get involved in to advance your knowledge in the education field. Getting involved with many different programs can give you a well rounded education. A few of these organizations are:
Kappa Delta Phi – This is an honor’s society for educators (K-12) for students in an education program in a college. You can contact your university for details.
Teach for America – This organization selects teachers already certified and helps them to get more experience and specialized experience.
ISTE- International Society for Technology and Education – This can help teachers gain more experience and knowledge of the technology side of education. Some colleges have certification programs you can complete for this.
Mentoring or job shadowing organizations – Check your local community for any mentoring or job shadowing positions. Many teachers and organizations need volunteers and this can become an excellent source of knowledge.
Q?What additional studies can I do after completing my master’s degree?
A.Upon receiving your master’s degree, your educational options open even wider. And while an advanced degree or additional credits are no guarantee of career success, they can certainly help take you to the next level, as well as provide greater income and greater mobility in the workplace.
As you’ve completed your master’s degree in one specialty, you might have discovered that another specialty has peaked your interest—such as special education, educational leadership, or a different grade level such as middle or high school. Thus, you may desire to become certified, or even attain a separate master’s degree, in that area as well. Sometimes additional certification requires only a semester’s worth of credits; other programs may take an additional year or more to complete. It all depends on the education you already have, and the education you need. Visit teaching-certification.com to learn more about your state’s requirements in your area of interest.
Another option, especially if you’re considering an out-of-classroom career such as administration or counseling, is to pursue a doctoral degree in education. It takes four or more years to attain a Ph.D., but these programs also enjoy a greater degree of financial support than master’s programs. Ph.D. students often receive grants, scholarships, fellowships, and even paid teaching positions that are unavailable to master’s-degree students.
Another reason to considering extending your education past a master’s degree is money. Most teacher pay scales include steps higher than a master’s degree but less than a doctorate (e.g., M.A. plus 30 credits).
No matter what path you take, or why, it’s a big decision. In addition, you’ll need to reapply for admission in your new program area, in order to continue taking classes. So talk to faculty members, recent graduates, and other professionals and professional associations in your area of interest, before deciding on your next move.
Q?How do I make myself more employable beyond my studies?
A.The most important factor is experience. It’s best if this experience comes in the classroom; however, any experience working with kids at your grade level or in your area of instruction is helpful. This can come through a number of venues. Volunteering in community organizations, teaching math or reading to GED students, or coaching in children’s leagues are all great ways to gain experience—as well as discover whether working with these kinds of kids, or in these subject areas, is something you want to do full-time.
You can also gain classroom experience by volunteering at one of your local public schools—maybe even at the school where you’d like to one day teach. Many schools welcome volunteer help, especially in the area of special-education, which is rapidly growing right now. Your volunteer work will also give you the opportunity to network with potential employers and coworkers. Inquire with your district as to whether volunteering is an option.
Also, as you search for a full-time position, you can always take work as a substitute teacher. Substitute teaching not only builds a teacher’s work experience, but allows administrators and department heads to become familiar with you and assess how good a fit you’d be in their district.
Attending professional conferences and participating in professional organizations, even while you’re a student, will also help you to stand out from the crowd. There are many organizations devoted to teacher development. In fact, some schools require their teaching students to be involved in at least one professional organization for one year prior to graduation, to ensure that they’re being adequately prepared not only in the classroom but through field experience, service learning, and community with other teachers.
Q?Where can I go for additional assistance with my career development?
A.Your college or university is a great career-development resource. Nearly every school has a career center, where students can receive career counseling and one-on-one consultation. Counselors are also available to perform CV (curriculum vitae), cover letter, and resume reviews, as well as job-search assistance. In addition, career centers offer broader opportunities such as career fairs, workshops, symposia, and professional development programs, as well as a plethora of online resources.
Professional educational organizations also offer a variety of resources for teachers, such as professional conferences, research on teaching programs and techniques, classroom activities, and curriculum supplements. Most of these organizations also offer professional teaching journals that keep members abreast on trends in education, as well as a variety of networking opportunities.
Your best networking opportunities, of course, are at the schools or districts where you’re interested in working. Make the time to talk with teachers in your area of specialty, or with administrators, at the schools where you’re interested in working. They have a great wealth of knowledge and experience, and chances are they’ll love to share that knowledge and experience with you, After all: They’re educators.
Q?What are the prerequisites/admissions requirements for entering a master’s education program?
A.Every university has set prerequisites and admissions requirements for entering a master’s education program. One universal requirement is that all applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. While master’s programs might prefer applicants to have bachelor’s degrees in education, most do not require it.
The minimum GPA for admission into many master’s education programs is a 2.5 GPA or higher, while some others require a 3.0 GPA. Differences in minimum GPA requirements will vary from university to university and program to program. For example, some universities have a standard minimum GPA requirement for every graduate program in that university, while others have individual requirements specific to each program. Because of the variety of requirements, it’s important to check with your particular master’s education program within the University for the minimum GPA prerequisite.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree and minimum GPA, some master’s programs require initial teacher certification. However, other master’s programs include certification along with a master’s degree. These programs do not require a teacher’s license and/or experience and are designed for the first-time teacher. Check with your specific program about any certification or experience prerequisites. To learn more about how to get your teaching certification, click here.
Taking the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and submitting your scores is a less common requirement for acceptance into a master’s education program, but some schools do require it. You can read more about the GRE and scores by clicking here.
There are other important documents such as personal letters, letters of recommendations and resumes that will need to be written and submitted before you are admitted into a graduate school. You can get detailed information about the application process by contacting the schools you are interested in.
Q?How competitive is it to get into a master’s program? What percentage of applications are accepted?
A.There are varying degrees of competitiveness for each master’s program. While some programs might accept you based simply on your minimum qualifications, others are more competitive. These programs are looking for anything extra including extracurricular activities, awards received or any work/volunteer experience in the classroom or research setting. When a school receives many applications, they are looking for an applicant that exceeds the minimum requirements.
The percentage of applicants accepted depends on the university and varies from year to year. Usually, a program has a limited amount of spots available for students, so if many students apply, obviously the percentage of those accepted lowers. A university will typically accept anywhere between 30% and 80% of applicants, including those that apply who don’t meet the minimum requirements for admission.
Before applying, make sure you know the minimum requirements for your program and university, and that you meet or exceed those requirements.
Q?How do I apply for a master’s program?
A.The first step to applying for a master’s program is to research and make sure you meet the minimum requirements for that program. Most universities won’t consider applicants who don’t meet the minimum prerequisites for a program, and you might need to take additional steps before applying.
Every master’s program has required documents to submit with your application. You will need to check with your university about what exact documents they want presented. Most programs require transcripts from all other colleges, a personal letter or career goal statement, two to four letters of recommendations, and a resume. Some schools require that you take the GRE and submit your scores as well.
Transcripts are needed by the admissions committee for proof of your bachelor’s degree and GPA. All master’s degree programs will require you send official transcripts from all colleges or universities attended.
Applicants should send personal letters and career goal statements to their programs as well. These are used not only to express your goals in the program/profession, but also to evaluate your level of writing. It should be well written, and explain in detail your interest in that particular area of study and why you think you would be a good fit for the program.
Selection Committees use letters of recommendation as tools to validate what you write in your personal letter or career goal statement. You can read more about letters of recommendation by clicking here.
Having a resume to submit with your application to a master’s in education program shows the selection committee any past experience you have in the teaching or education field. Applicants who already have a teacher’s license or are already a practicing teacher may be given preference over applicants who don’t. Any additional experience in a classroom setting can demonstrate your leadership skills as well.
If your school or program requires that you take the GRE, you will need to have your scores sent to the admissions office. To learn more about the GRE, click here.
After you have collected the required documents for applying to your master’s program, you can apply online. Most universities have an application process online that will guide you step by step on how to submit all of your paperwork. There is also a $25-$50 application fee depending on which university or program you are applying to.
Q?What do master’s programs consider when looking at prospective students?
A.An admissions board will first review all of the documents that you submit in your application and ensure you meet the minimum requirements for admission. A committee comprised of professors and administrators will then examine each individual part and it will be subject to their discretionary review.
Admissions boards look through applications and closely examine everything about an applicant. Does this applicant have a higher than average GPA? Is this applicant’s personal statement informative and written well? Do the letters of recommendation validate this applicant’s personal statement? Is this applicant well rounded? What experience does this applicant have in education?
A master’s program isn’t looking for any particular quality in an applicant; they are looking for someone they think will excel in the program as well as the education field. The admissions board is looking for candidates who have the best chance of finishing the program and becoming leaders in their field of study.
Q?What kind of work experience should I have before applying? Can I get in without work experience?
A.In most master’s in education programs, you do not need any work experience to apply. Many programs are tailored for the first time teacher and are for students who have just finished their undergraduate degrees. These programs don’t require work experience of any kind, and include a certification program along with the master’s program to prepare teachers for a career in their chosen field.
However, some master’s in education programs do require you have at least some work experience. Typical applicants at some universities will have at least two years of experience, in addition to teacher certification. To learn more about getting your teacher certification, click here.
If you are applying for a master’s in administration, educational leadership or something similar, you will need to have at least three to five years teaching experience and current certification as a teacher to be accepted in the program. Since these programs are geared towards principals and administrators, experience is essential to the completion of the program.
Q?How important are my letters of recommendation in the admissions process?
A.Although they are a requirement and every applicant will submit them, letters of recommendation are important for giving credibility to an applicant’s personal statement and career goals.
While a letter of recommendation is only one component in the application process, admissions selection committees use them in combination with other considerations to find candidates who demonstrate quality performance. Letters of recommendations from professionals give the committee a reference of whether or not you will succeed in the program. When a professional sends a letter stating that they think an applicant will be an excellent candidate for admission, it lets the committee know exactly what that applicant is bringing to the table.
It is rare for a committee to see a “bad” recommendation, but there are steps you can take to ensure your letters are above and beyond. Ask a current professor or adviser that you know well to write a letter of recommendation for you. If they can personalize it and highlight your skills, your letter can stand out it in a sea of generic recommendations.
Q?Do I need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)? And what’s the average GRE score among incoming master’s students?
A.Most master’s in education programs don’t require you take the GRE. Usually the requirements for education programs consist of a bachelor’s degree and a minimum GPA score.
However, some programs will require you to take the GRE and have a minimum score that you need to achieve. The actual minimum score varies from school to school. The GRE helps the admissions committee evaluate your critical thinking and writing skills, and high scores can help an applicant stand out in the application process. In addition, some schools will allow students with a GPA score under the minimum requirement to take the GRE instead.
If your program or university requires you take the GRE for admission, there are many resources for getting prepared including books, guides and practice tests. You should check with your university for requirements and resources.
Average scores for incoming master’s students are different for every program and school. A good rule of thumb is to score in the 75th percentile. That would be a score of 157 or higher in verbal and math. You can learn more about percentiles of GRE scores here.
Q?How do I transfer credit from other universities?
A.Most universities have a strict policy for transferring graduate credit hours. The courses being transferred have to be in the student’s course of study. Anywhere from six to nine credit hours from an accredited university can be transferred and you need to have a B or higher in those classes.
Each university is different, but in most you will need to get your official transcripts from the university, fill out a form and send it to the new graduate school. Your credit hours will then be reviewed by faculty and they will decide whether or not to accept your transfer credits.
Paying for a Masters Education
Q?How much does tuition cost?
A.As you look across a campus, recognizing the tall academic buildings, teachers walking to and from classes, and students studying in the library, it’s important to remember that these services, professors, and facilities all have to come from somewhere.
Schools charge tuition in order to afford all of the amenities students enjoy during their time at school. Colleges must compete with each other to attract students, leading them to add various services, buildings, and additional faculty members to ensure the best academic experience possible. But as schools have added services, tuition rates across the country have steadily increased as well.
According to The College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing 2011,” the most recent data on college tuition cost, average tuition for a year at a public in-state school is $7,186 for a master’s degree – up from $6,600 in 2010. Private universities are even more expensive, costing an average $25,863 a year for a master’s degree.
Typically, tuition is charged on a per-credit hour basis. When you enroll in a class, you’re given information about how many credit hours the class will count for, giving you an idea of the average class cost. Most classes consist of three to four credit hours.
To find an affordable college that will fit your needs and help you reach your goals, explore some of the schools and programs found here.
Q?Is deferred payment an option?
A.Deferred payment plans give students the ability to pay for tuition and fees over an extended period of time, rather than simply paying the full price in one payment. As you enroll in your classes, you’ll be able to discuss various payment plans with financial advisers at a school, who will list out several options.
Most schools first subtract any grant, scholarship, or loan money from your tuition to get your net amount owed for a semester. Then, the school splits the remainder into two or three payments that will be due at various times through the semester.
Deferment plans vary depending on a university. Some require a down payment of up to 50% of the tuition owed, while others allow a student to delay initial payment until later in the semester. Enrolling in a payment plan generally requires a fee for each semester to cover administrative costs for the payments as well.
Schools won’t allow any student to enroll in deferred payment plans, however. Students must enter in good financial and academic standing, although there are some exceptions. If you’re interested in exploring deferred payment options, ask your financial adviser about what choices are available.
Q?How much debt can I expect to incur?
A.With higher tuition rates, many students simply can’t afford to pay for their master’s degrees out of pocket. A good education doesn’t come cheaply, and most students take out loans from private and federal lenders to help make school more affordable.
According to FinAid.org, a site which tracks student debt and financial aid information, the total country-wide student debt from graduate students is over $36 billion. Before you throw up your hands in despair and anguish, understand that the average student debt for master’s in education students is much lower than the average debt.
The 2011-12 estimate for debt for all graduate students is $43,524, with a total of 56.7% of students borrowing money through student loans. For master’s in education students, that average debt is lowered to $26,487 with 55.9% of students borrowing.
Debt forgiveness programs allow some students to reduce the amount of debt they owe based on employment or service. For example, teachers may apply for a reduction in Stafford Loan debt for up to $5,000 if they’ve completed five consecutive years as a qualified teacher at an elementary or secondary school.
Of course, the total amount of debt you’ll incur in your program will vary depending on cost of school and your own financial needs. While graduating with debt is worrying to many students, consider it an investment in your future. Your degree makes you more marketable in the field of job applications, and you’ll also be able to pay off debt faster with the higher salary a master’s brings.
Q?What kinds of financial options are available for students?
A.Financial aid for graduate students comes in the form of loans and grants. Each form of aid has individual eligibility requirements and offers varying levels of financial aid.
Most students look to federal loan programs for initial assistance in affording college. Federal loan programs available to graduate students include the Direct Loan Program and Campus-based Aid programs. Before enrolling in either, students must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility.
Direct Loans allow you to borrow money directly from the government through:
Subsidized Stafford Loans
Unsubsidized Stafford Loans
Direct PLUS Loans
Stafford Loans for graduate students are low-interest (6.8%) loans that come in subsidized forms and unsubsidized forms. When applying for Stafford Loans, your university determines the maximum amount of money you can receive through the loan.
The Department of Education offers subsidized Stafford Loans to students who have demonstrated great financial need. As long as a student attends school at least half-time (5 credit hours), the loan does not accrue interest until graduation. Subsidized loans allow students to borrow up to a maximum of $8,500 per year.
Unsubsidized Stafford Loans are available to all graduate students, but hold a higher cost. With unsubsidized loans, students must pay full interest from the moment they receive the loan. These students are able to borrow up to a maximum of $20,500 per year. Note that all student’s won’t be eligible for the full amount, meaning other loans may be needed.
Direct PLUS Loans help students supplement their Stafford Loans, and are offered at a slightly higher interest rate of 7.9%. Before considering Direct PLUS Loans, your school must have determined your maximum eligibility for Stafford Loans. Under the Direct PLUS Loan program, students may borrow up to the total cost of tuition and fees at their universities.
In addition to the Direct Loan Program, the federal government helps to provide campus-based aid for graduate students through Perkins Loans. The Perkins Loan is a fund the government distributes to participating universities, who have discretion when distributing the loan. Because of the structure of the program, you actually repay your school rather than the government.
The Perkins Loan is a low-interest (5%) option only offered to students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. Graduate students may borrow up to $8,000 per year through the loan system. Because the Perkins Loan differs depending on the participating university, students must meet with their individual financial aid officers to learn more specific information about the program at their school.
Not all students choose to borrow money to attend graduate school. For teachers particularly, the Department of Education offers grant programs that offer funding that won’t accrue interest or cause a student to incur debt.
The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant offers eligible students up to $4,000 per year in tuition assistance. Students who apply to the TEACH grant agree to teach for four years at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that services students from low-income families.
Only certain colleges participate in the TEACH program. For a full list of institutions and more information about how to apply for the TEACH grant, click here.
Paying for a Masters Education
Q?What are the courses and program formats like in a graduate program, and how do they differ from those in undergraduate programs?
A.Graduate education IS different from your undergraduate experience. First and foremost, you will focus in-depth in a particular subject or discipline at the master’s level. Know that more will be will be expected of you, both in writing and speaking, and that the motivation for success must come from within — you will not be coerced to keep up with others as you might have at the undergraduate level. Professors expect you to be in class every day, turn assignments in on time, and have a high level of reading and writing skills.
Because graduate programs are designed to focus in a specialized area, some universities only offer certain classes in the fall or spring semester. So, if you miss a specific class in the fall, it might not be available again until the next fall. Typical master’s in education programs are anywhere from 30-48 credit hours, so you need to plan out your entire graduate coursework ahead of time to ensure you graduate on time. Unlike undergraduate classes, graduate classes have fewer people, thus there are fewer classes and class times available. To learn more about what courses to take and how many courses to take per semester, click here.
Graduate courses are typically more interactive than undergraduate courses. Graduate students are required to collaborate more with other students in the same field to complete assignments. In undergraduate classes, students generally just go to class and go home, but in graduate level classes, it is important to work together with other students as a group to finish assignments.
Q?What’s the average classroom size for graduate-level courses?
A.The average classroom size for graduate level courses varies from university to university. However, most graduate programs have less students and that means smaller class sizes. Depending on the university and program, class sizes typically range from 10-50 people per class. Master’s programs that are more popular, like Special Education, will generally have larger class sizes. Check with your program to learn the exact average size of classes.
Having smaller classroom sizes allows a student to receive more one-on-one attention from professors. More importantly, it also allows students to interact with other students who have similar interests in their chosen career field. Collaborating on different projects and assignments allows students to learn different perspectives that they might miss out on in larger more lecture-oriented classrooms.
Q?How much time should I devote to studying?
A.The amount of studying in graduate level courses is going to be slightly more than undergraduate courses. A good rule of thumb is to study three to four hours per week per credit hour. For example, if you are taking six credit hours of classes in a semester, you should plan on studying 18-24 hours per week for those courses. Graduate level courses are more in-depth on subjects and require a lot more reading, so expect more coursework outside of class.
If you are taking a thesis course (usually the last semester of your graduate program) you should expect to do even more studying than other courses. Know that thesis courses typically require you to write the first few chapters of your thesis, and this is an intense, research-based course that requires a lot of writing. Expect to be working several hours a day on your thesis, as well as doing other research-based activities. For more information on thesis or comprehensive exams, click here.
Q?What courses will I have to take? How many courses can I take at one time?
A.The exact courses you have to take will depend on the university and graduate program you choose. Check with your graduate program for the specific courses you will have to take. However, most graduate programs have a minimum of 30 credit hours to complete and some have as many as 48 hours. Generally, the programs with more hours also include teacher certification and the additional courses you need to become certified. To learn more about teaching certification, click here.
The amount of courses you take will depend on how intense you want your course load to be, as well as how quickly you would like to graduate. A full-time graduate student will typically take six to nine hours per semester. If you want to take more than 12 hours per semester, you will have to have approval from the university.
It is important to find a master’s program that fits your needs. Full-time students who want to graduate quickly should find a program that allows students to take 9-12 hours a semester as well as take summer classes. However, if you are a full-time teacher and aren’t looking for an intense schedule, find a program that offers online classes or classes available in the evenings or on weekends.
Q?Will I have to write a thesis or take comprehensive exams?
A.Most education masters programs will require you to write a thesis and take comprehensive exams to complete the program. They can either be a required course included in your set credit hours for graduation completion, or be required in addition to your credit hours.
For example, some schools will have a required thesis class that students will take in their final semester. Other schools may require a thesis, but it is completed through another class or independently without a class throughout your final semesters of graduate course work. Graduate students will select their own topic, but it is subject to approval from a professor or adviser. A lot of times students will elect to choose a current hot topic in education, but it is important to choose a topic in your related career field.
Comprehensive exams are used to test a student on everything they have learned in their tenure as a graduate student. These exams are generally comprised of several questions to be answered in essay form that test not only your knowledge, but your writing skills as well. Some programs offer a class for comprehensive exams that will help you prepare and take the exams upon completion of the course. In other schools, the comprehensive exams are taken separately after all of your other required finals are completed. Most schools require you take two or more comprehensive exams in different specialized areas of education.
There are programs that don’t require either a thesis or comprehensive exams and only the required credit hours. Check with your program advisor on what the exact requirements are.
Q?Is student teaching part of my master’s program, and if so, how does it work?
A.Whether or not you will need to complete a student teaching program will depend on the graduate program you choose. Every program is different and you need to check with your program on whether or not this is required. Most universities don’t require student teaching at the graduate level because the majority of students in master’s programs are already certified teachers. Student teaching in nearly all universities is done at the undergraduate level and is required to complete a bachelor’s degree.
However, graduate programs that are designed for the first time teacher and include certification in the master’s degree do require student teaching. Therefore, these programs are designed for students just completing their undergraduate degree with little or no teaching experience. Student teaching in these programs is essential for preparing new teachers for the classroom.
Instead of student teaching, most master’s in education programs require internships, practicum or observation hours to complete the program. Check with your program about any additional requirements.
Q?Can I complete my practicum and internship hours at the school where I currently teach?
A.Most universities require practicum and internship hours to complete a graduate program and it will depend on the program whether or not you can complete them in your current school. Generally, graduate students will need to make their own arrangements where they want to complete their hours and it is subject to approval by a professor or adviser. You will need to check with your master’s program on where you will have to complete your practicum and internship hours.
If the specialized department you are receiving your master’s degree in is not offered at your present school, you will have to complete your practicum and internship hours at a different school. For example, if a graduate student is obtaining a master’s degree in English as a Second Language and their current school doesn’t offer an ESL program, then they must find a school with an ESL program. On the same note, if you are taking summer classes and your existing school doesn’t offer summer school, you will obviously have to complete your practicum and internship hours at a new school.
Even if you aren’t completing your practicum and internship hours at your school, it is a good idea to use your school as a resource for any school assignments. Although you may have to travel to different schools for different assignments, your school can be a great way for you to get information from other teachers. For example, if your area of study is Special Education, and you are working with a particular student for your practicum, it gives you the chance to talk to the Special Education teacher at your own school about their experiences with different students, what worked for them, and in what timeline.
Mixing Graduate Study with Life (including online studies)
Q?How much can I work while in school? Can I work/teach full-time and pursue this degree?
A.Depending on when your school offers classes, it’s physically possible to both work full-time and pursue full-time graduate study. Bear in mind, however, that full-time study will not only require attending classes each week, but will also require an additional 20 or more hours of study, research, and writing. Be realistic about what you can accomplish, and be sure to take other life commitments (family, commuting to/from school and work, etc.) into consideration.
Most schools do accommodate those who work full-time, offering core classes in the evenings and weekends. In addition, most schools will allow you to attend part-time; however, there are usually limits to how long you can take to complete your degree (usually five to seven years). Learn more about time limits here.
If face-to-face instruction isn’t an important factor, online classes might be a better option for you. These classes provide much greater flexibility in schedule, and often at lower cost. Online programs also offer many of the same support systems as on-campus programs, including access to research facilities, academic advisement, student services, and even interaction with professors and classmates. However, the extent of those services will vary. Check with the school(s) you’re interested in, to find out whether online classes are an option, and whether they’re the right option for you.
Q?What time options do I have when taking classes? Are there night, weekend, or summer classes?
A.Most graduate programs offer all of their core classes on-campus in the evenings and weekends, as well as summer classes. In fact, it’s quite possible to go to school full-time and attain a master’s degree without ever attending a weekday class.
Many schools also offer master’s programs to part-time students. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that there may still be limitations upon how long you have to complete your degree.
In addition, it’s possible to complete your graduate studies online; these classes allow you to be much more flexible in terms of scheduling your time, and often cost less than on-campus classes. Check with the school(s) you’re interested in, to find out what their respective attendance requirements are.
Q?What’s it like taking a master’s course online?
A.The main thing about an online program, of course, is that it’s online. Therefore, you’ll need some degree of proficiency working at a computer, but most of the applications you’ll use are either familiar or easily learned. Instructors also often include multi-media learning aids into their courses, as well as links to relevant websites to help you in your research.
Online students are often able to download all the materials needed for their classes, including lectures, assignments, and additional notes. Thus, peripheral costs for online students are almost always less than they’d be for on-campus students. In addition, there’s no commute; typical classroom supplies aren’t needed; and textbooks can often be purchased in electronic form or are simply provided online.
Taking courses online allows you much greater flexibility in when to “attend” and complete your work—which in turn gives you greater flexibility in dealing with family and work responsibilities. There may be some set times when you need to be on your computer (such as pre-scheduled online discussions, or video lectures), but for the most part you can work your study time around your personal schedule.
Many students report that their online discussions are in fact far more lively and helpful than their in-class discussions would have been. Shy students often feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts, and the online environment is usually less intimidating to people in general.
In addition, you don’t need to be constantly taking notes. With an online course, the lectures are written out. If you lose track for a few minutes, the notes are still right there in front of you—you haven’t missed anything. And for that matter, there’s no dress code. Come to class however you like.
The most constant challenge reported by online students is self-discipline. It’s easier to fall behind, and more difficult to catch up. Also, because you’re online, you can’t just ask your instructor a question and have it answered on the spot; you’ll need to post your question and wait for a response. Therefore, it’s that much more critical to stay on top of your studies. If you normally have problems sticking to a plan or schedule, you might be better off taking advantage of an on-campus program.
Q?Are online courses harder to get into?
A.At most reputable colleges, the admissions standards are the same for both their on-campus and online schools. Some online schools claim a 100 percent acceptance rate, but beware. Certain online schools are either unaccredited, or will claim accreditation from a fictitious or disreputable accrediting agency.
Always verify a school’s claim to accreditation, by checking the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s database of accredited schools and programs, or the Department of Education’s list of accrediting agencies. Also, be sure to confirm beforehand that the program or classes you’re taking meet your state and/or district’s requirements.
Q?What are the similarities and differences between on-campus programs and online programs?
A.In many cases, the coursework is the same in both on-campus and online settings, although you’ll need to approach things a little differently in an online setting. It’s also likely that you’ll have the same online instructors as you would for your on-campus courses. Submitting assignments is just as easy—the only difference is that you’re submitting them electronically through your online classroom environment rather than physically handing them in.
In addition, online programs offer many of the same support systems as on-campus programs, including access to research facilities, academic advisement, student services, as well as interaction with professors and classmates. However, the dynamics—and often, the extent of those services and interactions—could be noticeably different.
Most exams for online courses can be taken through an approved proctor; your school can usually help you find an approved proctor in your area. However, be sure you know well in advance whether your school or class requires any on-campus attendance for proctored tests or lab participation. Also check your course syllabus for any on-campus requirements.
In many ways, the differences between on-campus and online classes boil down to structure versus flexibility. Online courses give you many more options in how to structure your time; however, because you’re not in a classroom, being prodded by a teacher and encouraged by other students, it takes more self-motivation to do well in an online class.
In addition, the online element can seem overwhelming at times—especially when there’s a heated online discussion going. Some students report posting upward of 75 responses a day, especially as the semester nears its end and exams are on the horizon. This, too, requires a degree of self-discipline.
It’s also important to remember that you won’t have face-to-face interaction with your instructor in an online environment. You might actually prefer this; however, many students thrive on personal attention from professors and may not do as well without that interaction.
This issue is equally true when it comes to interaction with other students. In addition, any group projects that might be assigned will be more difficult to coordinate and complete without the advantage of face-to-face-interaction. Likewise, online students may feel a greater sense of isolation. If you already enjoy online communities, this will be less of an issue. But if you miss face time with instructors and fellow students, on-campus learning may be the better alternative.
One more point: If you’re taking an online course for the first time, it’s best to start with an easier subject, or one you’re especially motivated to learn. Give yourself a chance to become familiar with your new online environment. Then, you’ll be ready to adjust to the tougher courses—or decide that the on-campus route is more beneficial to you.
Q?How much interaction will I have with instructors if I take an online course? What does that interaction look like?
A.Most online master’s programs provide a variety of mainstream technology tools to help you interact easily with instructors and students alike, including Skype, WebCT or Blackboard (or another secure online system), e-mail, and discussion forums. So ease of communication usually isn’t a problem.
Frequency and/or immediacy of communication, though, sometimes is. As opposed to an on-campus class, where interaction with an instructor is either instant or at least pre-scheduled, you’re somewhat at the mercy of the medium when taking classes online. If you have a question or concern, it’s likely that you’ll have to wait at least a few hours—and maybe even a couple days—for a response.
Thus, interacting with your instructors requires some patience, as well as some advanced planning. Last-minute issues won’t play out well online. Ask questions often, and early.
The good news is: Your interaction with your fellow students, while not face-to-face, is very likely to be better online than it would with in the classroom. Because of the online mediums used—and usually, the requirement by instructors that they are used—students often feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts. So use the online bulletin boards as chat rooms. Start discussions, and look for past discussions where you might be able to find answers to your questions, while you wait to hear back from your instructor.
Q?How much time is required when taking online courses? Are students required to be online at specific times? Is there a requirement to log on every day?
A.Depending on your degree of participation, online courses can take either more or less time than on-campus courses. On the one hand: You’re not commuting, not attending a physical class, and not taking notes. On the other hand: You’re spending more time online interacting with other students, as well as with your instructor. Either way, your actual course requirements will be about the same, if not identical. You’ll still be studying, researching, and writing.
You won’t be required to log on every day; however, you may be required to log on at certain times. Depending upon your school’s program or instructor, your online class may include both synchronous and asynchronous elements. Synchronous elements require that all students log in at the same time. An instructor might provide a live lecture via webcam, or hold a chat session for the entire class. Asynchronous elements include such things as posting to bulletin boards, submitting essays and other assignments, or participating with other class members on a group assignment; these elements don’t require logging in at the same time.
The bottom line: For each three-credit course you take, no matter what your degree of online interaction, expect to spend between nine and 12 hours per week on course material and assignments.
Q?Are there opportunities to learn on-campus, or take part in student activities, while in the online program?
A.There are definitely opportunities to participate in campus classes and activities, as well as take part in networking opportunities, even when taking courses online. It’s also worth noting that some schools require some degree of on-campus attendance, such as for proctored tests or lab participation.
In addition, some schools offer hybrid courses, which combine face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning. These courses allow students much more flexible scheduling, while maintaining the face-to-face contact with instructors and classmates that’s part a more traditional course. Online course materials and learning activities will vary, but may include online discussions, small group work, and self-testing exercises, as well as audio or video lectures. There are, however, set days and times for the on-campus classes.
Speak with your school about the on-campus courses and student activities you’re interested in, for more specific information.
Q?Do I need high-computer proficiency to pursue an online degree?
A.It doesn’t take a technology expert to take an online class, but you do need to know your way around a computer. You should have some proficiency with such things as e-mail, instant messaging, electronic documents, and navigating the Internet.
Furthermore, you will need a good computer in order to access and work with online course content. Be sure to check your online program’s technical requirements, to make sure you have the hardware and software you need in order to participate.
If you choose to take your courses online, be sure to navigate thoroughly through the site as soon as possible, before getting too deeply involved with the course material. This way, you’ll be more comfortable with the technology, and will likely find the answers to your questions—before they turn into problems.
Q?Will my degree designate whether I completed it online?
A.If your master’s degree comes from a traditional college with an online distance-learning program, it will reflect that you have received a graduate degree from that college or university. It will not be classified as an online degree. Transcripts will reflect that you have completed the necessary coursework, but the instructional format itself will not be indicated.
If the college you attended is already known to your employer, and respected for the quality of its graduates, the fact that the degree was attained online doesn’t even need to be a subject for discussion. That said, online degree programs are being increasingly accepted; and as more traditional institutions offer online programs, their general acceptance will continue to increase.
However, it’s important that you obtain your master’s degree or coursework from an accredited school with a known reputation. Be sure to confirm with your state or district that the program or classes you’re taking meet their requirements. Also visit teaching-certification.com to find out which programs are accepted in your state.