What kind of master’s degree should a teacher get? The answer is both complex and simple, but let’s take a look at it from a financial perspective. As an educator, getting a master’s degree can put a major dent in your finances. I constantly hear teachers voice their concerns regarding their less-than-stellar salaries, yet they invest more and more of their time doing things without being compensated financially in some way! This should not be the norm folks! 😒 One area you should think about is the type of masters degrees you obtain. You want it to be worth your time and money! Unlike you, I didn’t think through this decision too well. So I’m here to help you not make that same mistake! *Disclaimer: This post represents my opinions and experiences and are for educational purposes only. I am not a financial advisor, and this post does not represent formal financial advice.

So, what kind of master’s degree should a teacher get?

The type of master’s degree you get as a teacher will depend on a number of factors. Consider your professional and personal goals.  Also think about whether you want a higher salary, options outside of the classroom, leadership opportunities, or to deepen expertise in a specialized teaching area. This post helps you think through what kind of master’s degree will be right for you as a teacher. It’ll also cover the topic from the perspective of cost and income potential. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of everything, I’ve made a few assumptions about you.  You probably…
  • Teach currently.
  • Possess a teaching license.
  • Seek insight about the benefits of a particular master’s degree.
My assumptions guide how I cover this topic.   If one or more of the above factors doesn’t pertain to you, the information in this post may not speak directly to you. That’s okay. Most likely, you’ll still take something valuable away from it. I’m going to detail the pros and cons of various education-related master degrees. But first, something to think about… 

What Kind of Master’s Degree Should a Teacher Get? Think Twice about “Passion” Degrees!

From a money perspective, think very carefully about “passion” degrees. I’ve got a masters degree in Bilingual Studies/Bilingual Education, and it’s not the most “useful” degree. I absolutely did not think through my decision to get it. I enrolled in the program because I have a “passion” for the subject matter. Looking back, this decision was arguably a big mistake! The positive is that I didn’t pay a dime for the degree (a great financial win!), but if I had to pay, I don’t think it would’ve been a good financial decision. Truth be told, at this wiser stage in my life, I’m not the biggest fan of “passion” degrees unless you’ve got a decent reserve of coins to pay or someone else is footing the bill. I define “passion” master degrees as formal credentials having little return of investment (ROI) ~ aka real money-making potential.  

6 Questions To Ask About Your Desired Outcomes…  

1. Do I want the potential to earn more money? 2.  Am I interested in career options outside of the classroom or in other sectors such as higher education? 3.  Are leadership opportunities important to me? (Not all master degrees lend themselves to helping you “move up”). 4.  Will simply improving my skills to become a more effective teacher be enough for me? 5.  How will this degree keep me competitive professionally? 6.  Is this particular master’s degree worth the money?
Let’s dive into a number of master’s degrees that teachers usually get. We’ll rate each according to how well they answer each of these questions: VERY GOOD, DECENT CHANCE, FAIR, POOR
  • Greater Earning Potential?
  • Career Options Outside of Classroom?
  • Leadership Opportunities?
  • Makes Me More Competitive?
  • Ability to Work in Higher Education?
These are my well-thought out OPINIONS (based on first and second-hand experiences), but of course, things vary based on other factors unique to each school and individual.  Thoughts are my own, so please don’t take my opinions as professional advice.

Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction

Greater Earning Potential?  FAIR Career Options Outside of Classroom?  DECENT CHANCE Higher Education?  FAIR Leadership Opportunities?  VERY GOOD Competitive?  FAIR With a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, you could be a math coordinator, reading specialist, or curriculum coordinator. This type of master’s degree isn’t the most lucrative, but I know some Reading and Math Specialists who do very well. In some schools, specialists are on the same pay scale as teachers or receive a stipend.

Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education/ESL

Greater Earning Potential?  POOR Career Options Outside of Classroom?  DECENT CHANCE Higher Education?  FAIR Leadership Opportunities?  DECENT Competitive?  POOR Yours truly has her master’s degree in bilingual studies. BOOOO!!!!! Just kidding; it’s really not that bad.  🙂 But honestly, it’s not the most useful degree. It’s a “passion” degree for sure. I got this degree because I LOVE bilingual education and working with second language learners. I’ve had beautiful opportunities to teach and do leadership roles in many schools, but this master’s degree was not a prerequisite for those positions. I’m sure it was considered a plus, it looks good on paper (or does it?), and hiring committees comment on it. But money-wise, it’s just not happening. To teach bilingual education in most public schools, a teaching certificate is needed. So, even if you have a masters in bilingual education, without the certification, many districts won’t hire you for that position. So my verdict is that it’s not a cost-efficient degree to get unless you know specifically want you’ll do with it. And upon further investigation, you may discover that you don’t necessarily have to have this type of master’s degree to get the position you want.

Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership

Greater Earning Potential?  VERY GOOD Career Options Outside of Classroom?  VERY GOOD Higher Education?  VERY GOOD Leadership Opportunities?  VERY GOOD Competitive?  DECENT CHANCE If you want to become a principal, this is the degree for you! You get a respectable return for your money, and it affords you additional professional opportunities. As far as competition, remember that you’ll be competing with other administrators and not teachers. If you already have a master’s degree in another field and have taught for a number of years, some programs allow you to get an educational leadership certificate in lieu of another masters degree.

Master’s Degree in Library Science (Librarian)

Greater Earning Potential?  FAIR Career Options Outside of Classroom?  VERY GOOD Higher Education?  FAIR Leadership Opportunities?  FAIR Competitive?  FAIR Many librarians in K-12 settings are paid similar to teachers. The ones I know love books, reading, and all that jazz.  While they do have options outside of the classroom, librarians often plan and teach lessons to various grade levels in addition to their primary duties. With a master’s degree in library science, you may have more options to work in settings other than K-12.

Master’s Degree in Your Subject Area (e.g. Elementary Education, Spanish, Math)

Greater Earning Potential?  POOR Career Options Outside of Classroom?  POOR Higher Education?  FAIR Leadership Opportunities?  POOR Competitive?  FAIR Getting a master’s degree in the same field as your undergraduate usually leads to lateral employment moves. Inching up on the pay scale just a bit may be the only extra compensation you get. You may be able to hold leadership roles such as grade level or department chair, but the potential this degree offers is pretty limited. Those in STEM fields tend to fair much better.

Master’s Degree in Counseling

Greater Earning Potential?  DECENT Career Options Outside of Classroom?  VERY GOOD Higher Education?  DECENT Leadership Opportunities?  VERY GOOD Competitive?  DECENT If you love helping students with their problems, counseling is for you! Be mindful that high school counselors do a lot of career and college prep paperwork. To my knowledge, counselors are paid more than teachers, so if you’re in search of more moolah, this may be an option.

Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education

Greater Earning Potential?  POOR Career Options Outside of Classroom?  POOR Higher Education?  POOR Leadership Opportunities?  DECENT Competitive?  DECENT Early childhood education is a little more unique. In many states, preschools are regulated differently than grade schools. Many teachers aren’t required to possess a teaching license or four-year college degree, though most public schools require it. Are you considering to be a preschool director? Great! You’ll make more money than a teacher BUT you don’t need a masters degree in early childhood to do this. It will make you more competitive however.

Master’s Degree of Education/Teaching

Greater Earning Potential?  POOR Career Options Outside of Classroom?  POOR Higher Education?  POOR Leadership Opportunities?  POOR Competitive?  POOR Individuals who get this master’s degree are usually second-career folks with an undergraduate degree in something totally different. In this regard, this degree makes perfect sense for them, as it’s a way to get a foot in the door to the teaching world without getting another bachelor’s degree. For those already teaching, though, this master’s degree is not the best investment of time or money.

Master’s Degree in Higher Education

Greater Earning Potential?  DECENT Career Options Outside of Classroom?  VERY GOOD Higher Education?  VERY GOOD Leadership Opportunities?  DECENT Competitive?  DECENT Want to work at a community college or university? Then a master’s degree in higher education may get you there. But this one is tricky. The requirements to work in a post-secondary setting depend on the position sought, and a good number of full-time teaching gigs require a PhD.   When deciding what master’s degree to get as a teacher, this is one that you should research thoroughly. Think about exactly what you want to do in a university setting, and then go from there. Your background in K-12 teaching may not be enough.

What Kind of Master’s Degree Should a Teacher Get? Other Factors to Consider

  • Time and Cost

If you’ll be paying for your own master’s degree, look around to see if your school has any tuition-reduction programs. You could also see what scholarships or grants are available. Many years ago in the school district in which I taught, graduate school grants were available for teachers seeking to study in high-need areas such as Bilingual Education. All costs were paid, and the only stipulation was a certain grade-point average. I only knew about it because I asked around. Education-related master’s degrees are usually two years in duration tops, so think about your timeline and future goals. How long do you plan to take to reach your goals? Do you have the time and energy to really invest in this degree? Is the time and cost of getting a master’s degree really worth the investment?
If you have a “passion” for a certain subject but it won’t potentially get you more money or career opportunities, consider free online courses. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to learn more about your passion. Unless someone else is paying for it, be wise with this one.
  • Public vs. Private Schools

K-12 private schools don’t normally follow a linear professional progression like public schools. Many specialists and principals in private schools may not have a master’s degree or even teaching certification. Where you graduated from and who you know play a bigger role in these academic settings. So know the normalcies in your school because getting a master’s degree may not be the best option in your neck of the woods.
  • Personal Factors

Do you have history and/or longevity at your school? Do you have a good professional reputation Why is this important? Politics my friend! You could have a master’s degree, years of teaching experience, great references, and still not get the job you want simply because you don’t know the “right” people or not in a particular “circle”. This is especially true in private (aka independent) schools. Hiring boards look at so many factors and what’s on paper is just a snippet. So it’s important to know the rules of the game before you invest time and money into a master’s degree that you may or may not need.

Conclusion

So, what kind of master’s degree should a teacher get? As you can see, it depends on several factors. I hope this article helped you to weigh them all. Do your research thoroughly, think about your future goals, and don’t take this decision lightly. Most importantly, don’t compromise your financial health. Make sure the master’s degree you get is worth the money! What are your thoughts about all of this? Happy teaching and learning! ~Missi

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