Deciding whether to pursue a master’s of education immediately after earning a bachelor’s in the field is a common predicament that students find themselves in. To get straight to the point, there is no right or wrong answer here. Both pathways toward an advanced degree in teaching can be advantageous, and it really depends on your individual circumstances. Even so, as you near graduation, there are some questions you can ask yourself to determine the best choice for you.
What Do You Want to Teach?
One of the biggest factors to consider is what you plan to teach and in what capacity. Most educational employers request candidates to supply a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school with appropriate endorsements to instruct at specific grade levels. These endorsements are typically for pre-K, elementary, middle, and high school settings as approved by individual state boards of education. However, there are many educational occupations that demand a greater breadth and depth of knowledge, thus requiring advanced degrees. If an aspiring teacher plans a career in one of these areas, then obtaining a Master in Education immediately following an undergraduate program may be a consideration.
Specialized Teaching Fields and Master’s Degrees
Examples of educational positions requiring a master’s degree may include the following:
- Special educators who instruct students identified with cognitive, learning, emotional, health or physical disabilities
- Subject area or college-level teachers responsible for advanced levels of academic instruction
- School psychologists or diagnostic specialists who conduct educational assessments.
- Guidance counselors who work with students to plan educational programs and assist with social integration
- Educators who take on administrative roles to plan curriculum, train teachers or oversee programs
- Teachers in support or electives programs like reading, art or music
Often, teachers will begin their careers working in the classroom with bachelor’s credentials and take coursework over time to earn an advanced degree in a field of interest. This frequently happens for those who move into administrative positions or decide to teach at higher academic levels. For others, such as special educators, reading teachers, or school counselors, earning a master’s in education must usually be accomplished prior to beginning a teaching career.
Do You Want to Work Outside of the Classroom?
When planning out your ideal academic and career path, it’s a good idea to keep your end goal in mind. This brings us to the next question you need to ponder: Do you want to teach or work outside of the classroom? Even if you plan on teaching for a period of time, you may still have goals that transcend the walls of a classroom. Do you want to rise to the position of a principal, for instance, or do you have your eyes on an instructional coordinator position? If so, you probably already know that these careers in education require an advanced degree. Did you know that they also require several years of prior experience in the field, though? While you may think going from a bachelor’s to a master’s degree program is your shortcut to a school leadership position, you should keep in mind that these occupations require that applicants “pay their dues,” so to speak, whether it be as a classroom teacher or in a related role.
Because certain top positions in education require this experience, some master’s degree programs in the field only accept applicants with a couple of years (or more) of teaching under their belts. Depending on the job title you’re eying, it may be a requirement that you work in the field for a period of time prior to applying to grad school. Be sure to check with an admissions counselor at the graduate school you’re planning to attend before you chart out your path towards an MEd.
Do You Want to Earn More Money Right Away?
The pay factor is always a consideration, and who doesn’t want to earn more money right away? One of the biggest advantages of earning a master’s degree in education is the promotion to a higher pay grade. Low teacher pay has long been a deterrent for students who might otherwise consider a teaching career. And it’s no wonder. At the lower end of the scale, teachers with a bachelor’s degree make less than $40,000 a year on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). With experience, you’ll earn more.
There is another way to fatten your paycheck, though. One way to get an immediate raise is to get your master’s degree in education right out of the gate. PayScale reports the average salary for educators with a master’s degree to be $60,000—about $20k more annually than you would make with your undergraduate degree. That’s money in the bank!
Are You Afraid You’ll Lose Stamina?
Many students who are enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program in education make the decision to pursue their master’s credential in teaching in order to get it out of the way. If you know for sure that you want an advanced degree, then it may be worthwhile to continue on your educational journey towards a master’s before taking the exit toward the classroom. Anyone who has survived their first year (or two) of teaching will tell you that it is an exhausting experience. After making this significant transition from a student to a teacher, you may not be as motivated to return to school for your master’s program.
Moreover, once you begin earning an income and are financially independent, you might not have the luxury of taking time away from your teaching job to return to the classroom. While there are flexible master’s degree programs in education, including distance learning options, combining the responsibilities of being a teacher by day and a student by night could be taxing, to say the least. To prevent being overwhelmed by juggling too much at once or losing stamina towards your graduate degree, it could be beneficial to stay the course.
Do You Need a Break from Being the Student?
There is a flip side to the coin, though, and that is that everyone deserves a break, even aspiring graduate students and master teachers! After all, school can be very demanding, and burnout is real. If you’ve reached the end of your undergraduate degree program in education (hooray!) and you don’t think you can write one more paper analyzing pedagogy, then getting your feet wet in the field may be a refreshing break from academia. Of course, you’ll be working just as hard (if not harder) than you were as a student, but it will be a different kind of work. If you’re lucky, it will be highly rewarding and invigorating work. After a stint in the classroom, you may find yourself more motivated to return to school for your graduate degree—if for nothing than to become a better teacher to the students in your charge!
What Is the Current Job Outlook for Teachers?
If you haven’t considered your odds of being hired after you finish your degree, there’s no time like the present. Let’s dig in. Your chances of becoming employed after graduation from a bachelor’s degree program in education will depend on a number of factors. Among the most important factor is the employment climate for teachers at the time of your graduation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for elementary, middle, and high school teachers are growing about as fast as average. That means that if you were to graduate from your undergraduate teaching program today, you’d have a decent chance of being hired.
This could change, though. If the employment of teachers is trending downward at the time of your graduation, then you might consider staying in school for an additional year or two to earn your master’s degree. It beats the unemployment line, after all.
On the other hand, if business is booming, so to speak, for teachers around the time you’re set to finish your degree program, then it might be best to take advantage of the demand for professionals in your field while you can. There are a lot of factors that can affect the job outlook for educators such as fluctuations in the population as well as individual school budgets, for example.
Remember, too, that the demand for teachers will inevitably vary by state and region. While the national growth projection can give you a rough idea of what your employment prospects will be, it’s wise to do more in-depth research, especially if you’re using the information to make important academic or career decisions. You can find projections specific to your geographical area at the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program website.
Alternative Pathways to Master’s in Education Degrees
As universities respond to the demand for increasingly flexible degree plans, students have more and more options for earning their advanced credentials. Worried about scheduling in-person classes for the next two years in order to earn a master’s in education? No need. Consider these alternatives to the traditional MEd program.
Dual/Accelerated Degree Programs (Master’s Plus Bachelor’s)
When you think of a master’s degree in education (or in any field for that matter), you normally think of a two-year program. Two years may sound like a lot of additional study time, and it is. Not all master’s degrees in education take this long to complete, though. Post-secondary institutions frequently offer five-year, dual-degree education programs that shave about a year off traditional completion times for earning two separate degrees. Graduates of these programs, therefore, emerge with bachelor’s and master’s credentials alongside appropriate teaching endorsements. By comparison, the traditional route to earning a Master of Education takes 18 to 24 months to complete following the receiving of a four-year bachelor’s degree. Either route allows aspiring teachers to begin teaching careers upon program completion. Deciding which path to take often depends on program availability, type of specialization, scheduling preferences, and financial considerations.
Online/Hybrid Master’s in Education Programs
Face-to-face learning has been the norm for graduate degree programs in education for decades. This is changing, though. More and more colleges and universities are now offering their master’s in education degree programs online or via blended learning formats. U.S. News & World Report ranks well over 300 such programs nationwide. We mention these offerings because they could help you make your decision whether or not to attend grad school right after graduation.
Decades ago, educators working on their master’s while teaching in the classroom would have to attend evening classes at their local university in order to earn their credentials. Not anymore. Now, students can complete their coursework from home or anywhere there’s an Internet connection. Many hybrid and fully online MEd programs are specifically designed for working teachers. If you think you can’t be both a student and a teacher simultaneously, these programs aim to prove you wrong.
Career Benefits for Obtaining a Master’s of Education
If you do decide to wait to earn your master’s credential, don’t put it off for too long. If you do, you’ll be missing out on the many benefits of working as a master’s-trained educator.
Several career benefits make earning a master’s degree in education attractive. One that we’ve already touched on is pay. Statistics reveal that teaching professionals with master’s degrees currently earn higher salaries in every state compared to bachelor’s degree-holders, and the pay gap widens with years of commensurate experience. Additionally, those with masters frequently get tapped for roles as department or committee chairs, which may include stipends or lead to other advancement opportunities. Finally, obtaining a master’s degree can be a competitive edge for landing preferred teaching jobs in many geographical locations nationwide.
As long as you eventually do earn your master’s degree in education, there’s really no right or wrong way to get to graduation. As with most things, there are both advantages and disadvantages to either route. Whether you go to grad school right away or teach for a period of time, you’ll be sure to come out on top as long as you keep the end goal in mind.
Completing an advanced education degree immediately following an undergraduate program can be a career-changing decision for aspiring teachers. Whether opting for fast-track or traditional pathways to accomplish such a goal, looking towards the benefits of such a decision can provide may help determine if pursuing a master’s of education before embarking on a teaching career makes sense.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Occupational Outlook Handbook
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics
- U.S. News & World Report: Best Online Master’s in Education Programs