The Best Master’s in Education Programs

There is certainly no shortage of exceptional master’s education programs in the United States. From coast to coast, aspiring school administrators, education policymakers, and instructional designers have a plethora of programs to which they may apply. 

Some of the best graduate schools in the nation offer concentrations in areas like STEM, teaching students with exceptionalities, and digital literacy.

Institutional leaders recognize that to attract top-level applicants, they must create accessible programs for working professionals. Many schools on this list offer hybrid, 100% online, or weekend/evening master’s degree programs for those already working in the field.

The benefits of obtaining a master’s degree in education typically give practicing teachers a competitive edge when applying for positions within their district, as well as higher salaries. 

While many public school districts use “step scales,” awarding higher wages based on years of experience, an additional master’s degree (or even half of a master’s degree) can increase teachers’ salaries by more than $5,000 per year.

What should applicants expect from some of the U.S.A.’s best education master’s programs? Research, field experience, and collaboration, to be sure. 

Programs listed generally take one to two years to complete, depending on the learning format. It is worthwhile to check with your school district to see if there are any programs offering stipends for teachers pursuing higher degrees.

Without further ado, here are 10 of the best master’s in education programs in the U.S. These schools were selected because of their top ranking in major publications, such as U.S. News, College Factual, Niche, and College Rank.

Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College (Tempe, AZ)

Arizona State University
Beyond My Ken, 2021 Arizona State University, Tempe Campus, Old Main, CC BY-SA 4.0

Three master’s programs stand out at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College: the MS in education sciences, the MA in educational policy, and the MEd in higher and postsecondary education. 

The education sciences MS is an attractive option for people interested in resolving many of the problems inherent in the public education system via quantitative research methods. 

After completing the degree requirements – which include an internship and accompanying research project position – students with this degree will be prepared to work as data analysts in federal agencies, educational testing facilities, and school districts.

In the educational policy MA program, which emphasizes a collaborative approach to learning, students work in cohorts to complete various projects centered on interpreting data with the goal of improving existing policies or creating new ones within school systems and at the national level.

The MEd in higher and postsecondary education may be an ideal choice for those already working within administrative roles at the university level. The hybrid degree comprises ten courses offered on a 7.5-week calendar, and the curriculum exposes participants to topics and experiences in organizational leadership, college funding, and data-based decision-making.

University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (Philadelphia, PA)

One of several Ivy League institutions on our list, the GSE at Penn enrolls over 1,000 students in its 21 master’s-level programs, including unique offerings like an MSEd in intercultural communication, an MPhilEd in quantitative methods, and an MSEd in education, culture, and society.

The Urban Teaching Residency Program (UTRP) seeks to expand a student-centered, inquiry-based, and social justice-oriented approach to curriculum and instructional development. 

Participants will take courses in child development, school and society, and complete a capstone writing seminar, with the option to gain teaching certification in Pennsylvania.

Suppose you’re looking for an innovative program not offered anywhere else. In that case, the MSEd in education entrepreneurship is the first of its kind in the nation, merging the study of education, business, and entrepreneurship. 

Offered through blended and weekend modes, the degree program will challenge participants to re-imagine modern learning settings and instructional tools via the launch of school startups and products.

University of Michigan School of Education (Ann Arbor, MI)

University of Michigan School of Education
Michael Barera, University of Michigan August 2013 228 (School of Education Building), CC BY-SA 4.0

Learners seeking an intimate collegiate environment will find the UM School of Education’s 1:8 faculty-to-student ratio appealing. 

The SOE’s education and educational research programs have been top-ranked by various top-level research journals, so we’ll delve into some of those exceptional programs here.

The MA in higher education offers eight exciting concentrations in areas like institutional research and student access and success. 

The diversity and social justice in higher education concentration aims to equip degree candidates with the tools and lens to increase equity within higher education settings. 

Alternatively, the concentration in institutional research prompts students to engage in various qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods action research projects wherein they explore and develop solutions for systemic problems within U.S. collegiate institutions. 

Another unique option is the blended MA in educational studies, an interdisciplinary program that unites educational leaders, researchers, and policymakers from around the world in innovating new, evidence-based learning approaches.

North Carolina State University College of Education (Raleigh, NC)

A rising star in the realm of graduate studies in education, NC State produces more STEM educators in North Carolina than any other institution (including UNC, Duke, and Wake Forest University). 

NCSU’s master’s degrees are spread across four departments, some of which we’ll explore in this section.

The master’s in school administration prepares degree candidates to become successful leaders in K-12 settings. MSA participants complete 24 credits in addition to an 18-credit internship either in the afternoons or evenings/Saturdays, making the program accessible to those currently working in the school system. 

Course topics include school law, school improvement contexts and challenges, and community and interagency partnerships.

We can’t highlight NCSU’s programs without lauding one of its STEM concentrations: the MEd in STEM – engineering and technology education concentration. 

Able to be completed 100% online, this program stipulates 30 hours without a thesis and prepares degree candidates to pursue a doctorate upon graduation. 

Graduates move on to become technological administrators or STEM program leaders in public schools and at the district level.

University of Washington College of Education (Seattle, WA)

University of Washington College of Education
Dustinwunderlich, Miller Hall 2004, CC BY-SA 4.0

Out of the University of Washington’s 19 master’s degree offerings, we’re shining the spotlight on three one-of-a-kind programs: intercollegiate athletic leadership, culturally sustaining education, and low-incidence teacher education. 

Nowhere else is there a program like the IAL MEd, a hybrid program giving participants hands-on opportunities to prepare for leadership roles within school athletic departments. 

Possible to attain within a single year, the program starts with an on-campus six-week summer intensive, then propels students into fall and winter internships paired with asynchronous courses. 

Participants can focus on one of three areas: leadership development, the impact of sports on society, or athletic administration skills.

The culturally sustaining education MEd is one of the school’s flagship programs, established under the guidance of field pioneers Dr. Geneva Gay and Dr. James A. Banks. 

Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy (Evanston, IL)

There are six master’s programs to choose from at Northwestern’s SESP. We’ll start with one of the best-ranked programs: the MSEd learning sciences concentration

The type of person who might gravitate toward this program is interested in the intersection of teacher training, software development, school administration, and other related topics.

An educational studies MS immerses students in the areas of child development and school policy, and graduates proceed to work in nonprofit organizations, international schools, and after-school programs. Courses are intimate and hands-on, with a heavy emphasis on field experience.

Those who apply for the MSEd in teacher leadership will have a demonstrated passion for supporting teachers from all backgrounds – both new and veteran. Summer courses are offered on a one- or two-week schedule via the Summer Institute for Teachers program, and during the school year, participants engage in a two-quarter practicum. 

Other professional development opportunities for eager graduate students are offered via the Educational Coaching Network – 2022-2023 offerings include cognitive coaching training and basic-intermediate coaching by renowned teacher leader Jim Knight.

Stanford Graduate School of Education (Stanford, CA)

Stanford Graduate School of Education
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to six stellar master’s offerings with additional concentration, which we’ll soon describe, the Stanford GSE offers several top-ranked joint programs: an MA/JD in law and education, an MA/MBA via the School of Business, and an MA/MPP in public policy and education.

The education data science MS is a two-year, full-time degree program that includes a mentored internship or research assistantship and a culminating capstone project. 

Participants engage in fieldwork related to basic programming, statistical analysis, and three of five data science specialization tracks (such as natural language processing, measurement, and learning analytics). 

Many people seeking a thrilling master’s program will flock to the master’s international comparative education (ICE) program, a year-long degree program that challenges students to interrogate educational problems from a comparative and interdisciplinary lens – touching on subjects like sociology, political science, and history. After all, there is much to learn from the successes of other nations in public education.

Harvard Graduate School of Education (Cambridge, MA)

Founded in 1920, the Harvard GSE has graduated nearly 30,000 students who have gone on to serve as policy leaders, education entrepreneurs, and school district administrators, among other essential roles. 

Degree-seeking candidates may choose from two EdM programs: the residential master’s or the online master’s. The former is a one-year, on-campus experience, while the latter takes two years to complete online.

The residential master’s allows participants to specialize in one of five areas, like human development, where participants examine the cognitive, affective, and neurological domains of learning as they relate to children, teenagers, and adult learners.

Online master’s candidates choose either the higher education or PreK-12 pathway. Higher education specialists are generally already working within administrative or mid-level roles at the college/university level. 

Upon completing their course sequences, they will be prepared to lead nonprofit organizations and state/federal agencies. 

Course topics include strategic finance for nonprofit leaders and the art and practice of communication. Students can expect 14-20 hours of rigorous coursework, discussion, and related research weekly.

Columbia University Teachers College (New York City, NY)

Those familiar with excellence in education will not be surprised to see the Teachers College at Columbia University featured on this list. 

The institution advertises 50+ master’s level programs in education alone, often with an interdisciplinary focus. Currently, nearly 6,000 students are pursuing master’s doctoral or advanced-level certificates at Teachers College.

The MS or EdM in sociology and education are some of the longest-enduring programs of their kind in the nation, compelling students to disrupt policies and systems that perpetuate inequalities using evidence-based approaches. 

Degree candidates complete action research projects in various NYC public school sites on topics like gentrification, racial segregation, and school organization.

One of the newest programs at Teachers College is the master’s degree in neuroscience and education

As researchers have published more data on the neuroplasticity of the developing brain, Columbia has responded by offering a unique program merging the study of the mind, human behavior, and how humans learn. 

A thesis is required for graduation, including a self-created summative assessment, a systematic literature review of a topic in neuroscience research, an empirical paper connected to a study in which the student was directly involved, or a highly-detailed proposal for a neuroscientific research study.

University of Central Florida College of Community Innovation and Education (Orlando, FL)

UCF offers an astounding 18 MA, MS, or MEd programs within the realm of education – we’ll focus on some of the more unique offerings which might not be found at peer institutions, like the MA in teaching English to speakers of other languages

One of the neatest aspects of this program is a service learning study abroad component in countries like Spain or China. In total, degree candidates complete 30-36 credit hours (dependent on their decision to pursue a thesis or nonthesis pathway). 

Current educators may gravitate toward the MEd in reading education, aimed to develop and support literacy initiatives targeting children and adolescent learners. 

Graduates of this program may proceed to work as literacy interventionists in public school districts, for example. This program – which focuses on topics like reading assessment, digital literacies, and literacy coaching – can be completely 100% online!

Another totally online (or hybrid) offering is the MA in instructional design and technology: e-learning. Students in this program will become proficient in creating, implementing, and assessing exceptional e-learning materials for K-12 practitioners. 

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