Though many schools prefer to hire teachers with master’s degrees, it is possible to become a teacher with a bachelor’s degree — you may just need to take a few extra steps. If you’re drawn to the teaching profession, you can do so without an advanced degree, even if your B.A. is not in education. Use this guide as a helpful jumping off point to get started on your teaching career.
Can You Become a Certified Teacher With a Bachelor’s Degree?
The short answer is — yes! The requirements for becoming a teacher vary by state, district and grade level, even with a master’s degree in education. That said, if you research your state’s field experience, exam and licensure requirements, those with bachelor’s degrees can become teachers.
Regardless of degree, all U.S. public schools require teachers to pass a licensure exam to become certified to teach. Though candidates with bachelor’s degrees may be eligible to earn their teaching license, some schools still prefer candidates to be working toward their master’s degree or a teaching certificate.
If you wish to become a teacher with only a bachelor’s degree in education, be sure your undergraduate program covers all the practical aspects of classroom teaching:
- Proven and diverse teaching techniques
- Classroom management, lesson planning and student engagement strategies
- Hands-on teaching and learning experiences in a real classroom
This hands-on experience is a key requirement for many state teaching certifications; if your undergraduate education program does not offer a student teaching component, some states offer supervised teaching practicums prior to the certification exam. Other opportunities to gain experience in a classroom setting include internships and substitute teaching.
If you have a bachelor’s degree outside of education, you may be able to enroll in an alternative teacher certification program in the state that applies to you. Almost every state offers this opportunity, but the certification process will vary, so be sure to research through your state’s Department of Education.
No matter a state’s specific degree restrictions, there may be exceptions made during emergencies or shortages. If a district or state is experiencing a significant shortage of teachers in certain subject areas, they may grant temporary teaching licenses to those who hold only bachelor’s degrees. Examples include high-need specialties or subject areas like special education, English as a second language (ESL) and certain STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). Once the emergency or shortage status is lifted, these teachers can take their state’s licensing exam to become fully certified.
It is rare, if not impossible, to become a certified teacher without at least a bachelor’s degree. If you feel drawn to the teaching profession and are looking for some direction, consider earning your undergraduate degree in a compelling field that can lead to licensure. Specialized degree programs include elementary or secondary education, special education or fine art with an education component.
Pathways to Becoming a Teacher
Many teachers catch the “teaching bug” early; education professionals will often say, “I knew I wanted to be a teacher from age X.” Before they even enter a degree program, aspiring teachers will take on tutoring jobs, work as camp counselors or start after school homework clubs.
Post-graduation, those with bachelor’s degrees outside of education can gain teaching experience by joining school substitute lists or taking on teaching assistant or educational technician (ed tech) jobs. Most states require at least a four-year degree for all K–12 teaching jobs; those with associate’s degrees are not often considered unless they have relevant field experience.
The good news is that bachelor’s, master’s and certificate programs are all offered in-person or online, so you can certainly find an option that is convenient for you.
Having a master’s degree in education is the most reliable way to be considered for a teaching position — and to secure a higher salary. While a Master of Education degree does not guarantee a more skilled teacher, schools routinely prioritize advanced degree holders over those without. This is because graduate programs tend to focus on more specific aspects of teaching than undergraduate programs, such as grade-specific education, curriculum design or teaching certain populations.
There are many opportunities for online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, with flexible options that allow students to earn their degree while working full time. A master’s degree typically takes two years to complete on a full time course schedule and requires completion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Many public schools will pay for at least part of a master’s degree or certificate.
Depending on the kind of teaching job you want, research which type of master’s degree will help you get there. Choose a program that aligns with your state’s requirements and will net you a living wage.
Average Length of program: 2 years (full time)
Projected avg. teaching salary: $51,000
Teaching certificates were designed to help those with bachelor’s degrees in unrelated fields become licensed to teach. It’s not as unusual as you might expect — according to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), about 18% of public school teachers surveyed during the 2015-2016 school year had earned their teaching license following an alternative certification program.
As an alternative to traditional education degree programs, certificates can be completed in under a year in a flexible, online or in-person format. Many schools experiencing teacher shortages offer these programs to help onboard new teachers quickly. This is a viable option for those with non-education bachelor’s degrees, who can then teach in the subject in which they majored.
There is financial aid and scholarships available for these alternative programs, as well as grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Average Length of program: 9 months–1 year
Projected avg. teaching salary: $39,000
In addition to these teaching career pathways, other options are available for those in specific circumstances.
Teach for America: This pioneering nonprofit recruits recent college graduates to commit to two years of teaching in low-income or underserved school communities. Many TFA “corps members” continue teaching after their two-year term or pursue other educational leadership positions.
Troops to Teachers: This program helps veterans and military professionals become teachers following active service. As of November 2022, this program was under review by the U.S. Department of Defense as it determines funding needs.
Technical training: Educators who want to teach specific technical subjects like automotive repair can obtain skills-related credentials like the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification. They can then earn their teaching license and begin teaching in that subject area.
Provisional teaching credentials: In rare circumstances, temporary teaching licenses may be granted to professionals whose extensive career, advanced degrees or life experience can stand in for teaching experience. Examples include a pioneering marine biologist teaching an ocean science course or a published author teaching creative writing.
Public vs. Private School Teacher Education Requirements
Virtually across the board, public schools require teaching applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license to be considered. However, since private and charter schools do not fall under state jurisdiction, the same rules do not apply.
Some non-public schools allow those with bachelor’s degrees or relevant experience to teach. If you’re considering a job at a private or charter school, make sure you know their criteria before applying.
Teaching Degree Requirements by Education Level
The information in the following chart is by no means comprehensive, but should give aspiring teachers a general overview of the minimum requirements they can expect when applying for public school positions at certain grade levels. Teaching licenses are required at every level.
|Grade level/specialization||Preferred education||Alternatives|
|Preschool/daycare||BA in early childhood education||BA (any subject) + alternative certification programs in early childhood education|
|Elementary school||BA in early childhood education||BA (any subject) + alternative certification programs in early childhood education|
|Middle school||BA in secondary education||BA (any subject) + alternative certification programs in secondary education|
|High school||BA in secondary education||BA (any subject) + alternative certification programs in secondary education|
|Special education||BA in special education||BA (any subject) + alternative certification programs in special education|
|College||Master’s degree or Ph.D in applicable content area (not necessarily in education)||n/a|
State-by-State Requirements to Become a Teacher
All 50 U.S. states require at least a bachelor’s degree for public school teachers, and 47 require appropriate training before teaching credentials can be granted (Idaho, Illinois and Indiana will grant teaching licenses without training). Some states also require that those pursuing credentials spend at least a few years teaching before earning their license.
Allowable alternative routes to teaching are even more variable by state, with some states only recognizing alternative pathways in times of staff shortages or emergencies. Even then, those who have taken alternative teacher training are often limited to elementary school positions.
Teaching license requirements vary by state, but as of 2022, 50 states (plus the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, Guam and the Canadian province of Ontario) maintain an interstate agreement known as the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). This agreement standardizes teachers’ credentials across state lines, which allows teachers to have their licenses recognized by multiple states if need be.
The best approach to securing a teaching license in your preferred state is to find a degree or certificate program that is recognized in all 50 states. Then, research your state’s licensure requirements carefully before applying to any programs. Once you earn your bachelor’s degree or complete your certificate program, you will likely need to take your state’s teaching exam, pass a background check and possibly begin a master’s degree program soon after being hired. Fortunately, there are grants available to help working teachers afford their master’s degrees.