Calculating the lifetime value of earning your master’s degree in various career fields or industries can be more complicated than you might think. That’s partly because the data can include a lot of apples and oranges. However, there is solid evidence to confirm the conventional wisdom that earning your master’s degree in an education-related discipline does significantly boost your earning potential.
In this post, we’ll explore:
- The value of an advanced degree in education (M.Ed. or MAT)
- Salary differentials based on teacher experience
- Career options outside the classroom that are boosted by a master’s degree
First, let’s look at what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “wage premiums,” figures that the BLS calculates by examining median annual wages for workers who had a master’s degree with those for workers in the same occupation who had a bachelor’s degree. Though the BLS points out that the data does not account for experience, training, certifications and other possible factors, the statistics did show considerable wage premiums for master’s degree holders working in education.
|Occupation||% Wage Premium(for master’s over bachelor’s)|
|Preschool and kindergarten teachers||43%|
|Elementary and middle school teachers||28%|
|Secondary school teachers||24%|
|Special education teachers||24%|
|Other teachers and instructors||22%|
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, 88 percent of large U.S. school districts (including the 100 largest districts in the country) offer additional pay to teachers who hold master’s degrees.
Master of Education Salaries by State: Where You’ll Make the Most
According to National Center for Education Statistics data from 2019–2020, the average annual wage for a school teacher in the U.S. is $63,645. The following states pay the highest teacher salaries (Mississippi is listed as paying the least at $45,192):
- New York ($87,543)
- California ($84,659)
- Massachusetts ($83,622)
- Connecticut ($78,247)
- New Jersey ($76,376)
- Maryland ($73,444)
- Washington ($72,965)
- Alaska ($70,877)
- Pennsylvania ($70,258)
- Illinois ($68,305)
Public School vs. Private School Teacher Salaries
Public school teachers typically earn more on average than their counterparts who teach in private schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, private school teachers earn an average of approximately $12,000–$13,000 less than comparable public school positions.
This is thought to be because public school teaching salaries are funded publicly and tend to be relatively constant across different school districts. Private school teacher salaries, in contrast, are paid in part from student tuition. Because private schools charge a range of different tuition prices, salaries can vary greatly; however, most pay lower teacher salaries than public schools.
Teacher Certification Requirements Vary by State
For those starting out in public education, most positions require that you become licensed by your state’s board of education. While requirements will vary by state, many states require:
- Specialized classes (special education for instance)
- A minimum number of classes in your chosen subject area
- Passing of standardized test(s)
- Student teaching experience
Be sure to check with your state on their specific requirements.
Additional Career Paths for Educators with a Master’s Degree (Plus Average Salaries)
While teaching may be the obvious career path for those considering an M.Ed., there are actually a number of non-teaching careers where an M.Ed. is extremely beneficial, if not required.
Below we’ll discuss eight alternative teaching careers for M.Ed. holders, along with average salaries you can expect to earn in each position. Keep in mind that while a master’s degree will typically increase your pay, most educators are also paid on a sliding scale based on years of experience.
Principal or Administrator
As a principal you are the leader of your school, heavily influencing and shaping the culture and learning systems in place, serving as an aid or advisor to teachers, and ensuring that every student is getting the most out of their education while receiving the instruction and support they need to succeed.
According to Salary.com’s 100 percent employer-reported salary sources that looked at salaries nationwide, the median salary for a public school teacher with a master’s degree or an MBA is $58,499–$63,160. For a principal, one of the alternatives to classroom teaching, average salaries range from $107,843–$115,276.
Dr. Allan R. Bonilla, former principal and author of I’m in the Principal’s Seat, Now What? The Story of a Turnaround Principal, urges those considering a career as principal to consider one key question in Education Week.
“The big question should be ‘Why do I want to be a principal?’ Hopefully it is because you have wonderful ideas for creating an exemplary school and are eager to implement them. Hopefully you have a true love for children and want to see them all succeed. Hopefully you want to foster a positive school culture in which your teachers can flourish and can motivate and inspire their students to love learning. Do you truly want to make a difference?”
$112,139 is the median salary for school principals, according to Salary.com
Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers work directly with children who have emotional or physical disabilities or who have learning impairments. Some special education teachers choose to specialize in a certain area of special education, for example teaching students with autism or those who have experienced trauma. Specializing in a specific subset of special education requires a practitioner to obtain a master’s degree with a specialization in their chosen subset. In some states and in most public schools, a master’s degree is required to become a special education teacher, regardless of specialization.
$61,820 is the median salary for special education teachers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
School or Career Counselor
School counselors are an important presence at most elementary, middle and high schools. They help students who are struggling socially or who are having psychological issues or problems at home. They also assist students with academics, often acting as the main facilitator and mentor during the college application process. In almost all schools, a master’s degree is required to work as a school guidance counselor. A common degree choice for those looking to become a guidance counselor is a master of education with a specialty in educational psychology or school counseling. To see a full list of requirements by state, visit the American School Counselor Association.
$60,510 is the average salary for school counselors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Educational Coordinator/Director at Museum, Aquarium, Zoo, etc.
Does working in a museum, zoo, science center or aquarium sound fun? Well, if you have a master’s degree in education, working as an education specialist or coordinator at one of these facilities could be a great career option. The responsibilities of such roles will vary greatly, but in general an education specialist is responsible for designing, implementing and teaching educational programs, distributing educational materials and understanding the different learning styles of their audience.
Check out the M.Ed. blog: 10 Tips for Earning Your M.Ed. While Teaching Full Time >>
Working as a corporate trainer is a great career option for M.Ed. holders who love to teach but would prefer to work in a more corporate environment with adults. Typically, upper-level positions require a master’s degree or higher and can be quite lucrative — another benefit of moving into the corporate space.
$61,570 is the average pay for corporate trainers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Working as an educational consultant offers teachers another alternative to working in the classroom every day. This can be a great second career after teaching or an option for educators looking to take a few years off from day-to-day teaching. To work as a consultant, most employers require a master’s degree along with actual teaching experience. Typically, consultants specialize in a specific area – such as blended learning, improving student dropout rates or academic intervention, just to name a few – using their expertise to set educational goals and implement plans to achieve those goals. Working alongside teachers and administrators, consultants assist in affecting policy, enhancing curriculum and improving or implementing educational initiatives.
$104,327 is the average salary for educational consultants, according to Salary.com.
Curriculum Developer/Instructional Coordinator
Working as a curriculum developer, also known as an instructional specialist, you will be responsible for developing new curriculum or improving existing curriculum for a school. You will provide guidance and supervision for anything relating to curriculum, including textbook changes and technological materials. In addition, you may assess and train teachers to help them improve their instructional techniques. “A master’s degree is considered the minimum educational level” for most instructional coordinator and curriculum developer positions, according to U.S. News.
$63,740 is the average salary for curriculum developers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Content Developer/Item Writer
Content developers and item writers typically work for publishing or assessment companies and are tasked with developing content for standardized tests or writing lesson outlines and content for educational textbooks. While a master’s degree is not always required for content developers, experience in teaching almost always is. And if you want to work as a content developer it is more than likely that you will need to have a master’s degree coupled with subject-specific experience in the teaching field.
A Quick Reminder: Master of Arts in Teaching vs. Master of Education
If you are just beginning to consider how higher education could help you make progress toward your career goals, it is important to distinguish between an M.Ed. vs. an MAT. This is important because, although they may sound extremely similar, these two degrees are actually very different.
A Master of Education degree is designed for current educators who would like to expand their understanding of teaching theories, pedagogy and strategies. Students in an M.Ed. program not only want hands-on, practical skills they can implement in their classroom, they might also have aspirations of expanding their career beyond the classroom and working in the broader world of academia. So, if you are interested in any of the careers mentioned above, an M.Ed. is the best choice.
A Master of Arts in Teaching on the other hand is designed to give current and prospective teachers the skills they will need to be effective in the classroom. If you are currently teaching and would like to stay in the classroom but gain additional subject-specific skills and strategies to enhance your teaching, the MAT may be right for you.
Master of Education degree programs are typically designed to be versatile enough to position educators for a variety of jobs and career options. For example, the University of San Diego offers an online Master of Education degree with six specializations to choose from: Technology and Innovation; School Leadership; Curriculum & Instruction; Inclusive Learning: Special Education and Universal Design (UDL); Literacy and Digital Learning; Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM).