For a challenging career that allows you to make a difference in people’s lives, consider teaching. The demand for qualified and certified teachers continues to expand, especially in growing urban areas and new communities.
As you prepared to become a teacher, you will be able to specialize in your preferred age group—from preschool to adult—and you can choose a career in either public or private school systems as well as higher education.
The minimum requirement to becoming a teacher is a bachelor’s degree. Depending on your desired specialization, your degree may be in education or in a field such as science or a foreign language. Public school teachers also need to become certified by the state, meaning you will also need to complete supervised teaching and pass certification exams.
There are a number of online graduate programs that will allow you to complete the required coursework to become a certified teacher in your state. You can also pursue online graduate degrees and certification programs to advance your teaching career.
To come up with this list of the top education degrees in the country, we researched 746 online bachelor’s and online master’s programs in education, examining performance, student satisfaction, and value. We selected the top programs that met our thresholds for academic performance and value. The programs we rated at the top had higher graduation rates, retention rates, and placements on national ranking surveys, as well as lower in-state and out-of-state tuition prices compared to the averages of all reviewed programs.
Below we outline some of our top bachelor’s and master’s programs in education.
Northern Illinois University
In order to become a teacher you will need at least your bachelor’s degree, and possibly a graduate degree. For early childhood (preschool, kindergarten and elementary school), you will need a bachelor’s degree in education. For secondary school teaching (middle school and high school), you will need a degree in a subject field recognized by the state in which you plan to teach (e.g. math, natural science, foreign language, or English). For education fields such as special education, education administration, curriculum design, and instructional technology, you will need a master’s degree or PhD in the field you wish to pursue.
Below we take a closer look at some of the degrees you might consider for a career in teaching:
When looking for an online teaching degree program, it’s important to choose an institution that’s accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). NCATE accredits both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Attending an accredited school is critical if you wish to complete your teaching certification for the state in which you plan to teach. It may also be required as a condition of employment at private schools, as well as for admission to a graduate program in education.
Once you’ve decided that you want to pursue a degree in education/teaching, you will need to evaluate programs (and your eligibility) based on your goals and educational background.
If this will be your first bachelor’s degree, you should be aware that very few online bachelor’s in education programs offer teacher certification, so if that is your end goal, you will need to eventually pursue a master’s degree. If your goal isn’t to teach in public schools, however, you may not need the certification, and a bachelor’s degree in education (or for secondary schools, in a teaching field) may be sufficient.
Some online bachelor’s degree programs are designed for “degree completion,”, meaning that they are two-year degree programs to be taken after the successful completion of an associate degree (or two years of general education coursework at a community college or university).
Admissions requirements for online bachelor’s degrees are commonly the same as for students applying for an on-campus degree program. These requirements include a high school diploma or GED and satisfactory scores on the SAT or ACT exam. For transfer students, schools usually will also require submission of all college transcripts, possibly with a minimum GPA of 2.5 or higher.
For students with a bachelor’s degree in the fields of education, liberal arts, fine arts or natural sciences, you will want to consider a master’s degree in education rather than another bachelor’s degree. In a few cases, particularly with specialized programs such as educational administration or special education, master’s programs will require you to already be a certified teacher. Most master’s programs, however, will accept students with bachelor’s degrees in education or in fields related to their ultimate teaching field.
For online master’s degrees, most programs will require you to have completed a four-year bachelor’s degree prior to admission, often with a GPA of 3.0 or greater. As a rule, expect programs to require the GRE or MAT exam, letters of recommendation and a personal statement.
Because there is so much variation in admissions requirements, we recommend that you carefully research these requirements for each program you are considering.
All teachers who teach at the elementary and secondary levels must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree as a qualification to teach, and many preschool and kindergarten programs also require a bachelor’s degree. The type of degree will vary depending on the level of the students you wish to teach and will be either a degree in education or in a particular subject field.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree, in order to teach at a public school, you must possess teaching certification (sometimes called a teaching license or teaching credential). All candidates for certification must complete a teaching program that includes specified education coursework and a supervised student teaching practicum. For middle school and high school teachers, you will also need to pass a proficiency exam in the subject or subjects you wish to teach, and receive an endorsement in those fields. Some states require additional testing for teachers, including professional standards tests.
Private schools do not have the same certification requirements but may offer higher starting salaries and better opportunities for advancement to certified teachers, as certification is an objective standard of quality and training.
Each state will have its own certification requirements for coursework, minimum student teaching requirements, and examinations. For specialized fields such as counseling or special education, there may be additional requirements, degrees or certifications that you will need to complete. If you become certified in one state and move, you may have to take a new certification exam or meet other requirements in order to be eligible to teach in the new state.
After you receive your certification, you will need to regularly complete continuing education credits in order to retain your teaching certification.
Career opportunities and salaries for teachers vary considerably across the country. Growing urban and suburban areas are the best places to look for openings.
The average annual salary for preschool teachers is $28,120, with a job growth rate through 2024 estimated to be average, at 7%. Meanwhile, kindergarten and elementary school teachers earn, on average, $53,760. Middle school teachers can expect an average salary of $54,940, and the average salary for high school teachers is $56,310. For all three levels, the job growth outlook through 2024 is 6%, the average job growth across all fields.
There are a couple of reasons for a sizable jump in salary from preschool to teaching at the kindergarten and upper levels. First, most of the non-preschool teaching jobs require both a degree and certification, and pay teachers accordingly. Second, most public school teachers throughout the country belong to unions, which advocate for saving teaching jobs and increasing salaries. The two largest are the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA).
One alternate career that many with certification choose to pursue is school counseling. This position has an average salary of $53,370 and has an 8% growth rate.
Job growth for teachers has slowed down over the past couple of years, dropping in some cases from over 20%. This can be attributed to both a slowdown in the overall economy and to increasing numbers of new teachers in the job market. As noted, the job growth rate is a national average, and some cities will offer much better career opportunities for teachers.
*Salary and job growth data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Teachers serve as primary classroom instructors for students from preschool to college. At advanced levels, generally middle school and higher, a teacher will specialize in a specific subject area. In addition to regular classroom teachers, with a background in education you can pursue specialized degrees or certificates in counseling, vocational training, special education, adult education or teaching English as a second language (ESL). You can also go into educational administration, research, instructional technology, or other related fields.
Preschool teachers teach very young children before they are eligible for kindergarten.
Elementary school teachers instruct students from kindergarten through 5th or 6th grades. They usually teach several subjects in a single classroom.
Secondary School (middle school and high school) teachers work with students in the 6th through 12th grades. Middle school teachers build on the skills that students learned in elementary school and prepare them for high school, while high school teachers teach at a more advanced level and prepare students for careers and college.
Teaching requires long hours, patience, and excellent people skills. You need to be able to explain concepts, manage groups, and in most cases, appreciate the company of children or young adults. Above all, you should enjoy the education process. Teachers often earn a lower salary than other jobs requiring similar amounts of training and experience. However, teaching can also be a very rewarding profession that allows individuals to make a real difference.
There are few online undergraduate degrees in education that are also sufficient to earn certification. However, once you have earned a bachelor’s degree (online or from a campus-based program), there are many online master’s programs that will provide the necessary coursework and opportunities for student teaching that makes you eligible for your state certification exams.
While online degrees make it possible to complete educational requirements, in order to earn your teaching certificate, you will still need to complete supervised, full-time classroom teaching for a period of between 12 and 20 weeks. You should research your state’s teaching certification requirements, as well as any other requirements that may be in place for your local school district or private schools.
The major teaching responsibilities are the same for both kinds of schools, but there are a few important differences. Unlike public schools, admission to private schools is selective, and private schools charge tuition. Private schools tend to have smaller classes than those in public schools, and private school teacher salaries are often lower than those of public school teachers. Generally speaking, certification is not required to teach in private schools.