Ultimate Guide to Education Degrees and Careers

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Admission Criteria and Requirements for an Education Degree

Bachelor’s Degree

The most straightforward path to becoming an educator is to earn a bachelor’s degree in education; however, this is not the only road. To teach in K-12 schools, you will need a bachelor’s degree in education or another discipline. In Bachelor of Science (BS) programs, you will take more math and science courses than in BA programs. In Bachelor of Arts (BA) programs, the focus is heavier on liberal arts studies, though you should still expect to take math and science courses. If you plan to teach a STEM subject, a BS degree may be an excellent place to start. There are less common degree pathways for educators. For example, high school art teachers may have earned an undergraduate degree in art, while theatre teachers may earn a degree in music or theatre. Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs are another pathway toward becoming an educator.

Even administrative or principal roles require experience in education. Most principals have taught in the classroom for a minimum of two years. This requirement means they must earn an undergraduate degree and licensure that qualifies them for work in the classroom. However, individuals working in administrative roles may earn degrees in business, such as a BBA with a concentration or specialization in education.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in education is generally the next step for individuals who have earned bachelor’s in education degrees and teaching certification. A graduate degree is designed for those who wish to advance their role as an educator or administrator. However, master’s degrees in disciplines other than education may also be earned in order to acquire additional licensing and knowledge in specific areas of study. Top areas of study in education for those pursuing graduate degrees include curriculum and instruction, educational leadership or administration, school administration, and school counseling.

To qualify for a master’s degree program in education, or another discipline, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Strong applicants have competitive undergraduate GPAs, letters of recommendation, solid scores on graduate exams like the GRE, and experience working in the classroom or a school setting.

Ph.D. or Doctoral Degree

Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs are available in education. An Ed.D. or Doctor of Education is a professional degree designed for individuals seeking educational leadership and administrative roles. A Ph.D. in education, however, is structured to prepare graduates for research and teaching roles. A Ph.D. in education often qualifies you for teaching roles in a four-year college or university. Most postsecondary teachers and academic researchers hold Ph.D. in education degrees.

In-demand Education Majors

While you may know you want to teach after graduation, you may not know that you don’t necessarily have to major in education. In fact, subject-area expertise enriches your teaching career and makes you stand out among competitors when applying for a job. High school teachers, for example, often major in disciplines they intend to teach, such as biology, history, or math.

No matter what discipline you end up studying in college, to become a teacher you must earn a teaching certificate. Below are several in-demand education majors you might consider on your journey of becoming a teacher.

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Biology: Since there is a need for STEM-related educators, biology has become an in-demand major for aspiring teachers. As a biology major, you will study the science behind living organisms. From plant to animal life, you will study the functions and characteristics of organisms through research projects, labs, and independent work. Courses offered in this major cover topics like anatomy and physiology, animal behavior, cell and molecular biology, genetics, and pharmacology. Biology majors must also take foundational courses in math and other sciences, such as chemistry and physics.

Education: The most common major for aspiring teachers is education. As an education major, you will study the foundations of education and explore ways to improve it. The focus is generally on K-12 curriculum. From history of education to theory and purpose of public learning, students enrolled in a bachelor’s in education program gain a thorough understanding of the discipline. In most education programs, students may also select a specific subject to specialize in. Specializations are uniquely designed so that students may tailor their degree toward an area of interest. Popular specializations for education majors include biology, childhood education, social studies, and special education.

English: A general English degree can be an asset for an educator, as literacy in K-12 curriculum is an important part of the learning process. As a student of English or English literature, your days will be spent learning to think critically about the works you read. Ample time is spent in conducting research and drafting papers. You will graduate knowing how to logically create an argument and provide critiques and analyses. English majors can pass on their effective communication skills to their students, making English majors uniquely suited for the classroom.

History: A major in history will provide a well-rounded, in-depth study of ancient and modern civilizations, cultures, government, and more. History is the precursor and foundation for becoming a social studies teacher. The key to making sense of the future is often to understand the choices made in the past. Earning a degree in history can help educators enlighten a new generation. Courses offered in an undergraduate history program include American history, European history, non-Western history, slavery in America, and the American Civil War.

Mathematics: Mathematics is generally a major for individuals with an analytical and critical approach to problem-solving. If you’re thinking of teaching computer science, mathematics, or another STEM-bent discipline, you might consider a major in mathematics. Courses you will take as a math major cover a wide range of topics like complex variables, differential equations, linear algebra, probability and statistics, and research in mathematics. With a shortage of math teachers, mathematics can offer some of the best job prospects after graduation.

Psychology: A psychology degree can be beneficial for teachers since working with children is a major part of the job. As a psychology major, you will study child development and human behavior. Special courses for aspiring teachers include topics in gifted learning and special needs. A major in psychology can also benefit an aspiring education administrator and those seeking principal positions.

Sociology: Similar to psychology, sociology majors gain a deep understanding of community and family dynamics, which benefits individuals working in school settings. If you aspire to work as a school counselor or education administrator, a sociology degree can also benefit you. Sociology majors take courses that cover topics like economic sociology, personality and social systems, race and ethnicity, research methods, social movements, and social stratification and class. The major is ideally designed for those interested in observing other people’s interactions. Sociologists are on the lookout for patterns and consistencies within these unique interactions.

STEM: STEM teachers are in demand, thus gaining experience and knowledge in areas like science, technology, engineering, and math helps fulfill a need where teacher shortages exist. Majoring in a STEM discipline means choosing a discipline in the sciences, technology, engineering, or math and focusing attention on that particular area. Popular STEM majors for teachers include biology, chemistry, environmental science, mathematics, and physics.

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Earnings Potential for Education Jobs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual wage for education and training occupations as $52,380, which is approximately 10k higher than the median annual wage for all other occupations. However, earnings vary by role and geographic location. Below are several different job titles in education and the most recent median pay for each occupation, as published by BLS.

Adult Basic and Secondary Education ESL Teachers

The most recent median pay for adult basic and secondary education ESL teachers reported by BLS is $55,350. The top-paying industry for this occupation is elementary and secondary schools. In this industry, ESL teachers earn a median annual wage of $61,410.

Career and Technical Education Teachers

BLS reports the median annual wage for career and technical education teachers is $59,140. Top industries for this occupation include colleges, universities, and professional schools; junior colleges; and technical and trade schools.

High School Teachers

The median annual wage for high school teachers, according to BLS, is just under $63,000. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $41,330, while the highest 10 percent earn over $102,000. However, geographic location and years of experience directly impact earnings.

Instructional Coordinators

BLS indicates that instructional coordinators earn a median annual wage of $66,979. Top-paying industries for this occupation include government and elementary and secondary schools. Also, the highest 10% of earners in this occupation make over $105,000 annually.

Middle School Teachers

According to BLS, middle school teachers earn a median annual wage of $60,810, with the highest 10% of earners making over $98,000. However, the highest earners have the most experience and education.

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers earn a median annual wage of $80,790. Top-paying industries for this occupation include private colleges, universities, and professional schools; state colleges and universities; local junior colleges; and state junior colleges. The top three highest paid areas for postsecondary teachers are law, economics, and engineering.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, postsecondary education administrators earn a median annual wage of $97,500, with the lowest 10% earning approximately $56,000 per year and the highest 10% earning over $199,000 per year. Colleges, universities, and professional schools are the highest-paying industries for this occupation.

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

The median annual wage for preschool and childcare center directors is just over $49,000, according to BLS. Top-paying industries for this occupation include elementary and secondary schools and religious, civic, and grantmaking organizations. In these industries, this role earns a median annual wage of $65,220 and $52,040, consecutively.

Principals (Elementary, Middle, and High School)

Principles of elementary, middle, and high school earn a median pay of $98,490, according to BLS. Principals work full-time, often exceeding the forty-hour work week. BLS reports the highest 10% of earners in this occupation make more than $152,000 per year.

Special Education Teachers

BLS reports the median annual wage for special education teachers is $61,420. Ten percent of the highest earners in this occupation make just over $100,000 per year, while the lowest ten percent make approximately $41,000. Secondary and middle schools are listed among the highest-paying institutions for special education teachers, with an average wage of $62,070.

Teacher Assistants

Teacher assistants, according to BLS, earn a median pay of $28,900 per year. However, with experience and school setting, the highest paid ten percent in this occupation earn more than $44,000 per year.

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Job Outlook for Education Occupations

The overall job outlook for education, training, and library occupations by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is five percent through 2029. The overall average is faster than all occupations by a one percent margin. The percentage equates to a projected 441,000 new jobs being added over the next eight years. As student enrollment increases, the demand for teachers at all levels (preschool, elementary, middle, secondary, and postsecondary) will be needed. However, local and state budgets may impact employment growth and the hiring of new educators and administrative staff working in the industry.

Below we detail several education occupations and their corresponding job outlook, as reported by BLS. Many of the occupations listed below offer a faster than average job outlook projection over the next decade.

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

BLS projects a 4% employment growth through 2029 for elementary, middle, and high school principals. Growth is about as fast as the average for all occupations, and should result in approximately 20,000 job openings each year, over the next ten years. Job openings are anticipated as workers transfer to different schools or retire. The anticipated growth is directly impacted by student enrollment and the number of educational institutions. As there are a limited number of principal positions available per school, if enrollment increases, new schools will open, driving demand for this occupation. State and local budgets will also impact employment growth for principals. Budget constraints can lead to the delay of new schools opening, while a budget surplus may lead to the construction of new schools within the flourishing districts.

High School Teachers

According to BLS, the projected employment growth of high school teachers is 4% by 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. With rising student enrollment leading to an increased demand for high school teachers, employment will continue to grow steadily for this occupation. However, growth may vary by region, and budget constraints could impact growth at the local and state levels. Budget deficits can lead to layoffs prompted by school boards, which impact the hiring of teachers. But as teachers retire, replacements will be needed. Teachers who specialize in subject areas, such as math and science, should see the best job prospects, as reported by BLS.

Instructional Coordinators

The job outlook for instructional coordinators over the next decade is favorable. BLS projects a 6% employment growth for this occupation, which is slightly faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects will be the most favorable for individuals with a solid teaching and leadership background. However, since many instructional coordinators are employed by local and state governments, budget constraints and surpluses will directly impact employment growth.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

BLS reports a 4% projected employment growth for kindergarten and elementary school teachers through 2029. With rising student enrollment, an increase in demand for school teachers is anticipated. However, growth may vary by geographic location and budget constraints at the local and state government levels. Budget deficits may lead to layoffs, but in areas where government budgets have increased, new hires will occur. Job prospects will vary by school setting and region, but the best opportunities will be found in urban areas and rural school districts. Less opportunity will be found in suburban school districts.

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Middle School Teachers

A 4% projected employment growth is expected through 2029 for middle school teachers, according to BLS. Rising student enrollment will drive demand for middle school teachers, but the projected growth may vary by geographic location and school setting. BLS projects the best opportunities for jobs as middle school teachers will be in urban and rural settings. Jobs may be harder to find in suburban school districts. Individuals with flexibility in job location may find the best prospects.

Postsecondary Administrators

A 4% projected growth in employment of postsecondary administrators is reported by BLS over the next decade. Growth should occur thanks to an increasing student enrollment at colleges and universities. As people pursue ongoing education opportunities and seek postsecondary schooling to meet their career goals, administrators will be needed to meet the needs of an increasing student population. Specific departments that anticipate the most growth in colleges and universities include student affairs and registrar. There will be limited job openings as academic deans and provosts, as there are a limited number of positions available at each institution.

Postsecondary Teachers

The job outlook for postsecondary teachers through 2029 is projected by BLS as 9%. The growth rate is much faster than the average for all occupations, but varies by academic discipline or field. For example, the health specialties field anticipates a 21% growth, much higher than the average for all postsecondary teaching occupations. Postsecondary teachers in healthcare will be needed as an aging population demands services. These teachers will be needed to educate workers who will be administering care and services to the aging population. Other areas of teaching with the most favorable job outlooks, according to BLS, include nursing, business, engineering, and biological sciences.

School and Career Counselors and Advisors

According to BLS, employment of school and career counselors and advisors is anticipated to grow by 8% over the next several years. The growth rate is about double the average rate for all other occupations. What drives the growth? As with most education positions, an increasing student enrollment at all education levels will lead to the need to hire more people to fill these roles. Over the next decade, about 33,100 openings for this occupation are projected each year. However, budget constraints could impact growth.

Special Education Teachers

BLS reports employment of special education teachers will grow 3% through 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations, but slightly slower than the average for all education positions. Special education teachers working in preschool settings should see a more favorable job outlook of 8%. However, since the occupation is small, this will result in only 1,900 new jobs created over a ten-year period. Employment growth will be contingent on funding.

Teacher Assistants

As with most education careers, the job outlook for teacher assistants is projected by BLS as 4%. This means employment for this occupation is expected to grow by 4% over the next eight years. Rising student enrollment will impact the hiring of new teacher assistants. Also, federal funding will directly impact education programs and growth. Since teaching assistants are seen as supplemental positions, schools are more likely to eliminate these positions when budget shortfalls impact hiring. However, when there is a budget surplus, teaching assistants are hired for the school year.

Qualities Necessary for Education Jobs

Beyond education, certain qualities and characteristics benefit educators, whether they are pursuing roles as teachers, counselors, or administrators. Important qualities include the following:

Communication skills: Educators must be able to offer clear and concise instruction to students and parents. The role of an educator requires discussions with fellow educators, students, and parents to communicate progress. Having strong communication skills helps deliver direction effectively.

Resourcefulness: Whether you’re working as a special education teacher or high school English teacher, you must be able to develop unique and different ways to present information to students. Being resourceful means coming up with unique ways to deliver new concepts to students so that they will engage in learning. High school teachers, for example, must engage students and adapt curriculum and lessons to each student’s needs. This is also true of middle school and elementary school teachers.

BDP Staff
June 2021

Related resources:

30 Best Online Bachelor’s in Elementary Education or Early Childhood Education from Private Colleges
30 Best Online Bachelor’s in Special Education Degree Programs
Top 10 Best Majors for Indecisive Students
30 Great Small Colleges for a Teaching Degree 2021
What’s the Best Degree Path for Becoming a School Principal?
What’s the Best Degree Path for Becoming a School Counselor?
The Top 10 Highest Paying Careers in Education

This concludes our article providing information about education degrees and careers.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris