Degrees in reading and literacy overview


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Degrees in reading literacy

Stephen King once said, “books are a uniquely portable magic.” When we learn to read, we also learn about history, magic, romance, science, philosophy – and one another. Books can transport us to parallel universes, and allow us to move through time and space dropping us anywhere from a futuristic space station, to a land populated by dinosaurs. Authors and illustrators work together to make the words in a book fill your mind with powerful imagery. The journeys through different books can be endless, but the one journey that makes it all happen is the journey through learning how to read. Educators and specialists work to ensure all children and adults have the opportunity to be transported into another dimension through a good book. A reading specialist teaches children and adults who struggle with reading the essential skills – taught via games, lessons, practice sessions – that will give lifelong access to the world of books. Access to this rewarding career is generally secured by a degree in reading literacy.

What do I need to apply?

Master’s requirements

To be considered for acceptance to a graduate program, most schools will require a GPA between 3.0 and 4.0 from your undergraduate degree, in a related field. This shows the faculty that you have a strong grasp on the content you learned in your bachelor’s program and are ready for more advanced content. Depending on the institution, you may also need GRE scores, a personal statement, an academic writing sample, letters of recommendation, and some teaching experience. The specific requirements will be available on the school’s website.

Doctorate requirements

The highest step on the academic ladder is a doctorate degree. Most schools will require a master’s degree in a related field, while others may only require a bachelor’s. This will depend on the institution, so check the academic requirements before you apply. With either degree, a minimum of a 3.5 GPA is required to be accepted to a doctorate program. You will also need academic letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and related professional experience.

Online vs. on campus

Since master’s programs typically take 2 years, and doctorate programs can take anywhere between 3-5 years, the decision to earn the degree online or on campus is important. Many factors can influence this decision like your lifestyle, career, family dynamics, or preferred learning style. Fortunately, there are options for both online and on-campus learning. Some programs may also offer hybrid courses which combine aspects of both online and on-campus programs. For example, a hybrid class may have coursework available online, and a weekly lecture on campus. This option may interest students who enjoy traditional on-campus lectures, but prefer to stay home to study.

Financial aid

Both master’s and doctorate programs can be expensive. This is not only because of the rising cost of higher education in the United States, but because of the length of the programs. A doctorate degree can cost between approximately $20,000 and $79,000 – this is more than some students can expect to make in a year. It is no wonder then that many higher education students are hesitant to sign on for a degree with the associated potential debt and stress. Luckily several financial aid options are available to eligible students at the master’s and doctorate level, including scholarships, loans, and grants. One of the most popular financial aid options is Federal Student Aid. This financial support from the federal government is offered to students who qualify based on their financial need. To see whether you are eligible, fill out the free online FASFA form. You will receive a response indicating both your eligibility and the amount of financial aid you can receive within a few weeks.

Does my university need to be accredited?

Accreditation shows licensing and credential agencies, higher education admission departments, and employers that your academic understanding of reading literacy has met or exceeded a set of standards set by an accreditation agency. These agencies vet higher education programs to ensure the knowledge and skills students attain adequately prepares them for further education or employment. When you earn a master’s or doctorate in reading literacy from an accredited institution and want to pursue a career in teaching, the licensing agency needs to see that your academic qualifications meet standards required for state licensure. If you’d like to pursue a doctorate degree after earning a master’s, the faculty of the program you are applying for needs to see the degree you have earned beforehand has given you the knowledge and skills needed to move onto more advanced academic material. If you are unsure if the program you are applying for is accredited, check the Database for Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs for more information.

Master’s in reading literacy

During this program you will learn about the foundations of literacy, multicultural education in literacy, and effective techniques for developing literacy in your students. In addition to required coursework, you will also complete a master’s thesis or project. This is required for graduation and is an essential part of any master’s program.

Literacy teaching and theory

You will learn about the foundations of literacy, evidence-based research that influences teaching practices, and historical perspectives that have shaped our understanding of how to positively influence a child’s reading, fluency, and writing skills.

Diagnosis of reading difficulties

This course will focus on the assessment and instruction of students who need formal support due to their struggles with reading. This will involve fieldwork experience where you will be able to work with and help students with reading difficulties.

Educational psychology

By exploring the theories, theorists, behavioral principles, and approaches to school learning, you can develop a broad knowledge about education in general, and understand where people with reading difficulties, past and present, have been let down by the system. From this, you can direct your efforts to meeting the teaching needs of this specific population.

Children’s literature

This course examines the authors, themes, genres, and books that have shaped children’s literature. You will review historical literature and current trends to gain an understanding of how literature has changed.


A practicum is a portion of the master’s program where you work with students identified as having problems reading, under the supervision of a licensed teacher.

Program concentrations

A program concentration is chosen by you with the goal to become more knowledgeable about a specific aspect of reading literacy. Your choice of concentration typically reflects the career path you hope to follow after graduation.

Early literacy

A concentration on early literacy will focus on the theories, practices, assessment procedures, and teaching styles that benefit young readers from preschool to third grade. You will learn about environmental factors, like family and culture, that may impact a student’s reading skills.

Reading specialist

If you’d like to pursue a career as a reading specialist, then this concentration will focus on the foundations, methods for teaching, and diagnostic practices that will enable you to be a skillful reading specialist.

Adult literacy

This concentration will prepare you to work with adult learners who struggle with reading difficulties. You will learn teaching practices specific to developing and improving adult literacy.

Certificate opportunities

For some careers, additional certification is required alongside a higher education degree. Studying for, and acquiring, a certificate can add to your expertise in a specific facet of reading literacy, that generally matches your employment goals.

Dyslexia certificate

Someone with dyslexia will have trouble reading and writing, despite being of normal intelligence. Additional skills, knowledge and teaching practices will be needed to work with individuals with dyslexia. You will learn about approaches, assessment techniques, and tools to improve the reading, writing, and fluency levels of children or adults with dyslexia.

Teaching credential program

In order to teach at a public school, each state will require some form of certification or licensing. A credential program will focus on student-teaching where you will be supervised by a licensed teacher for a certain amount of time set by your state’s licensing board.

Reading specialist certificate

This certificate prepares you to become a reading specialist. By completing this certificate, you can learn about literacy development, research-based instructional practices, assessment strategies, and the essential skills needed to become a reading specialist.

What’s the cost?

Students can expect to pay between $7,000 and $21,000 for an online master’s in reading literacy degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost for an on-campus master’s degree is $32,870.

Career options

This is a teacher who specializes in teaching reading skills. Most reading specialists work in public schools providing support to students who need additional help with literacy development. They teach students by playing games, conducting writing activities, or introducing different materials to improve overall literacy.


According to PayScale, the average salary for a reading specialist is $52,993.

An instructional coach helps support teachers and administrators by developing coaching plans that improve teacher instruction, and by providing helpful resources and materials for teachers to guide students towards academic success.


An instructional coach makes an average salary of $56,346, according to Glassdoor.

An educational writer, researches and writes material for students, administrators, and teachers. This career can include educational journalists, who conduct interviews, make observations, analyze their findings, and write about their findings for print media or online platforms.


Glassdoor reported that the average salary for an education writer was $51,395 in 2020.

Doctorate in reading literacy

During your doctorate program, you can further your knowledge and specialized skills, while gaining expertise in leadership, assessment practices, and research. In addition to doctorate level coursework, you will also be conducting your own research into a novel area of reading literacy that will become the basis for your dissertation.

Research in literacy

In this course you will review evidence-based research that has shaped our understanding of literacy development. You will also gain the essential skills for careers in research and management.

Theoretical and historical foundations

This is a foundational course that gives students an overview of theories, instructional methods, history, literacy development and policies that affect the development of readers and the education system.

Teaching diverse learners

To be able to work with students with reading difficulties, it is important for you to understand the factors that cause, or add to, their difficulties. These factors may be related to the educational system, like overcrowded classrooms, inadequate supply of reading materials, or under-trained teachers. Or, the problem may be attributed to the student, for example dyslexia, eyesight problems, or from a non-English speaking family. This concentration can develop your understanding of the needs of diverse learners and how these needs can be met in the classroom.

Assessment and evaluation

This course will teach you how to properly assess and evaluate learners with reading difficulties so you can implement reading strategies to ensure academic success.

Leading and managing literacy programs

This course will teach you about different leadership concepts, and allow you to learn more about programs that suit a student’s developmental needs. You will also build the framework for effective management and leadership skills needed to run a literacy program.

Program concentrations

Early literacy

This concentration focuses on the reading foundations and literacy instruction for younger students. You will analyze children’s literature, develop teaching strategies, and understand how to guide and teach young learner’s literacy development based on evidence-based research.


If you are interested in a career as an ESL teacher, or know you will be working with people whose first language is not English, this concentration may be for you. You will explore cultural diversity, foreign language acquisition, and how to teach students who speak multiple languages.

Assessment and curriculum development

You will learn how to create, implement, and evaluate curricula to improve reading education. This will incorporate culture, finances, sociological concerns, policy, and classroom structure.

Career options

As a postsecondary teacher, you will teach adult students at a college or university about reading literacy. This role generally entails both teaching and research responsibilities. Some professors also serve on academic committees and consult with government policy makers and funding departments.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a postsecondary teacher was $70,540 in 2019.

Social and community service managers work in non-profit organizations, social service companies, or government agencies. They coordinate and supervise programs that support the general well-being of the community.


In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average salary for social and community service managers was $67,150.

Training and development managers coordinate skills and assist with knowledge enhancement for an organization’s staff. This can mean assisting groups focused on literacy within a company to ensure employees are working efficiently.


A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics states the average salary for a training and development manager is $113,350.

International Literacy Association

The International Literacy Association is a global organization with more than 300,000 literacy educator members in 128 countries. The association sets the standard on how literacy is taught and evaluated across the world.

The Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers

This association aims to network literacy educators, reading specialists, and researchers to promote professional growth and self-development needed to enhance the literacy development in students at all educational levels.

The Dyslexia Foundation 

This foundation brings research and practice together by providing a platform for neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, and practitioners in dyslexia research.

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