Master’s degree in secondary education

HomeTeaching and educationMaster’s degree in secondary education

Introduction to secondary education

Educating our nation’s youth rates is one of the most influential jobs in our society. As a middle or high school teacher, you are on the front line, preparing the next generation with the knowledge and skills they need for success. While working as a secondary school teacher’s job can be challenging, teaching at this level presents an opportunity to inspire young people at a critical moment in their development. There is always a need for good teachers.

Master’s in secondary education programs cover both the practical and theoretical skills needed to successfully lead a classroom through a given academic subject. From classroom oversight and lesson preparation to adolescent development and education technology, teachers at this level need finesse and flexibility. Though the age group you teach is limited to 11-18 year-olds, the specific techniques you use and the type of school you work at is at your discretion.

Secondary education teachers usually work in public, private, and charter school settings. To teach at the college level, you need either a doctor of education (Ed.D.) or a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.). With the help of dual degrees in areas like business management, you can use a master’s of secondary education to build a career outside of teaching. Areas in school administration like principals and superintendents often earn dual degrees in education.

Students often pursue a master’s degree when their undergraduate degree is in a non-teaching field. For example, students with a bachelor’s degree in English or mathematics can enter into a secondary education master’s program to learn how to teach their subject. This degree is very flexible and can be offered as a master of arts (M.A.) or master of education (M.Ed.).

Though it is possible to teach with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in secondary education increases your job opportunities and earning potential. Those who have earned this degree are highly marketable, as jobs for middle school and high school teachers are in high demand. In this way, a master’s degree in this field sets you apart from the crowd.

About the degree


  • 3.0 GPA
  • Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores
  • Teaching license
  • Letters of recommendation

To be admitted to a master’s program in secondary education, you usually need a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s in secondary education is a natural predecessor of this degree. Applicants should have fulfilled course requirements in the subject they plan to teach, which often occurs as part of a bachelor’s degree. Programs oriented toward working teachers usually require experience, but there are also programs designed for those without a background in teaching. Generally, students complete the program within 2 years or 30-60 credits

The core courses of secondary education master’s programs are flexible and can be transferred to related degrees. Some master’s courses dealing with human behavior can apply to psychology or social work programs, for example. It is easiest to transfer between schools or programs within the first semester. Any longer, and students may have to retake courses or struggle to meet the credit hour requirements of their new program.

When transferring between education programs, students must choose an accredited program. Moving from a non-accredited program to an accredited one can force students to retake their entire course load. Before transferring, check with your institution to see what credits they accept and if this will affect your graduation date.

Degree flexibility

Education programs are known for their flexible methods of learning. These masters are offered in various formats including online, in-person, and hybrid models. Online formats are also offered asynchronously, meaning coursework is available at all times for students to complete on their schedules. This degree format may suit students who are working or caring for family. Part-time and summer course options are usually available.

Possible coursework

Identifying and teaching to student differences

This course teaches students how to analyze situations and respond appropriately to individual students based on their learning capacity. You learn how to modify your classroom for both accelerated and struggling learners and adapt your teaching strategies so both can thrive in a single environment.

Adolescent learning and development

Adolescent development is a course with foundations in psychology, focusing on children’s physical and mental growth. Students learn how various biological, social and cognitive developmental stages effect the ability to acquire and process information.

Cultural diversity in education

Students in this course examine how diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds influence teaching and learning. By applying knowledge of adolescent development, future teachers learn how to foster an inclusive classroom environment for all students.

Education technology

This course covers the use of technology to deliver lessons, keep class records and communicate with students and parents. Participants in this course learn how to leverage technology to keep students engaged and improve learning outcomes.


The capstone is the final research project of this master’s program. This project can be customized based on your personal areas of interest. It is presented at the end of your final year to a panel of professors. Themes like distance learning, motivating learners, assessment methods and reducing stress are common in this field.

Master’s in secondary education programs often require a semester in a professional internship before graduating. Many programs suggest students intern for the entire academic year as a teacher’s aid to practice teaching skills in a hands-on environment. Licensure requires time spent as an aid or teaching assistant, and internship hours apply to this requirement.


To teach at the secondary level, it’s necessary to choose a subject area as your specialization. Practically, this takes the form of a subject area endorsement, which is a notation on your teaching certificate indicating you have the necessary education to teach your subject area. To get endorsed, you need to complete certain coursework within your given subject area, usually at the bachelor’s level. Below are some common specializations:

Special education

A specialization in special education focuses on teaching neurodiverse children in creative classroom environments. Teachers focus on behavior management strategies, conflict resolution, and parental intervention. To earn this endorsement, coursework in areas like multicultural learning, positive behavior support and school consultation is necessary.


Those with an interest and background in history often choose to specialize in the subject as teachers. At the secondary level, history teachers need a global scope and may teach advanced placement (AP) courses like comparative government and politics, macroeconomics, and United States Government. Coursework for this endorsement includes topics like European history, geography, economics, global studies, and non-western history.


Teachers who specialize in mathematics teach courses like geometry, statistics, algebra, trigonometry, and calculus at both the standard and AP level. To earn an endorsement for this subject area, teachers are required to demonstrate an ability to communicate mathematical ideas, explain problem-solving approaches, examine relationships within mathematics, and connect the subject to other disciplines.


Several accrediting bodies sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) certify education degrees. The central bodies are the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC),  and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). Though all are valid accrediting sources, the NCATE is the largest and most influential.

Career options

The most common career path for those holding a master’s in secondary education is that of a public middle or high school teacher. The pay for these roles varies by state, district, and teaching environment. Private and charter schools often pay more than public schools. However, public schools often offer more flexibility in their routine and coursework.

The average annual salary of a middle school teacher was $60,810 in 2020, whereas the average salary for a high school teacher was $62,870 the same year.

To become a high school principal, you need a minimum of a master’s degree. Most principals have a dual degree combining secondary education with administration, business, or leadership. This career path also requires previous teaching experience. Principals oversee a school’s activities and assure a safe, healthy learning environment for students. They work closely with teachers and staff to set curricula and safety standards while managing the school’s budget and providing professional development opportunities for teachers.

The average annual salary for a high school principal is $92,530.


Before you apply, check the requirements for state licensure and certification. Teaching license and certification guidelines vary from state to state and sometimes even within districts. Teaching outside the state where you earned your degree will require a new licensure process to teach. Check the USDOE for specific state teaching requirements.

Continuing education

The next step after a master’s in secondary education is a doctorate. Education majors can either pursue a Ph.D. in education or an Ed.D. A Ph.D. is a theoretical platform for research and study that lasts an average of 4 years, while an Ed.D. is a 2-year degree with an emphasis on working in educational institutions. An Ed.D. prepares you for education leadership roles like a superintendent, dean of students, or education policymaker. A Ph.D. allows you to teach at the university level and conduct research.

National Education Association (NEA)

The NEA is the largest education organization in the United States. It focuses heavily on advocating for teachers’ rights and helping teachers develop professionally. They hold conferences and events on topics like leadership development.

American Federation of Teachers

The AFT was founded over 100 years ago with the goal to represent it’s members in various areas including pre-K through 12th grade teachers, para-professionals, higher education faculty, government employees and healthcare professionals. Secondary teachers benefit from the AFT’s resources such as learning kits, professional development seminars, and union support.


The U.S. Department of Education is the primary source for all things education. Its website includes information on classroom funding, scholarship opportunities, and licensure information.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is a fantastic online resource for literature and classroom materials. They also offer professional development resources and one of the largest digital library collections available.