Secondary education degrees overview


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Secondary education degrees

Educators are essential members of any society because they help shape minds, encourage growth, and promote academic achievement. Whether you want to become a preschool teacher, chemistry professor, or superintendent, a degree in the secondary education field can bring an abundance of academic knowledge and professional skills needed to enter the workforce. During your studies you will develop instructional skills, learn about teaching methodologies, study educational psychology, and gain cultural awareness necessary to positively influence the people around you, in and outside the classroom.

Online vs. on-campus

Online options are available at all program levels, with many college and university programs adding to their off-campus academic options due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Online education is ideal for people who live away from campus, have great time-management skills, are self-motivated, or simply prefer distance learning. If the program is not fully online, you may still have the option of a hybrid program, which is a combination of on-campus and online courses. Your final study option is the traditional on-campus program, available at most colleges. Before you apply to any program make sure the university is accredited, so you reap all the benefits from your education.

Should my university be accredited?

When you earn a degree from an accredited university it shows future employers, credential and licensing agencies, and academic institutions that the knowledge you have gained is nationally or regionally recognized as meeting a high standard. The standards are implemented by an accreditation agency, such as The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation agencies monitor, review, and assess the ongoing performance of an institution’s academic program.

Financial aid

The tuition and related fees for a degree can be scary. Fortunately, there are financial aid options available to students who qualify. FASFA is an online application form used to determine eligibility for financial assistance from the federal government. For information visit the Federal Student Aid website. If you are applying for an undergraduate program and are under the age of 24, your application will be based on your family income. For graduate programs and students over the age of 24, your application for financial aid will be based on your own finances. The online application is free, and is generally processed in 3-5 days. There are also scholarships, grants, and loans available to those who qualify.

Associate’s degree in secondary education

Earning an associate’s degree in secondary education can be a great stepping stone towards a teaching degree or an entry level job working with children. You will look into psychological theories, examine issues facing education, and learn about the teaching process. You will also take general education courses like English composition, mathematics, and history. This will ensure you are eligible for transfer to a 4-year university program.

What do I need to apply?

To be considered for an associate’s program, you will need transcripts from your high school or equivalent showing a minimum 2.0 GPA. Applications are typically filled out online, and community colleges typically take several days to respond. If you are applying to a 4-year university associate’s program, you may also need academic references, a personal statement, and SAT or ACT scores.

What will I learn?

Introduction to education

This course will introduce you to the field of education. You will learn about issues, theories, ethics, and the history of schooling from which you can develop an educational perspective. You may also be asked to conduct observations in early childhood, elementary, or secondary school settings.

Educational psychology

An investigative look into the different theories of psychology, learning strategies, and evidence-based research to grow your understanding of a child’s learning and cognitive development. You will also look into how culture and family systems shape behavior.

Child development

This is a human development course that will take you on a developmental journey from conception to young adulthood. You will be introduced to the developmental domains, the theories and theorists who have shaped child development, and the elements that intertwine to shape a child’s behavior and personality.

Diversity in education

Creating an inclusive environment is essential for any prospective teacher. This provides a warm, safe, and understanding environment for your students to grow and learn in. This can only be done once the teacher gains insight into his or her students that incorporates language, culture, family dynamics, stereotyping, and prejudice. These are all important factors that can be covered in a course on diversity in education.

Introduction to special education

This course will introduce you to topics which can help you teach children with special needs. You will learn about historical perspectives, current issues, and adaptive teaching methods relevant in special education.

What’s the cost?

Students can typically expect to pay between $3,000 and $16,000 for a 2-year associate’s degree.

Career Options

If you’d like to enter the workforce directly after you complete your associate’s program then there are a few career options you may be interested in. Although you are not yet qualified to teach at the secondary level, there are still career options as preschool teachers, teaching assistants, or childcare directors

A preschool teacher is responsible for the care of children aged 3-5. They prepare them for kindergarten by creating interactive and playful lessons, facilitating a safe learning environment, and helping the children develop basic life skills. A preschool teacher is also responsible for communicating with parents about a child’s needs, progress, or issues of concern. This will be dependent on the program, but some preschool teachers will also be asked to attend educational field trips with children, as part of the curriculum.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average salary for a preschool teacher is $30,520.

Should you want to gain professional experience working with elementary, middle, or high school students, the option to become a teaching assistant is also available. A teaching assistant works alongside licensed teachers and helps students with classwork, grades papers, and prepares materials for lessons.


The annual wage for teaching assistants was $27,920 in May 2019 as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The director of a childcare or preschool program oversees the daily operations of the program. They are in charge of supervising staff, budget management, curriculum design, and daily activities. Depending on the program, some childcare centers and preschools may require additional certification such as the Child Development Associate (CDA).


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a preschool or childcare director was $48,210 in 2019

Continuing education

If you have a thirst for more knowledge or want to advance your career opportunities, then you might want to consider continuing your education at the bachelor level. There are several options available depending on where you will apply.

Bachelor’s degree in secondary education

A bachelor’s degree in secondary education gives students the necessary academic knowledge to become middle or high school teachers. If you are passionate about education, leadership, and being a positive influence on developing minds then this program might be perfect for you. The coursework will take 4 years to complete if you are transferring from high school, and 2 years to complete if you are transferring from a 2-year community college. Within a few short years, you may be ready to step into your own secondary education classroom.

What do I need to apply?

To be considered for a 4-year secondary education program there are a few things you will need. If you are transferring from a 2-year university then you will need transcripts showcasing a minimum of a 2.5 to 3.5 GPA. The higher the GPA the more competitive you will be compared to other applicants. To apply directly from high school, your high school transcripts, academic references, a personal statement, and SAT or GRE scores will also be necessary.

What will I learn

The coursework in a bachelor’s in secondary education program takes 2 years to complete if you have concluded your general education coursework at a community college, or 4 years if you enter the program directly from high school. This bachelor’s program can provide you with academic knowledge and real-world skills needed to be a successful teacher for grades 6-12. Below is a list of possible courses you can expect to take during your undergraduate studies.

Introduction to education

Generally taken during your first semester, this course introduces you to the history, law, and governments that have influenced the educational system. You will also learn about theories and issues that have shaped the American school system.

Multicultural education

Understanding why race, culture, gender, and language need to be represented and appreciated in and outside of your classroom is essential for a student’s academic success and self-esteem. You will learn about biases, stereotypes, and policies that restrict achievement and why.

Educational psychology

You will be introduced to how learning, instructional methods, and classroom dynamics have been researched and developed throughout history by looking at psychological research and principles.

Curriculum, instruction, assessment

Over the duration of this course you will learn tactics, techniques, and evidence-based theories which highlight the importance and need for assessment, instruction, and curriculum design.

Student teaching

This portion of your program will take the knowledge you’ve learned in your coursework and apply it to a classroom setting. These experiences are usually off campus and selected by the faculty of your secondary education program. The amount of time needed to fulfill this requirement varies by institution.

Program concentrations

Since you will be teaching a single subject, it is important that you receive additional instruction and develop advanced knowledge in the subject you’d like to teach. A concentration is a set of classes selected by you based on what subject you’d like to teach after graduation and earning licensure. For example, to teach history, then you could take additional courses in U.S. government and American history. Or, if you plan to teach chemistry, you could take classes such as organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physics.

Social science

This concentration is designed for individuals who want to teach social science for grades 6-12. The courses for this program will likely include western civilization, American government, U.S. history, teaching courses, and geography.


Depending on the institution, you may need to specify which branch of science you’d like to teach. The science concentrations available could be biology, physics, chemistry, and general science. Coursework for a science concentration could include trigonometry, statistics, biology, science curriculum, and chemistry. If you selected a specific branch of science as your concentration such as chemistry, then your additional classes might be in biochemistry, analytical chemistry, and organic chemistry.


A mathematics concentration prepares you for a career as a mathematics teacher. The coursework in this concentration could include statistics, geometry, algebra, teaching mathematics, and calculus. Some institutions may allow you to specialize in a specific branch of mathematics like statistics or geometry while others may offer mathematics as a full-spectrum concentration.

Art education

Art education is designed for individuals who are passionate about art and want to transform their passion into a teaching career. Coursework in this concentration could include drawing, ceramics, art history, world art, printmaking, and teaching art.

English language arts

This concentration is perfect for those who have a passion for literature. Coursework may include world literature, American literature, and the works of selected authors like William Shakespeare. This will prepare you to introduce and teach English language arts material to middle and high school students.

How to obtain a teaching license

In all 50 states, additional conditions must be met before you can become a licensed teacher. This will vary by state, so be sure to check your state’s requirements before applying for licensure.

Bachelor’s degree

The completion of a 4-year bachelor’s program is the minimum academic requirement to become a licensed teacher. The GPA requirements will vary by state, but to be safe a minimum of a 3.0 GPA in all bachelor’s coursework is recommended.

Credential program

If you plan to teach at the secondary level, a single-subject credential program is advised. The credential program can be taken during or after your bachelor’s program. This will depend on what your university offers, and what suits you best. This program will encompass additional fieldwork and student teaching to prepare you further for a teaching career. Depending on the institution, a bachelor’s degree and credential program should take around 4 to 5 years to complete.

Assessment exam

Assessment exams will vary by state, but most states use the Praxis Series. This standardized test will measure your general education knowledge, content knowledge from your concentration, and specific teaching skills.

Apply for teacher certification

On completion of the academic program, student-teaching, and assessment exam you may be eligible to apply for your state’s license or certification. A criminal background check may also be required.

How much does it cost?

The typical cost of a bachelor’s degree – including all room, board, fees, and other associated costs – is around $27, 357 per year for full-time study, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Of course, the actual cost will vary depending on which type of college or university you choose, and if your courses are online, on-campus, or a hybrid of both.

Career options

On completion of your state’s necessary requirements for licensure, you can apply for employment at the secondary level. The concentration you’ve chosen will determine what subject, and sometimes what grade, you are qualified to teach. For example, if you want to teach advanced mathematics like calculus, then employment opportunities will be at a high school because the material is too advanced for middle schoolers.

Teachers at the middle school level are responsible for creating lessons, teaching students single-subject content, and preparing them for academic material they will learn in high school. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for middle school teachers was $59,660 in 2019.

If you prefer to teach advanced subject matter, prepare students for the high school exit exam or college academia then becoming a high school teacher might be the more appropriate choice for you. In addition, high schools offer classes in pre-calculus, calculus, statistics, and world languages which are generally not offered to younger students at the middle school level. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median salary for a high school teacher was $61,660 in 2019.

Continuing Education

A master’s degree can open up more career options, the potential for a higher salary, and opportunity to learn more advanced academic material. Additional education can prepare you for work in administration, teaching, curriculum development, or counseling.

Master’s in secondary education

A master’s degree in secondary education can further add to your professional knowledge. During your 2-year master’s program, you will learn about adolescent growth, sociological and historical influences, curriculum development, and instructional strategies to help you better understand teaching and the education system.

What do I need to apply?

To be considered for a master’s program in secondary education you need a minimum of a 3.0-3.5 GPA from your undergraduate studies, and the necessary prerequisite coursework. If you have a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, then it is likely your prerequisite coursework is completed, but a bachelor’s from a related field may mean that you might need to complete additional coursework. This will depend on the university’s requirements. You may also need academic references, a personal statement, and test scores.

What will I learn

During the 2-year master’s program, you will be working on your thesis and completing coursework. This will prepare you for advanced career opportunities in the field. Below are some possible courses that may be part of your graduate program.

Classroom management

This course will teach you techniques which can help you create an engaging, successful, and manageable learning environment. You will look into strategies, classroom procedures, and how to manage student behavior.

Adolescent literacy

A course in adolescent literacy will help you develop research-based strategies to enhance literacy education in your classroom. You will learn about diverse classrooms, and how to promote, understand, and evaluate adolescent literacy.

Strategies and methods for secondary teachers

This course aims to arm you with teaching tactics, learning methods, and research-based data to positively influence the academic lives of your students. You will learn about instructional objectives, assessment techniques, and methodology that encourages student participation and reduces potential problems in the classroom.

Multicultural education

This course will focus on the theories and research that has shaped multicultural education. It will teach you the importance of recognizing, appreciating, and understanding cultural backgrounds in the creation of an inclusive classroom setting. This can foster academic achievement in your students.

Teaching diverse learners

Learning about special education is beneficial to anyone who wants to pursue a career in education. In this course you will learn about students with mild to moderate disabilities, and techniques to positively influence their academic experience.


A concentration in secondary education will give you additional knowledge about the subject you want to learn more about or teach. As with the bachelor’s in secondary education, a master’s in secondary education grants you the opportunity to choose a concentration based on your professional goals or interests. This will give you a stronger grasp on a subject in preparation to teach it after completing the licensing process.


Depending on your institution, there may be additional program concentrations in biology, chemistry, earth science, general science, and physics. The coursework will be dependent on which branch of science you have chosen to pursue. For example, if you have chosen chemistry then your coursework could include principles of chemistry, calculus, organic chemistry, laboratory courses, and analytical chemistry.

English language arts

This concentration will prepare you for a career as an English language arts teacher. You will learn about western and non-western genres, English literature, poetry, criticism of literature, poetry, and adolescent literature.


In this mathematics concentration you will develop a comprehensive understanding of mathematical thinking processes, problem-solving skills, and other math-related skills that will keep your students engaged in learning.

World language

This concentration will focus on a language that you plan to teach. The availability of specific languages will depend on the college and the city you are studying in. Generally, most programs offer Spanish, French, Italian, German, or Chinese, although some institutions may offer programs in less commonly taught languages like Hebrew, Japanese, and Russian. From your coursework you will gain the skills to teach foreign language, while enriching the learning experience with content relevant to the language’s country and culture of origin.

Certificate opportunities

Certificates will give you additional knowledge in an area of education. These can be taken during or after your master’s program, and the length of each is dependent on the certificate type. Some certifications open doors for additional career opportunities, or training needed to enter the workforce.

Autism certificate

This certificate recognizes that you have learned the skills to work with students on the autism spectrum. This can include developing skills to implement research-based practices to improve communication and behavior, and to give professional support to these students and their families.

English as a second language certificate

To effectively work with English language learners, a certificate in teaching English as a second language (ESL) is recommended. During this program you will learn about linguistic awareness, support services, culture, and gain additional fieldwork knowledge to support English language learners.

Instructional learning technology

As technology around us grows, so does our need to incorporate it into the classroom. Technology can be a helpful tool used by teachers to aid student learning. In this program you can develop skills to integrate technology into the curriculum, learn about assistive tools, and how to utilize technology to assist diverse learners.

What’s the cost?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost for an on-campus master’s degree is $32,870 for tuition and fees. The NCES reported that the cost of an online master’s program was between $11,000 and $25,000.

Career Options

A school principal can work in elementary, middle, or high schools as the head of administration. They oversee everyday operations, development of curricula, and enforcement of school policies. In this leadership role, they work to promote academic achievement and improvement at their school.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a school principal was $96,400 in 2019.

An instructional coordinator oversees teaching standards and curriculum. They work at all levels of education from elementary schools to colleges to maintain and improve instructional material.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average salary for an instructional coordinator was $66,290 in 2019.

These teachers help adult students with the high school exit exam, or to pass high school equivalent coursework. They work to improve a student’s literacy skills, collaborate with teachers in other departments, and use evidence-based practices to positively influence literacy instruction.


According to Payscale, the average salary for an adult education teacher is $42,500.

Doctorate in secondary education (Ph.D.)

To be considered for most Ph.D. programs, will involve the submission of an academic transcript, personal statement, writing samples, test scores, a resume, and GPA of 3.5-4.0. The personal statement should inform the admissions department why you would be an exceptional candidate for the position, and what you can contribute to it.

What will I learn?

This advanced program aims to increase your knowledge and skills as it pertains to secondary education curriculum and research. You will learn how to use research, apply theory, and communicate ideas through writing and conversing with others in the professional field. A major part of any Ph.D. program is the dissertation. This will be research you’ve conducted throughout the program to bring new information, data, and ideas to the field of secondary education. The entire Ph.D. program can take anywhere from 3 to 8 years depending on the institution and the research required to complete your dissertation.

How much will it cost?

Ph.D. students can expect to pay between $17,000 and $79,000 for their doctorate program.

Career options

Teachers at the post-secondary level are considered to be experts in their field due to their advanced academic knowledge and professional experience. They are professors at the university level and educate adult learners in their area of expertise. They may also conduct research, publish scholarly articles, or write books.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a post-secondary teacher is $79,540.

This position may be ideal for someone who isn’t afraid to make hard choices or take control. A school’s superintendent is a top executive in charge of implementing the requests of the school board, making decisions about educational programs, and managing the school budget.


PayScale reported the average salary for a school superintendent is $122,849

The position that is responsible for employee training and development is held by the chief learning officer. In this role, the chief learning officer contributes to leadership management, research and development, and collaborates with human resources staff to ensure employee needs are met.


PayScale reported that the average salary for a chief learning officer is $154,080.

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)

The NSTA provides users with helpful resources, publications, an online bookstore, and professional learning opportunities to model excellence, and raise educational accessibility of science related information.

The School Superintendents Association

This association advocates for equal access to education for students, creates a growing network of educational leaders, and promotes awareness of policy changes that affect children and education.

National Autism Association 

The National Autism Association represents people with autism, their families, and the professionals that provide support. They do this through the provision of safety information to first responders, conducting research, and maintaining a digital library of information on autism.

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