50 Frequently Asked Questions for Education Degrees

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (BLS OOH), the expected job growth between 2012 and 2022 for teachers is between 6% to 19%, depending on the grade level.

  • 6% – High school teachers (minimum bachelor’s degree, possibly in the subject they will teach, plus state-issued certification).
  • 6% – Special Education teachers (minimum
  • 12% – Kindergarten and elementary school teachers (minimum bachelor’s degree and state-issued certification/ license).
  • 19% – Postsecondary teachers (minimum master’s degree for teaching at the community college level; usually minimum doctorate for teaching at 4-year colleges and universities).

If you’re considering a career in teaching, you may have questions about degrees in education, certification and related topics. To help you get some of the answers that you likely have, we’ve filtered through nearly 700 frequently asked questions about these concerns and aggregated many of the variations into a set of 50. While the answers here may not inform you of all of your concerns, we hope that they will answer a fair number of your questions. Because we took questions from multiple college sites and made them less school- or state-specific, we have only occasionally included links to Web pages or sites if further explanation is necessary. However, most answers are fairly self-contained.

Applications, Admissions, Transcripts, Transfers

Q: Can I become a non-degree student? If so, how do I do that?

A: Most institutions allow a certain number of courses in both undergraduate and graduate degree programs to be taken for audit / evaluation. The student’s efforts in such courses will not be credited towards a program, and some professors may stipulate that some or all assignments are not to be handed in. When you register for a course, whether online or on a paper form, there is usually a checkbox or similar field to specify courses to be taken for auditing purposes only. Audit courses can sometimes be taken before a student is officially admitted into a program.

Q: Can you evaluate my credentials and resume before I apply for the grad program?

A: Few if any institutions will do this. Applications usually require a fee and take time to be processed, so pre-approval is generally not feasible.

Q: Do I have to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) before I can be accepted into the grad program?

A: The GRE is not always required. Some institutions will accept students into a grad program on the basis of their performance in their undergraduate degree. That is, a GPA of at least 3.0 out of 4.0 for a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for admission. If you scored below a 3.0 undergrad GPA, some grad programs will require that you write the GRE.

Q: Do I need to have a bachelor’s degree to apply for grad school?

A: While you can usually apply for grad school a semester or two before you are due to complete a bachelor’s degree, admission into a grad program is usually contingent on the completion of said bachelor’s degree before you can register for master’s-level courses. You do not, however, necessarily need to have a bachelor’s degree in education to be accepted into a MEd (Master’s of Education).

Q: Does admission to a master’s in education require teaching experience?

A: Generally this is not the case, though applicants with teaching experience tend to be favored for a number of reasons. There’s the obvious reason that someone with experience will most likely absorb class studies more readily, and has proven interest in the subject. Another reason is that someone who is currently teaching may be financially supported in part by their employer.

Q: From whom can I request letters of recommendation?

A: Letters of recommendation can come from past professors, coaches, college advisors or professionals such as a manager or HR manager, etc.

Q: How do I apply for grad school?

A: Many or even most institutions now have part of the grad school application process set up online. This includes submitting letters of recommendation — which your recommenders can usually submit online via email or opt to use regular snail mail. Contact your school for details if you are unsure of how to get started.

Q: If I get accepted into a graduate program, can I defer the admission?

A: Short answer: probably not. For the most part, institutions expect you to reapply if you get accepted into a program but do not register.

Q: If I paused my studies in a grad program, how do I renew studies?

A: Institutions vary, generally based on how long your study pause was. Short pauses, such as for one semester and approved by your department/ advisor, might be acceptable, and you would just register for courses as usual. Longer pauses, as defined by each institution, might mean that you have to reapply for admission into the program. If you have passed their cutoff duration, you may need to repeat credits as well — as is also typically the case for undergraduate programs. On the other hand, some institutions retain application materials for a few years, making it easier to expedite reapplication.

Q: Is an interview needed for admission into graduate education program?

A: It depends. Some institutions require it, some do not. If it is required, it might be conducted as a group interview for the potential cohort, instead of individually by candidate.

Q: Can I submit copies of transcripts and grade reports when I apply?

A: Most but not all institutions require original copies of these materials. If you attended more than one institution of higher learning, you will need to submit one transcript from each. This may mean paying a small fee to each institution that you attended. The fee sometimes includes sending a transcript or grade report, on your behalf, directly to the institution to which you are apply. If you completed your undergrad program at the same institution where you are applying for a graduate degree in education, the grad studies department will most likely request a transcript themselves.

Q: Can I transfer credits from another graduate program taken here or at another university?

A: Most schools allow a certain number of transfer credits at grad levels provided they are relevant. On occasion, upper division undergrad credits may also count towards grad program credits. The general rule of thumb is that a significant portion of a program’s credits should be taken at the institution granting the subsequent degree. That said, a graduate degree program in education may have specialized courses which are non-transferable. So some institutions may not allow any transfer credits.

Cost, Fees, Financial Aid, Compensation

Q: Are there scholarships, grants, fellowships or assistantships available for this grad program?

A: Undergrad students are most likely only to have access to scholarships. Grad students, on the other hand, are most likely to have access to several or even all four of these forms of financial aid. Scholarships, fellowships and grants can be from your school or an outside organization. Assistantships, if available, are typically awarded by your school. Fellowships, grants and assistantships usually have a research or work requirement and are primarily for full-time students. Some of these latter forms include a tuition waver. You can search for “education scholarship” (without the double quotes) in your favorite search engine. Also look for the TEACH Grant and Teacher Loan Forgiveness. The latter allows for student loans taken for a teaching program to be forgiven under certain conditions.

Q: Do I qualify for financial aid at the graduate level even if I’m studying part-time?

A: Yes. Federal financial aid requires that students take at least half of the normal course load to qualify. The actual number of courses/ credits depends on the institution and program.

Q: How do departments determine to whom to give assistantships?

A: The first step is determine your eligibility for the grad program to which you have applied. If you are accepted, your resume and cover letter help determine if you are shortlisted for assistantship, and usually an interview is one of the final stages before a decision is made.

Q: Is an online degree cheaper?

A: It depends on the school, location and your situation. Some institutions charge a “technology fee” for online courses that can make the courses more expensive than regular tuition. Other institutions charge less than for regular tuition. Some have a different price for in-state students than out-of-state online tuition (just like for on-campus tuition costs). Some programs have a partial residency requirement, which make increase the cost if you do not already live nearby. So it really depends on the institution; however, in general, many expenses are reduced: gasoline, parking, meals (since you can eat at home), childcare (if it applies), time saved not commuting (which can translate to savings if you also work from home).

Q: What is the process for applying for financial aid?

A: Typically you wait until you are accepted into a degree program (usually need to be a full-time applicant) and then you can apply for federal (e.g. FAFSA), school and third-party organization scholarships, grants (e.g., TEACH grant), fellowships, loans, etc.

Prerequisites, Schedule

Q: Are courses offered for flexible schedules?

A: Courses might be offered in the evenings, weekends or specific seasons. This facilitates flexibility of schedules for students who cannot take the regular class offering.

Q: Are graduate degrees in education full-time or can they be taken part-time?

A: Most institutions allow grad students to enroll part-time in at least some semesters. For an education degree, however, there may be some requirement for mandatory full-time sessions such as in a Summer semester.

Q: Can credits from a master’s degree in education count towards a doctorate degree in the same category of educational studies?

A: In short, yes. While it is not always possible, if you know before you start a master’s degree program that you also want to complete a doctoral program, it is worth the effort to plan for both degrees simultaneously, partly by talking to a grad advisor who can recommend courses to take. The advantages include potentially being able to count master’s program course credits towards part of your doctoral program. Also, a department that knows you are plan to stick around for a doctoral program may also favor you with paid assistantships and partial or full tuition waivers for both degree programs.

Q: Can I start my grad program in the Spring or Summer semesters, or does it have to be in the Fall?

A: Most programs start in the Fall, though the option to start in other semesters is possible. Talk to your grad advisor. If there is no course sequence to adhere to, the option is more likely.

Q: How long are you allowed to take to complete a degree?

A: While an education degree might take 1-5 years for a master’s and 4-6 years for a bachelor’s, the time that a student has to complete either is usually longer. Emergencies, financial problems, family events and other factors can affect a student’s ability to continue a program. For that reason, institutions typically allow for a longer duration, so that returning students can complete a degree started previously. The actual durations vary by institution, but some allow as much as 10 years for a bachelor’s, after which time some credits become stale and might have to be repeated. Since a master’s degree typically takes less time, the allowable time tends to be less — as much as ten years for some institutions, but usually less for others (e.g., 5-7 years).

Q: How long does a degree in education take?

A: Master’s degrees in general can take between 1-5 years, depending on a number of factors including: class availability in given semesters; whether there is a summer semester and you take it; whether or not you must write a thesis; and whether you take the program part- or full-time. Programs with online courses or which are entirely online might be fast-tracked. Having to complete a project or capstone course instead of writing a thesis could also shorten the duration. Normally, however, a master’s degree will probably take 2-3 years for a full-time student. Bachelor’s degrees typically take four years full-time and 5-6 years part-time. However, if you have previously completed a two-years associate’s degree that qualifies, a bachelor’s “degree completion” program would only take an additional two years. A PhD usually takes between two to five years.

Q: I’m in a grad program and would like to put my studies on hold. Is this possible?

A: Check with your grad advisor or your department of graduate studies. Under certain circumstances – such as for compassionate reasons or emergency reasons — you might be able to take a short leave of absence without affecting your progress. Check with your grad advisor. Most institutions provide a generous amount of time to complete degrees (duration differs for different study levels).

Q: Is it possible to manage work, family and study? If so, how can this be achieved?

A: The best chances of achieving this balancing act is to enter an online or hybrid (partially online) degree program — especially one which is not “synchronous.” That is, a program that does not require you to attend live classes remotely. A program that allows you to set your own pace, within reason, gives you the flexibility to manage the other important facets of your life. Furthermore, a program which has a part-time will give you even more flexibility. If you are already teaching, you may be able to get permission to defer your task load for specific semesters and make up for that in other semesters (such as during summer).

Q: What are live synchronous sessions?

A: For courses that are offered either online or via distance education (video conferencing at special learning centers), some class sessions might be broadcast live. If it is required that students in the class participate simultaneously for the duration of the broadcast, then the class is a synchronous session. Attendance may even be taken electronically and so it is mandatory. This differs from online classes in which students can consume the session on their own schedule (e.g., either non-mandatory live attendance or no live broadcast).

Q: Which takes students more effort – regular courses (on-campus) or online courses?

A: Self-paced online courses offer schedule flexibility but may require more discipline to complete. However, they are typically designed to be the equivalent of their on-campus counterpart courses and so, in theory, should not take more effort.

Q: Will I need to write a thesis for my master’s of education degree?

A: This varies by institution, with four possible situations: (1) thesis required; (2) final project or capstone required; (3) choice of thesis or final project; (4) neither thesis or final project required. Keep in mind that if you have to write a thesis, that it will extend the time it takes you to graduate, and that if you exceed the allowable time, you may need to retake some credits.

Q: What are the requirements for admission to a master’s of education degree?

A: For any master’s degree, the minimum requirement for admission is a suitable bachelor’s degree. For a master’s of education, a school may relax on the topic of the bachelor’s degree but the preference will be for a topical undergrad degree and/or teaching experience — especially someone with a current license. Of course, such requirements are sometimes relaxed for candidates who excel in other requirements.

Q: Can I choose whatever courses I want to take for my education degree, or is that predetermined?

A: It depends on your teaching career goals. To achieve specific certifications, such as for a certain grade level (elementary school, etc.), a certification program is often predetermined to allow candidates to achieve the necessary knowledge and skills. If, on the other hand, you are aiming at a higher grade level of teaching or simply want a general education degree, you may have more flexibility in the courses that you are allowed to take. At the doctoral level, you will choose your concentration area of study.

Q: Does my undergraduate degree have to match the subjects I want to teach?

A: While it helps, this is normally not necessary at the undergrad level. You can specialize at the master’s level and gain the necessary knowledge then.

Q: I have time to be a full-time student. Should I find an online education degree program or opt for something on campus?

A: You should evaluate online degree programs in the same way that you would evaluate regular degree programs. However, it is worth knowing a few of the caveats of taking online courses:

  • While online programs typically give you more flexibility of schedule, there may be some on-campus appearance requirements, such as for initial orientation, to take tests, to present dissertations, etc.
  • Online programs, because they give you more flexibility of schedule, may require extra discipline to complete course work.
  • Some online/ distance courses do require you to attend a live broadcast via your Web browser or custom computer software.
  • A college/ university in another state may not be able to award you a degree in your resident state, depending on your home state’s requirements. So if you want to attend a particular school, you may need to move to the other state — at least for the duration of your studies.
  • If you study online in your home state through a school in another state, you may also have to concern yourself with teacher certification requirements in your home state (assuming you want to teach there).

Accreditation, Completion, Certification/ Licensure, Qualifications

Q: Are online degree programs accredited?

A: If it is being offered by an accredited institution, in all likelihood an online program is also accredited. However, because of the requirements of some states, some institutions may not be able to offer an online degree program to students living in certain states. Always check with the institution first, and then the department of education in your state, if necessary.

Q: How can I know if a particular institution of higher learning is accredited or not?

A: Use the U.S. Dept of Education’s Accreditation search form, available through OPE (Office of Post-secondary Education). Type in the institution name and select the campus in question. The results page will list different programs and their accrediting bodies, as well any expired accreditations. The OPE site also offers a data file with all accredited locations and programs, which is in CSV text format or Microsoft XLS spreadsheet file format. The data is updated every 3-4 months.

Q: Can I teach without a degree in education?

A: The short answer is yes. Some community and technical colleges only require a master’s degree in the subject that you want to teach in (or if you have significant work experience, a bachelor’s degree in the topic might suffice). Colleges/ universities often require a “terminal” degree such as a PhD in a particular subject to teach it at the undergrad and grad levels. However, some institutions may accept a master’s degree as sufficient credential to teach undergrads. In rare cases, even teaching assistants still working on a degree may be allowed to teach college-level classes by permission of the professor of a particular session of a course. To teach in preschool through secondary (high school) levels usually requires a teaching certificate and a college degree – usually bachelor’s or master’s, but not necessarily a degree in education. Check with your state’s department of education for pre-college level teaching requirements.

Q: I can get licensed to teach with just a bachelor’s degree (e.g., no master’s)?

A: Yes. Some states will award Initial Licensure to qualified candidates who pass the necessary testing and have a suitable bachelor’s degree. Rules vary by state. Contact your state’s dept of education for details.

Q: If I completed a degree in another country, can I still get a teaching license in an U.S. state?

A: In short, yes. Your degree will require evaluation, possibly from an outside agency, and assuming you are otherwise qualified, you will need to have work authorization such as a valid work visa, official documentation (e.g., permanent resident card), and obtain any necessary licensure. As with anyone else, additional requirements such as fingerprints, background checks, etc., may be required. Here is an example of the process used for the state of Florida.

Q: If I gain a suitable degree in a state that is not my home state, can I gain a teaching license in my home state?

A: It depends on your state’s department of education’s licensure rules. You will have to pass their certification, but this may require taking additional academic credits locally, or enrolling in prep courses that will ensure that you are ready to test for certification.

Q: If I get a degree in education, am I limited only to a teaching career?

A: No. There are many types of careers in education. Provided that you complete a suitable degree and complete any licensing requirements, you have several other career options. This includes academic administration, academic counseling, principal roles, curriculum specialists, education researchers, policy experts, school district leaders and more.

Q: If I get a teaching license for one state, can I use it to get a teaching job in another state?

A: The short answer is probably. See the U.S. Dept of Education’s Title II Higher Education Act website for data on teacher certification structure and numbers of teachers certified per state. Some states have interstate agreements (aka Reciprocity). In other states, you will be granted a duration in which to get a license / certificate in the new state — during which time you will be able to teach, should you be offered a position. Still other states do not require that you have a license up until the point that you are offered a job. The licenses for states which have the most rigorous testing are the ones most likely to transfer with the least followup effort. There is also national certifiction.

Q: If I have teaching experience in one state, will this be acknowledge towards a license in another state?

A: Your teaching experience will most likely be credited, especially if it’s at the same licensure level (e.g., same grade level and for the same subject matter) for which you are planning to teach in the other state. Make sure that you follow the proper licensing application procedure, which should have a provision for you to state your experience in detail.

Q: What types of licensure levels are there?

A: Most states have at least two levels of teaching licensure, including Initial and Professional levels. Some states have Preliminary and Temporary licenses. What you receive/ are qualified for depends on your experience level, current state of academic studies and possibly pending teaching job offers.

Q: What is the process for applying to graduate?

A: Application for graduating is usually done several months before the graduation period. Your school’s Web site will likely list when the next such date is. If you cannot find the information, contact your graduate advisor, Graduate Studies department or the school’s Office of the Registrar. Some schools may allow for you to fill out your information online, whereas others might require a paper form. If you estimate that you will not have completed your degree program requirements by the time the next graduation date is scheduled, you might want to wait for the next date. (Some schools charge a graduation fee.)

Q: What certification program should I take? How do I make this decision?

A: If you are not sure, there are a number of steps you can take to decide on this. Firstly, pick a few schools of interest to you and, using their Web site, study a few of the available teacher certification programs, their requirements, characteristics of teaching, and whatever else you can find. If you know other teachers, ask them for some advice, including asking how they made their decision. You may also be able to talk to a grad advisor at some or all of the schools to which you are interested in applying. It may be worthwhile to you to use an Excel or Google spreadsheet to log your notes on various certifications and programs at each school, along with any advice you collect. Recording this information will make it easier to consult your notes. You can even apply an informal ranking system based on the characteristics that are of importance to you.

Q: Do substitute teachers require a teacher’s license?

A: It depends on the state. Some states require no license at all. However, there may be certain requirements, including academic achievements, career plans, etc.

Miscellaneous

Q: Do international students accepted into a grad program qualify for a student visa?

A: Some graduate programs may qualify an international student for a J-1 (student) visa. (This visa only applies to select topics of study.) For programs that can be completed fully online, a visa would not be required nor issued.

Q: How can I prepare for my grad program?

A: Some institutions may release curriculum information, which you can use to determine select content to read ahead. Reading unfamiliar material beforehand helps with knowledge absorption when you read again once classes start. If curriculum info is not published on the program’s Web pages, check with your department.

Q: Will a criminal record affect my ability to become a teacher?

A: Laws vary from state to state, and protocols vary by institution. The general rule of thumb is that if you have major crime on your record, it’s unlike you can become a teacher. If crime is a misdemeanor and you are upfront about it and not hiding it during your teacher application process, you might stand a chance of being accepted. You will need to get your record expunged (the process varies by state) and may need to explain why the incident will not affect your teaching abilities. If you committed a crime as a minor, you record might be sealed and it may not be an issue. In general, having a criminal record means that your application will take longer to process.

Q: What is distance education/ learning? Is it the same as online learning?

A: The terms distance education/ distance learning can be confusing because some institutions use them interchangeably with “online learning” and some do not. Historically, distance education refers to any course delivery mechanism that does not constitute on-campus lectures and tests. This could mean snail mail, learning centers set up away from campus (sometimes with video conferencing functionality) or also online learning via the Internet (using Web browsers and very likely a learning platform such as Moodle, Blackboard, E-College, OpenClass, Schoolology BrainCert or even something custom-built).

Q: Are online courses graded the same way as on-campus classes?

A: Although the content delivery method may be different online, and there may be no face to face time with professors and teaching assistants, online courses are for the most part graded the same way as on-campus/ in-classroom classes. This is not to be confused with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offered by colleges/ universities where there is some peer-based grading done as part of a certificate of completion but which do not count towards a degree.