As with many jobs, getting a master’s degree in education can greatly improve your chances of getting a teaching job. It can also provide you with access to a higher salary. However, with so many schools to choose from, finding the “right” school can be daunting task: with a master’s degree in education, there are innumerable specialties, ranging from a basic curriculum and instruction program to a more specialized course of study in student counseling, policy, or special education.

Though there are numerous online degree programs, I’m going to focus on schools offering in-person degrees. It’s not possible for everyone to actually show up to a set class time, but going to a physical school and classroom can have several advantages:

  • Actual back-and-forth interaction with classmates
  • Easy access to a professor, as the lesson is happening, to ask questions
  • Building a sense of community with your classmates
  • The chance to see and try out new instructional strategies with other people– since classroom teaching is about face-to-face interaction, this can be a huge boon

Know Thyself: Information to Prepare Before Selecting a School
With so many specialty areas in education, it’s important to know your goals before choosing a university. After all, you don’t want to enroll in a degree program, pay your tuition, and then find out that it’s not quite what you wanted! The more common specializations offered by graduate schools of education are:

  • Curriculum and instruction
  • English language development (sometimes called ELD, ESL, or ELL)
  • Special education
  • Administration
  • Counseling services
  • Specialization in elementary or secondary education
  • Educational policy
  • Educational psychology

Clearly, there are vast differences between degree programs based on your area of interest. You should also decide whether you’re looking for a part-time or full-time schedule as a student, since universities differ in terms of their flexibility in class scheduling. Finally, although a degree in education generally doesn’t cost as much money as one in law or medicine, it’s important to check on the tuition bill before selecting a university.

Once you’ve assessed your interests, schedule, and finances, you can start comparing schools.

Cream of the Crop
Based on the recently released rankings from U.S. News, Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education is the top graduate school for education in the United States, with Johns Hopkins School of Education taking second place. Other schools placing near the top of the heap were Harvard, the University of Texas– Austin, and the Teachers College at Colombia University.

In contrast to that list of the top schools, Masters Degree Online offered a list of its best graduate schools for education, which differed to a large degree, although MDO also included Vanderbilt on its list. The difference between U.S. News and MDO might be, in part, because of the latter organization’s focus on online degrees, though they were reviewing universities holistically (as opposed to simply in terms of their online degree programs).

According to MDO, some of the top graduate schools– based on faculty experience, student polls, graduate satisfaction and job placement– were Ohio University, the University of West Florida, and the University of Wisconsin. All three schools have array of specialization areas, as well as access to top-notch professors.

Several top schools also stand out as having strong programs in the specializations listed earlier. The best schools in several of those categories are named below, along with a short description of the area of study:

Curriculum and instruction: Focuses on different models of instruction, the history of curriculum creation, and best practices for teaching and learning in the classroom.

  1. University of Wisconsin– Madison
  2. Michigan State University

Special education: Focuses on preparing you to work with learners who have an intellectual or physical disability or who have an emotional or behavioral disorder.

  1. Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education
  2. University of Kansas

Counseling services: Teaches you how to work with people either in a school or a mental health setting, focusing on individual needs and problem solving.

  1. University of Maryland-College Park
  2. University of Georgia

Elementary education: Prepares you to work with students in grades K-5, helping you learn instructional strategies and developmentally appropriate curriculum for the classroom.

  1. Michigan State University
  2. Teacher’s College at Colombia University

Educational policy: Looks at educational theory, current trends and research, and leadership in schools across the country.

  1. Stanford University
  2. Harvard University

Based on the lists above, it’s obvious that there are myriad schools providing high-level master’s degree programs. Being a teacher can be a tough job, so give yourself the tools to improve your instruction: whether it’s close to home or across the country, start looking for a graduate school of education that fits your needs! 

By Danielle Restuccia