Choosing a Master’s Degree in Education

One of the questions TeachBeyond members often ask Education Services is how to choose a master’s degree program. There are as many variations of this question as there are questioners, and in all fairness, there is not a one-size-fits-all program. However, there are some things that everyone should consider when facing this decision—a decision that can be even more challenging when looking for a program that will help prepare you for international school work.

16180756684_845b29688bType of Degree:

There are two degrees which are often confused: a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), and a Master’s in Education (M.Ed.). The MAT is geared more toward initial teacher licensure and focuses on practical classroom skills and teaching specific subjects. The M.Ed., on the other hand, is for experienced educators and provides more in-depth instruction designed to prepare teachers for new leadership roles. A Master of Science in Education and Master of Arts in Education are similar to the M.Ed.

Make sure not to confuse master’s program in Christian education designed for the church worker or youth/children’s ministry versus programs focused on the school teacher or administrator. The two are quite different.

Program Delivery:

Do you want to pursue an online program, a campus-based program, or a hybrid program, which combines online learning with a summer residency? The chief benefit of pursuing an online degree is convenience; it allows you to pursue your education from wherever you happen to be living while working on your own time schedule. One drawback to earning an online degree, however, is lack of face-time with instructors. Consider your learning preferences: If you learn more from being in class than reading textbooks, it may be best to consider a traditional campus-based or hybrid program. However, if you are a self-motivated learner and do well translating written text to real life, an online program could be a perfect fit.

If you are looking at a program outside North America, you should also consider the language of instruction. Some programs in Western Europe may rely on articles and journals that are in languages other than English.

Philosophical Underpinnings:

In order to grow in your understanding of how faith and education intersect, look for a program that provides a biblical understanding of education, which becomes the foundation of how one serves as a teacher or administrator.[1] Educational theory and practice should be guided by Christian principles and applied with a biblical worldview. An indicator of this is the requirement of a philosophy of Christian education course. Be aware that not all Christian colleges and universities have education programs which equip teachers and administrators with this biblical foundation. If you are looking for a program built on a foundation of biblical principles, check out this resource list put together by TeachBeyond’s Education Services team.

If you are looking at a program outside North America, finding this philosophic grounding may be difficult: biblical integration is not often combined with an educational degree in Europe. If you choose a program that lacks this foundation, you can address this by creating your own supplemental course of study.[2]

2775111903_f77b1ed5e4Program Design:

Closely related to the question of philosophic underpinnings is the question of purpose. What is the program designed to prepare graduates to do? Many programs (even in Christian universities) will admit they are preparing teachers for public school teaching. Because of their purpose, these programs would not expose participants to quality curriculum and aspects unique to Christian education.  Similarly, many master’s degrees can include a strong focus on state/provincial law and practices.  It is important to find out how much flexibility there is in the program: consideration should be given to how much emphasis is given to pedagogical and administrative content and how much focuses on national/local law and practices. This is true both in North America and across Europe.

Areas of Concentration:

Most master’s programs offer areas of concentration. Common areas of concentration are:

  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Educational Leadership
  • Special Education
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Adult Education/Adult Learning
  • Higher Education
  • Secondary Education

As you consider which of these you would like to pursue, ask yourself what your long-term goals and plans are. Do you see yourself continuing to work internationally? Do you want to continue in the classroom, or would you like to pursue a role in school leadership? Use the answers to these questions to help you narrow your focus.

While these are certainly not all the questions that you should be asking, they will help you begin the process of deciding for yourself what type of course is right for you.

Education Services Council
TeachBeyond Global
Special thanks to contributors Helen Vaughan, David Midwinter, Geoff Beech, and Melanie Moll

[1] Developing a biblical foundation of education is as important, if not more so, for those who teach or plan on teaching in state or national schools as opposed to openly Christian schools.

[2] Several departments within TeachBeyond—Lifelong Learning, Teacher Education, and Higher Education—have developed resources to help you grow in this area, even if the program you choose does not contain this component.

Photo Credits: Oxford Librarydiliff via Compfight cc. Biblerachel_titiriga via Compfight cc.

Don’t miss an opportunity to deepen your understanding of Transformational Education

This summer TeachBeyond is hosting a Transformational Education Conference in Manila, Philippines. Spend four days (June 7-10) with other international workers learning how to apply the concepts of transformational education to your specific context. This is an opportunity that is too great to pass up!

For more information or to register for the conference, visit