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Master of Education in Educational Leadership | Context - Context
Online Master of Education in Educational Leadership
Master of Education in Educational Leadership In Context

If you are looking to prepare for a leadership role in education, you might want to considering a master’s degree in educational leadership. It may be a prerequisite for your next career move or to obtain a license you need. Educational leadership is an exciting and ever-changing role in which you can make a difference in people’s lives, helping to change the course of education.

What is this degree for?

If you are an educator who wants to prepare for a leadership role or pursue a position as principal or superintendent, a Master of Education in Educational Leadership can be the first step. [10] It can equip you with the necessary skills and strategies to pursue leadership in a school and to help build a positive culture driven by learning, achievement, and growth. The program can help you develop your decision-making skills, leadership abilities and best practices, use of education technologies and knowledge of how the academic environment is influenced by teacher leadership. [2] [3] [4]

If you work in any of the following educational settings, this degree could give you the skills needed to progress into a higher role:

  • Preschool
  • Elementary school
  • Secondary school
  • Higher education
  • Continuing education
  • Military
  • Government
  • Training roles
How do I earn this degree?

Each university or college sets its own admissions requirements, but generally, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree. Based on a survey of online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership programs, students are often expected to have some teaching experience or experience working within an educational organization, though the number of years required varies.

How long does it take to earn this degree?

The length of the degree varies depending on where you study. As it is often a part-time degree, it will likely take longer to complete than a typical master’s degree. You can expect to be studying for around two years, although some programs are offered full-time for one year.

You may also find programs that offer part-time studying but over a shorter period of time — for example, 18 months. The benefit of studying over two years is that you can balance your workload with your job. However, an accelerated degree can help you reap the potential benefits quicker.

What is an educational leadership degree?

A master’s degree in educational leadership allows working teachers to gain the skills, knowledge, and qualifications to pursue leadership or administrative positions within schools, colleges, or continuing education establishments. This might include taking on the role of school principal. To qualify for such leadership roles, many states require that teachers hold a master’s degree.
This program is a great way to ensure that you have the necessary academic background and core training to help you get ahead. It is a practical degree program that can help you improve and develop your leadership skills for working in public and private schools, as well as in education-related organizations.
The goal of an educational leadership degree is for students to become data-informed, people-focused, and future-oriented with the broad and wide-ranging knowledge base needed to advance their worldview and make a difference in schools and with students. [5] [6] [7]

Who might pursue an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership?

Approximately 40% of school administrators in the U.S. hold a master’s degree in education. [8] A Master of Education in Educational Leadership takes master’s level expertise even further by delivering coursework specially designed for school administrators. Based on an analysis of online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership programs, this degree is ideal for professionals interested in working as principals or other administrative positions within an educational setting.

Why study for a master's degree in educational leadership?

There are a number of reasons why you might want to study for an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership. If you are interested in pursuing a leadership role in an educational institution or organization such as a school principal, having a master’s degree is highly desirable, and often a requirement, as it demonstrates specific training in this area. [9]

Additionally, in many cases you need a master’s degree to qualify for licensure. Some states require teachers to take the School Leadership Licensure Assessment (SLLA) to become a principal or to obtain any type of administrator role in the school system. [10] The core aim of these assessments is to ensure those looking to become principals, superintendents, and school leaders have followed a thorough, fair, and validated assessment process that states can use to know they follow and meet the necessary standards. Having this licensure can be crucial in gaining employment.

A master’s in educational leadership can also be beneficial in terms of job security and lead to higher pay. According to, the average master’s level principal earns about $100,000 per year, which is higher than the average salary for bachelor’s level principals. [11]

Master of Education in Educational Leadership Career Advancement
Those who pursue an educational leadership degree are typically in teaching or leadership positions at private or public schools who either need a postgraduate degree to get the necessary licensure by the state, to maintain their existing licensure, or are planning to pursue a leadership position.

Some of the career options available to you with a master’s include: [1]

  • Department director
  • School principal
  • Assistant principal
  • School superintendent
  • Work with nonprofit and advocacy organizations

The role of an educational leader is to find ways to help schools to develop and grow, improve standards, and help students achieve higher grades.


There is great potential to attain a good income through education, particularly as an educational leader.

School principal

Principals at the elementary, middle, and high school level earn a median salary of $92,510, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The position is expected to grow at an average rate of 6% from 2014 to 2024, adding 14,000 jobs. Most principals have several years of teaching experience and a master’s degree in educational leadership or educational administration. [9]

Assistant principal

The role of an assistant principal is to support the principal and ensure standards are being met in terms of curriculum, discipline, and organization. It is a supervisory, management-level role and can command a median salary of around $69,559. This can range upwards to $97,592. Assistant principals can become a school principal, curriculum director, or another type of education administrator. [12]

Academic dean

An academic dean manages and develops academic staff at an educational institution. They are in charge of setting and meeting academic goals, as well as executing and evaluating results. Some of the skills required for this job include budget management and strategic planning. [13]

Postsecondary administrator

This category includes positions such as admissions officers, registrars, student affairs workers, and provosts working in colleges and universities. While the salaries differ based on the specific job, the median pay for the category overall is $90,760 according to the BLS, with 9% growth projected from 2014 to 2024. Many of these positions require a master’s or Ph.D. [14]

Where can I expect to work?

Typically, graduates with an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership work in an educational organization or institution. If your M.Ed. in Educational Leadership leads you to a career as a principal or school administrator, you can work at a variety of educational settings including: [1]

  • Preschool
  • Elementary school
  • Middle school
  • High school
  • Public magnet or charter schools
  • Private religious schools
  • College
  • University
  • Government agencies
  • Nonprofit
Master of Education in Educational Leadership Curriculum
Every university establishes its own core courses. Typically, you will be required to take courses in teaching theory, ethics, law, administration. When researching a program, the most important aspect to consider is whether it meets your career goals and interests. Having a clear idea of what you want to do after your master's degree will ensure you are able to get the most out of it.

Based on a survey of online programs, common topics covered in a typical master’s in educational leadership program include:

  • Educational administration
  • Education law
  • Education finance
  • Shaping school culture
  • Professional development
  • Strengthening curricular programs to promote school improvement
  • Empowering instructional leaders
  • Improving teacher performance
  • Strategic leadership and management
  • School operations
  • Leading educational change and improvement

Many master’s in educational leadership programs also offer elective courses to tailor your degree toward a particular specialization. A survey of online master’s in educational leadership programs reveals these common topics:

  • Teaching adults
  • Learning processes in relation to educational priorities
  • Technology applications in educational leadership
  • Curriculum design (theory and practice)
  • Principles of instructional supervision
  • Designing staff development programs
  • Mentoring and coaching
  • Policy, strategy, and resources in education
  • Research methods
  • School improvement
  • Digital media

You can develop the ability to apply practical solutions to improving educational establishments and school effectiveness, with knowledge about the current issues, theories, and debates in this sector. Likewise, you will be able to use your learning and skills to apply research and theories toward school leadership.

You will also be equipped with the knowledge education leaders need more than ever: how to promote equality, diversity, and inclusiveness in education, as well as how to serve underrepresented populations. [15]


You may also be able to select a concentration.A specialized Master of Education in Educational Leadership can help you develop skills in key areas of interest, prepare you to work with certain types of populations or school systems, or bring you even closer to a particular career goal. Based on a survey of several online programs, common concentrations include:

  • Higher education administration
  • K-12 leadership
  • Early childhood education leadership
  • Educational leadership and policy studies
  • Educational leadership in special education
  • Educational leadership in online learning
  • Data and accountability
  • Virtual education
  • Athletic administration
Studying online

There are a number of reasons to study for an online master’s in educational leadership, including the option to fit classes around your work schedule and the ability to maintain your personal responsibilities and obligations.

Whatever reason you might have, studying online provides a greater level of flexibility. You will gain access to the same high-quality teaching and graduate with the same degree as an on-campus program. You will also get to meet like-minded students from across the country to learn in a collaborative, interactive way. If you enroll in an asynchronous online program, you will be able to study during evenings and weekends. If your program is synchronous, you will need to attend online classes at the same time as other students.

Some of the questions to consider when looking for online programs include:

  • Does the university have accreditation?
  • How long has the program been in place?
  • What reviews are available of the program and curriculum?
  • What is the average time frame for studying online?
  • How will you be expected to study (e.g. time of day, portal, etc.)?
  • What types of employment do graduates achieve?
  • Will the program be recognized by your employer?
State regulations

Some states have specific regulations that prevent students from enrolling in certain online programs. It is important to be aware of these when looking for a program.

State regulations include SARA. SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses. [16]

Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students.

Master of Education in Educational Leadership Program Length

The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.

Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.

You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.

Master of Education in Educational Leadership Admissions Requirements

While each program will set its admissions requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.

In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.

For more information about admissions, please visit our admissions requirements page.

Alternative Degrees/Fields of Study

Undertaking your master’s degree is a big commitment, both academically and financially. It’s important to do your research to make sure your educational plan is a good match for your desired outcome.

The following master’s degrees touch on the same topics and learning outcomes as the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership, but they offer a different focus or specialization. As you do your research, consider learning more about these degrees to see whether they might be a better fit for your goals and interests.

  • Master of Education in Curriculum Instruction
  • Master of Education in Higher Education
  • Master of School Improvement and Educational Leadership
  • Master of Education
  • Master of Education Management
  • Master of Science in Education Management and Leadership

Relevant Industry Associations and Organizations

When conducting your research into which university is the right choice for you, you might be interested in looking into some of the key industry associations. These help to bring together like-minded individuals and academics in a networking setting to help advance both career and education prospects. You might want to find out what connections your institution has with these associations.

  • The National Association of Secondary School Principals [21]
  • The School Superintendents Association [22]
  • The National Association of Elementary School Principals [23]
Master of Education in Educational Leadership Accreditation

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.

Beyond regional accreditation, it is important that your chosen program is also accredited. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the premier accrediting body for educator preparation programs. The CAEP is the result of two former accrediting bodies, the NCATE and TEAC, coming together to raise education preparation standards in 2016, which means some programs may still report NCATE or TEAC accreditation. [20]

Master of Education in Educational Leadership Licensure and Certification

Some states require teachers to take the School Leadership Licensure Assessment (SLLA) to become a principal or to obtain any type of administrator role in the school system. It is one of three assessments you can take as part of the School Leadership Series. The other two are the School Superintendent Assessment (SSA) and the Kentucky Specialty Test of Instructional and Administrative Practices, which is only required in the state of Kentucky. [17] [18] The core aim of these assessments is to ensure those looking to become principals, superintendents, and school leaders have followed a thorough, fair, and validated assessment process to prove they meet the necessary standards.

The test you choose to take will depend on what your state or licensing agency requires and why you are seeking licensure. Each state or agency has its own requirements for what tests you need to take and what the passing scores are. You can find out the exact testing requirements and qualifying scores on the School Leadership Series website. [18]

Some programs may also require you to earn different licenses. For example, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has approved programs that lead toward students gaining the Principal Licensure and Teacher Leader Endorsement on the Professional Educator License. To seek Principal Licensure, ISBE states that you need to have completed an approved program at an accredited Illinois-based institution, hold a master’s degree, have at least four years of full-time teaching experience with a valid teaching license, and must have passed the Basic Skills or Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP) exams and two Principal content-area tests. [19]

History of Educational Leadership

In the mid-1800s, shortly following the Civil War, U.S. teachers united to form the first professional organization focused on education leadership: the National Association of School Superintendents. [24] Their mission was clear: It was a critical part of education advancement to post supervisors in schools.

Since then, a host of specialized organizations have formed to support this worthy mission of excellence in education leadership. That endeavor officially kicked off in 1857, when a small group of 100 dedicated educators launched the National Education Association, providing the important service of monitoring the quality of education and standing as exemplars for future education leaders. [25]

In 1916, the National Association of Secondary School Principals got its start with the mission of improving the level of confidence the public had in area high schools. [26] Following that, in 1921, the National Association of Elementary School Principals first assembled, signalling a dedication to enhancing education offerings for the nation’s children. [27] Now there exists a wide variety of education organizations dedicated to niche causes and broad goals alike.

In the 1950s, education saw dramatic reform as the landmark case Brown v. the Board of Education made segregating schools illegal. [28] This reform caused education leaders to place an emphasis on ethics and access, leading the American Federation of Teachers to join the fight for civil rights. Simultaneously, 300 teacher strikes flamed up around the United States, with educators uniting to collectively bargain for higher earnings. [29] Here arose another crucial aspect of education leadership: advocacy.

Next came improvements to learning technology, which preceded computers and led to the launch of the International Society for Technology in Education’s creation in the late 1970s. [30] As technology developed quickly, it necessitated the creation of the Office of Educational Technology in 1994. This branch of the Department of Education was created to assist teacher leaders in becoming successful pioneers by setting strict standards and providing the framework for more visionary curriculum development. [31]

Now technology dominates the discussion as educational leadership seeks to make key administrative decisions regarding the tools students engage with to learn and the cost of updating technology on fixed school budgets. Today’s Master of Education programs incorporate all these elements: operations, advocacy, technology and curriculum development — with the mission of continually advancing education through attentive and visionary education leadership.

Master of Education in Educational Leadership Tuition and Fees
There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships. For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Educational leadership degrees help give working teachers the necessary tools and qualifications to pursue leadership or administrative positions, including principal, within schools. [32]

The M.Ed. is aimed toward working teachers wishing to pursue a career in school administration or obtain a leadership position. Educational leadership programs are specifically designed to prepare students to work in these types of roles.

There are several reasons that teachers may pursue their M.Ed. Teachers with an M.Ed. can establish themselves as highly qualified experts in their field. Others may pursue the degree as an opportunity to expand their knowledge of teaching and advanced coursework in teaching. [33]

Many see the M.Ed. as an avenue through which to raise their salary. According to a recent study by the Council of State Governments, M.Ed. graduates can earn up to 10% more than their counterparts with only bachelor’s degrees. [34]

Yes. The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation is the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office. It supplies college-level or career school students with loans, grants, and work-study funds. You can apply for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

There are numerous other scholarships available, but you will need to research which opportunities you’re qualified to pursue. Many states, associations, websites, and businesses award scholarships based on specific criteria. Be sure to do your research and apply for any scholarships for which you qualify. [35]

Courses will vary by program; however, students in most programs can expect to take classes in leadership, curriculum development, finance, law, educational operations, and more.

Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students who may be working around a busy work schedule or home life. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees. The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and class itself. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.

Yes. Many institutions offer M.Ed. degrees online.

Online and on-campus degrees typically look identical. Most institutions do not indicate on the degree that it was earned online.

Yes, schools typically follow the same curriculum for their online programs as they do for their campus-based programs.

No, attaining management/senior positions is not guaranteed through the completion of a master’s degree. These positions often require many years of experience and a significant level of career achievement. However, an advanced degree can help you develop the necessary knowledge and skills required for these positions and also prove your dedication to the field.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is the national accrediting body for educational programs recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Attending an accredited institution ensures that the program has met rigorous quality standards and students are prepared to enter the education field. [36]

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has identified four key goals for accrediting and developing standards for accreditation. [37]

  • To help students develop the knowledge, skills, and demeanor that can enable them to thrive in their careers as educators
  • To provide accurate, rigorous, and fair assessment of educational degree programs
  • To offer advice or assistance for the improvement of educational degree programs
  • To communicate and coordinate with academic programs, students, the public, and others whose interests align with the improvement of educator preparation and quality

Accreditation helps determine if an institution meets or exceeds the minimum standards of quality set out by recognized regional or national accreditation agencies. A list of regional and national institutional accrediting agencies can be found at the U.S. Department of Education. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is a common and recognized accrediting body for Master of Education programs.

SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.

Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students.

Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance.