What Are Graduate-Level Education Degrees?

What Are Graduate-Level Education Degrees?
The Editorial Team January 29, 2020

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Interested in increasing your educational knowledge, changing career paths, or moving into an educational leadership position?

In addition to establishing your credentials as a qualified expert and potentially adding more money to your current salary, an advanced degree is an opportunity to expand your educational horizons.

Pursuing an advanced degree can expand your impact on society and ensure you are fully prepared and qualified to be an impactful member of the education community. With the desire to continue inspiring and influencing the lives of students, you now face the decision of which graduate degree options are right for your career goals.

An MEd, MAT, EdS, or EdD?

A Master of Education (MEd), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), an Education Specialist (EdS), and a Doctorate of Education (EdD) are proven degree options to expand your career opportunities and increase your possible earning potential.

Although many master’s degrees may look the same, the differences are more considerable than you may think. Understanding the differences between a Master of Arts in Teaching, a Master in Education, an Education Specialist degree, and a Doctorate of Education can help steer you in the direction that is right for you and your career goals.

Some may say that an MEd is for those who want to veer into the path of administration or specialization, an MAT is for those who only want to teach, an EdS is for higher education, and an EdD is for those who want to be in charge of it all, but that may be a bit too simplistic. 

What’s the difference?

When deciding on the right graduate degree, the answer lies in you. The main difference between these four degrees is in the experience, learning objectives, and career goals each candidate brings to their degree program.

An MEd improves your skills in the classroom or helps you move into the education system itself.

A Master of Education is intended for education professionals with a bachelor’s degree. Candidates have a background in education, may already hold a teaching license or certification, and are possibly already teaching.

These candidates want to understand and critically evaluate the practice of education within the system as a whole. An MEd prepares its candidates to understand the structures and mechanisms within the education system and find the best practices to collaborate and influence change. It allows educators to delve into theoretical strategies of education, such as curriculum and course planning, as well as a range of topics related to psychology and behavior that apply to the science of education.

With the ambition to influence policies and procedures in schools and make a difference in the lives of students, an MEd enhances current teaching and instructional skills or lays the groundwork for advancement toward an educational leadership position such as administration or curriculum design.

An MAT gives you hands-on experience to strengthen instruction and content knowledge. 

The MAT is intended for certified and noncertified educational professionals. Those working toward an MAT are trying to advance their careers in teaching and gain practical expertise in instruction and working with students.

The degree delivers practical skills and subject-specific content knowledge, such as history, English, and mathematics. Candidates wish to gain advanced knowledge in education, as well as contemporary theories, procedures, and research in their specialization.

While fostering teaching skills and increasing discipline-specific knowledge for those already working in education, it is also the better choice for those with bachelor degrees in a different field. An MAT is ideal for those who want to teach and can be a first step in qualifying non-licensed teachers for a preliminary teaching license.

An MAT broadens the world of education for classroom teachers. It gives graduates greater classroom preparedness so they may have a greater impact on student learning and achievement for the 21st-century classroom.

An EdS is for those reaching for mastery beyond the master’s level. 

An EdS is a highly specialized degree for education professionals. Intended for those already holding a master’s degree, an Education Specialist degree is best suited for those seeking administrative career options without the requirement of a doctorate degree.

EdS candidates are confident in their knowledge of general education and theories but strive to further their expertise in a chosen field of specialization such as special education, literacy remediation, or counseling. They want advanced knowledge of leadership policy and administrative skills. EdS candidates want to learn the strategies to develop curricula and instruction that truly makes a difference in the way teachers teach and students learn.

Those who want to work within the education system to develop curriculum and aspire to leadership positions to make a difference at the school or district level make excellent EdS candidates.

An EdD is for those wishing to implement research.

A Doctorate of Education is best suited for experienced educators with proven leadership experience. They are looking to assume higher education positions or administrative positions within learning institutions, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations and within the private sector. 

They hope to create and manage education curriculums, help implement effective learning strategies, and measure the effectiveness of what’s being taught and how.

Candidates recognize the problems facing districts or business organizations and are determined in finding a practical way to address it. 

Curriculum Overview

MEd: Focus on the theory and practice of education

Master of Education programs often delve into more theoretical coursework and offer a greater insight into the teaching profession as a whole. An MEd curriculum fosters the exploration of a number of fields in education including leadership, curriculum and instruction, administration, and career and technical education.

Candidates focus on the culmination of theory and practice toward useful and effective approaches to instruction within the classroom. They dive into the understanding and critical evaluation of the practice of education. They strengthen their skills in the application and integration of educational technology. Time is spent analyzing the theory, research, history, and psychology behind learning — both in general and within a specific concentration. 

MAT: Focus on practical skills and clinical experience

Master of Arts in Teaching programs are more intent on the act of teaching. Degree programs strengthen the knowledge of general classroom skills and provide clinical experience within a classroom.

Candidates learn about methodology and stylistic approaches of education, as well as the practical skills of instructing students individually and in groups.

The first semesters are usually dedicated to teaching essentials such as classroom management, evaluation, planning and instruction, and knowledge within a specific subject area. Candidates will take many courses related to fundamental and advanced teaching strategies, tactics, and research. They will likely choose a focus like history, mathematics, or English and learn techniques specific to those chosen areas of study.

A clinical placement, such as a practicum or student teaching experience, will round out the program. Through real-world experiences, candidates will apply principles studied in their program through instruction.

EdS: Focus on a specialized area of education

An EdS is a terminal degree to provide theory in the field beyond the master’s level. An Education Specialist degree increases advancement into other educational careers such as administrator, adult educator, curriculum director, or counseling professional.

Highly specialized, the EdS degree offers studies targeted toward a particular career trajectory. For instance, educational leadership or educational administration majors tend to gravitate toward school principal and superintendent positions. Other majors will prepare school psychologists, higher education administrators, education consultants, or special education directors. 

Because an EdS degree is a specialized degree, most programs will focus on specialized topics instead of a general curriculum. Leadership programs will be immersed in ethics in educational leadership, educational politics, and inquiry for educational leaders. Instructional technology will evaluate new technology, training, and the development of technology-based programs for schools. Reading and literacy programs will examine research in effective assessments and delve into theories on best practices for literacy education.

Intensive in its course load, it can be generally recognized as the equivalent of earning two master’s degrees — usually 60-66 graduate-level credits. Although there is not a thesis or dissertation, there often is the inclusion of an internship, competency exams, and a culminating project.

EdD: Focus on practical application

Fundamental to the curriculum is the application of theory, training in identifying and eliminating discrimination, being an advocate for social justice, and developing training to understanding situations from varying perspectives.  

Time is spent on qualitative, exploratory research collecting data and conducting interviews, observations, or focus groups to construct hypotheses and develop strategies in clarifying and solving problems of practice. 

Students learn problem-solving skills for addressing the daily challenges that education leaders face, as well as solutions in management of business organizations.

Practice-based, students within the program don’t just research but learn ways to implement research to positively influence a community or organization’s decision-making process. Projects consist of workshops and research in the community, such as implementing a program within the classroom and reporting the findings.

What are some common career paths for MEd, MAT, EdS, and EdD holders?

MEd careers

Those who have earned an MEd have a variety of educational career paths to choose from. An MEd candidate may apply their higher educational understanding to continue in the classroom. Others may move toward careers in administration, counseling, or curriculum development. 

Some careers options include: 

MAT careers

Many candidates for the MAT program hope to continue or begin their classroom careers and use the information they have gleaned to improve the classroom teaching and learning environment as an elementary or secondary teacher.

Some career options include

EdS careers

Understood to be a degree of great distinction, an Education Specialist degree focuses on developing qualified candidates in a highly specialized field that aligns with the major of their studies.

Some careers include:

  • Superintendent or principal 
  • College or university administrator
  • K-12 school counselor
  • Special education director
  • Curriculum developer
  • Reading specialist

EdD careers

Professionals with an EdD learn to lead in a way that is transferable to the front of the classroom or within various industries. A majority of EdD graduates are senior-level professionals driving and developing strategies to help organizations meet critical business goals.

Some careers include: 

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