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MAT vs MEd: Which Advanced Education Degree is Right for You?

Decide if you want to teach when considering the MAT vs MEd

Getting a master’s degree in education is a goal for many people but deciding what degree to pursue can be a challenge. The main choice is between the two most popular degrees: the master’s in teaching vs master’s in education. The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) is commonly thought of as helping classroom teachers advance their skills, while the Master’s in Education (MEd) is assumed to be for those who aspire to administration roles. However, there are specialties and overlaps between the MAT vs MEd that blur the line. No matter your career goals, don’t immediately rule out one or the other choice. In this article, we will delve into the differences and similarities of online master’s in education programs to help guide you as you explore the right master’s degree for your area of interest and your professional goals.

Why are There Different Kinds of Master’s Degrees in Education?

A master’s degree can help teachers, administrators, or other education professionals to take on more responsibility, become more expert in their field, switch from one role to another, and to earn higher salaries. While you don’t need a master’s degree for many teaching or staff roles, it can be the credential that will help you stand out from the crowd, to specialize, or take on leadership roles. The different flavors of degree programs in education reflect the broad range of practice and the many different roles that help our education system to teach people—both children and adults—in the most efficient and productive way.

While the choice is often seen between the MAT vs MEd, there are also programs like the Master of Science in Education, the Master of Science in Teaching, or MSEd Degree. While any of these programs may include a pathway to licensure or certification as a K-12 teacher, there are many programs that are not designed to help obtain this credential. In some cases, a teacher who is licensed in their state with their bachelor’s degree may not need certification from their MAT master’s degree.

“I have a master’s degree. How do I become a teacher?” If you already have a master’s degree in another subject, you will need to get a master’s degree that will allow you to get a state teaching certificate or license to work in K-12 teaching. For people with their bachelor’s degree in something other than education who are looking to become certified to teach K-12, the degree they seek—whether MAT, MEd, or something else—will need to be a master’s that includes the certification pathway. Others, who are looking to become school principals, counselors, athletic directors, or myriad other roles, may not need a program that has teacher licensing built in.

MAT vs MEd: What Kind of Master’s Degree Should a Teacher Get?

For teachers, choosing between an MAT vs MEd degree depends on your goals. While there is no single best master’s degree for teachers to get, there are reasons to choose one over the other depending on your goals. Generally, those who want to stay focused on the classroom should choose the master’s in teaching vs master’s in education, while those who want to move beyond the classroom will be more likely to look at the MEd Degree. But there are overlapping courses and concentrations that may surprise you as you look at programs that pique your interest. Comparing the MEd vs MAT degree programs may help you to consider your own goals and interests more carefully and help you narrow down your choices.

The MAT is great for people who want to switch into the teaching profession from another field, as it gives very practical skills training and can lead to state certification to teach. The MAT is also perfect for those who want to continue to develop expertise in the classroom, getting expertise in their subject area or age group, or even rising to leadership roles within teaching.

The MEd is a good degree for teachers who see their role in the education system expanding to other areas like administration, curriculum design, educational technology, culture and inclusion, or any of the many specialties that can be covered in an MEd. The MEd can help teachers to leverage their classroom experience to have broader influence on education, using their perspective to effect change and improve outcomes in education and training. Consider your career end goals when comparing the MAT vs MEd.

What is a MAT?

The Master of Arts in teaching degree programs can offer teachers and others a way to either increase their knowledge and skills in the classroom, or to get their teaching certificate or license. Both options exist, with certification the goal for some students, while others who seek a position that doesn’t require teacher certification often opt for the non-certificate pathway. Educators who already have their license to teach may be using the MAT degree to solidify their expertise, narrow the focus of their teaching, or to add the advanced certification that can get them positions of more responsibility. The focus on classroom teaching skills and learning styles is a main part of the curriculum, causing some to favor the MAT as the best master’s degree for teachers to get. Core courses in an MAT program may also cover such subjects as learning theories, course planning and curriculum, educational psychology, educational technology, and more.

Most MAT programs are between 30-38 credit hours and can take about a year to complete or be spread out over two or more years for those who need to devote more time to their current job and family life while they study. Online programs can be especially convenient for those who are working in education, as you can arrange study time whenever you have time. In addition, teachers may be able to shift more of their coursework to the summer semester when their classroom teaching duties are on pause.

MAT degrees often have many options for the area of concentration, which can be a subject area like math, social studies, or science, or it could be an age group or special population within the student body like special education or English as a Second Language. Optionally, it can be more specific like a specialization in secondary (grades 7-12) science, early childhood (PreK-3rd grade) literacy, or elementary mathematics. Similarly, some special education MAT programs will have concentrations in different age groups. Most of the concentrations for secondary school have a subject area specialization that corresponds to a state certification, such as World Languages, Biology, Chemistry, or History. The subject area specializations are one reason to choose the master’s in teaching vs master’s in education.

To look at just one example, the University of West Alabama offers the MAT as a certification option that is 37 credits long, while the MAT without the certification is 33 credits of study. For their program, class sessions are eight weeks long and the program can be completed in about one year online. For their certification degree, students must already possess the subject area teaching certificate at the bachelor’s level to take the MAT certification course. UWA offers certification concentrations in History, Biology, English Language Arts, Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, or Physical Education. The non-certification option offers concentrations in the same topics (except for Physical Education) but requires more coursework in the subject areas.

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Master of Arts in Teaching

What is a MEd?

The MEd degree is a master’s in education that can cover general education or special topics in education. The special topics covered in the master’s in teaching vs master’s in education may be the reason to choose the MEd. While MAT topics are usually subject area and age specific, the MEd concentrations can be wider and more varied. MEd tracks may include educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, educational technology, counseling, library and media, career and technical education, social-emotional learning, or bilingual education. The MAT vs MEd may have the very same subject areas like math, science, STEM, special education, or literacy, and both can lead to licensure as a teacher for those who want it. If you decide you want the MEd, you will find that there is a much wider selection of possible concentrations in addition to subject areas.

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The MEd programs can range from 30-50 credits of work, which is quite a range, but you will most often find the master’s in education online programs that add in certification to be on the higher end of required credits. The average time to completion for an MEd is two years, though some will have accelerated options for graduation within 12-18 months. Depending on the specialty track you choose, you may need to have prior teaching experience or administrative experience to apply.

Take one program, for example: the MEd from Northcentral University. This is a program designed for working professionals that has 100% distance education, high-level faculty, and allows students to start each week with individualized programs. The MEd has 19 different track options, 30-36 credits required, and can usually be completed in about 16 months. And while the option for a general MEd is great for many educators, there are also specialties in such topics as Trauma-Informed Educational Practices, Corporate Wellness, E-learning, Sport and Athletic Management, and even School Safety, Security, and Emergency Management. While many distance education MEd programs offer flexibility, the Northcentral University program is especially modeled on the individual needs of each professional student.

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Master of Education / General Education

Career Outcomes with a MAT

With an MAT degree, you will make a higher salary than someone with just a bachelor’s degree in any position you get. This is certainly true for some of the most common positions for people who graduate from an MAT program: teachers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, elementary school, middle school, high school, and special education teachers all pay a median salary of somewhere between $60-66,000 per year, but having the MAT would mean that your salary would be on the higher end of these averages. Also, the job outlook for all of these positions is about average, meaning there is continued need for new teachers. For those who seek higher pay levels as a teacher, the master’s in teaching vs master’s in education is a good choice.

Other jobs you might consider after getting your MAT would be as an adult education teacher, for which the median salary is $55,350, or a preschool teacher with a median salary of $31,930. With the MAT, you may be looking at a higher level of leadership in these teaching professions, which would pay higher than the average. Another avenue would be to go into career and technical education, which averages $59,140 per year, or become a training and development specialist, which pays a median of $62,700.

Career Outcomes with the MEd

The specialty area of your MEd can make a huge difference in the type of jobs and master’s in education salary that you can expect to earn. Here are some of the job titles you might consider and their median salaries:

School Principal: $98,490
Training and Development Manager: $115,640
Instructional Coordinator: $66,970
Curriculum Developer: $80,452
Librarian or Media Specialist: $60,820
School or Career Counselor: $58,120
Preschool or Daycare Education Administrator: $54,940
Kindergarten or Secondary School Administrators: $103,101
Postsecondary Education Administrator: $97,500
Educational Technologist: $62,310

For the above positions, these are just median salaries, and those with the MEd may make more than the median because of their extra education. With an MEd vs. MAT, you can also often teach in your field of subject expertise, and salary expectations would be on the higher end of the spectrum, as you would have a higher educational credential than the minimum for licensure. With an MEd that has a certification track, you don’t have to wonder, “I have a master’s degree. How do I become a teacher?” You will have the right credential to go for licensure, and you can command the higher salary of a master’s level teacher.

Will I Earn More in Teaching or Administration with an MAT, MST, or MEd?

According to one study, teachers with no experience but a master’s degree earned a $2,760 premium in their first year of employment, and the master’s degree is worth $7,358 each year at the highest point in pay. Another BLS report found that teachers with a master’s degree earned a 22-43% premium over their peers with the bachelor’s degree, with preschool and kindergarten teachers seeing the biggest gains.

For administrative positions, you will see a premium in salary over someone with a bachelor’s degree. However, many administrative or counseling positions require a master’s degree, so you would be in line to reach the median salary. In careers in corporate training, having the online master’s in education will give you a leg up as a master’s in education, but you may also need business expertise to be most effective and command the higher salaries.

Getting the MAT vs MEd is not the main factor in figuring out if you will get a higher salary. Choosing any master’s program is going to help you command the higher salary, whether the master’s in teaching vs master’s in education degree is your credential. Your program could even be an MST or MSEd degree, and as long as it gives you advanced training for the role you seek, it will likely give you a salary bump that could make it worth it over time.

Who Should Pursue a MAT?

  • Teachers who want to level up their teaching expertise
  • Teachers who want to switch to another subject specialization
  • Those with a bachelor’s degree in another subject who want to become teachers (certification pathways)
  • Teachers who want to become teaching leaders

With the MAT’s emphasis on classroom skills, it is great for teachers but less good for budding administrators. As with any degree, prospective students should look at whether the salary gains, new job opportunities, and ability to level up their role will make the cost in time and money worth it. Most people will study for their MAT master’s while keeping their current job and family responsibilities, making the year or two of study a very busy time. But for many teachers, the salary bump and new opportunities make the degree very worthwhile.

Who Should Pursue the MEd?

  • Teachers who want to move into leadership roles
  • Anyone who wants to become or rise as an education administrator
  • Those who want to specialize in school counseling, athletic leadership, media and library science, curriculum development, and other roles within education
  • Aspiring school principals
  • People from any bachelor’s major who want to become teachers (certification pathways)
  • Educators who want to hone their expertise and earn a higher salary in their present role

MEd programs have so many concentrations that there are pros and cons to each different specialty. Some of the jobs you can get with the MEd, like school counseling, offer job satisfaction and a sense of making a real difference, while not paying a huge salary. Other roles like becoming a principal, may pay higher salaries but bring a high level of stress to the work environment along with more money. However, for the right personality type, any one of these jobs can be a perfect fit. All degree master’s in education online programs will require time, effort, and money to successfully complete, so weighing the options and looking realistically at your time and money outlay can help you to decide if the degree will be worth it for you.

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If you can realize the higher master’s in education salary while also benefitting from the added expertise and job prospects, now is a great time to get started down this path. For those who can’t decide between the MAT vs MEd, try to remember that it is more what you will learn in your master’s than whether you get the master’s in teaching vs master’s in education degree. A master’s degree makes you a master in education, an expert with skills and competencies to share with the world, making our education system stronger so it can serve the many students who are ready to learn!

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