Considering Graduate School
Getting a Master’s
You may wonder which to pursue first—a teaching position or graduate school. Choosing graduate school immediately after college can be convenient without home ownership and family responsibilities. Plus, you’re still in the studying mindset. It can also help you feel more confident teaching if you have a master’s degree. Also, your state may require a master’s degree early in your career. So, it may be less stressful to obtain it before you begin the hectic pace of full-time teaching.
As you consider graduate school, keep in mind that legislation over the past decade has made earning an advanced degree not as appealing for some teachers. Depending on your desired path in education, it may be something to put off or consider not doing. Gone are the days that schools are required to pay for master’s degrees, and unless your future includes administration or teaching at the collegiate level, the graduate degree does make you significantly more expensive to hire than a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s only.
If you decide to go for it, when you attend graduate school is a subjective decision based on your goals, finances, time, and family situation. The best advice simply may be—get a master’s degree when you have the opportunity.
Your master’s major is more important than when you get it. Secondary teachers can get it in their subject area, in education, or in leadership—depending on what you want to do in the future. Elementary teachers are limited to education, curriculum, or leadership in education.
When choosing your master’s program, consider the college’s reputation, the programs offered, and accessibility from your workplace. Having a good advisor is a must, as is the college’s accreditation. Some schools offer master’s degrees online, onsite, or in combination.
Online degrees may cost less but may not be as respected by some administrators. Online degrees may be completed more quickly, but many colleges offer master’s programs that can be done in 18–24 months. If you need the face-to-face interaction, look for a program that has it. If you have a family and obligations and are teaching, at least part of your program being online will be a huge benefit.
Getting a Doctorate
Many factors influence pursing a doctorate. Most programs will not accept you until you have used your other degrees and spent time learning your focus area. Your doctorate will include research and a dissertation that will take years to complete, so it requires a significant commitment to your subject area. You will become an expert in that area and may be expected to teach classes on the topic.
Should it be a PhD. (Doctor of Philosophy) or an EdD. (Doctor of Education)? Situations dictate one as better than the other, but generally, they are fairly equal in weight and work required and give you the background for the same types of work.
Should you get a doctorate if you want to remain in a K−12 classroom? Absolutely, if you want it!
Will a doctorate make you a better classroom teacher? Yes, in many cases, but not necessarily.
Choosing the Right Grad School
With all the online (see Best Online Master's in Education Programs) and on-campus programs as well as programs with a cohort, Sunday classes, evening classes, or Saturday workshops, almost anyone can fit the classes into their schedule and can find a school that offers the perfect degree for their career. See a short list of graduate programs available.
Along with scholarships and loans, graduate assistantships are a common way U.S. graduate programs offer financial support and tuition remission to doctoral students. Requirements and duties vary by institution, but graduate assistants usually work 12–30 hours a week providing service to the department in exchange for tuition remission and a monthly stipend. Depending on the position and institution, the hourly work schedule is usually very flexible to accommodate the student’s course schedule.
Often positions will be designated as .15 FTE, .33 FTE, or .45 FTE, (FTE = hourly percentage full time equivalent). The amount of work hours contracted and corresponding monthly stipend for the assistantship will vary according to the position and institution’s graduate assistant compensation schedule.
Each university and academic department is unique in the tasks assigned to graduate assistants; however, most graduate assistantships fall into three types:
- Research assistants—Could include applying practices and methods of scholarship such as conducting surveys, leading focus groups, providing literature reviews, analyzing data, or writing up findings.
- Teaching assistants—Could include instruction or instructional support such as teaching classes, preparing course materials, advising students, proctoring exams, grading papers, or supervising labs.
- Graduate assistants—Could include administrative or technical support such as preparing documents, coordinating travel schedules, facilitating meetings, database creation and management, website creation or maintenance, or project management.
Since graduate assistantships are supervised by faculty members, they offer networking and mentoring with faculty and an additional source of professional development resources and experience. Even if your program’s specific departments have limited positions available, working as a graduate assistant in other departments can provide a rich multidisciplinary educational experience.
Many of your questions about applying to grad school are answered on GradSchools.com
Find answers about choosing a concentration area at TeachBeyond.org, TopMastersInEducation.com, and Teach.com.
Here are a few questions to consider in choosing the right graduate school for you:
- Are short-term weekend classes offered?
- What are the evening and summer course offerings?
- Will the program emphasize research only or include practical classes in advanced teaching methods?
- What do former students say about the program?
- Is it possible to add an administrative certificate, TESOL, or other certifications to my teaching certificate with this master’s?
- Are there cohort groups for student support in this program?
- What financial aid and scholarships are available?
You may want to read the Education Week blog regularly. Network with professors and graduate students in the Doctoral Learners group in the KDP Community.
Applying to Graduate School
Most programs require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) for entrance. Register and learn more at http://www.ets.org/gre. The “Prepare for the Test” section includes study guides and sample questions.
Try using “How to Study for the GRE: Example Questions, Resources, and Study Hacks” written by Prof. Dennis Masino and Jackie Giuliano, PhD. It includes information to help you understand the GRE and a good summary of the topics covered, such as verbal and quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. It also covers common mistakes made and hints for scoring well.
To register for the GRE visit GRE® General Test Registration. This also includes preparation information.
If you operate better in a classroom environment, Kaplan Test Prep offers classes—self-paced, tutoring, online, or in the classroom. These are more expensive than a book or website.
If you are outside the United States and English is not your primary language, you must take TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Free practice tests for the TOEFL are available from GraduatesHotline.com.
Most graduate schools require a Personal Statement or an Educational Philosophy Statement with the application. Learn how to write one. [Link to Writing a Personal Statement]
You need to update your e-portfolio, résumé, and Curriculum Vitae (CV). You will need letters of recommendation. These may need to come from very specific people—a past professor, a principal where you teach or taught, or others. See examples and learn how to coach the person writing the letter at Sample Graduate School Recommendation Letters.
Articles of Value
A How-To Guide for the Education Thesis or Dissertation
By Cynthia Lee A. Pemberton
It is the highest level—and often the busiest—of students that pursues a doctorate degree, with families and jobs competing against the demands of graduate-level education work. To assist educators in their pursuit of excellence along with their professional and personal lives, this article outlines practical “how-to” guidelines for engaging in thesis or dissertation work.
Best Writing Practices for Graduate Students: Reducing the Discomfort of the Blank Screen
By Carol A. Mullen
With support and guidance, graduate students can successfully pursue academic writing for publication.
5 Tips for Getting Published
Presented by Elizabeth A. Wilkins and Keon Ruiter
Take your teaching knowledge and classroom successes and turn them into a published article. With these guidelines, suggestions, and inside tips, you'll discover how easy it can be to add “published author” to your list of accomplishments! They offer article examples, samples of publications, and a brainstorming exchange of topics.