Education Specialist Degree vs Masters Degree: Which Should You Choose?

Navigating the sea of degree titles can be a bit daunting. As jobs become more specialized, degrees are following suit, and new degree names are popping up everywhere. One of these, the Education Specialist degree, is gaining ground in the U.S. in the field of education.

In contrast, the terminal Master of Arts (MA) degree is well known internationally and can be earned in various liberal arts or humanities majors, Keystone Academic Solutions explains. Also popular is the Master of Science (MSc) degree preferred by master degree types who value hard scientific data and plan to pursue doctoral studies. Graduates work hard to earn these degrees.

Deciding between an education specialist (EdS) degree and a masters degree is a common dilemma for educators looking to advance their careers. While both degrees can boost your qualifications there are some key differences you’ll want to consider before applying to programs.

In this article, we’ll compare and contrast education specialist and masters degrees across several factors:

  • Degree Overview
  • Time Commitment
  • Cost
  • Career Outcomes
  • Specializations

We’ll also look at when each degree makes the most sense based on your professional goals By the end, you’ll have a solid grasp of the EdS vs masters decision so you can pick the right path forward

Education Specialist (EdS) Degree Overview

An education specialist degree generally falls between a masters and doctorate in terms of academic rigor and credits required EdS programs tend to be around 30-36 credits beyond a masters degree

The EdS serves as an advanced graduate degree for educators who want to gain specialized knowledge and skills in a particular area like educational leadership, curriculum development, or special education. It’s considered a “terminal degree” meaning it’s the highest degree available in some fields.

While EdS programs involve advanced coursework and applied learning, they usually don’t require extensive research or a dissertation. The focus is more practical than a PhD program. Those with EdS degrees often pursue leadership positions in K-12 schools, colleges, education non-profits and government agencies.

Common EdS specializations include educational administration, school psychology, curriculum and instruction, and special education. We’ll cover the most popular focus areas later in this article.

Masters Degree Overview

A masters degree generally requires 30-60 credits beyond a bachelor’s degree. Programs are available in many education fields from early childhood education to higher education administration.

Earning a masters opens up opportunities for teachers to advance into specialized roles or leadership positions. It also leads to a pay bump in most school districts. Those with a masters are generally first in line when administrative jobs open up.

Some popular masters specializations include educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, special education, literacy and language, and educational technology. Several masters programs also allow educators to add certifications like reading specialist and ESL endorsement.

While rigorous, masters programs mostly focus on coursework not research. Some require a capstone project but rarely a thesis. The emphasis is gaining knowledge to improve your teaching abilities or transition into a new role.

Time Commitment

One of the biggest differences between the two degrees is the overall time investment required.

Masters programs typically take 1-3 years to complete depending on if you study full or part-time.

  • Full-time masters students can usually graduate in 12-18 months.
  • Part-time students generally finish in 2-3 years taking 1-2 classes per semester.

Some masters degrees are accelerated programs with intensive course loads allowing completion in 9-12 months.

Education specialist programs tend to take around 2 years part-time. Required credits range from 30-36 beyond a masters.

So you’re generally looking at a one year longer time commitment for an EdS degree compared to a masters.

However, this can vary based on your prior graduate coursework and enrollment status. Some EdS programs allow you to transfer credits from a masters degree, cutting down on the total time to graduate.

Cost Comparison

When it comes to financial considerations, a masters degree is almost always the more affordable option.

Here’s an overview of typical masters degree costs:

  • Public, in-state tuition: $7,000 – $22,000 total
  • Public, out-of-state tuition: $15,000 – $37,000 total
  • Private tuition: $30,000 – $60,000 total

Of course, your total masters degree investment depends on the school, program length and whether you receive any scholarships or grants.

Education specialist degree costs tend to run:

  • Public, in-state tuition: $10,000 – $25,000 total
  • Public, out-of-state tuition: $20,000 – $45,000 total
  • Private tuition: $35,000 – $75,000 total

As you can see, EdS programs generally cost $3,000 to $15,000+ more than comparable masters options. The additional credits and longer enrollment add to the overall price tag.

That said, tuition for online EdS degrees can be on the lower end, similar to some masters programs. And employees may offer tuition assistance or reimbursement for an EdS, offsetting some costs.

Career Advancement Outcomes

When weighing an EdS vs masters, it’s important to consider your long-term professional goals.

For teachers looking to advance in the classroom, a masters degree is often sufficient and more economical. With a masters under your belt, you’ll gain credibility and qualify for pay raises based on higher education levels.

Earning a masters is a prerequisite step for leadership roles in most school districts. Once you have a masters, you’ll be eligible to apply for curriculum development, assessment coordinator, lead teacher and department chair positions.

For educators pursuing administrative jobs, an EdS can give you a competitive edge and prepare you for district or school-wide leadership.

Common EdS career paths include principal, superintendent, director of curriculum, special education coordinator, school psychologist, and district administrator.

In some states, an EdS meets the educational requirements for principal or superintendent certification. It also carries more weight than a masters when applying to these advanced roles.

An EdS signals you have specialized training and expertise that goes beyond initial teacher or administrator certification. This can make you stand out from other candidates with masters degrees.

Popular Degree Specializations

Both education specialist and masters programs allow you to specialize your degree to align with your interests and aspirations.

Here are some top specializations for each degree path:

Popular Masters Specializations

  • Educational Leadership/Administration
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Special Education
  • Literacy and Reading
  • Educational Technology
  • Early Childhood Education
  • STEM Education

Popular EdS Specializations

  • Educational Administration/Leadership
  • School Psychology
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Special Education
  • School Counseling
  • Literacy and Reading

As you can see, there’s overlap in many focus areas for masters and EdS degrees. Look for specializations closely tied to your dream job duties when choosing a program.

Which Degree Is Right For You?

With the key differences covered, let’s look at when opting for an education specialist vs masters makes the most sense.

A masters degree is the better option if:

  • You want to advance as a teacher and specialize in areas like reading, technology, curriculum or special education.
  • You aspire to teacher leadership roles like instructional coach, lead teacher, coordinator or department chair.
  • You want to transition into school counseling, higher education or corporate training.
  • You need to boost your pay and qualify for salary increases in your district.
  • You want a cost-effective way to expand your skillset and credentials.

An education specialist degree is preferable if:

  • You have 5+ years experience and want to pursue school or district administration jobs.
  • You need principal, superintendent or program director certification.
  • You want to stand out from other applicants with masters degrees.
  • You aspire to school psychology, assessment director or special education leadership roles.
  • You want knowledge that goes beyond masters level curriculum.

For those weighing options, a smart move can be starting with a masters then returning for an EdS later if you decide to pursue senior leadership positions. Some schools allow you to transfer masters credits into an EdS program.

Just be sure any program you choose is accredited so the degree will be recognized by employers and state certification boards. Also confirm whether the program meets educational requirements for licenses you’re pursuing.

Which Path Will You Take?

Hopefully this overview clarifies the key differences between education specialist and masters degrees. Keep your professional aspirations front and center as you decide which graduate degree makes the most strategic sense.

Leverage your experience and passion for education to determine which roles you’re aiming for long-term. Then choose the degree that aligns with those goals whether it’s a focused masters or specialized EdS program.

With vision and purpose guiding your decision, you can feel confident pursuing the graduate education path that will brighten your career outlook. Here’s to furthering your impact and achieving your new goals!

education specialist degree vs masters degree

Finding Jobs with a Master’s

The masters degree is the minimum requirement for professors at junior and community colleges. It is also required for some doctoral programs, so it may be used as a stepping stone to a career as a university professor or researcher. Generally, the most desired candidates for other professions that require advanced knowledge on a subject, such as historian, museum director, journalist, technical writer, or researcher, have masters degrees.

The education specialist degree is a professional degree. As the title suggests, it is a highly specialized degree for education majors. The EdS generally requires a minimum of 30 post-masters credits, as noted in the Auburn University graduate school bulletin. The degree does not require a thesis or dissertation, but can include an internship, competency exams, and a project.

Educators who require an advanced professional standing but do not wish to become a researcher or write a dissertation often choose this degree. Majors available with this degree include school counseling, education administration, adult education, and curriculum and instruction.

Examples of Master’s Degrees

Masters degrees are graduate degree that follows a bachelors degree, and may come before a doctorate degree. These credentials require 30 to 36 graduate-level credits in most majors. Graduate students may write a thesis, conduct research, pass competency exams, complete a project, or perform some combination of these tasks to acquire the degree.

Students with the MA degree title generally major in subjects in the liberal arts, including English, history, philosophy, and other topics in the humanities. The MSc is more common in STEM fields. Other types of masters degrees are also offered such as the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in theatre.


What is the difference between education specialist and master’s degrees?

Key takeaways: Education specialist degrees are specialized options for experienced educators seeking advanced career paths, while master’s degrees provide a basis of knowledge for entry-level and mid-level educators. Education specialist and master’s degrees differ in their purposes, program lengths, specializations and entry requirements.

What is an education specialist (EdS) degree?

What is an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) Degree? An Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree is a postgraduate degree designed for educators with a master’s degree who want to gain advanced proficiency and skill sets in their chosen field and for a specific position, like a principal or superintendent.

What is an education specialist degree?

An education specialist degree (Ed.S.) is a specialized degree option for education professionals who are interested in seeking advanced career paths. Through this degree program, candidates often develop a high level of expertise in an area of their choice, in addition to leadership competencies and administrative capabilities.

Can you get an education specialist degree without a master’s degree?

Instead, you can earn an education specialist degree, or EdS, which is an advanced certification that goes beyond the master’s degree.

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