08/24/2015  |  By Linda Barlow

Professional development. Certification. Specialization. Greater earning potential. These are just a few of the reasons professionals decide to pursue a Master’s of Education (M.Ed.). Whether you’ve just completed your undergraduate degree, or you’ve been working in the teaching profession for some time, a M.Ed. is an ideal way to enhance your professional profile and prepare for a new leadership role. Master’s degrees are also sought by those interested in administrative roles in higher education, in counseling positions, in pursuing careers in education policy, or as education scholars working in colleges or universities.

Once you’ve decided that a M.Ed. is right for you, you have an important decision to make: What M.Ed. program is right for you? With more than a thousand schools and programs to choose from, how can you be sure you’re choosing the best one for you? According to Kim Brazil, director of graduate and professional admissions and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development finding the right “fit” is crucial.

“All M.Ed. programs are not created equal,” says Brazil. “From faculty and curriculum to campus resources and job placement assistance, there is a wide variety of variables at play, and some programs are more rigorous than others. If you’re a student with high GRE scores, for example, look for a program that will provide the level of intellectual stimulation you need to succeed.”

“It’s important to have a good understanding of what your goals are,” adds Natalie Herring, director of Admission and Financial Aid, Penn Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania. “A school or program that is perfect for an undergrad looking for teacher certification may not be the best school or program for an experienced educator who now wants to hone his or her skills or specialize in an area such as reading or language.”

Brazil and Herring agree that there are five important factors M.Ed. candidates should evaluate when researching graduate schools and programs. Much insight can come from a simple Internet search, but there is no substitute for more in-depth research, they add. Look for opportunities to learn more via information sessions, webinars and web chats, graduate school fairs, and most importantly, an in-person visit.

In addition, speak directly with the program’s alumni, and think twice about a school that is unwilling or unable to put you in touch with recent graduates. Learn more about their experiences while in the M.Ed. program and their subsequent career paths.

Five Factors for Success


Learn what the program’s faculty are doing in terms of current research, and not just papers published a decade ago or more. Is their research cited by others? Do the interests of faculty and their positions on current issues like Common Core align with yours?

Review individual Curriculum Vitaes (CVs). Are faculty members receiving grants and awards? Do they hold editor or editorial board positions at relevant academic journals? How involved are they with organizations that fund research, like the U.S. Department of Education or the National Science Foundation, or professional organizations like the American Educational Research Association? If your career goals include managing a classroom, look for faculty with practical teaching experience.

“Our alumni always remark on how well prepared they were upon graduation to develop curriculum, manage classrooms and handle parental issues,” Brazil says of students graduating from Peabody’s M.Ed. program. “Not only are these student learning from tenured faculty, they’re also learning from faculty members working directly with them in student teaching situations.”

“Faculty in Penn’s GSE are highly committed to working within the local urban education community here in Philadelphia,” says Herring. “For example, thanks to a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences within the U.S. Department of Education, our faculty and students are working on The School District of Philadelphia (SDP)-Penn Graduate School of Education Shared Solutions, a formal research that directly applies to improvement efforts in the SDP.”

Curriculum and Research Opportunities

Don’t just look at the name of the program. Dig deep into the curriculum as well. To get a better understanding of the coursework in the M.Ed. program you’re considering, visit the campus and sit in on a few classes. Are class sizes small so that students are able to build personal relationships with faculty? Does the curriculum allow students to put theory into practice?

“Connecting the dots between theory and practice is where knowledge is really created and where you can start to change the lives of children,” says Brazil. “It’s one of the keys to success for students in Peabody’s M.Ed. program.”

“The University of Pennsylvania was founded by Benjamin Franklin, who had the mission of creating an institution that provided a useful and practical education,” adds Herring. “We continue that mission today by bridging the gap between our classrooms and the local school district.”

The program should also provide opportunities for students to specialize and conduct research in areas that interest them.

“The ability to conduct research and publish is an important component of an M.Ed. education,” says Brazil. “It gives students networking opportunities with faculty and peers and is an excellent way to show you can think critically and present your thoughts in a cogent manner.”

“Even if a student is not pursuing a Ph.D. or Ed.D., academic and scholarly writing is an excellent skill to have, especially if it is an area about which you are passionate,” Herring adds, noting that after graduating, not all students are able to take advantage of the research-related resources of a world-class university like Penn.

Job Placement Assistance and Career Help

Unlike other professional programs, such as business schools, that have been doing an excellent job with career assistance for decades, graduate schools of education are just starting to offer these services. From mock interviews and Q&A sessions with current teachers and administrators, to resume and portfolio development, the resources a school devotes to career assistance is typically a good measure of the program’s quality.

“Not only can our students take advantage of the career assistance services available through the wider Vanderbilt University, we also have a dedicated career center here at Peabody for students at the graduate level,” Brazil says, noting that 94 percent of those students searching for jobs upon graduation in May found them by September 30. “Plus, our faculty get involved, helping students network and build a career path.”

“A school’s alumni can also give you an indication of the effectiveness of its career services,” adds Herring, who notes that Penn’s GSE makes this information available on its web site.

Campus Resources and Student Life

While most M.Ed. students will spend the majority of their time immersed in their studies and student teaching activities, professional and social organizations and outlets allow students to have a fuller life while undergoing their studies.

“Although graduate study can be rigorous, students can set their own life pace,” says Herring. “At Penn, we have religious and faith-based organizations, a family center for married students, ethnic organizations and other social groups that provide support and fellowship. Through our international program, we also have opportunities for students to study and work abroad.”

“The school’s physical campus resources are also important,” says Brazil, suggesting that prospective M.Ed. students check out campus libraries, technology centers and recreational facilities. “Campus safety is also important, especially if the student will be taking classes at night.” Anyone can view campus crime statistics, which the Clery Act mandates that institutions publish, online.

Education Reform, Special Needs and Leadership

To borrow a marketing phrase, today’s graduate schools of education are not like your father’s. Indeed, the field of education has progressed at a rapid pace in recent years, with reforms including the oft-debated Common Core.

Herring notes that students of Penn’s GSE program go on to careers not only as teachers in primary and secondary schools, but also as medical educators, chief learning officers in corporations, and various entrepreneurial endeavors.

“A diverse program that combines educational curriculum with curriculum in psychology, linguistics, quantitative methods, and leadership theory gives our students a wide choice of career paths,” Herring concludes. “Not every graduate school of education provides such a background.”

Brazil points to education schools as drivers of educational and social change. Special education is one case in point. “Peabody practically invented the field in the 1950s and 60s,” she says, and it remains the leading program today. “Public primary and secondary schools often struggle with the sensitivities required for special needs students. Our strength in this area not only provides a solid education for students interested in special education; it also makes its way throughout our entire curriculum to the benefit of all our students.

“At Peabody, we are proud of our role as a source of knowledge for education reform,” she adds. “Evidence says that there is a need to do things differently, and schools that stress rigorous experimental research often provide a higher quality education.”

Linda Barlow is a freelance writer living in Bucks County, PA.
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