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Online Master’s in Educational Administration and Leadership

Master’s programs in educational administration aim to prepare experienced educators and other school professionals to take on educational administration and leadership positions in PK-12 schools, school districts, and in adult and higher education settings. Standards for educational leaders are grounded in current research and their experiences in guiding and promoting the type of leadership needed in today’s schools and by today’s students.

Graduates of master’s in educational administration programs may work as daycare and preschool administrators, school principals or vice principals, instructional coordinators, instructional support specialists, higher education administrators, directors of student financial aid, admissions directors, directors of academic advising and student affairs, or as educational consultants. In addition, Master’s in Educational Administration programs that include Principal Licensure preparation are designed to prepare educators for state-specific licensing requirements. It is important to note that some educational leadership programs may offer distinct licensure and non-licensure tracks for students, while other programs may or may not include licensure preparation as part of their curricula.

What is a Master’s in Educational Administration and Leadership Degree?

A master’s in educational administration degree is designed to prepare graduates to take on principalships or other educational leadership roles in PK-12 and higher education settings, with the express purpose of improving learner outcomes and success, managing curriculum, supporting teachers and staff, managing administrative tasks, and promoting positive organizational change. The National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA), in collaboration with educational leaders from around the nation, has developed the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) for principals and assistant principals and the National Educational Leadership Preparation (NELP) standards for program design, accreditation review, and state program approval. Educational administration programs may be accredited through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) or the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP).

Online Master’s in Educational Administration and Leadership Programs

Online Master’s in Educational Administration programs are designed for experienced educators and those who work in education who want to move into administration and leadership positions. These programs can typically be completed in one to two years, and educators with graduate credits may be able to earn their degree in less time if they are able to transfer the credits they have already earned toward their master’s degree. While many online Master’s in Educational Administration programs can be completed fully online, some may require students to complete an internship and/or field experience hours as part of their curriculum.

Online programs utilize learning management systems (LMSs) to deliver course syllabi, recorded or live lectures, course materials, online textbooks, assignments, assessments, and other instructional activities like discussion forums/boards that allow students to engage with classmates and instructors. Through a program’s LMS, students can also interact with professors through email and video chat (for professors who hold live office hours). It is important to note that online programs offer the same curriculum as campus-based master’s in education programs and are an alternative option for educators who are unable to routinely commute to campus for classes and for educators who do not live near a college or university that offers graduate degree programs in education.

How Identifies and Classifies Online Master’s in Educational Administration and Leadership Programs

Master’s in Educational Administration programs may focus on preparation for leadership positions in PK-12 public and private schools, or for higher education administration. Within PK-12 educational administration, programs may offer licensure tracks for students interested in becoming principals or directors of special education and non-licensure tracks for students interested in curriculum and instruction or another specialization within PK-12 leadership. Educational administration programs may require an internship or practicum to ensure graduates gain hands-on experience while earning their degree. These programs are offered with various Master’s in Education designations, including:

  • Master of Education (MEd) in Educational Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) in Educational Administration
  • Master of Science in Education (MSEd) in Educational Administration

Through independent research of master’s programs in educational administration, identifies educational leadership programs that are offered fully online or include no more than two required campus visits per year. Programs that include more than two required campus visits per year are considered hybrid programs and are not currently listed on the site. Also, programs on the site must be offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities.

What Students Learn in Online Master’s in Educational Administration Programs

Coursework for Master’s in Education programs with a specialization in Educational Leadership commonly aligns with the PSEL or NELP standards mentioned above. Graduate students learn to use effective management skills to promote student success, improve student outcomes, lead curriculum development, promote systemic educational change, and support teaching staff. Key concepts include foundations of educational leadership and administration; effective communication with students, families, staff, teachers, school district personnel, and the community; quality education for students with disabilities, language differences, and giftedness; educational policies and laws; educational quantitative and qualitative research, data analysis, and application; financial/fiscal management; safe and effective learning environments; educational organizations (PK-12 or higher education); and recruiting and hiring school personnel.

Note: Graduate students who are interested in pursuing principalship positions should seek programs that are designed to prepare educators for Principal Licensure.

Common Courses in Online Master’s in Educational Leadership Programs

The table below provides an overview of coursework that is typical of a Master’s in Educational Administration curriculum. The courses and descriptions are drawn from actual online graduate programs in educational leadership.

Course TitleCourse Description
Philosophy and Organization of the American SchoolA study of four educational philosophies and their implications for classroom instruction and school organization.
Facilitation Through CommunicationStudents learn to develop advanced oral and written communication skills, theories of interpersonal and organizational communication, and best practices for conducting meetings and giving presentations.
Methods of Educational ResearchExplores educational research methods, techniques, tools, and strategies, including quantitative and qualitative research.
School FinanceA study of the fiscal and management skills and principals needed in order to operate a school, including educational funding, resource allocation, revenue sources, and current trends in school finance and operations.
Fundamentals of ManagementExamines management strategies concerning organizational systems and infrastructure support in educational organizations; covers project management, budgetary decision-making, crisis management, and management styles and models.
Data Literacy and Evidence-Based PracticeFocuses on the data literacy skills educators need to improve the learning and development of PK-12 students, including types of data, data generation and analysis, inferences and conclusions, and the creation of action plans applicable to specific educational settings; covers best practices in data literacy including approaches to professional learning communities, continuous improvement planning, and instructional decision-making processes.
Ethical and Societal Aspects of Educational LeadershipProvides an analysis of the relationship between personal and core societal values to education, including understanding and sensitivity to society's effect on educational decision-making.
Leading Inclusive SchoolsFocuses on topics that directly affect students with special needs to ensure their academic success and emotional/social well-being; covers applicable laws, rights, policies, and regulations that address matters of equity, fairness, and student social exclusion based on disability, culture, language, or giftedness; includes information on special education classifications, working with English language learners and gifted and talented students, and using Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) frameworks.
Supervision and Instructional LeadershipExamines the essential elements of quality instruction, effective learning, and developmental supervision; covers effective leadership models and styles for ensuring quality instruction; students develop supervisory skills that can positively affect school instructional programs, including creating opportunities for professional development of teachers and support staff.
Creating Positive, Safe, and Effective Learning EnvironmentsExamines strategies for fairly and effectively resolving conflicts and administering discipline; teaches future principals how to foster mutual respect among students, parents, teachers, staff, and the community; fosters an understanding of individual and group differences and potential conflict as an avenue to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes that lead to social competence and effectiveness in the school and community setting.

Admissions to Online Master’s in Educational Administration Programs

While admissions requirements for online master’s in education programs vary, the minimum requirement for admission is a bachelor’s degree. In addition, many programs require applicants to have earned their teaching licensure and have at least two years of teaching experience. Some colleges and universities may also require a GPA above 3.0 on a 4.0 scale and scores from a graduate entrance exam such as the GRE or GMAT. To complete their application, students are often required to submit an online application form, a resume or CV, a personal statement, proof of English language proficiency, and letters of recommendation (with one letter of recommendation from the applicant’s principal or direct educational supervisor).

Certain programs also require applicants to be currently employed in a school-based position or have ongoing access to a school-based placement throughout the program. It is important to note that some programs even prefer applicants to have active support from their principal and school site to ensure students have access to sensitive school information necessary to carry out a principalship or leadership position in education, and that the principal can serve as a mentor during any potential internship experience.

Online Master’s in Educational Administration Format Options

Online master’s in education programs seek to provide flexibility to educators and professionals who may work full-time while earning their degree. Outlined below are structural and instructional variables that students should consider as they explore online programs. These include online instructional methods, enrollment options, and required campus visits.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Online programs that use synchronous instruction more closely mimic traditional on-campus programs in that they offer opportunities for live lectures, discussions, and group work via video conferencing. Most online graduate programs schedule live sessions one or two nights per week or on the weekend so that working professionals across time zones can attend. Some students may prefer synchronous instruction as it can help busy professionals stay on track with weekly scheduled class times. Prospective students should be fully aware of their time commitments and ability to attend live class sessions before choosing a program that utilizes this type of online instruction.

Programs that mainly use asynchronous instruction do not incorporate live, real-time sessions into the online learning experience. Instead, students view recorded lectures; access readings and other course materials; complete assignments, projects, and assessments; and participate in discussion boards on their own time as long as they meet set deadlines. Students who choose asynchronous online instruction are typically highly motivated and well-organized and need the additional flexibility to complete coursework on their own schedule.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Choosing a part-time or full-time online program depends both on current schedules and the desired time to completion. Enrolling part-time typically involves taking one course per term and results in a longer time to complete, but may be more manageable for busy professionals. Full-time enrollment usually includes taking six or more credits per term and allows a master’s degree to be earned more quickly, but the time and energy commitment may be too heavy for working professionals. Some programs give students the option to enroll either full-time or part-time, while others may only offer a full-time program or a part-time program.

Some schools offer a third option using alternative academic calendars that offer five, six, seven, or eight-week terms wherein full-time students complete one accelerated course per term. Full-time students can typically graduate in 12 to 18 months, while part-time students may take two to three years. Program length can also depend on the number of credits the program requires, if the program requires any internships and/or field experiences, and whether or not it is a principal licensure program. Prospective students should carefully evaluate their current commitments in order to determine if they have the bandwidth for full-time enrollment and whether or not that aligns with their desired time to completion.

Campus Visits: Certain master’s in education programs may require students to attend educational activities in-person on campus. These sessions, which are often called residencies or immersions, may include orientations, network/relationship-building opportunities, guest lectures, and skills-based experiences. Students who cannot or would prefer not to have to travel to a required campus visit or visits should seek programs where coursework can be completed fully online, and that allow internships and field experiences to be completed near where a student lives and works. As noted above, does not currently include online Master’s in Educational Administration programs that require more than two campus visits per year.