A Guide to Accelerated and Advanced-Standing Fast-Track Master’s Degrees in Educational Leadership

Written by Scott Wilson

the coach

America’s schools need dedicated leadership. And they need it now.

Half of teachers are considering quitting; according to a 2023 RAND corporation report, 10 percent actually did during the 2021-2022 school year. Sixteen percent of principals did the same, nearly a quarter of all administrators who move on in some way each year. Continuity is out the window, and the challenges are greater than ever.

For the sake of the country, for the future, that trend has to stop. And the sooner the better.

If you’re someone who cares about schools, teachers, and the future of American education, then you know there’s no time to lose. You want to get started ASAP.

And that can lead you right into an accelerated degree in educational leadership.

With the promise of building the skills and knowledge you need to become an inspiration and an agent of change; educational leadership degrees are a good idea. They’re also the law, at least when it comes to becoming licensed as a school principal or superintendent in most states. A fast-track path may be your best bet to getting your career, and your school system, to a better place.

What Exactly is an Accelerated Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership?

female teacher in corridorThe short answer is that an accelerated degree program is one that is designed to get you through your studies in less time than a traditional program would take.

To your inquisitive educator’s brain, though, that just opens a lot more questions.

What curriculum does an accelerated master’s in educational leadership cover?

A standard Master of Education in Educational Leadership (MEDL) has about 30 credits of required coursework. Some schools or specializations may take more.

An accelerated, or fast-track, program still has the same credit requirements. So you study the same subjects either way. They are offered in the same areas of focus you find in ordinary MEDL programs, from early childhood education leadership to special and gifted education, and, of course, standard K-12.

Accelerated programs are also available in all the varieties of standard educational leadership graduate programs. So if you prefer a Master of Science in Educational Leadership or Master of Arts in Educational Leadership, you can fast-track those programs as well.

How long is a traditional program?

grads receiving diplomasThe typical timeline for completing an ordinary MEDL program ranges anywhere from 12 to 24 months. But that difference is sometimes only due to full-time versus part-time attendance expectations.

Almost all students in these programs already work in education. You already know how time-consuming the job is. You can’t necessarily commit to full-time loads.

So most educational leadership students put together intensely individual schedules to fit their own needs. There’s a lot of flexibility built-in to many educational leadership programs, with online and hybrid options common.

How much time do you save with a fast-track degree?

It’s often entirely possible to find a standard MEDL program that you could complete in a year on your own if you’re motivated and everything falls into place just right. But an accelerated program offers a more organized pathway to cut down on your total time to completion, usually aiming at that one-year mark. Some, however, can be completed in as few as 10 months.

There can be plenty of challenges that come along with putting together your own one-year completion timeline in an educational leadership program. Maybe not all the courses you need are offered in the right sequence. Maybe there’s a required practicum placement that only fits in once per year. There are many administrative obstacles to getting a master’s on a tight timeline.

Accelerated, or fast-track, educational leadership programs promise to get out of your way. They have been designed to take the obstacles out of your path. If you’re willing to study hard enough, they are an assurance that you can get through every requirement as quickly as possible.

How Accelerated Master’s in Educational Leadership Degree Programs Work

inspiring words on paper notebookSchools of education understand their students are usually teachers and administrators who are already hard at work in professional positions. So a lot of the mechanics of making a fast-track program actually work are about accommodating busy schedules and ensuring you can keep up with the course load.

In some cases, this happens by taking some of the flexibility out of the degree. Schools can squeeze those 30 or so credits into twelve months by:

Some programs, particularly those with shorter course lengths, also offer multiple start dates through the year, meaning you don’t have to wait for a traditional semester to begin to get started.

These programs often rely on your existing work experience to speed up completion. You may need three years or more on the job teaching to even be accepted. Accelerated degrees count on your familiarity with the field to start you off at a high-level and move at a fast pace.

What’s more, many programs base their timeline around your ability to engage in practicum or internship work at your current employer. If you’re not already on the job in a school where you can fulfill internship requirements, you might not even qualify for an accelerated program.

With accelerated programs, you’re also often locked-in to specific classes in a specific sequence. In a cohort program, you’ll need to keep up with the rest of your group. You won’t get the opportunity to take classes in the order you might prefer. You often give up the chance to customize your studies with other electives.

The guarantee behind all these different systems is simple: you can, if you are up for it, get through a full-fledged MEDL in only a year.

Deciding Whether or Not a Fast-Track Educational Leadership Master’s Degree Is Right for You

arriving at schoolAlthough you can find fast-track programs in all kinds of formats and specialties, one thing is true about every single one of them: they are a challenge.

No matter how you slice it, taking this much information and skill-building and packing it into a shorter format makes for demanding classwork. That comes with even greater challenges when you are already hard at work in the field.

Fast-track educational leadership programs smooth the way as much as possible, but the fact is that you have to study and absorb more information in a shorter period. That’s a personal challenge and one you will have to balance against your other career plans.

Does an Accelerated Master’s in Educational Leadership Meet State Licensing Qualifications?

reviewing college applicationEducational leadership degrees face an extra challenge in squeezing down their curriculum into only a year: state licensing requirements.

Not every MEDL degree delivers professional qualifications for administrator licensing, but many of them do. And if your career goals include taking a step up to school leadership jobs, you’re going to need to check the box on those educational qualifications.

Each of those state requirements means including specific coursework in the degree, however. That may further cut into your ability to customize your electives.

Licensing requirements also put a kind of built-in speed limit on accelerated master of education programs. All of them require a certain amount of practicum and often time on the job as a teacher. No matter how quickly you complete your master’s studies, you won’t be getting licensed until you fulfill those experiential qualifications.

Advanced Standing Master’s of Educational Leadership Programs Offer Faster Completion for Licensed Administrators

teacher and students running in gym during peAdvanced standing degrees – popular in other fields as a way to get a leg up in graduate studies by aligning bachelor’s studies in the same field – have a different meaning in the education field.

Advanced standing in the educational leadership world typically means you must already hold another master’s degree already.

Because of the common pathways to educational licensing, this is more likely than it sounds. A teacher with a decade or more of experience is very likely to have already earned a master’s in their field as a part of fulfilling continuing education requirements. It’s also a good way in many districts to pump up the pay scale.

Advanced standing educational leadership degrees recognize those accomplishments and may cut back on your required coursework if your current master’s has enough alignment with the leadership program you are applying for.

Combining Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree Programs Delivers a Faster Path to Educational Leadership

receiving accolades from teacherThere are some schools that offer advanced placement for academically strong students in graduate-level classes while you are still pursuing your bachelor’s degree. These can also cut down on total completion time toward your MEDL, at the expense of sacrificing some bachelor’s elective opportunities.

Some advanced standing degrees are also called accelerated programs by the schools that offer them, although they differ in that you are completing your graduate studies while attending your undergraduate program.

These package deals usually combine an undergraduate major in an ITP (Initial Teacher Preparation) program with a follow-on master’s in educational leadership. Also called 4+1, since they consist of 4 years of bachelor’s study and a single graduate year, these programs require that you commit to earning both degrees at the same university and in sequence.

There are other programs that take advantage of how licensing laws for school administrators work in some states. Just like teachers, school administration roles require specific coursework (Administrator Preparation Programs) to qualify for certification. Many schools offer these classes and practicum placements as a part of a stand-alone certificate program, allowing you to quickly meet the requirements.

Many of those same schools will allow you to apply the credits earned in that certificate program toward a master’s in educational leadership in the future, however. Your total time to earn the degree won’t necessarily be faster than if you had done it all at once. However, you can pick up your master’s without starting over again entirely.

It takes a person with a lot of courage and dedication to make the move into educational leadership. And that’s exactly the kind of person these fast-track programs are designed for. That person is you.

Scroll to Top