Working in education is as much about learning as it is about teaching.
You learn early on as an educator that it’s a life-long process. There’s always more to absorb, new concepts to master, new skills to learn. No matter what field you teach, it’s changing somehow every day.
To be a teacher, then, is to be a student. Most states and school districts have adopted policies around continuing education that means you will being going back to college regularly over the course of your career to keep your license.
Ongoing education isn’t just about keeping your current job, though. It’s also an important way you qualify to move up to the next one. And for many educators, that means a position in education leadership.
In every state, becoming a principal, superintendent, or other licensed educational administrator requires specific coursework. As you would expect for such important positions, it’s graduate-level stuff — advanced training in leadership and policy, HR and ethics that’s most often found in master’s or doctoral degree programs.
There is one degree path to these education administration jobs unique to education, however. While doctoral programs are usually the top dogs in academic credentials in most fields, educators have another option: the post-master’s Educational Specialist (or EdS) degree.
What Is an EdS Degree?
The Educational Specialist (EdS) is a post-master’s professional degree that could be described as the sweet spot for master’s-prepared educators whose careers and practical knowledge wouldn’t necessarily benefit from a full doctoral degree. As a post-master’s degree, it puts graduates at the top of the profession in terms of education, but it’s more practice-oriented than the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Education, and more specialized than the EdD (Doctor of Education).
The research heavy parts of those doctorates are chopped out of the EdS degree, meaning it takes about half the time to complete, or about as much time as a master’s program. That makes it a fast-track option for educators who already hold a master’s degree but need to burnish their credentials in a specific field to advance.
Is an EdS Degree a Doctorate?
Some schools call it an intermediate degree, somewhere between a master’s and a doctorate.
Even though it’s not a doctorate, the EdS is considered a doctoral-level program, meaning it’s really at the top of the professional pyramid together with the more traditional doctoral degrees. And the coursework you take will definitely be doctoral-level stuff; in fact, many schools will accept your EdS credits toward a doctorate if you should decide to go that direction.
But the very fact that you can go on to a doctorate shows you where an EdS really fits in the hierarchy of educational leadership degrees. The additional years of research and the extensive capstone or dissertation requirements of PhD or EdD programs add value to your education. Just as telling, an EdS doesn’t allow you to use the title of “doctor” in the way an EdD or PhD does.
So an EdS degree is not a doctorate, even though it includes doctoral-level studies. But it’s more important to look at where the education you do get fits into your individual career plans.
An EdS makes the most sense for educators in three different scenarios:
Although the EdS is not a terminal degree in education, many colleges now offer bridge programs that will allow you to apply your EdS credits toward a doctorate if you choose to continue your studies.
Because of the nature of ongoing education in teaching, it’s not at all unusual for educators to already hold master’s degrees in various fields by the time they start thinking about becoming a principal or other licensed administrator. Because of the additional graduate education requirements for those licenses, though, you are pretty much faced with earning a second master’s, or proceeding to the doctoral level to get qualified.
A doctorate is both expensive and time-consuming. An additional master’s may feel like retracing your steps, and it doesn’t do much to advance your career. So an EdS creates a way forward that doesn’t break the bank or put you on the sidelines for years.
Exploring EdS Specialist Degrees for Leadership and Administration Jobs
Although the EdS is a great fit for adding advanced educational leadership skills to your repertoire, that’s not the only direction you can take the degree. The “specialist” in Educational Specialist can build your skills and advance your career in many different directions.
In additional to leadership or administration specializations, EdS programs come with concentration options in areas like:
Most EdS degrees that offer the required coursework for educational administration licensing will also have concentrations that are specific to the credential they qualify you for. That means you will often see options such as:
- EdS in Educational Administration – School Superintendent
- EdS in Educational Administration – Supervisor of Instruction
- EdS in Educational Administration and Leadership (Principal Preparation)
- EdS in Educational Leadership – Tier II Certification
- EdS in Educational Leadership with Central Office Administration Certificate
- EdS in Special Education Administration
The exact licenses and their requirements vary from state to state, and that means so will the specializations. And in some EdS programs, you can take the required courses for licensure separately from your main concentration, so you can, for example, pick up a specialization in EdTech but still come away with the qualifications for a principal license.
The obvious corollary to that, of course, is that there are plenty of EdS programs that do not lead to licensure—you’ll need to make certain that yours includes the coursework you need for the license you are aiming for.
Earning an Educational Specialist Degree Isn’t Easy, but It Can Be Cost-Effective!
EdS programs typically take a year or two to complete. While the program costs for those years are charged at the same rate as other doctoral-level studies, you can see where the savings come from.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, graduate coursework typically costs about $12,400 per year at public universities, and $24,800 at private colleges. So an EdS will average somewhere between $12,400 and $50,000 depending on the school and the credit requirements.
Doctoral degrees will easily double that number, while qualifying you for the exact same licensed roles in educational administration.
An EdS Degree Curriculum Focuses on Core Leadership and Administration Concepts
An EdS offers graduate-level coursework at the same tier as doctoral studies, but with the overall credit requirements stripped down. Concentrations in EdS programs are so highly specialized you’ll also find that the coursework is very closely aligned with your focus area.
For EdS degrees that lead to licensure in educational administration, that means specific courses in subjects like:
Theories of Educational Leadership
Leadership skills are built on the same foundations in every industry: communication, planning, relationships, strategy. You’ll explore those theoretical bases while also building practical skills in all those areas, as well as looking at the practical realities of exercising leadership in the scholastic setting.
Community Relations and Education Policy
When you start working your way into administrative roles in school systems, you end up with responsibilities to more than just parents. A principal or superintendent, or even the assistant jobs to those positions, spends a lot of time working with the community. Developing your understanding of education policy, school finance, communications, and engagement is the point of this coursework so you make the best connections you can in your community.
Education Law and Ethics
Educational administrators are also expected to have an advanced proficiency in the rules and regulations governing school systems at the federal, state, and local levels. So you will certainly have coursework that takes you through both statutory and judicial law that covers the obligations of school systems and educators. Alongside the legalities, you’ll spend more time studying the philosophy of ethics that informs them, as well as guides you in how to handle many thorny questions that come up in the gray areas in between.
School Finance and Resource Management
Let’s face it—at some level, every education administrator is a bean counter. You have to be in order to make your limited budget and resources stretch to fit the demands of modern educational environments. These courses give you the essential accounting background as well as planning skills to stretch your bottom line to meet the needs of every last student.
Human Resources in Education
A lot of the job of school administrators comes down to managing teachers and staff. In these classes, you’ll learn about both legal obligations in HR as well as the nuts and bolts of dealing with organized labor, developing effective training and retention policies, and creating a supportive, collaborative workplace for school success.
Of course, these courses will be oriented toward the level of licensure you are pursuing. An EdS designed for K-12 principal licensing will lean on school-oriented examples and skills, while one that leads to superintendent licensure will have a more district-level, big-picture approach.
Although EdS degrees don’t have a lot of spare credits to throw around, you can also expect to have a selection of electives to explore to build out your training for educational leadership. You can explore a wide range of administration skills or specific knowledge areas that are relevant to modern educational leadership, including:
Some EdS programs, particularly those at schools that also offer doctorates and bridge programs, may also include research and statistical coursework that is more common in an EdD or PhD. This kind of research design and deep analytical training makes the most sense if you do eventually plan to go on and get a doctoral degree as well.
Completing an Internship Is an Important Part of Most Licensing Qualifications
Most administrative licensing requirements include some in-person, practical experience as part of your qualifications. In most cases, EdS programs leading to licensure will include a practicum or internship placement that will fulfill that requirement for you.
These experiences are designed to put you in active administration environments, working with principals or superintendents as they go through their daily routine. You’re in a perfect position to absorb knowledge from people that have been doing the job you are aiming for, and at the same time connecting your latest classroom experiences to real-world scenarios.
You’ll typically be placed at the level of the license you are pursuing, so either school or district offices. In many cases, you’ll take on real responsibilities, under the close supervision of both teachers and mentors.
Picking the Right School for Your Educational Specialist Degree (EdS)
The EdS degree has another big advantage over earning a doctorate: you’ll find a lot more schools that offer them.
That’s because colleges that offer full doctorates often also offer Ed Specialist degree options, but so do many schools that offer Master of Education degrees—a much larger pool to go fishing in.
That gives you a lot more flexibility in picking not just the right degree to meet your needs for licensing, but also to find a good fit for your personal style and ambitions.
Of course, as an educator, you already have some strong views about what makes for a good graduate program. That list probably includes qualities like:
Naturally, you’ll also want to take a careful look at the curriculum and concentration offerings to allow you to put together studies that match your career goals. But there’s also one other key attribute that is a must-have for future educational leaders.
You Need To Earn Your EdS Degree at a School With Specialty Accreditation
Accreditation is a big deal in educational circles, and you already know why. You didn’t get as far as you have in the field without attending CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation)-accredited bachelor’s and master’s. You chose an accredited teacher prep program not only because it would’ve made things a lot more difficult when getting your teaching license if you hadn’t, but also because you knew the program had been properly vetted for quality and rigor.
State licensing boards are just as picky when it comes to administrator licensing. So you will also be looking at CAEP accreditation to make sure you are getting the kind of training that those boards will recognize and approve.
CAEP accredits ITP (Initial Teacher Preparation) and ADV (Advanced) programs separately, so make sure that your EdS holds the ADV accreditation. Also, schools with both master’s and EdS programs will have them listed separately, so make sure it’s the EdS that is approved, not just another master’s or doctoral program.
Is Pursuing an EdS Degree Online the Best Choice for Your Career?
The pandemic had many big impacts on education. Maybe none of them has been more significant than the sudden shift to online learning. It happened across the country at every grade level. And while most systems have been quick to roll back online learning for elementary and secondary students, some of the advantages at the college level mean there is no going back.
That’s particularly true for EdS programs. It’s the sort of degree you pursue for very specific purposes, at a particular stage of your career.
The EdS is aimed squarely at currently working professionals—and that’s exactly the type of students that benefit most from online studies, too.
The reason is that online EdS degrees come with the kind of flexibility that means you don’t have to neglect either your job or your family to get ahead. Coursework that can be completed any time, day or night, remote connections to classmates and professors, and instant access to online resources leaves you free to meet your professional and personal obligations.
The online option also allows you to choose an EdS program anywhere in your state, or even the whole country. That not only keeps you at home and on the job, but also can make your Ed Specialist degree online a better fit for your goals than if you had to settle just for the closest college.
What Can You Do in Educational Leadership With an EdS Degree?
While the EdS comes in a wide variety of concentrations that allow you to specialize your education career toward all kinds of different fields, if you’re here, you’re probably on the fast track to administrative and leadership roles.
An EdS unlocks all of those positions, anywhere in the country. You’ll find EdS options that offer licensure qualification for leadership roles as:
Of course, it’s also possible to use an EdS to build your qualifications for unlicensed leadership positions, such as in postsecondary administration at colleges and universities.
Your actual trajectory for these positions may well depend more on what you did prior to earning your EdS, however. Since it’s a post-master’s degree, it’s possible that you already took the opportunity to get your principal’s license with a master’s degree. In that case, you’re probably looking at an EdS as a way to head toward district-level jobs as a superintendent or assistant superintendent.
But it’s also entirely possible that you had a long and healthy teaching career and got your master’s in a different specialization or endorsement area. In that case, the EdS may be your first shot at getting into educational administration, and you may be using it to qualify as an assistant principal or other licensed admin specialist.
Of course, many EdS programs are aimed at other licensed roles entirely, such as early childhood education or school counseling. Those, too, may lie along the path to leadership. There’s one sure thing about educational specialist degrees, though: they have the flexibility to get you qualified as an educational administrator no matter what path you take to get there.
EdS Degree Salary Expectations in Leadership Roles
Whatever career objective you have staked out in terms of educational leadership jobs, there is one thing that an EdS can just about guarantee for you: a higher salary.
It also means you’re likely to make a bit better than the average salary in the jobs you do land—if not quite as much as a full doctorate would get you. For 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that salaries among the top 25 percent of staff in the following EdS-qualifying positions was:
BLS doesn’t provide any kind of distinction between general education roles at the school and district levels, but you can expect that education administrators such as superintendents and assistant superintendents general fall to the higher end of the salary rage. Those in the top ten percent of education administration positions make more than $153,520 per year.
With all the time and effort you put into your studies, of course, you could probably make a lot more in the private sector. But pursuing an EdS shows that you are not all about the money. While it’s cost-effective, it’s also a fast-track to making a difference in education in your community. It takes your ideas and inspiration and turns them into action as a principal, superintendent, or other administrator. And those roles come with something far better than money: they give you the levers to change the future.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Postsecondary Education Administrators, Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary, Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals, and Instructional Coordinators reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed March 2023.