Editor’s Choice Selection Criteria: How We Selected Our Favorite Educational Leadership Master’s Degree Programs

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It’s easy to stay in your lane, to let the union-negotiated pay increases come to you slowly, to focus on what you know: your subject, your classroom, your style. So it’s a bold and selfless decision to step-up and enter the crossfire of educational leadership.

The educational system is facing real challenges in the United States today. You can’t help but notice it—a slow and lingering recovery from the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the moral panic of politics intruding on curriculum standards, the frightening epidemic of gun violence on sanctified school grounds.

It’s clearly a time in which the world is looking for bold and dedicated educators to step-up, step in, and take charge. Even the boldest and most dedicated among them need the best, most advanced training in educational administration and leadership today.

If you’ve made the decision that you’re going to be among those leaders, then you absolutely need to succeed in your mission. The future of your school community is depending on that kind of conviction and commitment. And that means you can’t settle for anything less than the very best when it comes time to select your advanced degree.

Our Selections Provide Options, and a Template by Which to Measure Other Programs

Our selection process doesn’t claim to be scientific. You won’t find any point system or ranking matrix, and you definitely won’t find us claiming that any program here is the flat-out best option for every aspiring educational leader. And there’s a good reason for that.

The qualities that make for an amazing learning experience – one that is impactful enough to forever influence your worldview and impart the characteristics of a true leader – well, these just aren’t qualities that can be reduced to points and tallied up to a final score.

In the end, what you have is a collection of schools that we feel offer something unique enough to be worth considering. This may not be the final stop in your search for the program that’s right for you. But you can be sure the options here reflect the kind of qualities every aspiring education leader should be looking for in the learning experience that will prepare them for the role.

Student-Centered Criteria for Selecting the Educational Leadership Master’s Programs that We Feel are Worth Considering

It wasn’t easy identifying universities we could confidently recommend. Across the country, teacher’s colleges are some of the oldest and most venerable institutions of higher learning. They’ve been in the business a long time and have developed a deep bench of both faculty expertise and institutional influence.

Although there are plenty of doctoral-level programs that are available in educational leadership, for the purposes of this series of lists we looked exclusively at master’s degrees.

A master’s is the most likely option for most people looking to get their initial administrator license on the path to becoming a principal or superintendent. It’s not only the standard minimum requirement for licensed positions in administration in most states, it’s also the natural progressive step for bachelor’s-prepared educators interested in distinguishing themselves as teacher leaders.

In cases where schools that make the list also offer a PhD, EdD (Doctor of Education), or EdS (Educational Specialist) degree in the field, we note it, but those aren’t the programs that were included in this selection process.

So how did we decide which degrees made the cut? By considering these all-important factors:

Let’s face it, if you’re looking for excellence in just about any field, the first place you want to turn to is the elite private universities that teach the subject. Private schools come with the funding, the freedom, and the flexibility to make the most of your leadership training. While all the other selection criteria are important, most of them are also buoyed by the fact that private schools just have more resources and the ability to place more emphasis on these qualities.

As an educator yourself, you understand the importance of one-on-one guidance to help you get the most out of challenging curriculum, as opposed to just getting through it. With true mentorship and guidance, you can absorb new concepts and content in a way that makes it not just meaningful, but part of your repertoire of expertise. With small class sizes, you’re more likely to get that level of attention. And with tight-knit alumni groups standing ready to help, you’re also more likely to get assistance and mentorship from people already working in the field, perhaps even in the very same school or district as you!

This part is no mystery. You wouldn’t have become an educator yourself if you didn’t believe that the person at the front of the classroom really mattered. So we focused first and foremost on schools where professors are top-notch, known for extensive research contributions and publications and for long track records of putting successful leaders out into the world of education. Instructors like these bring decades of practical experience along with the advanced theory they teach, giving you the most practical path to your own understanding and practice of educational leadership skills.

All that research and practical grounding in modern pedagogical and leadership practices has real power and influence. It can’t exist in a vacuum. Private colleges that maintain strong connections with their own local and regional schools have the best perspective on what leaders are facing in the field, and on the solutions that are proving most effective. You don’t have to wait five years for a longitudinal study to be published to know exactly what’s happening right here and now in the world of education. With any of these schools, you can be sure you are plugged-in.

In education, as in any other profession, reputation matters, though it isn’t everything. Who you know is important, and attending a school that everybody has come to respect is also important. But when it comes down to you and one other candidate for, say, a prestigious district assistant superintendent role, the name of the school you attended definitely won’t be the deciding factor. But what could decide it is something special you picked up as a result of attending a school with a stellar reputation. That kind of respect doesn’t come out of nowhere. In some cases, there’s hundreds of years of history behind it. It’s how that reputation was earned that really matters.

Finally, we picked out programs that offer the most support and the most complete resources for students to tap into. From advisors who know the ins and outs of state educator preparation requirements and licensing processes, to mentors who can guide you to the most relevant research papers in your dissertation topic, this kind of academic backing and student support makes all the difference.

Many teachers eventually go on to earn master’s degrees. It’s a predictable outcome in a profession that requires regular refreshers. It’s a field where learning is part of the culture, where subject matter expertise continues to evolve, where continuing education is a mandatory part of the job.

But it says something about you as an educator when you choose to use your master’s degree to take a decisive turn in your career and move in the direction of educational leadership.

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