Salary for teachers varies considerably from school district to school district and state to state. Although teaching isn’t viewed as a lucrative profession – particularly given the high demands and the significance of educators’ work in developing the next generation – some teachers make far more than others. One way even teachers in relatively low-paying regions can raise their income potential is by earning a graduate degree. However, before teachers jump right into going back to school, they should compare the amount of additional money they expect to make with the cost of advancing their education. You may be better off sticking with your undergraduate degree and teaching certification than going into debt by tens of thousands of dollars a year, for two years or more, to complete another degree.

How Much More Can I Expect to Earn With a Master's Degree Over a Teaching Certificate?

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The Master’s Degree Salary Bump for Educators

For teachers, the salary increase that comes with earning a master’s degree is dramatic, although some teachers see a bigger boost than others. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a wage premium of 43 percent for preschool and kindergarten teachers. Although this subset of teachers is the lowest paid, the $13,000 annual wage premium that comes with holding a master’s degree raises the median salary from just $30,000 to $43,000.

Elementary and middle school teachers, who make up the largest group in the teaching profession, see a 28 percent wage premium that translates to $11,900. With a graduate education, their median pay jumps from $42,100 to $54,000. High school teachers already command the highest median salaries – $45,000 with a bachelor’s degree – but the 24 percent wage premium increases their annual wage to $56,000. Special education teachers, who start with a median salary of $42,000 at the bachelor’s degree level, also see a 24 percent wage premium. However, their median salary with a master’s degree, $52,000, remains a few thousand dollars below that of elementary, middle and high school teachers outside of the special education field.

This pay difference isn’t always split up evenly. Factors like teaching experience in general and seniority at the school district can affect income potential. Research has shown that the financial benefits of a master’s degree in education are more pronounced among teachers with more experience. First-year teachers with a master’s degree saw wages $3,205 higher, on average, than their peers with only a bachelor’s degree. By the fifth year of experience, that salary bump has increased, but only to $4,176, whereas graduate-educated teachers at the top tier of their district’s salary scale make an average of $8,411 more than less-educated counterparts.

Although not all school districts automatically reward educators for advancing their own education, the majority – 88 percent of large school districts – do, the National Council on Teacher Quality reported.

How Much More Can I Expect to Earn With a Master's Degree Over a Teaching Certificate?

Weighing the Cost of a Master’s in Education

Looking at the data, it’s clear that earning a master’s degree in education could earn you thousands of dollars more per year than you would make with only an undergraduate degree and teacher certification. Of course, there are some big tradeoffs of going back to school for a graduate degree. Determining whether the degree is worth the cost requires a lot more consideration.

The most obvious cost of going to graduate school is the actual tuition cost you pay for your education. This cost can differ sharply from one school to the next. At the most expensive college ranked among U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best schools for a graduate degree in education, tuition and fees for one year of full-time study come out to $55,496. If you take out upwards of $50,000 of student debt to get your master’s degree, it will be a long time before the master’s pay bump makes up for the expense – if it ever does. On the other hand, there are more affordable well-regarded master’s degree programs in education for which the entire degree will cost under $15,000 or even under $10,000. Teachers who choose an affordably priced program in their own state, where in-state tuition discounts help keep the cost low, can see a return on their investment in graduate school much more quickly.

It’s also important for teachers who are considering a master’s degree to consider the other factors in their lives. What will they have to sacrifice to make time for graduate school? How feasible are those compromises? The answer will be different depending on your personal circumstances, family obligations, financial health and professional goals.

Educators should also be aware of contract trends in their region. Although most districts currently award a pay boost automatically to teachers with a master’s degree, some states are proposing to phase out degree-based raises in favor of performance-based ones.

Additional Resources

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Master’s in Curriculum?

100 Most Affordable Online Graduate Schools of 2019

Top 15 Graduate Degree Programs for Teaching