Online Master’s Programs in Educational Leadership

Educational leadership master's programs train graduate students for careers as principals, higher education administrators, and K-12 school administrators. While earning a master's in educational leadership online, students study mentorship principles, data analysis for education administrators, and fiscal management.

The flexibility and convenience of an online master's in educational leadership program appeals to working educators and professionals pursuing a career change. This page covers important information about online master's in educational leadership programs, including potential career paths, professional organizations and resources, and guidance for identifying top programs.

Overview of an Online Master’s Program in Educational Leadership

An online master's in educational leadership builds the skills and knowledge necessary for leadership roles in schools and higher education institutions. Curricula and completion timelines vary by program. The following sections cover common classes and the typical length of a master's in educational leadership program.

Common Classes and Coursework


Leadership in Education

Many graduate programs in educational leadership begin with an overview of leadership in education, covering educational leadership theories, challenges, and regulations. The course prepares students for graduate coursework and careers as principals or administrators.

Data-Driven Leadership

Courses on data-driven leadership explore the role of data in making decisions as an educational leader. Graduate students learn how to analyze data to make decisions on school improvement, educational programs, and student management.

Mentorship of Instructional Leaders

This class covers leadership and mentoring strategies in an educational environment. Students learn how to evaluate teacher assessments, conduct classroom observations, and provide feedback to teachers. Students may participate in practicum hours to gain hands-on experience.

Technology and Educational Leadership

This class explores the relationship between technology and educational systems, with an emphasis on using technology for professional development and educational management. Graduate students also explore the role of technology in improving student learning.

Education Finance

Education finance courses prepare graduates to create and manage school or department budgets. The course covers topics such as education budget principles, resource allocation, and fiscal responsibility. Students also study financial regulations governing educational systems and major challenges in education finance.

Skills You Will Gain

The skills gained during an online master's in educational leadership program prepare graduates for careers as principals, school administrators, and higher education administrators. By evaluating research and writing analytical papers, graduate students build the critical-thinking skills necessary to analyze student achievement and develop improvements. Group projects, practicums, and presentations strengthen communication skills, preparing graduates to communicate with educators, students, and parents.

Students learn how to conduct personnel evaluations, manage institutional finances, and create educational policies

Educational leadership curricula also emphasize leadership skills. Students learn how to conduct personnel evaluations, manage institutional finances, and create educational policies. Course materials focused on educational goals, school policies, and procedures particularly benefit students considering careers as principals. Specialized courses focused on higher education cultivate skills and competencies for positions in student affairs, admissions, and other college departments.

A master's in educational leadership also prepares graduates for doctoral programs in education. Students considering careers in academia, such as professor or academic dean, benefit from earning a doctorate, the terminal degree in the field. A master's in educational leadership meets the admission requirements for most doctoral programs in education.

Average Degree Length

A master's in educational leadership typically requires 30-40 credits of graduate coursework, which may include practicum requirements. Full-time students typically graduate in two years. Some online educational leadership master's degree programs offer multiple enrollment timelines, including part-time options that may require three or more years. Students can also choose programs with accelerated and/or summer courses, which help students complete the degree in under two years.

Full-time students typically graduate in two years

An online master's in educational leadership program appeals to working educators and other professionals balancing work with their studies. Online learning environments prioritize flexibility, often letting students complete coursework around their schedule rather than at set times. An online format also lets students attend top programs without relocating.

How to Find a Top Program

Prospective students can research factors such as a program's graduation rate and faculty qualifications to identify top online educational leadership programs. Similarly, examining a program's job placement record and alumni network can help prospective students choose a program. By considering these factors, students can find the best program for their career goals and interests.

  • Graduation Rate

    Comparing graduation rates can help prospective students find top programs. Educational leadership programs with high graduation rates often boast stronger faculty support and mentorship, which help graduate students complete the program requirements.

  • Faculty Qualifications

    Prospective students should examine faculty credentials, including degrees, institutional affiliations, and publications, to identify top programs.

  • Job Placements

    Examining job placements can help prospective students determine a program's reputation and career development resources. Programs with strong job placement records often boast helpful alumni networks as well.

  • Alumni Network

    An active alumni network can help educational leadership graduates create professional networks and pursue career advancement. Researching a program's alumni network, particularly in a chosen focus area, can help students identify a top program for their career path.

  • Specialization Options

    Educational leadership programs may offer specializations such as K-12 leadership and higher education. The best programs offer specializations or elective options aligned with the prospective student's goals and interests.

Educational Leadership Careers After Earning Your Master’s

Graduates with an online educational leadership master's degree enjoy several career options. At the K-12 level, an educational leadership program prepares graduates for leadership roles such as school principal or administrator. Principals supervise and evaluate teachers while setting goals and priorities for their school. An educational leadership degree can also lead to roles in higher education, such as dean of students or dean of admissions. The following table outlines common careers for graduates, including average salaries.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Higher education administrators help colleges and universities run smoothly. They oversee departments and manage employees. These administrators may work in departments such as admissions, student services, or the registrar's office.

Annual Average Salary: $60,708

Elementary School Principal

Elementary school principals oversee teachers and staff members, ensuring that a school meets state guidelines. They manage the budget, oversee programs and services, and evaluate educators.

Annual Average Salary: $81,016

Middle School Principal

Middle school principals set academic goals and priorities for their school. They assist educators and staff members with achieving goals. They hire and terminate school employees, set budgets, and work with superintendents.

Annual Average Salary: $88,430

High School Principal

High school principals oversee daily operations at their school while setting long-term goals and priorities. They also work with educators and staff to ensure career and college readiness for graduating students.

Annual Average Salary: $91,199

School Superintendent

School superintendents oversee a school system as the head administrator. They work with principals, school administrators, and the school board to ensure the quality and efficient operation of schools.

Annual Average Salary: $116,537

Source: PayScale

Additional Certifications for Educational Leadership

Graduates with an online master's in educational leadership degree qualify for several certifications and licenses, which can help candidates stand out in the job market. Some licenses, including principal and administrator licenses, may be required for positions within K-12 public schools. In most states, administrators in higher education do not need a license. Because requirements vary by state, prospective students should research the licensure requirements and processes in their state.

Principal License

Graduates with an accredited online master's in educational leadership degree typically meet the education requirements for a principal license. Requirements vary by state, but often include passing an examination on school administration practices and undergoing a background check.

Administrator License

Instead of a principal license, some states require administrator licenses for all educators in leadership roles within the public school system. Candidates must submit proof of a qualifying graduate degree in administration or educational leadership and pass an examination.

Superintendent License

Superintendents in the public school system typically need a superintendent license. Issued by the state department of education, the superintendent license requires a qualifying graduate degree. Candidates must also pass an examination and meet experience requirements, which can include a minimum number of years as a classroom teacher.

Professional Organizations and Resources for Educational Leadership Students

Online master's in educational leadership students and graduates can benefit from professional organizations and resources. The following organizations and resources offer opportunities such as professional development, networking, and scholarships.

  • American Association of School Administrators AASA represents school administrators, including superintendents and other school system leaders. The association offers a job bulletin, publishes School Administrator magazine, and hosts events.
  • Association of Leadership Educators ALE provides career and professional development resources for educators pursuing leadership positions. The association also hosts an annual conference and offers grants for members.
  • National Education Association NEA represents over 3 million educators, including leaders in education. The association publishes research, provides professional development resources, and offers networking opportunities through conferences and events.
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development ASCD offers training tools, events, and webinars for educators, administrators, and leaders in curriculum development. The association publishes Educational Leadership, which features research-based articles with practical advice for educators.
  • Association of American Educators AAE offers professional benefits for educators, including professional resources, teaching materials, and liability insurance. The association also offers grants and awards for educators.
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals Representing elementary principals, NAESP offers resources on school improvements, educational strategies, and online learning tools. The association also provides certification programs and a mentorship program.
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals Middle school and high school principals often join NASSP for its educational resources, professional development tools, and publications. The association also hosts a national conference with networking opportunities.
  • American Association of University Professors Educational leadership graduate students interested in higher education benefit from the resources of AAUP, which represents professors. AAUP grants awards, publishes research, and issues reports on higher education.
  • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation CAEP accredits educator preparation programs, including online master's in educational leadership programs. Prospective students can use the CAEP site to check a program's accreditation status.
  • Educational Administration Quarterly EAQ publishes peer-reviewed articles on education policy, leadership best practices, and policy issues in educational administration. The journal helps graduate students and educators stay current in the field.
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