Skip to main content

Choosing Between the MAT and MEd: A Degree Comparison

April 5, 2024

Graduate degrees in education are extremely popular; a 2023 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report suggests that master’s degrees in education accounted for 18 percent of all master’s degrees conferred in 2020-2021. Their appeal is easily understood: education master’s degrees can improve skills and accelerate career advancement. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a master’s degree is a prerequisite for some leadership positions, e.g., school principal. Many public school systems award automatic pay increases to educators with advanced degrees. 

Current and prospective educators face varied graduate degree options, including the  Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and the Master of Education (MEd). Which better fits your learning and career objectives? Choosing the right program can bring you closer to your professional aspirations. This article explores the similarities and differences between an MAT and MEd to help you make an informed decision.  

Prepare Your Career in the Classroom and Beyond

Speak With an Enrollment Advisor to See Which Degree Is Right For You
Find Out More

Defining the Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education

Education is a complex discipline with many moving parts. Covering the entire industry in a single program is impossible, which explains why education master’s programs tend to focus on specific age groups, specializations, or functions. Applicants should consider their long-term career aspirations when deciding which degree to pursue. 

MAT degrees typically prepare educators for careers in the classroom, so they are an excellent fit for aspiring teachers or licensed teachers who wish to update their skill sets to pursue more specialized roles. These programs emphasize practical skills and strategies that can enhance a teacher’s ability to teach specific subjects or learners with different needs. MAT programs also focus on fulfilling teaching licensure requirements. 

An MEd can improve understanding of research, pedagogy, and theories that impact how learners retain information. It’s an excellent pathway for professionals interested in educational leadership, policymaking, and instructional design, even if they don’t have an education background. MEd programs are often built around specializations — such as learning experience design and equity-centered education leadership — that support the career paths students want to pursue. Current classroom teachers who want to pursue specialized teaching roles could find an MEd valuable, but it might not be the best option for professionals wishing to kickstart their teaching careers. 

Curriculum Comparison: What Will You Learn in Each Degree?

MAT and MEd curricula cover similar foundational topics such as educational research and philosophy and education research methods. However, they also differ in significant ways. 

MAT students can expect to learn how to design and deliver effective, inclusive instruction in the classroom. In addition to educational history and research methods, MAT curricula may cover teaching methods for childhood or adolescent development. Some MAT programs offer concentrations — such as science, early childhood education, or English as a second language — that target specific age groups. 

MEd programs focus on creating educational leaders who deliver ethical, equitable, and high-quality teaching and learning environments. An MEd typically includes core educational history, research, learning processes and, curriculum development, instruction, and assessment coursework, as well an area of specialization. The online Master of Education degree program at Tulane University offers four specialization options: Equity-Centered Education Leadership, Learning Experience Design, Teaching English Learners, and Special Education. 

Career Spotlight: Master of Education Jobs by Degree Type

Students pursuing MAT degrees typically want to kickstart their teaching careers, update their skills to grow within classroom environments, or specialize in teaching specific student populations. Meanwhile, MEd graduates can prepare you for a wide range of career opportunities, including:

  • Classroom and teaching roles: Similar to an MAT, an MEd can prepare existing classroom teachers for specialized roles, such as teaching students with disabilities or multi-language learners. MEd graduates can also apply for management-level jobs in these fields, e.g., special education coordinator or ESL (English as a second language) manager. 
  • Educational leadership and administrative roles: An MEd can prepare aspiring educational leaders at the school, district, city, state, or national levels. Popular career choices include school principal, education policy analyst, and education director. 
  • Curriculum development and instructional design roles: Specializing in learning experience design can prepare MEd graduates to create goal-oriented, inclusive, learner-centered experiences. Upon graduation, graduates can pursue roles as learning experience designers, instructional designers, and instructional coordinators.

How the MAT and MEd Prepare Education Leaders 

MAT and MEd programs can produce educators and education-adjacent professionals with the innovation and leadership skills needed to promote change within the American education system. At  Tulane University, for instance, both MAT and MEd students experience course content focused on equity-centered education that empowers Tulane graduates to create stronger classrooms and positively influence educational policy. 

Obtaining a master’s degree in education is worth the investment, irrespective of the degree chosen. Earning a master’s degree in education can provide additional benefits, including: 

  • Employability: Potential employers may favor candidates with advanced degrees; a master’s degree can set you apart in the job market.
  • Diverse career options: A master’s degree (especially an MEd) can open various career paths in education, including leadership and policy-making. 
  • Higher salaries: Research by NCES suggests that full-time public elementary and secondary school teachers with a master’s degree earned an average base salary of $66,960 in during the 2020-to-2021 academic year. Comparatively, teachers with bachelor’s degrees earned $52,540 on average, or around 22 percent less. Graduates can also boost their earning potential by pursuing a specialized or leadership career; the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that instructional designers earned a median annual income of $66,490 in 2022, with the top 10 percent earning over $105,210. BLS also reported that school principals earned a median annual income of $101,320 that same year. 
  • Professional growth: Master’s programs allow students to develop their skills and network with peers and experts in their fields, which can prove valuable when searching for a new roles or looking for professional advice. 

Choose the Best Master’s in Education Degree for Your Goals 

Ultimately, Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education programs offer pathways to professional growth. Which is the better option depends on a student’s career goals and aspirations. An MAT could be the right choice for students who want to kickstart their classroom careers or gain more skills and knowledge to become better teachers. An MEd might be the best choice for those who aspire to educational leadership and policy positions or want to pursue specialized roles, such as instructional designer or special education teacher. 

Tulane University offers various resources to help applicants make their decisions. Interested applicants can request more information online or connect with an enrollment advisor to determine which degree better suits their goals. If you’re ready to learn more or want to start your MEd application, schedule an appointment with an enrollment advisor today. 

Broaden Your Career Opportunities With an Advanced Degree in Education

Contact an Enrollment Advisor to Find Out More
Apply Now