Online Master’s Programs in Educational Leadership

Pursue an Online Master’s in Educational Leadership

Acquiring an online master’s degree in educational leadership can increase your potential for positions with more authority, some of which may come with a higher pay grade. Teachers with this degree also have the option of specializing in certain areas, which can make them even more marketable in the field of education. Find out how earning an online master’s in educational leadership can help you influence and educate future generations of students. Plus, discover which colleges and universities have the best online programs.

Top 10 Online Master’s Programs in Educational Leadership

Rank School Location
1 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
2 Cairn University Langhorne, PA
3 Evangel University Springfield, MO
4 Concordia University-Saint Paul Saint Paul, MN
5 New England College Henniker, NH
6 Columbia International University Columbia, SC
7 Hampton University Hampton, VA
8 Clemson University Clemson, SC
9 Saint Leo University St. Leo, FL
10 Lincoln Memorial University Harrogate, TN
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Best Online Master’s in Educational Leadership

  • Methodology

    Best Online Master’s in Educational Leadership 2018-2019

    Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our 2018 college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors
    Data Sources:

    All rankings: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)
    Best Online MBA Programs: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (GMAT scores)
    Some nursing programs: NCLEX
    Nursing bridge programs: American Association of Colleges of Nursing and
    Accreditation: ABET and the US Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education

    Eligibility Criteria:

    Each college must be accredited
    Each college must be a not-for-profit institution
    Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
    Each college must have at least one online program 1
    Each college must have a maximum four-year tuition of $25,000 or a maximum two-year tuition of $5,000

    Ranking Factors:


    Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.

    1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.

    2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates.

    A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
    Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.

The best master’s degree programs in educational leadership all have several things in common; they provide experienced, licensed teachers with an opportunity to take on new challenges, skills and knowledge to lead a school of their own, and to oversee teachers and curricula. The following rankings are based on information gathered from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, the Department of Education and each university’s own published materials. All schools in this list are accredited.

  1. Liberty University

    Lynchburg, VA



    By offering fast, flexible online degrees, Liberty University provides students the opportunity to pursue a graduate education in a timely manner while still working. Current educators who want to further their career may be interested in the school's Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - Leadership. This entirely online program is meant to fit around students' needs, and transfer students can bring in up to 18 credits. A total of 36 credits are required complete the degree, which integrates a Christian worldview. Courses are offered in accelerated 8-week periods, and there are multiple start dates throughout the year. Those studying full time can complete the degree in just over a year, although many students study part time and continue to work while studying. These students tend to finish the degree in about 2 years. The end goal of the program is for graduates to be able to find leadership positions in any type of school, grades K-12. The curriculum closely fits the prerequisites for Virginia's state licensure exam for educational leadership, but students from around the country are eligible for the program. To become licensed, graduates may need to take additional courses beyond the master's degree. Students interested in the program will need to submit a transcript and may be required to submit TESOL scores. An undergraduate GPA of 2.0 is required, although test scores can be used to supplement applications with lower GPAs. Liberty has a flat tuition rate per credit that has been decreasing in recent years.

  2. Cairn University

    Langhorne, PA



    Cairn University, a Christian institution, offers an online Master of Science in Education for students who are interested in advancing their careers and taking on leadership roles within education. The degree is designed for students who are currently educators in a Christian school, or for current educators who want to teach at a Christian school. The program requires 39 credits to complete. The curriculum combines traditional education courses with Christianity, putting emphasis on Biblical studies and teachings. While the degree doesn't offer a concentration, students will have 12 elective credits to complete, and these can be focused on leadership. Because this program isn't explicitly designed for future educators, graduates may not meet all the requirements to become a certified educational leader in their state. However, many students should be able to mold the curriculum to fit most prerequisite needs. The program doesn't require an internship or professional experience and is finished with a capstone project. A 3.0 GPA is required for all courses in the program to be eligible to graduate. Most students complete this program in 2 years studying part time. To be eligible, applicants need a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA. All students are charged a flat tuition rate per credit; however, those who are working as teachers in Christian schools are eligible to receive half-off tuition.

  3. Evangel University

    Springfield, MO



    Based in Christian faith, Evangel University aims to prepare teachers to become educational leaders through their Master of Education in Educational Leadership. This program prepares students to become principals in their area, or to get a leadership role in administration. The degree is a 30-credit program that can be completed in just 2 years. All courses in the program are offered online, but students also have the option to take in-person internships for credit and experience. The internship is not required, so students can complete the program from start to finish online. Because Evangel is a school with strong Christian roots, the curriculum will place a small emphasis on Christianity and faith. This is ideal for those who are interested in becoming educational leaders at private, Christian schools anywhere in the K-12 level. Also, because Evangel is in Missouri, students will be prepared to take the Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education building level administrator exam. Graduates may qualify for administrative leader or principal exams in other states as well. Students will need to take the PRAXIS for this program, and a GPA of 3.0 or higher is required to be admitted. Evangel also requires that applicants be licensed teachers with at least 2 years of professional experience. After getting accepted into the program, everyone will be charged the same flat tuition rate per credit, and many individuals at Evangel receive some form of financial aid.

  4. Concordia University-Saint Paul

    Saint Paul, MN



    At Concordia University – Saint Paul, students interested in the Master of Arts in Education with a focus on Educational Leadership will gain knowledge that will prepare them to become leaders within K-12 schooling. Graduates of this program have found work in both public and private institutions as either principals or administrators. The Master of Arts in Education requires 30 credits to complete, and all courses can be completed entirely online, or through a hybrid of online and in-person studying. Students can work on their degree from anywhere and even have the option to earn some credits while studying abroad. Courses are offered in the traditional semester format and are flexible enough to meet the needs of working individuals. Unlike other Educational Leadership programs, Concordia doesn't prepare students to become certified educational leaders in any specific state. Students from all states are eligible, although Concordia's curriculum may not meet the specific standards for every state. Through part time studying, the degree can be completed in less than 2 years. Prior to applying to the program, students will need to have some experience working as a teacher. Concordia requires a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0, as well as a maintained 3.0 GPA throughout the course of the program. Those studying toward a Master of Arts in Education will be charged the same tuition rate per credit.

  5. New England College

    Henniker, NH



    New England College prepares educators in the state of New Hampshire who are looking to advance their teaching careers. Those interested in becoming a principal or a similar leadership occupation would be interested in the college's Master of Education with a concentration on Educational Leadership or Educational Leadership: Principal Certification. Both concentrations share similar coursework, with the latter geared toward students who are specifically interested in becoming principals. To complete the master's degree, graduates will need 28 credits. Most of the courses in the program are 2 or 4 credits, and students will also be required to pick 3 elective courses. Those interested in educational leadership will need to use their elective credits toward the concentration they choose. Studying part time, students should be able to complete this program in a few years. Students don't need to submit test scores when applying to this program, though they will need to submit their undergraduate records as well as a resume. There is no minimum amount of work experience required, but students will need to prove that they are licensed educators with teaching experience. This program is also available entirely online, and students from any region are eligible to apply. While most individuals in the program are current educators, students aren't required to be licensed teachers. Prior to applying, it is worth keeping in mind that the program prepares graduates to become educational leaders in New Hampshire, so the curriculum may not meet the standards of other states.

  6. Columbia International University

    Columbia, SC



    Columbia International University structures most of its online degree programs with busy, working adults in mind. Current educators interested in Columbia's Master of Education – Educational Administration are expected to continue working while they work toward their degree, and the program is offered entirely online. Columbia's Master of Education requires 30 credits to complete. The Educational Administration concentration can be completed without adding additional courses. Working individuals should be able to complete this program in less than 2 years (if coursework is also taken over the summers). While students can begin the program at any time, the university recommends students begin their studies in the fall and follow their suggested program of study. However, this is not required. Columbia is a religious school, so Biblical studies play a large role in the curriculum. This can benefit students who are interested in becoming leaders at Christian or private schools. Because this program isn't geared specifically toward educational leadership, the curriculum might not satisfy the prerequisites for some states' licensure exams. Also, students are not required to have teaching licensure in any specific state, although it is assumed that everyone in the program is a current educator.

  7. Hampton University

    Hampton, VA



    Instead of studying on the main campus, Hampton University's students in the Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program will be required to commute to the College of Virginia Beach Campus. While Master of Arts in Educational Leadership not an online program, some of the required courses can be completed online. This means that students can study in a hybrid format, although they will need to complete in-person clinical courses to ensure that they're prepared for licensure. To be eligible for this program, students should have professional teaching experience, a 3.0 GPA and will need to take the GRE. The curriculum aligns with the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium's standards, meaning graduates will be eligible to take the educational leader licensure exam in most states. At the very least, students will be eligible to become licensed in Virginia. Prior to this, students will first have to complete 42 credits. Courses in the program are offered in semester formats, and most individuals choose to take 12 credits each semester and 6 during the summer. The program generally takes 18 months to complete. Hampton charges a flat tuition regardless of where students live or how many credits they are taking, so students will benefit by completing as many courses as they can in a semester. Also, students should expect additional fees to be added to their tuition. Hampton does offer financial aid to the majority of its students, so they likely won't have to pay as much as the total cost insinuates.

  8. Clemson University

    Clemson, SC



    Clemson University has a history of sports success, a large reason why it created the Master of Science in Athletic Leadership. This 36 credit program prepares students for careers in athletic administration and leadership, specifically at the college level. The Athletic Leadership program is still part of the Clemson's College of Education though, and while students won't meet the standards to become licensed leaders in K-12 schools, they will have the experience to find a similar role geared toward athletics. The 2-year program has 12 courses that are completed over 6 terms. All of the courses are offered online, and most of the courses can be completed whenever students have time. The program also assumes that students will continue working while studying toward the master's degree, so even the courses that require students to be online at specific times are flexible enough to work around busy schedules. To be admitted into the program, students should have an undergraduate degree with a GPA of at least 3.0. The GRE is also required to be admitted. Because the program is focused around athletics, students should have experience with athletic administration or coaching prior to applying. It is worth noting that this is a competitive program and only 25 students are admitted each year, so strong experience in the field will help students earn a spot. Graduates of this program are involved in athletics at colleges and universities across the country.

  9. Saint Leo University

    St. Leo, FL



    Serving students across the country, Saint Leo University offers an entirely online Master of Education in Educational Leadership for current educators. For students living in Florida, this program is also available in a hybrid format with courses offered both online and on campus. Designed for current teachers and educators, the Master of Education is for those who want to move into a leadership position in Florida. While it isn't required to begin the program, most students are already licensed to teach in Florida. The program meets the requirements set by the state to become licensed educational leaders, part of which requires students to be teachers in Florida. However, the requirements of the program may meet those set by other states since the curriculum fits the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium's standards. Also to be eligible, students will need to have a minimum bachelor's degree GPA of 3.0 and provide GRE or GMAT test results. Some students may be required to prove their English proficiency prior to being admitted into the program. The M.Ed. requires 36 credits to graduate, all of which can be completed online except for a practicum. The practicum needs to be completed in person but doesn't need to be finished on Saint Leo's campus. Most of the courses in the program follow Saint Leo's semesters although some will be 16 weeks long. Upon finishing their degree, students will be prepared to become principals or vice principals in Florida.

  10. Lincoln Memorial University

    Harrogate, TN



    Lincoln Memorial University has been gradually increasing its online presence, adding new degrees that can be completed entirely online. A new addition is its Master of Education in Educational Leadership, which is set to start accepting students in 2019. The online version of the program will follow the same curriculum as the on-campus version, and the outcome will be the same: preparation to become a licensed educational leader in Tennessee. Like other educational leadership programs, LMU requires that students have experience working as a teacher. To become a licensed educational leader in Tennessee, students must also have a license to teach in Tennessee. The educational leader license is optional for the program though, and those who aren't looking for Tennessee licensure don't need to have a teaching license in the state. While a minimum GPA isn't required to enter the program, students will need to submit test scores to prove their aptitude. A bachelor's degree is also required. To complete the degree program, students will need to finish 33 credits, and courses are styled after the cohort model. Most students continue working while earning this degree, and studying part time, this program can be completed in just over 2 years. All of the courses are offered entirely online, and students will not be required to commute to campus. Those who do want some in-person instruction can meet with faculty.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Educational Leadership Program?

All students studying a master’s in educational leadership program online will receive instruction in how to operate schools from an administrator’s prospective, often preparing students to become principles or administrators on a school board. Students can expect to learn specific skills, including:

  • Concentrated leadership for school-wide management
  • Student-centered curriculum development
  • Current instructional models
  • Employee leadership and development skills

Teachers who have graduated with a master’s degree in educational leadership who wish to become a school principal will also have to obtain a principal license or certification. Some state licensing boards have different requirements for obtaining this. Common requirements include a valid teaching certificate, a stipulated number of years of experience teaching and a master’s degree in educational leadership. Graduates will need to contact the licensing board of the state in which they wish to become a principal to find out what specific requirements they must meet.

What’s the difference between a master’s in educational leadership and an MBA in educational leadership?

Both a master’s in educational leadership and MBA in educational leadership help students move up the educational career ladder, but there are some distinct differences between these majors. Typically, an MBA in educational leadership offers a joint master’s degree in both educational leadership and business administration. This degree path is designed for students who wish to continue their educational careers from a business or administrative prospective. The master’s in educational leadership focuses more on reaching career goals of principalship or leadership in a local school district.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in educational leadership program?

Courses in online master’s degree programs in educational leadership tend to differ from college to college. However, many online universities do offer common courses. These may include:

Professional School Leadership

Students will acquire all the skills necessary to become an effective leader in a school environment. Course topics include examining the qualities of effective leadership and creating a personal leadership model. Students will have the opportunity to reflect on professional and personal goals.

Research Methods in Education

This course is designed to outline theories for methodological approaches, use and abuse of research and findings and techniques for generating data. Students learn how to analyze data, make interpretations, decisions and conclusions while respecting and valuing research participants. Participants are equipped with knowledge and skills to apply research findings to the individual student, classroom, school and district levels.

Perspectives on Diversity and Culture

This course examines aspects of promoting equal learning opportunities in the classroom. Students learn how to facilitate collaboration between students, parents, staff and colleagues who are ethnically, culturally, linguistically and socio-economically diverse.Personnel and Human Resource Management

Students will focus on the skills principals need to communicate and work effectively with staff and faculty. This includes current theories and practices pertaining to assessment, recruitment, appraisal and development of personnel, as well as staff retention and conflict resolution.

Emerging Issues and Trends in Education Leadership

This course examines the interconnectedness of emerging issues and trends related to educational leadership, particularly those which are set to influence the future of education. Teachers will learn how to address emerging trends.

Education, Law, Ethics and Politics

This course introduces the legal, political and ethical aspects governing K-12 schools in the United States. The focus is on topics such as federal codes, policies, case law and analysis of key legal concepts. Students learn about risk management, dealing with personnel, as wells as student and teacher rights.

What exams or projects should I expect?

The culmination of an online master’s degree in educational leadership will depend on the course and the college. Most courses require a practicum or internship and a written exam; some may also require a thesis.

If a written examination is required to culminate an online master’s degree in educational leadership, students will sit the exam during the final semester of their course. The exam will cover all the theoretical and practical aspects of their course and will be completed in one sitting.

Students are often expected to complete a short or long-term internship within a K-12 school setting. The setting will depend on any specializations the student may be taking. The practicum will be directed by the college faculty and an experienced on-site school principal.

Writing a thesis is an important part of the master’s in educational leadership program. The thesis should reflect an in-depth understanding of educational theory and developmental psychology, while simultaneously demonstrating the author’s leadership qualities.

What specializations are available in a master’s in educational leadership program?

Some online master’s in educational leadership programs offer specialist courses. These may include:

Early Childhood

This specialization enables students to advance their knowledge, skills and understanding of educational leadership as it pertains specifically within early childhood learning environments.

PK-12 School Counseling

This course is designed to help education professionals operate in culturally diverse settings. Emphasis is placed on theory-to-practice models and development, prevention and intervention.

Athletic Administration

This course covers an array of leadership skills required for managing an athletic department within K-12 schools and charter and private schools. Topics include financial management, budgeting, managing facilities, legal issues, risk management and strategies for coaching teachers.

What Can I do with a Master’s in Educational Leadership Degree?

Graduating with a master’s degree in educational leadership creates several options for potential careers. These include:

Assistant Principal

The role of assistant principal involves overseeing curriculum standards, disciplinary measures and staff evaluation within elementary and secondary schools. Typically, classroom teaching experience is a requirement.

Elementary School Principal

Elementary school principals interact with teachers and other school personnel, manage school budget and activities. They also interact with the students, parents and the public on behalf of the school.

High School Principal

High school principals are responsible for approving curricula for grades 9 to 12. They also evaluate teaching staff. Principals run the school’s administration, which includes reviewing budgets, allocating funds and interacting between the school and the community.

Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators can work with elementary, secondary or post-secondary educational institutions. Their main role is to create curricula for schools or sometimes for training programs for employees.

Post-secondary Education Administrator

This type of educational administrator often manages several departments within a college, such as student affairs, admissions or the registrar’s office. Post-secondary education administrators generally deal with nonacademic programs.

Joining a professional organization can benefit students or recent graduates of master’s degrees in educational leadership programs. Such organizations often offer professional development services, career leads and resource libraries. Three such organizations are listed below:

Association of Leadership Educators

ALE has been welcoming members since the 1980s. The organization provides small grants to fund projects related to program assessment, curriculum development and other areas of educational leadership.

National Association of Elementary School Principals

The NAESP has been providing support and advocacy for elementary school principals since 1921. The organization publishes a print magazine as well as three online journals. It also offers the National Principal Mentor Training and Certification Program.

National Association of Secondary School Principals

The NASSP offers the McKinsey Management Program for School Leaders. This is a part-time online training program that culminates in two years. The organization also published a bulletin, magazine and peer-reviewed journal.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Educational Leadership?

Job seekers should take a look at the careers listed below and their potential salaries to see what opportunities may be open for those with this degree. As noted above, in addition to a master’s degree in educational leadership, additional certification or licensure may be needed for some careers in this field.

CareerLowest 10% Earned AnnuallyMedian Annual SalaryHighest 10% Earned AnnuallyJob Growth 2016-2026
Elementary, Middle & High School PrincipalsLess than $60,760$94,390More than $140,780+8%
Instructional CoordinatorsLess than $35,550$63,750More than $101,500+11%
Post-secondary Education AdministratorsLess than $52,960$92,360More than $182,150+10%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

All listed careers are advancing as fast as average, with the exception of instructional coordinators, which is advancing faster than average at a projected growth of 11% between 2016 and 2026. This is likely because of the continued emphasis on test scores and student data. Schools are increasingly turning to educational coordinators to help provide curricula which get better results and to increase teachers’ effectiveness. The information and training educational coordinators provide enable schools to meet their required standards in student achievement. Although demand for instructional coordinators will continue to grow as schools seek additional training for teachers, employment growth will largely depend on state and local budgets.

Teachers seeking to improve their job satisfaction and employment status by seeking an online master’s degree in educational leadership should consider how different courses and specializations may affect their potential salary scale. For example, a master’s degree in educational leadership with a focus on student counseling may potentially lead to a higher paying job than a general master’s degree in educational administration.

Online Master’s in Educational Leadership Program Accreditation

One of the most important considerations for teachers who wish to apply for an online master’s degree in educational leadership is the colleges’ accreditation. Many employers require job candidates to hold a degree from an accredited institution. Prospective students should look for online colleges that are accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) or the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).

How to Pay for a Master’s in Educational Leadership Degree

Continuing education can be expensive, even for students who are in full-time employment. There a number of options for students who wish to seek financial aid to complete their online master’s degree in educational leadership.

  • Federal Financial Aid Just like on-campus studies, online students may apply for federal financial aid. The application process is just the same and begins with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Once the college has assessed the student’s suitability, they will send a letter of eligibility.
  • State Funding In some states, students who are applying for an online master’s degree in educational leadership may be eligible for state funding. More information can be obtained from local state education boards.
  • Foundations and Organizations There are numerous private and non-profit organizations throughout the United States that have grants to help with tuition fees. Particularly for master’s degrees in specific fields of education, including educational leadership. One graduate scholarship is offered through The School Superintendents Association and is awarded to graduate students studying to become school superintendents.
  • Employer Assistance Prospective students who are already working in education may be able to obtain help with funding from their employer, particularly if advancing their education will benefit the school. These days many employers value continuing education and like to retain valuable members of staff.
  • Tax Credits Graduate students may apply for up to $2000 from the Lifetime Learning Credit to spend on educational materials. The credit can be applied to 20% of educational expenses including tuition. Suitable applicants include single filers with an income of $62,000 or less and married people with an income of $124,000 or less.

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