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MAT Degree vs. MEd Degree: What’s the Best Choice for You?

By Brian Soika

If you’re an aspiring teacher or education professional, earning a master’s degree may be a smart choice. It can help advance your career while empowering you to make a more meaningful impact in your field.

As you make up your mind about graduate school, you’ll have to decide which degree to pursue: a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) or Master of Education (MEd). These are not the only master degrees for education professionals, but they tend to be the most popular.

(Curious what USC Rossier has to offer? Request information about our master’s programs.)

While MAT and MEd degrees may seem similar, they are designed to accommodate students with different interests and career goals.

What Is a MAT degree?

A MAT degree is ideal for aspiring teachers who want to advance their career as a leader in the classroom. The foundation of most master’s in teaching programs is pedagogical theory and its application to K-12 classrooms. In other words, you will study the ideas behind different models of instruction, and analyze their impact on students. As you earn your MAT degree, you will also work directly with students, and have the opportunity to apply your knowledge in a real-world setting.

What Is a MEd degree?

A MEd degree is designed for students pursuing a career in the world of education. Areas might include K-12 schools, higher education, and other non-traditional learning environments. After graduation, you may continue to work as a teacher, but typically people with a MEd degree are interested in jobs in administration, counseling, learning design, and student affairs.

A master’s in education prepares you to affect change behind the scenes, or working one-on-one with students. Depending on your area of interest, you may study the systems of educational organizations, learn how to design curriculum, or prepare to be an academic or student advisor. With a MEd, you will be qualified to work in K-12 and post-secondary education, but your career options will likely be affected by the concentration of your program.

MAT Degree vs. MEd Degree: Key Differences

The table below summarizes the main differences between a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master in Education.

MAT Degree MEd Degree
Career Path
  • Teaching
  • Select administrative roles
  • Educational administration
  • Student counseling
  • Learning design
Program / Concentration Examples
  • Teaching – single or multiple subjects
  • Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL)
  • Postsecondary Administration and Student Affairs
  • Learning Design and Technology
Coursework
  • Pedagogical theory
  • Instructional strategies
  • Student Teaching
Courses vary by program, but most include a capstone project
Time Commitment Full time Full and part-time

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MAT Degree vs. MEd Degree: Questions to Help Guide Your Decision

What Kind of Career Do you Want?

Whether you want a master’s in teaching or master’s in education, there are many factors to consider. However, most people make a final decision based on their career objectives.

Career Options With a MAT Degree

It’s important to note that, while a MAT degree is typically pursued by people who wish to work in a classroom, it may qualify you for certain administrative positions as well.

Here are some examples of positions held by professionals with a MAT degree:

  • K-12 general education teacher
  • K-12 subject-specific teacher
  • Special education teacher
  • Adult ELL teacher
  • Dean of Instruction
  • Athletic Director

Career Options With a MEd Degree

Here are some examples of positions held by professionals with a MEd degree:

  • Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission
  • Educational Program Designer
  • Student Affairs Coordinator
  • Student Counselor
  • Academic Counselor

Do You Want to Become a Teacher?

If you aspire to be a teacher, then your decision is easy. A Master of Arts in Teaching can help kickstart your career.

Your MAT degree program may also allow you to get your teaching credential while enrolled, or offer the opportunity to pursue specialized add-on tracks. For example, you might be able to earn a Special Education Credential or Bilingual Authorization for Spanish Certificate (BILA) in addition to your degree, depending on your school.

As a teacher, a MAT degree can give you the tools necessary to offer your students a more enriching experience. Plus, in public schools, sometimes a master’s in teaching can help you earn more money and give you a competitive edge in your industry.

A MEd degree, on the other hand, will send you on a very different path. Based on your career objectives, you will likely not work directly in the classroom.

Do You Want to Teach Language Learners?

Some schools offer a MAT degree specifically geared towards educating language learners. Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) focuses on linguistics and theories of language, and instructs you how to apply them in the classroom. Additionally, like a general MAT program, you may be able to earn your teaching credential as well.

Do You Want to Eventually Earn a Doctoral Degree?

Another important factor to consider when choosing between a MAT or MEd degree is your long-term academic plans. People who want to reach the highest levels in their careers in education sometimes earn a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or EdD (Doctor of Education) degree.

Different schools have different prerequisites about their doctoral programs. The type of degree may differ in its requirements as well. A PhD program might not have a master’s degree prerequisite, while an EdD degree may require a master’s plus professional work experience.

Perhaps the best way to decide if you want a doctoral degree is to clarify your career ambitions.

PhD recipients often become professors or have careers in research, and professionals with EdD degrees typically hold leadership roles.

The takeaway? If you think you might want to earn a doctoral degree in education, earning a master’s is a smart choice.

Wondering if a doctoral program is in your future? Check out our blog post about PhD vs. EdD degrees.

Comparison of MAT degree vs. MEd degree

MAT Degree vs. MEd Degree: Coursework

MAT degree courses focus on preparing you to be an effective teacher. Most programs highlight psychological and sociological theories as they apply to the classroom. In addition, you will learn how to implement different instructional strategies for learners of all backgrounds and abilities, while ensuring that you remain compliant with state standards.

Meanwhile, master’s of education courses vary by degree. While some material may overlap between programs, most of your courses will focus on highly relevant subjects. For example, a degree in postsecondary administration may offer a class in legal issues in higher education, but a MEd in educational counseling will require you to take courses in academic advising and the counseling process.

MAT Degree vs. MEd Degree: Programs

As a student pursuing a MAT degree, you may be able to find a program with concentrations for different grade levels or developmental stages. However, you can boost your job eligibility by enrolling in a more comprehensive master’s in teaching program that addresses learning in K-12 settings.

A master’s of education degree, on the other hand, can be earned through a variety of programs. You just need to target your area of interest. For instance, specialized master’s programs exist specifically for enrollment management, while others may focus on instructional design or administration and student affairs. And when it comes to counseling, you can earn your MEd degree in academic or student advising.

MAT Degree vs. MEd Degree: Time Commitment

Most master’s in teaching and master’s in education degrees can be completed within two academic calendar years, although program lengths can vary. Depending on what your MAT degree program offers, you may extend the length of your study to earn specialized certificates.

While many master’s in teaching programs require full-time commitment, some MEd programs offer part-time options for working professionals. However, part-time coursework extends the length of your study. You’ll have to decide if you want to prioritize finishing quickly, or continuing to work full time while you earn your degree over a longer period.

MAT Degree vs. MEd Degree: Field Experience

One of the most popular benefits of earning a MAT degree is the ability to work directly with students. You’ll have the chance to improve learning experiences—and grow as a teacher— using the knowledge from your program. Additionally, you can observe other teachers at work and coordinate with your program to be placed in a school that aligns with your career objectives.

For MEd degrees, expect to find hands-on opportunities in fields that deal directly with students. For example, if your program pertains to student affairs or counseling, you might be able to secure an assistantship. Some master of education degree programs offer payment for your assistantship as well, providing you the chance to earn income while you’re enrolled full time.

USC Rossier Resources

If you need help choosing a master’s in teaching or master’s in education degree, contact us. You can also compare our master’s programs in a convenient table.

USC Rossier provides personalized assistance, and will help you focus on the options most relevant to your interests and goals. Whether you want to be a K-12 teacher, administrator, instructional designer or counselor, our master’s programs offer a variety of options for education professionals.