What is an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) Degree?
An Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree is aimed at educators with a master’s degree who wish to gain advanced proficiency and skill sets in their chosen field.
- Status: The Ed.S. is not a doctorate. Think of it as an intermediate degree between the master’s and the Ed.D. With the exception of School Psychology programs, most Ed.S. degrees are only 30-36 credits in length.
- Purpose: Ed.S. degrees are built to be short and career-focused. To that end, Ed.S. programs will often be designed to help you a) qualify for a pay bump or leadership positions; and b) earn specific licenses, certifications, or endorsements.
- Focus: Ed.S. coursework will focus on advanced topics & specialist knowledge. Unlike Ed.D. programs, Education Specialist degrees do not put a strong emphasis on applied research. And no dissertation is required.
- Outcomes: You can use the Ed.S. to advance your understanding, move up the career ladder, and get a head-start on Ed.D. coursework.
Note: A number of universities now offer “bridge” programs that will allow you to transfer Ed.S. credits into a doctoral completion program (e.g. All But Dissertation Ed.D. Programs). If you’re interested in this path, just be sure that your Ed.S. is coming from a regionally accredited university with a solid reputation.
Education Specialist (Ed.S.) vs. Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Programs
Ed.S. vs. Ed.D.
|OFFICIAL NAME||Education Specialist (Ed.S.) or Educational Specialist||Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)|
|DEGREE EMPHASIS||Advanced Proficiency in Your Chosen Field||Professional Leadership & Applied Research|
|CONCENTRATIONS||Multiple Options||Multiple Options|
|DISSERTATION||No Dissertation; May Contain a Final Project, Culminating Experience, or Exam||Traditional Dissertation, Dissertation in Practice (DiP) or Capstone Project|
|TIME TO COMPLETION||
|TYPICAL CAREER PATH||Professional Educational Leadership Roles||Professional Educational Leadership Roles|
How to Choose Between an Ed.S. and Ed.D. Program
Whether you opt for an Ed.S. or Ed.D. will depend on a number of factors. Here are a few ways to simplify your decision-making process.
- Time Commitment: Education Specialist programs are going to be shorter than education doctorates (e.g. 1-2 years vs. 2.5 years or more). However, committing to an extra year or so for the Ed.D. isn’t going to be a huge hardship. And you’ll have a more prestigious qualification.
- Affordability: Because they have fewer credits, Ed.S. programs are always going to be cheaper than Ed.D. programs. But remember that Ed.D. candidates may qualify for unique scholarships and funding opportunities targeted at doctoral students.
- Career Goals: If you need an Ed.S. for certification purposes or to qualify for a pay rise in your district, then your choice is simple. If you’re interested in educational leadership & administrative roles, an Ed.D. may be a better fit.
- Recognition in Your Geographic Area: The Education Specialist degree is popular in certain areas (e.g. South/Midwest) and less well-known in other regions (e.g. New England). Chat to local mentors and colleagues about your plans—they’ll tell you whether an Ed.S. or Ed.D. is your best bet.
Benefits of an Ed.S. Degree
An Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree might be a good pick if you wish to:
- Earn specific educator licenses, certifications, or endorsements in your state
- Acquire a career-focused qualification in a short period of time
- Avoid a lot of research coursework and the hassle of a dissertation
- Leave your options open for further education (e.g. Ed.D. completion)
Benefits of an Ed.D. Degree
A Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) is the best choice if you want to:
- Qualify for top-level educational leadership & administrative jobs that require a doctorate
- Have the prestige of using “Doctor” in your title
- Get stuck into a research topic that tackles real-world problems of practice in your workplace
- Apply for doctoral scholarships & tuition deals
Bonus Round: Ed.S. vs. Ph.D. in Education
The Ed.S. is a program for active educators who wish to continue working in their field (e.g. teaching or administration).
- If you’re considering a career in academia (e.g. Professor of Education) or high-level research roles, we recommend you apply for a Ph.D. in Education instead. A Ph.D. in Education is focused on original research and university teaching.
- Some universities will accept Ed.S. coursework as transfer credits for the Ph.D. (e.g. UMass Amherst’s Ed.S. in Special Education), but it’s much simpler—and cheaper—to enroll in a fully funded Ph.D. program from the start.
Education Specialist degrees are available in tons of concentrations, including elementary & secondary education, higher education, and organizational leadership. In order to help students qualify for certifications & endorsements, universities tend to offer a lot of Ed.S. specializations in the PreK-12 realm. We’ve covered some of the most popular options below, but there are plenty more out there!
Ed.S. in Educational Leadership/Administration
An Ed.S. in Educational Leadership or Administration will prepare you for senior-level leadership positions in educational administration (e.g. principal, superintendent, program director, curriculum supervisor, etc.).
- A number of Ed.S. in Educational Leadership programs include preparation for superintendent or principal licensure. That’s why the curriculum will often contain an administrative internship.
- Ed.S. programs in Higher Education Leadership are available, but an Ed.D. or Ph.D. is going to have more clout on your résumé. If you opt for the Ed.S., you may wish to consider earning a doctorate further down the line.
Ed.S. in School Psychology
Ed.S. programs in School Psychology are aimed at educators who wish to qualify for positions as K-12 school psychologists. In fact, some states include the Ed.S. as a minimum requirement in order to obtain a license. An Ed.S. will also meet the degree requirements necessary for national certification.
- Take a look at NASP-Approved Specialist Programs in School Psychology to find an Ed.S. program that will help prepare you for NASP certification and state licensure.
- Ask about exam prep and practicum experiences. For example, George Fox University’s Ed.S. in School Psychology deliberately trains educators to sit for the Praxis School Psychologist exam.
Ed.S. in Counseling or School Counseling
An Ed.S. in Counseling or School Counseling will set you up for advanced level positions in the field.
- Professional Counselor: Thinking about becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)? A number of Ed.S. programs contain licensure preparation (e.g. University of Montana’s Ed.S. in Counselor Education). You’ll need a master’s degree in counseling or a closely related field to be eligible.
- School Counselor: Interested in pursuing an Ed.S. in order to earn school counselor certification/licensure in your state? Check the program description. Some Ed.S. degrees will assist you with this process; some won’t. In certain cases, Ed.S. programs can also help current LPCs become school counselors.
It’s worth noting that the CACREP doesn’t accredit Ed.S. programs. But you’re welcome to see if universities with CACREP-Accredited Ph.D. & Ed.D. Programs in Counselor Education & Supervision also offer Education Specialist pathways.
Ed.S. in Special Education
An Ed.S. in Special Education is a good fit for special education teachers who aspire to leadership roles in a school, university, or district (e.g. Special Education Director) or consultancy roles. Graduates often qualify for advanced certification in special education—check individual program descriptions for full details.
Ed.S. in Reading & Literacy
An Education Specialist degree in Reading or Language & Literacy will help you qualify for specialist certifications or endorsements in reading education. Armed with expertise in the science of reading, Ed.S. graduates often serve as reading specialists, school-based literacy coaches, heads of department, curriculum developers, and more.
Ed.S. in Curriculum & Instruction
An Ed.S. in Curriculum & Instruction is worth considering if you’re interested in becoming a teacher trainer, department head, curriculum developer, or district leader for curriculum development. Teachers & administrators also choose this Ed.S. when they have experience in another PreK-12 area, but they want to improve their understanding of the field.
How Education Specialist (Ed.S.) Programs Work
Ed.S. Admission Requirements
- Master’s Degree: M.Ed. or a master’s degree in a relevant field.
- Basic Licensure or Certification: Ed.S. candidates often need to have a baseline teaching or administrative license. Requirements will vary according to the Ed.S. specialization.
- Relevant Work Experience: Universities are typically looking for Ed.S. applicants who are employed as teachers or educational leaders; 3 years of educational leadership experience is often desired for administrative Ed.S. programs.
- GPA: The standard minimum is 3.0 on all your previous graduate work. This may be higher at more prestigious schools (e.g. 3.25-3.5).
- GRE & MAT Scores: Standardized test scores may or may not be required—each school is different. GRE scores will sometimes be waived if you have a strong GPA.
- Letters of Recommendation: You’ll usually need at least 2 letters of recommendation. Many schools will ask for 3.
- Additional Requirements: You could also be expected to supply a résumé, personal statement, and writing sample.
Ed.S. Plan of Study
With the exception of School Psychology programs, Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degrees are intended to be short & sweet. You’ll usually be looking at:
- Credits: 30 credits (e.g. 10 courses), 33 credits (e.g. 11 courses), or 36 credits (e.g. 12 courses).
- Length: 16-24 months on a part-time schedule (e.g. 2-3 courses per semester, including summer). Universities will often allow you to extend the length if you have other commitments.
Ed.S. programs often resemble Ed.D. programs that have been stripped of heavy research coursework, dissertation prep, and dissertation completion.
- In an Ed.S., you’ll be expected to tackle advanced coursework in theory and practice, but you won’t usually be diving into detailed research work.
- Ed.S. courses might cover areas such as practical matters (e.g. education policy), career skills (e.g. school leadership), certification or licensure prep, and specific issues to do with your field.
- Ed.S. degrees usually contain an internship or fieldwork. Some programs will contain an action research project, but it won’t be as demanding as an Ed.D. dissertation or capstone.
Online Education Specialist (Ed.S.) Programs
Are Online Ed.S. Programs Available?
Yes. A number of Ed.S. programs are available in a 100% online format, with no campus visits required. Keep in mind that you may need to complete internships or fieldwork in your local area.
If you’re willing to expand your search parameters to hybrid Ed.S. programs (e.g. Indy State’s Ed.S. in School Administration), you’re going to have a lot more choice. You may also be able to choose a public university program in your area that offers great in-state tuition rates.
Online Ed.S. Degrees & Certification/Licensure
Interested in earning an Ed.S. in order to qualify for specific certifications or licenses? Before you choose an online program that’s outside of your state, check with the Ed.S. program coordinator. You need to be certain that your degree will be accepted by your state licensing body.
The safest option is to pick an Online Ed.S. that’s offered by an accredited, brick & mortar university in your home state. These programs are often designed to meet local certification & licensure needs (e.g. FSU’s Online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership leading to Florida Educational Leadership Certification).
Top 5 Schools with Online Education Specialist (Ed.S.) Programs
1. University of Virginia
UVA’s Online Ed.S. in Curriculum & Instruction is an excellent pick for mid-level educators (e.g. 4+ years of experience) who want to become PreK-12 teacher leaders, curriculum specialists, or instructional coaches. We particularly like the fact that it allows you to choose 2 areas of emphasis. That means you can customize the program to suit your career interests (e.g. ESL, gifted education, instructional technology, etc.).
2. Florida State University
FSU has two pathways for the Online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership—one leads to Florida Principalship certification and one doesn’t. But both options cover useful topics such as teacher leadership development, data-driven school improvement, resource management, and practical experiences. The certification track contains an 80-hour internship.
3. University of Florida
UF’s Online Education Specialist programs come in a range of intriguing concentrations, including an:
- Online Ed.S. in Curriculum & Instruction: Teacher Leadership for School Improvement (TLSI) degree for full-time PreK-12 educators in any setting.
- Online Ed.S. in Educational Technology that covers topics such as instructional design, integrated media environments, blended learning environments, and technology-rich curriculum development.
- Online Teach Well option that’s designed to prepare teachers to serve students with disabilities in inclusive settings.
4. University of Kentucky
At UK, students can choose between the Online Ed.S in Teacher Leadership, with the added value of graduate certificates in specific topics (e.g. instructional coaching), or the Online Ed.S. in Principal Preparation for Level I & Level II certification. The Online Ed.S. in Principal Preparation is targeted at Kentucky school leaders—students have the option to attend Next Generation Leadership Academy days throughout the year.
5. University of Arkansas
At U of A, you have a choice between the Online Ed.S. in Curriculum & Instruction, with 3 career-focused coursework blocks (e.g. Special Education Program Administrator), and an Online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership with a 100% pass rate on the School Superintendent Assessment (SSA) exam. Both programs are 100% online.
Ed.S. Degrees: Practical Considerations
How Much Does an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) Degree Cost?
The cheapest Ed.S. degrees tend to cost between $8,000-$10,000 in total tuition. That’s approximately $267 per credit for the most inexpensive options. A large number of Ed.S. programs fall in the range of $10,000-$20,000.
Before you make a decision:
- Explore all the Ed.S. options offered by public universities in your home state. In-state tuition rates will be pretty cheap in some areas (e.g. South, Midwest, etc.).
- Ask the Ed.S. program coordinator for a sample budget. This should include tuition, mandatory fees, one-off costs, and any additional extras.
- Have a look at our rankings of the Cheapest Online Ed.D. Programs in the country. There are a few options that cost less than $20,000. You could decide to bite the bullet and simply earn a doctorate.
What Can I Do With an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) Degree?
Many students pursue an Ed.S. in order to qualify for specific job titles or a pay raise. Popular career paths for Ed.S. graduates include:
- Instructional Specialist
- District Consultant
- School Counselor
- Athletic Director
- Central Office Administrator
- PK-12 Dean
- Department Chair
- Education Advisor
- Education Consultant
- Program Director
- School Psychologist
- School Counselor
What Certifications & Licenses Can I Earn With an Ed.S. Degree?
A lot of Education Specialist programs are set up for certification & licensure preparation. That means the choices are pretty endless! You’ll see Ed.S. programs that offer assistance with:
- PreK-12 Administrative Licenses (e.g. Principal, Superintendent, Administrator, etc.)
- Specialist Certifications (e.g. School Psychologist)
- Subject-Specific Endorsements (e.g. Reading, ESL, Gifted Education, Math Education, etc.)
- Upgrades to Teaching & Teacher Leadership Certification
If you’re considering an Online Ed.S. from an out-of-state university, check with the Ed.S. program coordinator. You’ll be responsible for ensuring that your online degree meets state licensing & certification requirements.
Is an Ed.S. Degree Worth It?
The answer will depend on your short-term and long-term goals. Generally speaking, an Ed.S. will be worth the money if you:
- Wish to earn a specific certification, endorsement, or license
- Want to qualify for a pay increase in your district
- Can’t afford tuition for the Ed.D. at this time
- Qualify for tuition reimbursement, education benefits, or employee scholarships at your place of work