How to Decide Which Type of Master’s Degree Is Right for You


I never questioned whether I would get my master’s degree. It was never if but when. Some of my colleagues were in the same position, so we began to research programs together.

As we did, we became stuck on this important question:

Do we spend the time and the big bucks to get a degree in Art Education or get a Master of Arts in General Teaching through a local college?

One of my colleagues sat on this big question for years because she didn’t want to pay for an Art Ed degree, but she really wanted something art-specific. I know she is not the only one.

I took the now-or-never approach and signed up with a local college to get a Master of Arts in Teaching. For me, the process was positive. I was able to complete the degree in my own timeframe and learned things I could apply in my art room. I got to choose a thesis that was relevant to art ed, so in that regard, I didn’t feel shortchanged at all.

In addition, I was able to squeeze in some personal choice with my coursework.

Because I had the opportunity to transfer in a set number of electives, I went looking for local classes that were art or leadership-specific to meet my personal interests. In reality, these types of classes were tricky to find, which was one of the motivations for creating AOE. After my experience, I wanted to provide options for teachers who were in the same position that I was.

Looking back, the multiple perspectives I got from some of my general education classes in philosophy, assessment, diversity, and leadership, made me a better, more rounded teacher. I was able to take ideas from general education and look at my profession in a new way.

Abby Schukei, blogger at Art. Eat. Tye Dye. Repeat. actually chose to get her master’s degree in IT (information technology) which doesn’t seem traditional for an art teacher. She says, “In all honesty, I chose to pursue a master’s program in IT rather than Art Education because I felt it would greater benefit me. It has benefited my instruction as a teacher because I’m always discovering new ways to present and experience the same content. I also love the fact that the program is cross-curricular and enables me to transition other disciplines into my teaching with great ease. Technology is a burden and a blessing. We’ll always be two steps behind, but it will continue to transform what I do in my art classroom.”

Sometimes we are made to feel inferior or bad if we don’t pursue a degree in art education. Many options are equally as fulfilling for different reasons.

I have compiled a handy list of pros and cons for you to to consider as you make this decision for your professional future.


The Pros and Cons of an Art Ed Master’s Degree

– Your professors and fellow students are all art teachers!
– The curriculum is laser-focused on art education.
– Online programs are becoming more prevalent and accessible each year.

– The cost is usually quite a bit higher for these programs and many are not online.
– The timeframe and class schedule is usually decided for you and spaced out over a longer period of time.

The Pros and Cons of a General Education Master’s Degree

– You can usually work at a faster pace in these programs and plan your own course schedule.
– Many of the programs transfer in electives, so you can still have art-specific classes.
– You are able to gain multiple perspectives from teachers in other disciplines or choose a specialized degree focusing on leadership, curriculum development, or technology.

– Your professors and colleagues usually know nothing about art.
– The required classes will likely not be art-specific.

As for my colleague who waited, ironically, she ended up going through the same program I did several years later and took some AOE classes as her electives. She had a positive experience. Our educational partner, Morningside College, also has a similar program that allows AOE classes as electives. If you are interested in this, you can learn more here.

The moral of the story is this: If you want to get your master’s degree, don’t wait. It’s not exactly about where you get your degree, it’s about what you as an individual bring to the table. It’s your attitude and drive. It’s how you apply the learning. If you wait for the perfect program to come along, you might be waiting forever. In my eyes, there is no “right time.”  If you have a goal, find a way to make it happen and start taking those first baby steps to get there!

What are some of your hesitations about getting a master’s degree?
What are some pros and cons you’ve found from either type of program?


Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • June Smith

    I have been sitting on this same question myself for years. I finally decided a couple of months ago to pursue an MS in Merchandising and will begin this January. I needed 100% online in order to work full time and pursue my studies. I want to expand my knowledge of international sourcing and global e-commerce. For me this is a perfect fit for taking my designs and those of other artisans, to the world. I will also have a few courses to select as electives to pursue additional design courses. I suggest a focus on your ultimate dream. Where do you want to end up? Then do your research and the right degree plan will find you. Time won’t wait for you, so you have to be pro-active! It will all be worth it in the end.

    • Merchandising sounds intriguing and your words are inspirational – focus on your ultimate dream and don’t wait!

  • Great article! The link to Morningside does not work for me (it could be on my side) But this is something that most every teacher thinks about. Thank you!

  • Mel

    Perfect timing.. I’ve been looking at Masters Programs over the past few months. I’m part of that third camp, that ‘neither MA Arts Education or MEd in Elementary Education’. I’m leaning towards a MEd in Integrated Curriculum. Art plus the world around us.. math, ELA, science, etc.

  • I am surprised that MFA degrees are not in this discussion. I am 45 credits into my MFA, and for me it has been monumentally beneficial. To be highly educated as a professional artist makes me an authentic expert in my field (Ceramics & Sculpture in my case). The knowledge I’ve gained from that has been immeasurably beneficial to me and to my students. Not to mention that MFA degrees are the benchmark for teaching at the college level. I prefer to gain my “education” education from sources like books, conferences, AOE, etc.

  • Abby Fliehler

    Any recommendations to on-line programs that you loved or felt were truly valuable? I’m trying to decide which direction to go as well and any recommendations would be appreciated from the art teacher crowd! Thanks

  • April Busch

    I got my Master’s Degree a few years ago through Boston University Online. It was expensive, but so worth it. I chose to go to the summer studio classes in Boston, but you could have transferred local credits as well. The content was difficult, but relevant and I was able to complete it in 1.5 years with a one year old at home, teaching full time! One thing that made me decide to go with Boston was that they wanted me to submit student work as well as my own to get accepted. They helped me through every step of the process and were some of the nicest people I have worked with to help me achieve my goals. It was pricey but I personally could not sit through one class that was not directly related to my field after years of professional development.

    • Christine Meyers

      Unfortunately, I did not have a positive experience with Boston University. They are extremely expensive and were not very helpful or willing to work with me. I went through some medical issues including having to go through a biopsy to see if my cancer had returned ( fortunately it didn’t ) I wanted to be able to have more flexibility with assignment completion. I was told I should just withdraw. Of course it was passed the time you could get any refund! So I earned no credit and am stuck paying back on a loan that basically I received nothing for but they profited from! I have since then heard lots of comments that students felt the school is in it for just the money and are not flexible in working with students to meet their needs!

  • Sadly, I’ve had to put my dreams of a Masters to bed. I waited too long and now, at 49, I’m too old to recoup the cost with the little bump in pay I would receive. I encourage all young teachers I meet to get their Masters a few years after entering the profession. The longer you wait the less financially sound a decision it becomes.

    • BeckyW

      Jeffrey, I appreciate your candor and agree. There are so many factors in making the decision to pursue a masts in art – such as are you the breadwinner in your family, and what goals financially need to be met to keep your family as a group happy. I think that is why the younger you are the more you have freedom to choose…and maybe why like Jessica says…go for it early! I am returning to art Ed after 16 years in IT, straight after getting my BFA. AOE courses are helping me refocus and hopefully gear up for a 20 year second career, and a masters might fall into the plan…but I am lucky I am not the breadwinner, and I am conscious that I don’t want to cost more than my education would be worth…as there are 2 other college degrees that I want to help pay for ( not fully fund) more than my own.

  • Susan Sheldon

    I’m with Alex, I’m working on my MFA in painting right now and teaching part time. I was telling to students to follow their dreams and develop their artwork, while not doing the same for myself. Incidentally, I took this leap at age 49, and am planning to finish right before I turn 53. It doesn’t make financial sense, but I am so thankful to be taking this path.

  • Ellen Gessert

    I am in my second semester of my MA through Michigan State University, 100% online. My degree will be in Educational Technology (MAET) – I HIGHLY recommend looking into this option if you are passionate about education and how educators should be innovative in incorporating techEd to the classroom – in my case, the art classroom:)! I have learned SO much in just one semester, even though it’s not art specific, it has been super fun incorporating techEd into the art room!!

  • Kate

    I thought I would never get my Masters because I simply will never be able to afford it. I have worked as an elementary art teacher on a 3/4 contract for 16 years. Over that time, I have mentored countless art ed undergrads from BYU as they did part of their student teaching in my room. A year ago, I was approached by two BYU professors, who invited me to join their Masters of Art Ed cohort, and offered me a full scholarship to cover tuition! I just finished my first semester and I am so very grateful for the opportunity!