How To Choose a Specialization in Education (With Tips)

Updated June 24, 2022

If you want to work in the field of education, you have many career options in roles such as teaching, student development and administration. Each specialization has its own educational, practical and technical qualifications, and many require a degree within a specific practice area to get a job. Learning about the different specializations in education can help you decide which one suits you and help you prepare for your career. In this article, we discuss types of specializations in education, how to choose one and tips to consider when researching them.

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Types of specializations in education

When you earn a degree in education, you can choose the area in which you want to work. Many colleges and universities offer these degree paths and options to minor or specialize in a more specific role, such as school counseling or special education. Here are some degree types and specializations you can pursue to get a job in education:

Early childhood education

Early childhood education focuses on children at the beginning of their academic years. It typically ranges from age three through age 8, or preschool through second grade. The age at which required education starts varies by state. In some states, early childhood educators can work in preschools or pre-kindergarten programs with a high school diploma or associate degree, but most roles in this specialization require at least a bachelor's degree in early childhood education.

Related: 8 Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education Jobs To Explore

Elementary education

A bachelor's degree in elementary education typically allows candidates to work with students from kindergarten through fifth grade, although some states also consider sixth grade an elementary level. Teachers at this level usually teach multiple subjects, such as mathematics, language arts, science and social studies, although some specialize in areas like music, art or physical education. At this grade level, schools often hire other educational professionals, such as behavioral development specialists and reading specialists, to help students.

Middle school education

Middle school education usually includes teaching or working with students at the sixth- through eighth-grade levels. Educators who specialize in middle school, also known as junior high school or intermediate school, receive at least a bachelor's degree in education. Some teachers at this level earn a degree in a specific subject area instead, as most middle school teachers instruct students on one or two subjects. Middle schools may also hire educational specialists, and professionals such as school counselors can help students prepare for the transition to high school.

High school education

High school educational professionals work with students in grades nine through twelve. They earn at least a bachelor's degree, typically in the specific subject area in which they plan to teach. High school teachers can also receive specialized training and certifications to teach different course levels, such as honors or advanced courses. High schools often hire many types of educational specialists, such as school administrators, media specialists and curriculum development professionals. School counselors at this level may help students prepare for college, vocational school, the military or their careers.

Related: 17 Jobs at High Schools and Middle Schools (With Salaries)

Higher education

Higher education, also known as post-secondary education, includes any level of education after high school. Post-secondary professionals usually earn a master's degree or doctoral degree in a specific subject area, which they use to teach students and conduct research they can contribute to their field. People who work in higher education may also have student support positions, such as an academic advisor or college dean. Some higher education professionals may also work in adult education programs, where they teach adults who want to earn a high school diploma or develop specialized skills without working towards a degree.

Related: Careers To Consider in Higher Education (With Salaries and Duties)

How to choose a specialization in education

Here are some steps you can take to choose the specialization in education that suits your interest and can help you achieve your professional goals:

1. Choose an age group

Educational professionals often choose a specialization based on their preferred age group. Some people want to become early childhood education teachers so they can help young students develop fundamental skills, while others pursue a position as a high school guidance counselor so they can help students decide on a career path. Deciding which age group you'd prefer to work with can help you decide on a degree path and specialization area.

2. Consider the type of role you want

There are many types of degrees in education, so before you attend college, think about what type of role you'd like to pursue in the field. If you want to teach, you may seek an education degree or a degree in a specific subject. If you want to work as an educational specialist, you might pursue a degree in counseling, speech therapy or social work. Once you decide on the type of role you want, you can determine an educational path to help you reach your career goals.

Related: The 15 Highest-Paying Jobs in Education

3. Evaluate your strengths

In addition to your personal preferences, you may find it helpful to consider your strengths. Ask friends and family members what type of position within education in which they think you could excel. If you enjoy spending time with children, they may suggest becoming a kindergarten teacher. If you're proficient in critical thinking and problem-solving, you might consider becoming a high school science or math teacher. Understanding your strengths can help you find a role you like and that can help you succeed.

4. Research educational degree programs

Once you develop a comprehensive educational career path, begin searching for related degree programs at colleges and universities. When exploring them, consider factors you find important, such as class location, schedule and course offerings. You can schedule meetings with academic advisors to tour campuses you have an interest in, ask questions and learn more about what the school offers.

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Tips for choosing a specialization in education

Here are some tips to consider when choosing a specialization in education to pursue:

Determine the level of education you want to pursue

Specializations in education involve different types and levels of degrees. For some early childhood education roles, you may qualify with an associate degree, while a career as a college professor usually requires a doctoral degree. Deciding on the level of education you feel comfortable pursuing can help you eliminate certain specializations and evaluate others more closely.

Make lists before making decisions

Choosing a specialization in education may take a significant amount of time, but staying organized allows you to manage the information more effectively. When considering factors such as degree paths, universities and job roles, make lists of each one so you can compare them when you finish your research. Placing a check next to each option you eliminate may lead to a sense of accomplishment and motivate you to continue with the process.

Consider your previous work experience

If you have previous work experience or a degree in education, you could use your background as a foundation for an alternative career path in the field. Similarly, you may have worked in other positions that led you to develop an interest in a career in education, such as a childcare specialist or a tutor. Many skills transfer to multiple occupations, so making a list of those you use at your current position or at previous jobs can help you choose a specialization in education.

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