Earning a Master's in Reading and Literacy Online

The National Center for Education Statistics reports more than 87,000 students graduated with a bachelor's degree in education in 2016. Many begin their professional journeys as classroom teachers but may return to college to earn a graduate degree and advance their careers. School districts across the country continue to seek experts in reading instruction since they focus on early childhood literacy, develop effective instructional strategies for students with disabilities, and help older students to overcome reading challenges.

An online reading master' program offers these educators the chance to specialize in reading and literacy while continuing to gain valuable classroom experience. Returning to school can pose a significant challenge, even to professional educators. This guide can help you determine the steps necessary to apply to a master's program and complete your degree, and it offers information on the new career opportunities available once you graduate.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Reading and Literacy?

While a bachelor's degree in education meets the requirements for initial teacher licensure in almost every state, teachers need additional education to qualify for special certifications and endorsements, such as those required for reading specialists and instructional coaches. Many states determine teacher salaries based on years of teaching experience and training, with raises provided upon earning a master's. An online reading master's program also includes instruction in the latest evidence-based literacy education methods to ensure learners know how to evaluate student achievement and challenges.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Reading and Literacy?

Pursuing Specialization

Teachers who earn their online master's in reading become sought-after experts as they develop literacy lessons for all ages, from early childhood education through adult education programs. Many states offer special teaching endorsements and designations to educators completing this degree, such as literacy coach, reading specialist, or master reading teacher. The methods and strategies learned also enhance each teacher's ability to work with special education students. Many companies need this expertise, as well, to create appropriate textbooks and classroom resources for teachers or develop training programs for their employees.

Career Advancement Opportunities

School systems seeking to implement new academic standards or improve lagging literacy scores often turn to instructional coordinators and instructional coaches. Administrators task these supervisors with teaching the teachers, implementing professional development and training programs, and designing curriculum guides. Online master's programs for reading specialists prepare these instructional leaders to help teachers identify reading challenges and develop plans to improve reading ability across entire school districts.

Online Learning Technology

Technology continues to revolutionize instruction in brick-and-mortar classrooms and virtual schools alike. Graduates of an online reading master's program learn how to use new technology to improve student scores and demonstrate their ability to use this technology effectively. They also gain insight into effective online lesson plans and applications for collaborative learning. These demonstrated technology skills enhance an educator's resume, especially as schools transform into digital learning academies.

Prerequisites for Online Reading Master's Programs

The exact requirements for admission will vary by school. Not all schools require all of these elements, so check the conditions for your chosen schools carefully.

  • Work Experience: Many education master's programs require applicants to possess a valid teaching license and 2-3 years of classroom teaching experience. The work requirement ensures that each teacher qualifies for additional teaching certifications upon graduation. The hands-on experience working with students, especially within their areas of specialization, also ensures teachers understand the fundamentals of instructional theory and allows them to implement their new knowledge quickly.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Education master's programs may require students to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), the Miller Analogies Test, or other standardized entrance exams. The GRE includes sections for verbal and quantitative reasoning abilities. It remains one of the most commonly accepted graduate school entrance exams. The Miller Analogies Test measures analytical thinking and general academic knowledge with a series of 120 questions. Scores from both exams remain valid for five years.
  • Coursework: You must submit transcripts of your undergraduate coursework, culminating in an undergraduate degree from an accredited school. Many graduate schools look for undergraduate GPAs of 2.5 or higher. Applicants should have a degree in education. While an online master's in reading may qualify students for additional teaching certifications, the curriculum does not prepare individuals to become licensed teachers.
  • Recommendations: Schools want to know what your colleagues and supervisors think of your teaching ability. Many request recommendations from two or more professional references, so reach out to prospective references early in the application process to have time to submit the letters ahead of application deadlines.
  • Essays: An essay allows applicants to address areas they may see as weaknesses in their applications, such as lower undergraduate GPAs or lower scores on admission exams. It also offers a chance to share your career goals and aspirations. They can ensure their program aligns with your needs.
  • Interviews: Much like an essay, the interview also offers a chance to set yourself apart from other applicants, share your goals, and answer any questions representatives have regarding your professional or academic experience. The meeting also provides you with an opportunity to question representatives of the school about their curriculum, required practicums, and the success of their online instruction before committing to a program.
  • International Students: Schools require international students to meet the same rigorous standards for admission as domestic applicants. These students may need to begin the process earlier, however, to ensure that the school receives the required transcripts and test scores. Each student must have an appropriate visa to study in the United States and demonstrate English proficiency by passing the Test of English as a Foreign Language exam.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Reading and Literacy?

Most school systems structure teacher pay to reward continued education and teaching experience. Earning a degree from an online reading master's program results in an immediate pay increase. Graduates also qualify for leadership positions as instructional coaches, helping other teachers develop effective instructional strategies to help struggling readers. Reading specialists earn $35,000 as an early-career teacher and up to $72,000 with 10 or more years of experience. Graduates may also explore other school districts for employment, working as consultants to textbook publishers or educational technology companies.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Reading and Literacy Graduates

Career Stats Description

Reading Specialist

Median Pay: $50,571

Job Growth: 10.7%

These educational specialists develop strategies to assist struggling readers in elementary and middle school. They also help classroom teachers integrate reading instruction in their daily lesson plans. Reading specialists may work at one school or travel between multiple schools each day. Often, they administer tests that help determine the specific skills students lack and track student progress over time.

Ideal for: Patient and compassionate individuals with strong analytical skills to evaluate student performance and improvement.

Adult Literacy and High School Diploma Equivalency Teacher

Median Pay: $52,100

Job Growth: -5%

These teachers work with adult students who need to improve their reading ability as part of a basic education or high school equivalency course. Adult education teachers must assess their students' existing skills and develop appropriate educational plans for each learner. They need knowledge of multiple subject areas and possess the ability to use various instructional methods for each student.

Ideal for: An organized and resourceful individual with patience and the ability to work with students from different educational, economic, or cultural backgrounds.

Instructional Coordinator

Median Pay: $63,750

Job Growth: 11%

These administrators often work with multiple teachers, educational departments, and schools, ensuring teachers receive appropriate resources and training to teach new curriculum standards. They may recommend textbooks and educational programs to support academic standards and work with teachers to integrate technology in their classrooms.

Ideal for: Individuals with analytical skills, strong interpersonal and leadership skills, and those able to communicate effectively with teachers and supervisors.

Curriculum Director

Median Pay: $73,058

Job Growth: 9%

The curriculum director oversees various instructional coordinators and sets achievement goals for their school district. They evaluate data from standardized tests to determine areas that need improvement and develop strategies to meet long-term goals. They may develop district-wide professional development programs and participate in interviews or staff recruitment teams.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented individuals with excellent analytic ability who work well in team settings and can communicate effectively.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Reading and Literacy Graduates

Career Stats Description

Education Consultant

Median Pay: $62,460

Job Growth: N/A

These consultants work primarily with students and their families to determine goals for their careers and postsecondary education. They may develop a plan of action for professional development and coach students ahead of entrance exams, as well as assist with college applications and financial aid resources. Consultants often work in their own business or contract with private educational service companies.

Ideal for: Organized and analytical individuals able to communicate well with students and parents.

Entrepreneur / Small Business Owner

Median Pay: $82,450

Job Growth: 21.4%

Teachers and educational specialists may form their own consulting business or a small business supporting private pupils or the education industry, such as developing software or educational technology or offering curriculum review and evaluation services to small school districts.

Ideal for: Highly organized individuals with the ability to take on multiple business areas, such as marketing and sales.

ESL Teacher

Median Pay: $41,087

Job Growth: 10.8%

Teachers in the field of English as a second language help students who do not speak the language gain the skills necessary to achieve English fluency and make academic gains in all their courses. They evaluate each student's abilities and develop individual instructional plans. They also work with other teachers to support learning across the curriculum.

Ideal for: Compassionate, patient individuals with analytical skills to evaluate student needs and improvement.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for a Master's in Reading Online

Graduate school tuition costs vary significantly depending on the type of school, with public, in-state universities often offering the lowest charges. Teachers may qualify for tuition waivers, as well. Students need 30 to 40 credits for an online reading master's program and may pay by the semester or by the credit. Many schools evaluate tuition structure annually but may offer students a tuition freeze provided they complete their degree within three years. Without this guarantee, students risk paying more the longer they remain enrolled.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

Educators advancing their knowledge and skills can find numerous funding opportunities to help pay for their degrees. The list below offers a sample of scholarships available across the country to prospective reading specialists. Students should check with state and local associations and their schools for additional opportunities.

What to Expect from Online Reading Master's Programs

A master's in literacy and reading requires 30-36 credits, with many students able to complete their coursework in 2-3 years. Schools continue to develop virtual classroom activities that foster discussion and collaboration. Many teachers seek this degree while teaching full time during the fall and spring, so asynchronous classes remain popular in education programs. Students should expect to complete multiple practicums during their coursework and begin planning their theses or capstone projects within the first two semesters.

Major Milestones

  1. Advisement

    Students and advisers develop a degree plan that accounts for required courses, specialization, and elective areas of interest. The adviser also considers any transfer credit, as well as if you plan to attend classes full time or part time.

  2. Practicum

    Students practice the methods and theories from coursework with students in classroom settings. Experienced literacy teachers or university faculty supervise these sessions. Students often develop a portfolio of their work and submit reflections on their experience.

  3. Thesis

    While not every program requires a thesis, each student must complete training in educational research and a significant academic writing project. A thesis consists of a research project, a written report, and oral defense to a panel of faculty members.

  4. Comprehensive Exam

    Comp exams ask each student to demonstrate their understanding and mastery of all elements of their master's curriculum. Schools may use multiple-choice or essay question formats, and students may submit portfolios of their graduate work for review.

  5. Graduation

    Each student must apply for graduation with the school registrar who reviews their transcript for degree requirements. Students may need to start this process the semester before completing coursework. Many schools charge a fee for the review process. Online students are typically welcome to participate in graduation activities.

  6. Praxis

    Teachers take Praxis exams, which include sections on general education as well as subject-specific areas, before earning their initial teaching licenses. Teachers who aim to add a reading specialist endorsement must also take Praxis exam or the certification exam required by their state Department of Education.


While coursework may vary depending on your area of specialization, such as early childhood or secondary reading, the following courses offer an introduction to the information you will be studying.

Instructional Strategies

This course reviews elements of effective lesson planning, classroom assessment, and classroom management. Students discuss how to use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all students. Assignments may include collaborative projects to design instructional plan and to utilize technology in the classroom.

Reading and Writing Assessment

The course may offer an overview of literacy assessments or focus on a specific instructional area, such as early childhood or middle school. Students review research supporting various assessment tools, intervention strategies, and the identification of learning disabilities.

Coaching for Literacy Education

This coaching course begins with a review of research and theories for literacy instruction across grade levels. Students review how teacher quality impacts student success and discuss the most effective literacy coaching methods.

Children's Literature

The reading list for this course includes several classic and modern children's books in multiple genres. Students evaluate how the different titles help students at various stages of their reading development with an emphasis on theme, language, and comprehension.

Remediation of Reading Problems

The course covers the reading processes for children and adults. Teachers learn how to work with diverse student populations to meet individual instructional needs. Other topics include early literacy, sight words, study skills, and reading in content areas.

Requirements to Practice

Each state determines its own requirements for teaching endorsements. Students should review these requirements carefully, possibly in consultation with their principal or district human resources director before starting their coursework. Several certifications require passing state and national exams or providing evidence of high-quality instruction in the subject area, such as through a portfolio of work, teaching evaluations, or student test data. Some states may also require a supervised internship before granting certification.

  • Reading Specialist: Teachers must complete two or more years as a classroom teacher. Their master's coursework should include reading instruction, assessment, and leadership with a combination of research-based courses and hands-on learning. Many states require teachers to pass the Praxis or state specialist exams.
  • Master Reading Teacher: While not available in all states, the master reading teacher certification designates literacy educators who meet rigorous educational standards. The teachers need three or more years of teaching experience and must pass state exams. These advanced practitioners qualify for instructional leadership or coaching positions and often serve as mentors to other reading teachers.
  • English as a Second Language: Certification requires, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in education, though teachers can add the endorsement with the appropriate master's coursework. Fluency in a foreign language may enhance a teacher's resume, but states do not require it for certification. Instead, teachers must take courses in reading and writing with an emphasis on linguistically diverse students.
  • Certified Dyslexia Practitioner: This specialty certification, offered by the International Dyslexia Association, designates teachers who demonstrate their knowledge of research-based instructional methods for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Applicants must complete approved training programs, pass exams, and complete supervised internships.

Professional Organizations and Resources

All teachers must remain current on the latest research-backed programs and instructional methods. Ongoing professional development, networking with peers to share best practices, and reading academic journals ensures teachers can tackle the challenges ahead. Participation in professional organizations simplifies the work necessary to stay current in the field, with ongoing conferences and workshops, online message boards, and subscriptions to educational journals.

Many organizations also offer opportunities for teachers to demonstrate leadership abilities through panels or committees. They can also share the importance of high-quality literacy education with a broader audience through public advocacy efforts.

  • National Council of Teachers of English: This organization fosters collaboration among English and language arts teachers from pre-kindergarten through college. Members receive access to journals, conferences, books, and online resources on effective instructional strategies and research-backed interventions to improve student success.
  • American Library Association: The ALA represents librarians and library services to advocate for literacy and reading education. The committee on literacy promotes the development of educational opportunities through collaborative efforts. The organization maintains numerous resources to highlight literacy outreach.
  • International Literacy Association: The association brings together educators with literacy researchers and experts in more than 86 countries. Their research supports standards for education programs and teacher resources. Members gain access to the Literacy Today magazine, lesson plans, teaching tips, journal subscriptions, and discounts to regional and annual conferences.
  • National Association for Bilingual Education: Dedicated to improving instructional practices for children with diverse linguistic skills, the NABE offers funding opportunities for programs regarding English as a second language. Professional development opportunities include conferences, a symposium, and the NABE Equity Institute.
  • National Association of State Directors of Special Education: The organization advocates on behalf of students with disabilities to ensure schools offer the support and educational services necessary to prepare them for independent living. While membership includes state special education directors, interested individuals may join as affiliates.
  • National Even Start Association: This program of the U.S. Department of Education supported grants to support early literacy efforts. Though the program no longer provides funding for projects, the site hosts numerous studies and evaluations related to grant-funded programs.
  • RTI Action Network: Response to Intervention represents an effort of schools to provide small-group or one-on-one instructional time for students in need of additional academic support. The RTI Action Network offers educational resources for teachers and families.
  • Share My Lesson: Members of the American Federation of Teachers share resources with their fellow union members. The searchable database allows teachers to find lesson plans for specific grades, subjects, or academic standards.
  • Teaching LD: The Council for Exceptional Children's Division for Learning Disabilities offers a library of tutorials and resources for teachers of students with learning disabilities. The site provides online resources and publications, such as teacher guides to Response to Intervention and Inclusion.
  • Zero to Three: This early childhood literacy initiative champions policies that promote early learning experiences for children from birth to age three. The site offers information on how families and educators can foster healthy brain development and early literacy skills. The resources support production play strategies, social skills, and school readiness.