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Master's Degree Program

Online Master's in Education

Today’s education landscape needs leaders like you — dynamic educators and innovators committed to making sustainable and scalable change for all students by building on your professional experience in PreK–12 classrooms and districts; on college and university campuses; or in philanthropies, nonprofits, policy organizations, and ed-tech initiatives.

That’s why the Harvard Graduate School of Education has launched an online Master's in Education Leadership, a new Ed.M. program with Higher Education and PreK-12 pathways specifically designed for working education professionals who bring at least seven years of relevant or transferrable work experience. This new graduate degree will strengthen the invaluable skills you’ve already developed and give you the tools to propel yourself to new leadership opportunities and to even greater impact.



“Skilled leadership is essential to creating opportunity and overcoming the longstanding inequities that create barriers to success. At HGSE, we are committed to helping you meet today’s complex challenges by becoming the type of leader education needs.”

Bridget Long
Dean and Saris Professor of Education and Economics
Harvard Graduate School of Education

A New Option for Experienced Educators

Our two-year, part-time program consists of a diverse cohort of professionals like you — leaders who are advancing in their careers, and who bring important perspectives grounded in real-world challenges. Our program is conducted almost exclusively online — except for one short on-campus experience, where you'll meet your cohort in person and build community prior to the start of the first fall semester.

The program offers a distinctive Harvard experience — including deep engagement and interaction with Harvard faculty and talented peers, as well as a lifelong professional network — within an intentionally designed curriculum and robust opportunities for mentorship and coaching. The program is career-embedded — so you can immediately apply what you are learning, in real time, to the work you are doing on the ground. 

Two Pathways: Higher Education and PreK–12

In the online Master’s in Education Leadership, you will choose between two Professional Pathways — Higher Education or PreK–12 — that align with the area of practice or the student community in which your work will make an impact. Students interested in advancing into senior leadership roles in colleges and universities, or in organizations that impact higher education, should study in the Higher Education Pathway. Students who want to do change-making work within the education ecosystem on behalf of students from early childhood to secondary education levels should select the PreK–12 Pathway

Students interested in the Higher Education Pathway currently hold administrative and mid-level leadership roles: 

  • Colleges and universities, including in academic affairs, student affairs, admissions and enrollment management, advancement, and institutional research
  • Nonprofit education organizations
  • State and federal government agencies 
  • Policy organizations focused on higher education

Students interested in the PreK-12 Pathway currently hold administrative and mid-level leadership roles in:

  • PreK–12 schools, including as principals, assistant principals, and department heads
  • Nonprofit education organizations (I.e., foundations, advocacy organizations, technical assistant organizations).
  • State and federal government agencies 
  • Policy organizations focused on preK–12 education 
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Our prescribed curriculum is intentionally designed to meet your professional needs. It is anchored in both foundational knowledge and core competencies in education leadership related to the U.S. education system. You will also complete pathway-specific courses to advance your leadership in higher education or preK–12 education, as well as the Foundations courses. You will also have the opportunity to select courses from a small subset of electives. A minimum of 42 credits are required to graduate with an Ed.M. degree from HGSE.

The main elements of the curriculum are: 

Foundations Courses

Throughout the two-year program, you will participate in Foundations courses in four areas: How People Learn, Leading Change, Evidence, and Equity and Opportunity. In these courses, you’ll build core skills central to the profession of education.

  • The online Ed.M. program commences with How People Learn, which runs online June–July and requires a time commitment of 10–15 hours per week. 
  • You’ll take the remaining Foundations courses during the course of the two-year program. 

Professional Pathways

All students will choose between the Higher Education and PreK–12 Pathways. Throughout the program, you will take both cross-pathway courses and pathway-specific courses. Cross-pathway courses will allow you to develop leadership skills that are important across sectors, as well as have discussions about how higher education and preK–12 can work more effectively together. Cross-pathway courses include:

  • Real Talk: The Art and Practice of Communications 
  • Strategic Finance for Nonprofit Leaders

Pathway-specific courses are directed to the knowledge and skills important for leadership in the Pathway professional setting. 

Higher Education Pathway

The Higher Education Pathway prepares you to be a dynamic leader in a diverse range of postsecondary education contexts. It is designed to increase your knowledge of the practices, policies, processes, challenges, and opportunities in American postsecondary education. You will enhance your repertoire of strategies and management skills for tackling critical issues and introducing change — while preparing you to advance in your current career or move into other important leadership roles in higher education.  

Sample courses for the Higher Education Pathway: 

  • Creating the Future of American Postsecondary Education 
  • Higher Education Leadership & Governance 
  • Student Affairs in Higher Education: Theory-Driven Practices to Help Students Thrive 

Students will also have the opportunity to engage with accomplished leaders through HGSE’s unique President-in-Residence program. 

PreK–12 Pathway 

The PreK–12 Pathway equips you to advance your leadership across the preK–12 landscape, including in such positions as teacher leader, principal, afterschool director, education agency representative, education nonprofit/philanthropic leader, or education entrepreneur.  

Sample courses for the PreK–12 Pathway: 

  • Strategic Leadership in the PreK–12 Ecosystem 
  • Creating Conditions for Effective School, Family, and Community Partnerships 
  • Leading Learning   

Elective Coursework

Students will have the opportunity to choose from a curated list of electives during the optional January terms, and during the fall and spring of their second year. Sample elective courses: 

  • Law and Higher Education
  • Leading a School through Challenge and Crisis   
  • Race, Equity, and Leadership 
  • Teaching Exceptional Learners in Inclusive Classrooms 
  • Why Can’t Higher Education Change? 
  • Writing Workshop   

Note: Though some courses may include comparative and international examples, applicants should expect a focus on leadership within U.S. domestic educational institutions and systems. 

Leadership Core Competencies

To help you manage, lead, and implement change in complex organizations, our curriculum explores the core leadership competencies that you'll need to elevate your skills, knowledge, and expertise, wherever you are in your career. Throughout your coursework, you will strengthen your ability to:

  • Lead change and think strategically 
  • Foster productive organizational conditions 
  • Navigate politics and practice political inclusion
  • Communicate effectively 
  • Cultivate self-development and team professional development skills 
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Program Commitment

Courses combine synchronous meetings and asynchronous work and assignments. Live or synchronous aspects of required courses will occur on weekdays (Monday–Friday) between 6 and 9 p.m. ET. Some elective courses, outside the required curriculum, may be offered at alternative times. On average, this degree requires 12 to 18 hours of work per week, though the weekly commitment will vary by term, courses taken, and students' own work styles. Students can expect to spend approximately three to five hours per week in synchronous online class sessions with faculty members and classmates. The remaining hours will be spent working independently on asynchronous class preparation, in self-scheduled small-group work with other students or working on assignments. 

Weekly Time Estimate

To complete the online Ed.M. in Education Leadership, students must complete 42 total credit hours of coursework over the two-year program. While the weekly time commitment varies, the graphic below provides a snapshot of the estimated weekly time commitment students may experience during the fall and spring semesters, when they will typically take 8 credits, the equivalent of two courses


Includes live, scheduled sessions with faculty members and other students.


Self-paced activities, discussion posts, and other course-related work.


Readings, projects, papers, research, etc.

Total Estimated Weekly Hours

Hours reflect estimates and vary by term, course, and student work style.

Occurs between Monday-Friday, according to a specific schedule.


Asynchronous work and assignments will have clear deadlines or milestones, but students can set their own schedules to complete this work. Note that there may be days or weeks during the semester that are busier than average, requiring more than the estimated time shown.

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Program Faculty

The faculty co-chair for the Higher Education Pathway is Judith McLaughlin. The faculty co-chair for the PreK–12 Pathway is Irvin Scott.

Headshot of Judith McLaughlin

Judith McLaughlin
Higher Education

Headshot of Irvin Scott

Irvin Scott

Headshot of Jim Honan

James Honan
Full Program

Headshot of Karen Mapp

Karen Mapp

Headshot of Tim McCarthy

Tim McCarthy
Full Program

Headshot of Fran Purcell

Fran Purcell
Higher Education

Headshot of Alexis Redding

Alexis Redding
Higher Education

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On-Campus Experience

Prior to kicking off your first fall semester, you will participate in the On-Campus Institute, an immersive experience on the HGSE campus in Cambridge. This will provide the opportunity to not only form deep relationships with your cohort, but also learn together with the faculty and advisers with whom you will spend two years. The immersive residential experience is a core component to the two-year degree program that is required of all students in the program. 

Over several days in late July and/or early August, you and your fellow peers will discuss your professional experiences and examine some of the persistent challenges in your organizations. You will immerse yourself in rich exercises and community building, set expectations of what it means to be in a rigorous HGSE degree program, and set intentions for yourself, your cohort, and your course of study. 

Career Pathways

The Master's in Education Leadership Program prepares you to advance to a senior leadership role in a variety of career pathways, including:

Higher Education Pathway

  • College or university senior administrator in such areas as:
    • Academic affairs 
    • Admissions and financial aid
    • Development
    • Diversity, equity, and inclusion
    • Institutional research
    • Student affairs

PreK-12 Pathway

  • Education entrepreneur
  • Executive director for an education nonprofit
  • Principal* or head of school 
  • Program officer for a foundation 
  • School department head
  • School designer and developer
  • School district or network leader
  • Teacher leader

Overall Program

  • Education nonprofit CEO/COO 
  • Educational advocate and organizer 
  • Entrepreneur 

*Note: This program is not able to provide principal certification at this time.

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Our online Master's in Education Leadership empowers you to develop the necessary skills to advance your career as an education leader. Here are examples of the program experience and the impact its community is making on the field:

Lighthouse illustration by Tete Garcia

How to Become a Teacher

(In Three Easy Steps Over 20 Long Years)

A walkway and buildings on a typical college campus

Higher Ed. at Harvard Event Addresses Looming End of Affirmative Action

A panel of three experts weighed in on what higher education can do in the wake of a pending Supreme Court ruling

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Admissions Information

Learn more about: Upcoming Admission Events Application Requirements | Tuition and Financial Aid | Recorded Webinars | Brochure Download | FAQs

If you have additional admissions-related questions, please contact Meg Anderson.

Connect with Program Staff

If you have remaining program-specific questions, please contact OEL Assistant Director Nicole Barone


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