How Many Years of College to Be a Teacher: A Complete Breakdown

The number of years of education it takes to become a teacher can vary significantly. Learn about all the details.

How Many Years of College to Be a Teacher: A Complete Breakdown
Annie Spratt

Becoming a teacher is a noble and rewarding profession that requires dedication, passion, and a commitment to lifelong learning. While the path to becoming a teacher varies depending on the specific requirements of each educational system and jurisdiction, there are general milestones and timelines that can provide aspiring educators with a roadmap for their journey. 

So, for this BrokeScholar article, we decided to really dig into the question of how many years of college it typically takes to become a teacher. We will delve into the typical timeline and various factors that influence the number of years it usually takes to become a teacher. 

How Many Years of College to Be a Teacher? 

The amount of time it takes to become a teacher can vary based on a number of factors including the type of teacher you want to become (e.g., elementary school, middle school, high school, special education), the requirements of your state or country, whether you attend school full-time or part-time, and whether you pursue additional certifications or degrees.

Here is a general outline for the US:

  • Bachelor's Degree (4 years): You'll need to earn a bachelor's degree. Most prospective teachers will major in education or the subject they wish to teach. This typically takes four years of full-time study.

  • Teacher Preparation Program (1-2 years): Many states require completion of a teacher preparation program. These programs are usually post-baccalaureate, but some are integrated into a bachelor's degree. They combine both coursework and a student teaching internship. This typically takes one to two years.

  • Licensure: All public school teachers must be licensed in the state where they plan to teach. The requirements vary by state but generally include completion of a bachelor's degree and a teacher preparation program, passing a background check, and passing a state licensing exam. Some states have reciprocity agreements allowing teachers licensed in one state to teach in another.

  • Master's Degree (Optional, 1-2 years): Some teachers choose to pursue a master's degree in education or a related field to improve their teaching skills, qualify for a pay increase, or meet continuing education requirements. This typically takes an additional one to two years.

So, in total, you can expect to spend a minimum of about 5-6 years preparing to become a teacher if you attend school full-time: 4 years for a bachelor's degree and another 1-2 years for a teacher preparation program. If you choose to earn a master's degree, this could add another 1-2 years to your timeline.

Keep in mind that the timeline can vary. For example, some people might take longer to earn their bachelor's degree, or they might work for a few years before returning to school for a teacher preparation program or master's degree. Also, some states may have different or additional requirements. 

Timeline and Milestones of Becoming a Teacher

As already mentioned, since every college and university have their own courses, catalogs, credit systems, etc., so there is no one-size-fits-all duration of time it takes to become a teacher. There are, however, general milestones that must be reached and a loose timeline can be constructed for how many years of college to be a teacher:

1. Educational Requirements and Prerequisites

To embark on the journey towards becoming a teacher, individuals typically need to meet certain educational requirements and prerequisites. These requirements can vary across different countries and educational systems. Generally, aspiring teachers are expected to complete a bachelor's degree in education or a related field. The duration of undergraduate programs is typically four years, although some countries offer three-year programs.

2. Specializations and Certification

During their undergraduate studies, aspiring teachers often have the opportunity to choose a specialization or concentration based on the grade level or subject they wish to teach. Common specializations include early childhood education, elementary education, secondary education, and special education. Depending on the jurisdiction, these specializations may require additional coursework, field experiences, or clinical practice.

Following the completion of a bachelor's degree, aspiring teachers usually pursue a teaching certification or license. The requirements for certification vary by country and state, but they often involve completing a teacher preparation program. These programs can range from one to two years and typically include coursework, supervised teaching experiences (such as student teaching or practicum), and examinations.

3. Postgraduate Education and Advanced Degrees

While not always mandatory, some aspiring teachers choose to pursue postgraduate education to enhance their teaching skills and career prospects. Master's degrees in education or specialized areas can provide opportunities for professional growth and advancement. Pursuing an advanced degree may take an additional one to three years, depending on the program's structure and the student's chosen pace of study.

4. Certification Examinations and State Requirements

In addition to completing the necessary education and training, aspiring teachers are often required to pass certification examinations to obtain their teaching license. These exams assess the candidate's knowledge of teaching principles, subject-specific content, and pedagogical practices. The specific exams and passing scores vary by jurisdiction, and it is essential to research the requirements of the intended teaching location.

5. Teaching Internships and Residency Programs

To gain hands-on experience and refine their teaching skills, many aspiring teachers participate in teaching internships or residency programs. These programs often occur after the completion of a bachelor's degree or during the final stages of a teacher preparation program. Internships and residencies can last from a few months to a full academic year and provide valuable classroom experience under the guidance of experienced educators.

6. Continuing Professional Development

Becoming a teacher is not merely a culmination of a set number of years but rather the beginning of a lifelong journey of growth and learning. Once in the teaching profession, educators are encouraged to engage in continuing professional development (CPD) activities. CPD can include attending workshops, conferences, pursuing advanced certifications, or participating in research projects to stay current with evolving teaching practices and educational trends.

The Bottom Line on How Many Years of College It Takes to Become a Teacher

The path to becoming a teacher is multifaceted and dynamic, with several variables influencing the number of years it takes to achieve this goal. While the typical timeline can range from four or five to six years, depending on various factors such as educational requirements, specialization, certification, and personal choices, it is important to recognize that the journey does not end with certification. Aspiring teachers should embrace the ongoing process of professional development to continuously improve their skills and positively impact the lives of their students. 

Four or five to six years of post-secondary education costs a lot of money. Fortunately, if you’re interested in becoming a teacher, there are thousands of education scholarships designed just for students like you. Winning one of these scholarships, especially when combined with other forms of student financial aid such as a federal grant, can really bring down the cost of higher education.

Andrew DePietro

Author: Andrew DePietro

Senior Researcher, and Content Strategist

Andrew DePietro is a finance writer covering topics such as entrepreneurship, investing, real estate and college for BrokeScholar, Forbes, CreditKarma, and more.