Do You Need to Have a Teaching Degree to Teach in California?

The state of California has established some of the nation’s strictest eligibility requirements for teachers, helping ensure that educators are thoroughly qualified for their work. If you’re thinking about becoming a teacher in California, you’ll need to meet state standards for education and credentialing, which may be different from the rules that apply in your home state. 

In this article, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about how to become a teacher in California, including how to become a teacher without an education degree, how a credential differs from a degree, whether you need to have a background in education when applying to a master’s program in teaching, whether a teaching license is necessary in California, and other key information about the qualifications you’ll need. 

Can You Become a Teacher without a Teaching Degree in California? 

Unlike most other U.S. states, California requires all teachers to complete at least five years of higher education. Most teachers fulfill this requirement by earning a bachelor’s degree through a four-year program, then completing a graduate program and earning their master’s degree, such as a Master of Early Childhood Education. As an alternative, it may also be possible to enroll in a blended undergraduate teacher preparation program, which offers the opportunity to simultaneously earn your degree and your teaching credential. 

Credentials are different from degrees, as we’ll discuss in a few minutes. But first, let’s recap what we just covered: 

  • Uniquely, California regulations require five years of higher education to become a teacher. 
  • You can meet this requirement either by:
    • Traditional Path — Earning your bachelor’s and master’s degrees. 
    • Nontraditional Path — Participating in a blended credentialing program that has been approved by the state. 

Can I Get a Teaching Job without a Teaching Certificate?  

If you want to become certified to teach in California, you must generally complete a credential program that has been approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). For example, if you want to teach elementary school in California, you will need to earn a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. This can be accomplished through a university program, through an internship program, or even based on past experience in the Peace Corps or as a private school teacher, with the full list of options available here

If you want to teach high school students, you will need a Single Subject Teaching Credential, since you will be focused on a specific discipline like English, mathematics, or history. Unique qualifications are needed to teach special education, which requires an Education Specialist Instruction Credential per CTC regulations. 

If you are interested in furthering your education career by earning your teaching credential, National University offers a wide range of accredited credential programs in multiple and single subjects, preparing you to teach in a self-contained preK-12 classroom while meeting vigorous state credentialing requirements. 

How do you know whether a program or institution has been approved by the CTC? Simple: just browse this list.

Can You Be a Teacher without a Degree in Education? 

In short, yes: a wide variety of degree types may fulfill the state’s education requirements, such as degrees in mathematics or science. However, if you’re still in the process of deciding on an undergraduate program to apply to, you may want to consider an education-related program, such as a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education (BAECE). 

If you already have your bachelor’s degree — even in a subject other than teaching or education — you may be able to enter a variety of graduate programs that can help steer you toward a career in education, such as a Master of Arts in Education (MAE) or Master of Science in Educational and Instructional Technology. Be advised, however, that some master’s degree programs are designed for students with experience in education. 

As yet another alternative, you can apply to enter a credentialing program, being sure to double-check that it has already earned CTC approval. 

Can You Teach High School without an Education Degree? 

If your goal is to teach high school in California, you should focus on obtaining your bachelor’s and master’s degrees or completing a CTC-approved blended program as an alternative. Whether you take the traditional or nontraditional path, California educators must possess a Single Subject Teaching Credential in order to teach high school. As the CTC explains, “There are a variety of routes an individual can take to earn the Single Subject Teaching Credential,” like completing school district internship programs, having prior private school teaching experience, or completing college programs like those offered at National University. 

As the previous section discussed, you can enter a credential program or master’s program with many types of bachelor’s degrees — not necessarily just a degree in education. However, an undergraduate degree in or related to teaching will help strengthen your eligibility for graduate teaching programs. 

Can You Teach with Any Degree?

At minimum, you will need a bachelor’s degree to teach most grade levels and school subjects in California, including elementary school. You can obtain a bachelor’s degree in various subjects, but must also complete a master’s degree program or a teaching credential program to fulfill the state’s requirements. 

Many graduate programs are designed for students with classroom experience or undergraduate degrees in education. For example, the MAE at National University is intended for current early childhood educators. 

While universities’ admission requirements vary, it will be easier to transition into a graduate teaching program if you have a bachelor’s degree that is related to teaching or education. However, even if your undergraduate degree is not directly related to education, you may still be a suitable candidate. You should compare programs carefully and speak with an admissions counselor to determine whether a master’s degree program or a teaching credential program might be a better match considering your background and professional goals. 

Do I Need a Teaching License to Teach in California?

You must meet the state’s licensing requirements, which we have described throughout this article, in order to teach in California. However, there is one final requirement that we haven’t discussed yet: the state’s requirement that you demonstrate basic proficiency by passing one of several official exams. These exams include the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST), the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) Multiple Subject Plus Writing Skills Examination, and the CSU Placement Examinations or CSU Early Assessment Program (for California State University students). You may retake your exams if necessary, but will need to pay the exam fee again for successive attempts. 

One final note regarding schools outside of California’s public school system, such as private or parochial schools: these institutions are regulated differently, providing unique teaching opportunities for educators. However, most schools will want to review applicants’ degrees and credentials, making it prudent to focus on earning your degree, obtaining your credential, and passing the CBEST or equivalent exam. 

Earn Your Teaching Degree or Credential Through an NCATE-Accredited Education Program at National University

At the Sanford College of Education at National University, our teaching programs are focused on preparing you to sit for the CBEST or other professional exams. Our unique, accelerated program structure allows you to receive your certification faster, so that you can hit the ground running and explore the teaching career you’ve always dreamed of. 

Help relieve California’s teacher shortage while making a positive impact on your students and challenging yourself to achieve new and fulfilling professional goals. Earn your teaching credential or degree through an NCATE-accredited education program at National University. With financial aid and scholarships, unique benefits for military students, and 100% online options available for many of our programs, National University provides the tools and support you need to take the first step toward a career in K-12 education. Contact our admissions office to learn more, or start your application today. 

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