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Many people dream of nothing more than to teach and lead a classroom full of children. However, acquiring a teacher education degree, going through the student teaching experience, and meeting other state requirements may make the road to teaching seem too difficult to complete.

When considering how to become a teacher, you'll also want to know how long the educator preparation process will take. Naturally, the journey through a teacher education program varies with an individual's experience, capacity for coursework, and state of residence. This guide gives you a good idea of the amount of time needed to acquire a teaching credential and obtain licensure. We will also include tips on how to speed up your professional development so you can start your dream career sooner.

Earning Your Bachelor’s Degree

Don’t know what degree you need to become a teacher? Our experts at Alliant International University can help. As you know, a bachelor’s degree or undergraduate degree is sometimes called a four-year degree since it typically takes that long to complete both your general education classes and coursework for your academic major. But different circumstances can either lengthen or shorten this process. Here are some factors that may influence the amount of time you need to graduate before you can start your teaching career.

get your education degree

Traditional or accelerated programs. Many people wonder how long is a teaching degree program. Traditional colleges and universities operate on either a 10-week quarter or, most commonly, a 15-week semester system. Each system has its advantages. The quarter system allows you to complete courses faster, while the semester system allows you to take more courses. There is also the option of accelerated courses, which can often be completed in as little as five weeks. Traditional colleges may offer these as interterm courses in the winter and summer between semesters. Many students, especially those needing to work while enrolled, choose to complete an accelerated bachelor’s degree program online due to its flexibility. Testing out of certain classes also saves significant time.

Full or part-time work. Work often determines whether students attend school full-time or part-time. You’re considered a full-time student if you take 12 units per semester. Many students take 18 units or higher to finish their degree faster. However, this may be unrealistic for students working even part-time jobs, and many choose to take fewer than 12 units at a time.

Teaching or non-teaching degree. If you pursue a teacher education degree in which your courses and field experiences train you to teach in a PreK-12 classroom, then your degree is integrated with a teacher preparation program. However, if your degree focuses on learning and researching a particular subject but doesn’t include teaching pedagogy and field experience, then you’ll need to complete a separate teacher preparation program, adding one to two years to your schooling. Investigate the different degree options for teachers to see which option best fits your career timeline.

Completing a Teacher Preparation Program

A teacher preparation program – either as part of your bachelor’s degree or separately – is required to teach in a PreK-12 classroom. You don’t need this type of teacher certification if you’ll be working in higher education, but you will need at least a master’s degree and research experience to do so. As mentioned, if your teacher preparation program isn’t integrated into your degree coursework, expect an additional one to two years to complete before you can start your teaching career.

The next step is to solidify your qualification as a state-certified teacher. Acquiring a Teaching Credential is tangible proof that you have diligently met the state's stringent requirements and demonstrated your qualifications and readiness. 

Acquiring Your Teaching Credential

Getting a teaching certificate or credential is the final step in starting a teaching career as a state-certified teacher. The credential shows that you have met the state’s requirements and are qualified to teach. For a preliminary, multiple-subject teaching credential in California, you must:

  • Have a bachelor’s or higher degree
  • Meet basic skills proficiency (by passing a basic skills test or another specified method)
  • Demonstrate subject matter competence (by passing a subject exam or completing a subject matter program)
  • Pass a reading assessment (not required if you complete a teacher preparation program)
  • Complete a course or pass an exam on the U.S. Constitution 
  • Complete an approved multi-subject teacher preparation program, from which you receive a formal recommendation

Teaching credential requirements for prospective teachers will vary from place to place. For current educator licensure information, check the Department of Education website for the state where you plan to teach.

Now that you know the typical duration required to become a teacher, the next is to determine the specific level of education where you aspire to make an impact. Here’s a breakdown of what you can generally expect.

Get your teaching credentials today

Early Childhood to Kindergarten

To become a kindergarten teacher in California, the aspiring teacher in preschool education needs to successfully finish a teacher certification program known as the Elementary Multiple-Subject Teacher Preparation Credential. The teaching credentials required for this role are outlined below. 

  • Multiple Subject Credentials (P, K-12, and adults)
  •  General Kindergarten-Primary (K-3)
  •  General Elementary (K-8)
  •  Standard Early Childhood (P-3)
  •  Standard Elementary (K-9)
  •  Specialist Instruction Credential in Early Childhood Education

The duration to acquire these teaching program credentials varies, but most California teaching credential programs can typically be finished in slightly over a year.

Primary and Secondary School (K-12)

California mandates distinct credentials to be an elementary school teacher and high school teacher.

For those interested in teaching at the elementary education level, obtaining a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential may be necessary. On the other hand, a Single Subject Teaching Credential is required for teaching at the secondary education level, including middle and high schools. These Single Subject Teaching Credentials are offered in subjects like Art, English, Mathematics, Music, Chemistry, Social Sciences, Bilingual, and Theatre. 

Special Education

If your goal is to become a special education teacher at an elementary, middle, or high school level, acquiring an Education Specialist Instruction Credential is essential. This educator certification for California teachers can be obtained through participation in a college or university program, including internship options, or by successfully completing a public school district intern program.

Postsecondary (College and Universities)

The credentialing requirements set by the CTC do not extend to college professors in California. Nevertheless, it is commonly expected by most institutions of higher learning that their faculty members possess either a master's or doctoral degree. Explore our graduate degree education programs in educational leadership and educational psychology.

So, How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher?

The traditional, non-accelerated route to a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential will take four to five years, assuming you major in education and don’t need to take a separate teacher training program. If you decide to do an accelerated degree program, you may be able to complete your coursework and credentials sooner. Because of teacher shortages nationwide, states are creating faster paths toward obtaining a credential to attract willing and talented individuals to the profession. Some of these programs, like Alliant International University’s intern teaching options, allow you to work as a salaried teacher while you complete your credential requirements.

About Alliant

Alliant offers credentials for single-subject, multiple-subject, and special education teachers, as well as a California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) certificate. Contact an Alliant Admission Counselor today at (866) 825-5426 to hear more.


  1. “The Fastest Way to Become a Teacher - Obtain a Certification to Teach in Record Time,” by Lizzie Perrin of Noodle
  2. “Multiple Subject Teaching Credential – Requirements for Teachers Prepared in California,” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing

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