International and comparative education is the study of how practices in education differ in regions around the world. Students learn how teaching and learning methods vary. They also learn how politics and economics affect education programs.
No two nations have exactly the same cultures. And since education is an aspect of culture, nations also differ in their educational practices. For example, in France almost all children are in preschool at age three. In the U.S. about one-third of our children are. Once U.S. students are enrolled, they put in more hours of instructional time than do children in most other countries. But they also spend less time doing homework and more time watching television than do children in most other developed countries.
Nations have a lot to learn from each other about educational practices. And that is the focus of graduate programs in international and comparative education. You may want to study this field to learn ways to improve the American system. Or your goal may be to work in an international agency, in a philanthropic organization, or as a consultant to a foreign government and thus shape educational practices overseas.
The program is oriented toward research, so it includes some study of statistics. It helps for you to have some background in this subject before you enter graduate school. The same applies to a second language, which helps you to access primary sources of information from other countries. The program is multidisciplinary, so you may take courses that explore how anthropology or sociology sheds light on educational practices.
Because this is a graduate program, you must first get a bachelor's degree. This normally takes four years of full-time study beyond high school. It would be helpful for your degree to be in education, a social science, or area studies. A master's degree in this field takes a year or two of full-time study beyond the bachelor's. About 15 universities offer such a program. Besides your course work, you do an original research project that you write up as your master's thesis. You may have the opportunity to do some of the research abroad.
If you are interested in college teaching, the normal route is to get a doctoral degree. This usually takes about three years beyond the master's. Very few graduate schools offer this program, but you may be able to create a roughly equivalent program within another field of education. You take additional courses to round out your knowledge of the field and to learn quantitative research methods. Then you conduct an in-depth research project that culminates in your dissertation.