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Special education teachers provide support and instruction to meet the needs of exceptional learners.

Special education teachers must adapt curriculum content to accommodate various learning, behavioral, emotional, and physical disabilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), special education teachers earned an annual median salary of just over $60,000 in 2019. The BLS projects 13,600 new positions for these professionals between 2018 and 2028.

Best Online Master's in Special Education Programs 2020

#1 University of Washington-Seattle Seattle, WA
#2 George Washington University Washington, DC
#3 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
#4 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
#5 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ
#6 Purdue University West Lafayette, IN
#7 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO
#8 University of Kansas Lawrence, KS
#9 University of Cincinnati Cincinnati, OH
#10 George Mason University Fairfax, VA

Master's degrees in special education foster the knowledge and skills needed to develop, implement, and monitor individualized education programs, propelling learners toward their educational goals. This guide ranks the best online special education master's programs. We also include important information for prospective students, such as how to choose the right program and potential careers and salaries for graduates.

Best Online Master's in Special Education Programs

1
University of Washington-Seattle
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4

University of Florida 

Gainesville, FL

About this school

UF is one of 12 institutions within the State University System of Florida. UF offers an online master of education in special education that students can complete in two years.

The 36-credit program includes 12 core credits, covering topics like designing instruction for inclusive classrooms, teaching learning strategies, and collaborative practices in inclusive schools. Learners use the remaining 24 credits to pursue a specialization. Specialization options include autism, disabilities in society, dyslexia, and early childhood studies.

The disabilities in society concentration examines topics like disability policy and legislation, while the dyslexia specialization includes classes in language and the brain and assessment and intervention. Students can also pursue a general track that emphasizes math strategies for struggling students, differentiated instruction, and intervention for language and learning disabilities.

Applicants must submit transcripts from previous college coursework, three letters of recommendation, a resume, and GRE scores.

Graduation Rate
90%
Percent Receiving Loans
19%
5

University of Arizona 

Tucson, AZ

About this school

Chartered in 1885, UArizona provides undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs to nearly 46,000 students annually through 21 academic schools and colleges.

UArizona's 36-credit, online master of arts in special education takes full-time students 18-24 months to complete. Thirty credits of core coursework cover topics like behavior principles and disability assessment and intervention, special services in schools, and cultural and linguistic diversity in exceptional learners.

Learners also study language development for exceptional children, research methods in education, and consultation and collaboration for special needs students. Learners then choose a six-credit specialization in challenging behavior, sensory impairments, autism spectrum disorder, or gifted students.

Learners culminate the degree with an in-depth study, special project, or formal report. Individuals who wish to pursue teacher certification must complete additional education coursework.

Applicants need an accredited bachelor's degree and experience with and access to persons with disabilities. They must also submit three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and transcripts from previous college coursework.

Graduation Rate
64%
Percent Receiving Loans
36%
6

Purdue University 

West Lafayette, IN

About this school

Home to 13 academic schools and colleges, Purdue began as an agricultural and mechanical arts college in 1862. Its online master of science in education with a concentration in special education prepares learners to plan and administer special education curricula in a safe, effective classroom. The curriculum aligns with edTPA standards.

Purdue's program includes six concentrations, all targeted at various levels of licensure. Regardless of concentration, all students take courses in educational research, applied behavior analysis, and intervention strategies and research. Students also explore social, legal, and ethical issues in special education while building identification, evaluation, and assessment skills applicable to working with exceptional individuals.

Additional required classes include advanced assistive technology, collaboration and transition, and characteristics of children with mild disabilities.

Applicants must submit transcripts from a regionally accredited bachelor's degree, a personal statement, three letters of recommendation, and a resume.

Graduation Rate
81%
Percent Receiving Loans
34%
7

University of Missouri-Columbia 

Columbia, MO

About this school

Established in 1839, Mizzou hosts more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students annually through over 300 degree and certificate programs. Its online master of arts in special education with an emphasis in general special education includes 33 credits and explores cross-categorical disabilities and behavior management techniques.

This 27-credit program includes core courses in applied statistics, research with exceptional children, and special education categorization. Learners study applied behavior analysis while developing collaboration and consultation competencies for working in special education settings. Students also complete a master's thesis as part of the degree.

Students can tailor the degree to their interests through electives like language development of exceptional students, literacy in special education, vocational education for the disabled and disadvantaged, and teaching mathematics in special education. Learners culminate the degree with a comprehensive exam.

Applicants must submit transcripts from previous college coursework, a personal data sheet, a resume, and a statement of purpose. Additional application materials include GRE scores and two letters of recommendation.

Mizzou participates in the Missouri Partnership for Educational Renewal, providing first-, second-, and third-year teachers with opportunities for reduced tuition.

Graduation Rate
69%
Percent Receiving Loans
44%
8

University of Kansas 

Lawrence, KS

About this school

Established in 1866, KU serves more than 28,000 students through over 250 undergraduate and graduate programs annually. KU's online master's in education in special education offers specializations in autism spectrum disorders, secondary education and transition, and high-incidence disabilities.

The autism spectrum disorders specialization comprises 36 credits and explores assessment for exceptional children and youth, methods of learning, and teaching language and communication skills to learners with autism and developmental disabilities. Students culminate the degree with a practicum and a special project.

The online master's degree in special education in secondary education and transition requires 33 credits. Classes examine topics like transition education and services, assessment for transition planning, and career development for youth. Learners complete the degree with a final project.

The high-incidence disabilities program requires 30 credits and covers learning strategy and content mastery for struggling learners and strategies for students with significant behavioral, social, and emotional needs. In addition to coursework, students complete two practicums.

Applicants must submit transcripts from a regionally accredited bachelor's degree, a letter of introduction, a resume, and contact information for three professional references.

Graduation Rate
65%
Percent Receiving Loans
47%
9

University of Cincinnati 

Cincinnati, OH

About this school

Founded in 1819, UC occupies 476 acres in Cincinnati, Ohio, with additional campuses in Blue Ash and Batavia, Ohio. UC provides more than 46,000 annual enrollees with a 16-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Full-time students can complete UC's 30-credit, online master of education in special education in one year. Core classes cover topics like foundations, trends, and issues in special education leadership and education research. Students can focus the curriculum on autism spectrum disorders, exploring applied behavior analysis and advanced assistive technology, or they can specialize in behavioral disorders, learning how to promote positive behaviors and teach students with behavior disorders.

Additional areas of concentration include transition to work and an individualized advanced studies curriculum. The transition to work specialization includes classes in assessment and planning for learning environments and advanced assistive technology.

During the final year of the program, all learners complete a master's project seminar, which includes evidence-based research, critical self-reflection, and an extensive literature review.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Application materials include a statement of academic and professional goals, a resume, three letters of recommendation, and GRE scores.

Graduation Rate
68%
Percent Receiving Loans
52%
10

George Mason University 

Fairfax, VA

About this school

Initially a branch of the University of Virginia, Mason became an independent institution in 1972. Mason serves over 22,000 students through over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs every year.

The online master's degree in special education at Mason requires 30-33 credits of core and specialization coursework. Learners explore topics like fundamentals of special education, computer applications for special populations, special education research, and universal design for learning.

Students can earn a certificate in autism spectrum disorders or applied behavior analysis as part of the curriculum. The 15-credit autism spectrum disorders emphasis prepares students to work with individuals with autism. Students pursuing the applied behavior analysis certificate take 18 credits of additional coursework, which qualifies them to sit for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board examination.

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit a resume, two professional references, and a statement of purpose.

Graduation Rate
70%
Percent Receiving Loans
44%
11

Indiana University-Bloomington 

Bloomington, IN

About this school

The flagship institution in the Indiana University System, IU offers more than 550 academic programs through 16 degree-granting colleges and schools. IU's online master of science in education in special education includes 36 credits of major, emphasis area, and capstone coursework.

Core classes cover the assessment and remediation skills needed to work with individuals with mild disabilities while exploring classroom management, behavior support, and collaboration and service delivery. Throughout the program, learners take part in ongoing field experience activities, working closely with mentors. Working teachers may use their current classrooms as practicum sites.

Students choose from 12-credit specializations in autism spectrum disorders, behavior disorders, early childhood education, and instructional strategies. All learners culminate the degree with a capstone research project or thesis.

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA and submit transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and a personal statement for consideration.

Graduation Rate
78%
Percent Receiving Loans
53%
12

The University of Alabama 

Tuscaloosa, AL

About this school

Founded in 1831, UA enrolls more than 38,000 students annually through over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs. The online master of arts in special education enhances the competencies of practicing teachers, preparing learners to serve students with exceptionalities.

The 36-credit program includes coursework in diagnosis and assessment of exceptional children and youth, advanced behavior management for special educators, and teacher consultant models in special education. Learners also explore creative problem-solving, computer-based instructional technologies, and research methods in secondary education.

During a practicum, students demonstrate teaching abilities while working with students with severe, profound, or multiple disabilities in special and general education classrooms.

Applicants need active teaching credentials and an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Application materials include three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and GRE scores.

Graduation Rate
72%
Percent Receiving Loans
35%
13

University of Houston 

Houston, TX

About this school

Established in 1927, UH offers more than 250 undergraduate and graduate programs. The online master of education in special populations requires 30-42 credits of coursework. Core classes include education and learning science, introduction to educational and psychological measurement, and working with individuals with disabilities.

The program offers four concentrations: special education, educational diagnostics, gifted and talented learners, and special education leadership. Each specialization leads to a corresponding certificate. The gifted and talented concentration focuses on behavioral and instructional interventions, problems in educating gifted and talented students, and creative problem-solving.

The special education concentration emphasizes technology in special education, behavioral and instructional interventions, collaborative consultation and coaching, and research-based instruction.

The special education leadership specialization explores law and policy for school leaders, leadership and equity, and principalship. Learners studying educational diagnostics complete coursework in assessment of learning disabilities, data-based individualization, and evidence-based decisions.

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree and submit three letters of recommendation, a statement of intent, a resume, and GRE scores. Candidates with a minimum 3.0 GPA receive a GRE waiver.

Graduation Rate
59%
Percent Receiving Loans
43%
14

North Carolina State University at Raleigh 

Raleigh, NC

About this school

NC State was established as an agricultural school in 1887 and is now a key institution within North Carolina's Research Triangle. NC State hosts 35,000 students through more than 300 undergraduate and graduate programs every year.

NC State offers two graduate degrees in special education. The online master of education in special education -- designed for individuals with valid teaching credentials -- integrates 30 credits of core and specialization coursework, while the online master of arts in teaching in special education includes 33 credits and prepares students for initial teaching licensure in North Carolina.

The online master of education degree includes 18 credits of required coursework in resource room teaching, applied behavior analysis, and educational diagnosis and prescription. Two seminars in special education accompany a required internship.

Master of arts in teaching students complete core classes on topics like exploring diversity in the classroom and community, inquiry and professional development, and organization and behavioral management in inclusive classrooms. They also complete two internship requirements.

Applicants to both programs must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit transcripts.

Graduation Rate
81%
Percent Receiving Loans
39%
15

Auburn University 

Auburn, AL

About this school

Initially a Methodist college for men, Auburn opened its doors in 1859. After transitioning to a state-owned agricultural and mechanical institution in 1872, Auburn expanded to house 13 academic colleges and schools, through which nearly 30,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate programs annually.

Learners can earn a master's in collaborative teacher special education from Auburn. This special education program prepares degree-seekers to work with elementary and secondary students with disabilities. Students can choose from two tracks: traditional and alternative.

The traditional program is designed for practicing teachers and comprises 33 credits of courses like assessment, teaching methods, and behavior management in special education. Students also choose from specializations in leadership or learning strategies.

The alternative track is designed for individuals without a valid teaching license. It examines topics like teaching methods in special education, rehabilitation assistive technology, curriculum development for individuals with disabilities, and collaboration in education, accompanied by a clinical residency.

All applicants need an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA. Applicants to the traditional program must submit a copy of valid teaching credentials.

Graduation Rate
78%
Percent Receiving Loans
47%
16

Miami University-Oxford 

Oxford, OH

About this school

Based in Oxford, Ohio, MU also hosts learners on additional campuses throughout the state and online. Founded in 1809, MU offers nearly 200 undergraduate and graduate programs to over 17,000 enrollees each year.

The hybrid special education master's degree at MU integrates on-campus weekend sessions with asynchronous online content. Learners can complete one of three degree tracks: initial teaching certification, additional certification, or no certification.

The master of education in special education with initial teaching certification includes 49 credits of coursework. Core classes cover behavioral interventions, teaching methods for students with mild or moderate disabilities, and literacy and assistive technology. The curriculum also includes a clinical literacy seminar and a field experience requirement.

Licensed teachers can complete the 37-credit additional certification in special education in 18 months. Core classes cover teaching methods, consultation, and collaboration. Students also complete a clinical literacy seminar and a field experience requirement. Individuals who seek a master's degree in special education without credentialing complete 30 credits of core and research coursework.

Each option prepares students to design and implement special education services for K-12 students with mild to moderate disabilities.

Graduation Rate
80%
Percent Receiving Loans
32%
17

University of Nebraska-Lincoln 

Lincoln, NE

About this school

Chartered in 1869, UNL is the oldest and largest institution within the University of Nebraska System. UNL occupies three campuses in Lincoln, Nebraska, offering academic programs to nearly 26,000 students annually.

UNL offers online special education master of arts and master of education in early childhood education degrees. Both programs prepare learners to work with young children -- up to age five -- who have special needs. The degrees emphasize family, community, and educational interventions and services.

The core curricula for both degrees include courses in educational research, assessment techniques for diverse learners, behavior management, and reading and writing disabilities. Elective classes allow students to explore topics such as infants with disabilities, preschool children with disabilities in the classroom, and specialized instruction for students with severe and multiple disabilities.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must also submit transcripts, GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Graduation Rate
69%
Percent Receiving Loans
38%
18

Washington State University 

Pullman, WA

About this school

WSU provides nearly 200 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs to over 20,000 students worldwide every year. WSU's online master of education in special education enhances the knowledge and skills of practicing educators.

The 37-credit program includes classes in teaching students with disabilities, education for exceptional children, and professional skills in special education. The program also emphasizes research methods and the social foundations of education, with classes spanning special education in early childhood through secondary education transitions.

Directed-study options include a special project and a thesis. Non-thesis students carry out a personal inquiry project in conjunction with a faculty member and produce a literature review related to an educational question or concept. Thesis students explore researchable hypotheses through defined methodologies, relaying the results in a written format.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree and one year of professional teaching experience, substitute teaching experience, or experience working with adults with disabilities in agency services or employment services settings.

Graduation Rate
59%
Percent Receiving Loans
46%
19

Drexel University 

Philadelphia, PA

About this school

Drexel, named for its benefactor Anthony J. Drexel, opened its doors in 1891. Established as an institute of art, science, and industry, Drexel continues to provide academic programs that embrace innovation and excellence today. Home to 15 colleges and schools, Drexel enrolls more than 24,000 students annually.

The online master of science in special education at Drexel trains learners to improve educational outcomes for exceptional students. The 45-credit degree includes coursework in emotional and behavioral support for individuals with disabilities, teaching individuals with high- and low-incidence disabilities, and integrating technology for learning and achievement.

Learners can choose to add a concentration in special education leadership; autism spectrum disorder; collaborative special education law and process; multisensory reading instruction; or social, emotional, and behavioral wellness.

Candidates need a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Application materials include two letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and transcripts from all previous college coursework.

Graduation Rate
74%
Percent Receiving Loans
44%
20

University of Maine 

Orono, ME

About this school

UMaine, the flagship institution of the University of Maine System, began offering educational programs in 1865. Today, UMaine operates 16 cooperative extension offices and five research field stations throughout the state.

UMaine's online master of education in special education emphasizes evidence-based strategies for working with children aged five and younger with special needs. The program allows degree-seekers to concentrate their studies in high-incidence disabilities, low-incidence disabilities, early intervention, or dual high- and low-incidence disabilities. The dual concentration includes 45 credits of coursework, while the others comprise 36 credits.

The high-incidence disabilities program explores core topics like behavior management and intervention, assessment and intervention in special education, and program planning and curriculum access. The low-incidence disabilities master's degree includes comparable core requirements with an added focus on autism spectrum disorders and working with students with severe disabilities.

The dual high- and low-incidence special education master's degree teaches learners how to work with students with mild, moderate, and severe learning, emotional, and behavioral disorders. The early intervention degree trains individuals in assessment and program planning. All of the degree tracks include graduate projects and practicums.

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit transcripts, a personal essay, a resume, and letters of recommendation.

Graduation Rate
60%
Percent Receiving Loans
61%
21

University of Arkansas 

Fayetteville, AR

About this school

Established in 1871, U of A offers its nearly 28,000 annual enrollees a 19-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Students can choose from over 200 academic programs, including a 36-credit, online master of education in special education.

Required classes include teaching literacy skills to students with disabilities, inclusive practices for diverse populations, and professional and family partnerships. The online master's degree in special education also includes research classes in measurement and experimental design, statistics in education, and curriculum development and instructional planning. In addition to coursework, students complete a practicum.

Degree-seekers without a current teaching license can take additional courses to apply for initial licensure in special education, while those with teaching credentials can earn a special education endorsement. Students can also complete endorsements in dyslexia therapy, educational examination, and educational resource room supervision. U of A also offers a graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorders.

To apply, learners need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Additional application materials include three letters of reference and Praxis scores.

Graduation Rate
66%
Percent Receiving Loans
66%
22

Kent State University at Kent 

Kent, OH

About this school

Established as a teaching college in 1910, KSU hosts nearly 29,000 students through more than 300 undergraduate and graduate programs every year. The fully online special education master's degree includes classes in research applications in special education, legal and policy foundations of special education, and issues in special education.

Students can tailor the degree to their interests through multidisciplinary electives on topics like ethics in professional practice, consulting in the helping professions, statistics in educational services, and program evaluation. Learners also choose from thesis and non-thesis tracks.

Non-thesis students take 18 credits of general special education classes, building concentrations that meet their professional goals. Potential classes include early intervention in natural environments, advanced interventions for addressing severe behavior, curriculum and instruction in early childhood service, and mental aspects of lifespan disabilities. Individuals pursuing the thesis track take courses in research in educational services, research methods, and thesis research.

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit GRE scores, a goal or personal statement, and up to five letters of recommendation.

Graduation Rate
60%
Percent Receiving Loans
42%
23

West Virginia University 

Morgantown, WV

About this school

Founded in 1867, WVU houses 14 academic schools and colleges and enrolls nearly 27,000 students annually. The school's online master of arts in special education includes certification options like special education grades K-6 or 5-adult. Learners can also pursue the program without a certification component.

Required coursework for all students includes legal and educational foundations of special education, academic interventions for special needs, classroom and behavior management, and technology applications for special needs. Students culminate the degree with a practicum or project. Students seeking teaching licensure also complete an advanced student teaching requirement in multicategorical special education.

Students can tailor the 36-credit program to their interests through electives on topics like autism spectrum disorder characteristics and interventions, transition planning and programs for students with disabilities, and differentiating instruction for English language learners with disabilities.

Full-time students can graduate in 18 months. Applicants must hold a regionally accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit scores from the Praxis core, GRE, or MAT examinations.

Graduation Rate
60%
Percent Receiving Loans
66%
24

University of North Texas 

Denton, TX

About this school

The flagship institution within the University of North Texas System, UNT was founded in 1890. UNT offers more than 200 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs to over 38,000 students each year.

UNT's online master of education in special education with a concentration in autism intervention includes 33 credits of coursework. Students learn to work with individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders in education, healthcare, rehabilitation, and social work settings.

The special education core includes nine credits of classes on topics like collaboration with parents, paraeducators, and professionals; classroom and behavior management strategies for professional learners; special education law; and special education programs and practices. Learners also study behavioral interventions, educational programming, and assessment techniques related to autism spectrum disorder.

The program takes 12-15 months to complete. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit two letters of recommendation, a resume, a personal statement, and GRE scores.

Graduation Rate
53%
Percent Receiving Loans
57%
25

University of Wyoming 

Laramie, WY

About this school

Established in 1886, UW offers nearly 300 academic programs through 10 schools and colleges. This includes its online master of arts in special education, which covers 33-41 credits of coursework.

Designed for practicing teachers, the program includes core classes in teaching students with mild, moderate, severe, and low-incidence disabilities; academic instruction in general education for students with disabilities; and assessment, collaboration, and transition planning. The program builds research skills while introducing learners to special education law and assistive technology.

Degree-seekers participate in two practica during the program. Students culminate the degree with a thesis, topic paper, case study, or product development project. The product development opportunity incorporates the entire research and development cycle, a field test, and final product revision. Potential products include instructional materials, curriculum units, instructional games, and software programs.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit transcripts from previous college coursework, three letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and a current resume for consideration.

Graduation Rate
57%
Percent Receiving Loans
50%
👏

End of list, bravo!

Ranking Methodology
Best Master's

Online Master's in Special Education Degree Program Ranking Guidelines

We selected the following degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Can You Make With a Master's in Special Education?

According to the BLS, special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $61,030 in 2019.

What Is Special Education?

Special education addresses the needs of individuals with learning, physical, emotional, and behavioral disabilities, though it can also involve working with students who are in accelerated programs. By developing individualized plans to best present information for exceptional students, special education incorporates adapted equipment, techniques, and materials into a unique curriculum.

What Is a Master's in Special Education?

A master's degree in special education trains students to meet the needs of exceptional learners. Designed for individuals with a bachelor's degree, a master's in special education prepares practicing and aspiring teachers to develop and administer content in safe, supportive classroom settings.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Special Education?

Learners can earn a master's in special education in two years, although some accelerated programs may allow students to graduate in 12-18 months.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Special Education Teacher?

The time it takes to become a special education teacher varies by state. All special education teachers need a bachelor's degree, which is usually a four-year commitment. A master's degree in special education and student-teaching requirements may add another two years to the timeline.

Choosing an Online Master's in Special Education Program

When choosing an online master's degree in special education, prospective students should consider factors like cost, transfer policies, and school type. We cover several important considerations for learners below.

  • Program Cost: Tuition for an online master's degree in special education varies by institution. Some online programs offer the same tuition rate for in-state and out-of-state enrollees, while others offer tuition discounts for in-state students.
  • Transfer Policies: Prospective students with prior relevant experience should explore whether an institution awards academic credit for prior learning, military training, or professional experience. Attending schools with generous transfer policies can save students time and money on a degree.
  • School Size and Type: The size of an institution can influence the number of students in online classes, the amount of personalized attention each learner gets from instructors, and the overall experience. Public colleges and universities typically offer larger class sizes but more degree options than private institutions.
  • Program Length: Most master's degrees take two years of full-time study to complete, but some programs offer accelerated timelines that allow students to graduate in 12-18 months.
  • On-Campus Requirements: Some online programs have on-campus requirements. Students should ensure they can meet these requirements before committing to a program.
  • Thesis, Fellowship, and Work Requirements: An online master's in special education program may include a thesis, internship, or teaching requirement, each with unique time commitments. Students should choose a program with requirements aligned with their interests and goals.

What Is Special Education?

Special education coordinates the delivery of instruction for learners with mild, moderate, and severe learning, physical, behavioral, and emotional disabilities. As part of the public education system, special education finds its way to learners through individualized education plans (IEP). Special education teachers work with counselors, administrators, students, and parents to identify the best services, techniques, and content for individuals with disabilities. They monitor IEPs throughout the school year, keeping detailed records about student progress.

Special education requires patience, communication skills, and adaptability.

Special education teachers work with students of all ages, often focusing on one type of disability. Individuals with hearing and visual impairment, speech and language difficulty, autism spectrum disorders, and mood or emotional disturbances all work with special education teachers. Special education may take place in an inclusive classroom or in a modified environment.

Special education requires patience, communication skills, and adaptability. By offering individuals a curriculum that corresponds to their learning needs, special education provides opportunities for all students to meet their full potentials.

What Is a Master's Degree in Special Education?

A master's degree in special education equips students with the tools needed to instruct individuals with special needs. Learners study theoretical and practical foundations of teaching while learning how to create meaningful experiences for students with disabilities.

Many master's in special education programs cater to practicing teachers. These degrees often require a teaching certificate to enroll. However, some programs only require a bachelor's degree, allowing students to begin a teaching career.

Students cultivate research, critical thinking, and communication skills as they learn how to develop modified lesson plans. Online special education master's degrees include classes on disability law, emotional and behavioral disorders, and human growth and development.

Curriculum for an Online Master's in Special Education

Online master's degrees in special education typically emphasize curriculum design, adaptive instruction, behavioral management, and teaching strategies. Online special education master's programs may also allow students to earn specialized credentials in areas like autism spectrum disorders and applied behavior analysis. The following sections cover common courses and credentials found in these programs, but prospective students should note that offerings vary by program.

  • Applied Behavior Analysis: This course introduces students to applied behavior analysis theories, concepts, and principles. Students learn how to assess, intervene, and evaluate special education students. They also learn to measure and analyze behavior, develop methods to reduce negative behaviors, and improve positive behaviors in educational and social settings.
  • Addressing Emotional and Social Needs: This course examines the strategies, techniques, and outcomes that pertain to addressing emotional and social needs. Coursework builds communication and listening skills, teaches gratitude and mindfulness practices, and trains students to foster character development among their pupils.
  • Classroom Management: Classroom management courses examine theoretical and practical approaches to building efficient, effective, and nurturing learning environments. Master's degree students learn techniques for motivating and engaging learners, discipline models for handling misbehavior, and how to establish and communicate expectations, creating a positive classroom setting.
  • Characteristics of Exceptional Learners: This course focuses on how to meet the needs of students with special needs. Learners explore the capabilities and expectations of exceptional learners, building skills that can be used to assist students with behavioral, learning, physical, and social challenges. Classes may integrate a field experience that allows students to observe and work with exceptional learners.

Special Education Certifications and Licenses

Licensure requirements vary by state, but most states require special education teachers to hold a bachelor's degree and relevant teaching experience. Candidates also typically need to pass a background check and licensure examinations. For specific requirements, students should inquire with their state's department or bureau of education.

Some states require educators to take Praxis tests to assess academic skills and subject-specific knowledge. Similarly, the edTPA provides performance-based, subject-specific assessment for future teachers. Experienced educators can also complete examinations offered through the National Board to earn specialized certifications.

Teachers can often transfer their licenses from one state to the next, but requirements can differ significantly by location. Some teachers may need to complete additional requirements before earning full reciprocity to teach in a new state.

Special Education Careers

An online master's degree in special education prepares students for careers in early, elementary, and secondary education. Learners gain the knowledge and competencies needed to work in specialized roles across the educational spectrum.

A special education graduate degree enhances students' understanding of instructional design, teaching strategies, and curriculum development. An advanced degree in education also builds leadership and managerial skills applicable to administrative positions in the field. With a master's degree, individuals can earn additional certifications in education or continue to a doctoral program.

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers work with exceptional learners at public and private schools. Becoming a public school special education teacher requires state licensure, requisite educational credentials, and experience in the classroom.

Special education teachers work closely with administrators, counselors, students, and parents to identify plans for educational success. By adapting lessons to match individual student needs, special education teachers help exceptional learners reach their full potential.

Patience, strong communication skills, and adaptability serve special education teachers well. With resourcefulness, the ability to think creatively, and analytical strength, special education teachers can thrive.

Median Annual Salary

$59,780

Job Outlook (2018-2028)

3%

Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators oversee the development and implementation of curricula within departments, schools, and districts. They may focus on specific grades or subject areas. Instructional coordinators reinforce teaching standards among educators, keeping abreast of instructional trends, technologies, and regulations.

Most instructional coordinators started as teachers. A teaching background gives instructional coordinators an understanding of student, classroom, and teacher needs, allowing them to provide resources and guidance to enhance educational environments. Instructional coordinators provide training, observe teachers, review classroom performance, and make program changes as needed.

Median Annual Salary

$64,450

Job Outlook (2018-2028)

6%

School Principals

School principals work in elementary, middle, and secondary school settings. They supervise instruction, daily activities, and personnel. School administrators like principals ensure efficient, safe school operation while also evaluating teachers and staff, managing budgets, and implementing educational standards.

School principals coordinate with fellow administrators within a school district, often reporting to a school board and a superintendent. They also engage with the community, meet with parents, and serve as liaisons between administrative and instructional personnel.

Communication and critical-thinking skills allow school principals to lead effectively. By collaborating with students, teachers, and staff, school principals help build healthy educational cultures.

Median Annual Salary

$95,310

Job Outlook (2018-2028)

4%

Accreditation for Online Master's in Special Education Degree Programs

Colleges and universities in the United States may hold national or regional accreditation, which are awarded by the overseeing agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. Regional accreditation typically applies to nonprofit, degree-granting institutions, while national accreditation applies to for-profit technical and vocational schools. Regional accreditation is generally considered the more prestigious of the two.

When choosing an online master's degree in special education, learners should take accreditation into consideration for several reasons. First, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from regionally accredited institutions. Additionally, many employers prefer to hire candidates with an accredited degree.

Programs within a school may also receive accreditation. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation awards programmatic accreditation for education programs leading to licensure, certification, or endorsement.

law, emotional and behavioral disorders, and human growth and development.

Special Education Professional Organizations

Professional organizations for special education teachers provide opportunities for collaboration, networking, and cooperation through discussion forums and conferences. These organizations also offer resources like job boards, mentorship programs, and continuing education programs.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

Dedicated to ensuring children and adolescents with special needs receive access to the best education possible, NASET promotes professional excellence and innovation in special education. Members can access benefits like professional development programs, continuing education courses, professional discounts, career center resources, and association newsletters.

Learning Disabilities Association of America

Made up of academic researchers, clinicians, and scientists, ASB promotes the field of biomechanics. The organization was founded in 1977 and hosts annual conferences, grants awards, and offers a teaching repository with educational resources. Students and professionals alike can access the society's database of grants and career resources.

Council for Exceptional Children

CEC unites educators who seek to advance success among children with exceptionalities. CEC emphasizes integrity, inclusiveness, and visionary thinking through advocacy, standard implementation, and professional development. Members can access publication discounts, mentorship opportunities, networking resources, and professional development programs.

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