Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Amy BoyingtonHolland Webb, MA
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Updated June 26, 2024
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With a master's in special education, you can have a positive effect on the lives of students with disabilities. Discover the top online schools in this guide.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

What Is a Master’s in Special Education?

An online master’s in special education prepares current and future educators to work with students with special needs, including those who require academic, physical, or behavioral support. Some programs only accept licensed teachers, while others provide a pathway toward teaching licensure.

A special education master’s degree may focus on kindergarten through 12th grade or target a specific age range, like kindergarten through second grade or adult learners. Some programs also offer concentrations to align with unique interests, such as mild to moderate disabilities, hearing impairments, or autism spectrum disorders.

Current teachers typically complete master’s in special education programs to build their knowledge of various disabilities. Enrollees learn to assist their students through individualized instruction, collaborate with families and intervention professionals, and create inclusive classrooms.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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Top Online Master’s in Special Education Programs

#1 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Texas A&M University

  • Location-markerCollege Station, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,941
  • Out-of-state$34,190
  • Retention Rate93%
  • Acceptance Rate58%
  • Students Enrolled68,726
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment14%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

The University of South Florida-Main Campus

  • Location-markerTampa, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,559
  • Out-of-state$15,473
  • Retention Rate91%
  • Acceptance Rate48%
  • Students Enrolled44,246
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment55%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Pennsylvania State University World Campus

  • Location-markerUniversity Park, PA
  • 4 year
  • Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$13,484
  • Out-of-state$13,484
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate76%
  • Students Enrolled0
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment0%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Florida International University

  • Location-markerMiami, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,721
  • Out-of-state$16,529
  • Retention Rate89%
  • Acceptance Rate58%
  • Students Enrolled58,711
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment68%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

The University of Houston

  • Location-markerHouston, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$8,219
  • Out-of-state$20,747
  • Retention Rate85%
  • Acceptance Rate65%
  • Students Enrolled46,148
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment43%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Clemson University

  • Location-markerClemson, SC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$14,118
  • Out-of-state$37,110
  • Retention Rate93%
  • Acceptance Rate51%
  • Students Enrolled25,822
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment29%
  • AccreditationYes
#7 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Georgia Southern University

  • Location-markerStatesboro, GA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,371
  • Out-of-state$15,425
  • Retention Rate78%
  • Acceptance Rate54%
  • Students Enrolled26,054
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment41%
  • AccreditationYes
#8 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

The University of Alabama

  • Location-markerTuscaloosa, AL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$10,780
  • Out-of-state$30,250
  • Retention Rate87%
  • Acceptance Rate83%
  • Students Enrolled38,100
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment13%
  • AccreditationYes
#9 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

The University of North Alabama

  • Location-markerFlorence, AL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$9,600
  • Out-of-state$19,200
  • Retention Rate75%
  • Acceptance Rate89%
  • Students Enrolled7,702
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment66%
  • AccreditationYes
#10 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

  • Location-markerEdinburg, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$6,664
  • Out-of-state$16,792
  • Retention Rate76%
  • Acceptance Rate80%
  • Students Enrolled29,113
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment51%
  • AccreditationYes
#11 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

The University of Arkansas

  • Location-markerFayetteville, AR
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,568
  • Out-of-state$24,056
  • Retention Rate84%
  • Acceptance Rate77%
  • Students Enrolled27,559
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment29%
  • AccreditationYes
#12 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

The University of West Georgia

  • Location-markerCarrollton, GA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,371
  • Out-of-state$15,426
  • Retention Rate69%
  • Acceptance Rate59%
  • Students Enrolled13,238
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment63%
  • AccreditationYes
#13 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Mississippi College

  • Location-markerClinton, MS
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$17,550
  • Out-of-state$17,550
  • Retention Rate76%
  • Acceptance Rate42%
  • Students Enrolled4,733
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment56%
  • AccreditationYes
#14 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Michigan State University

  • Location-markerEast Lansing, MI
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$15,555
  • Out-of-state$40,384
  • Retention Rate91%
  • Acceptance Rate71%
  • Students Enrolled49,809
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment26%
  • AccreditationYes
#15 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

  • Location-markerCharlotte, NC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$3,812
  • Out-of-state$17,246
  • Retention Rate83%
  • Acceptance Rate65%
  • Students Enrolled29,615
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment29%
  • AccreditationYes

Choosing the Right 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. Explore several important considerations below.

  • check-circleProgram Cost: Tuition for an online master’s degree in special education varies among institutions. Some programs offer reduced tuition for in-state students, while others provide one rate for all enrollees, regardless of their location.
  • check-circleClass Size: Smaller online classes can increase the personalized attention each learner receives from instructors. Public colleges and universities typically offer larger class sizes than private schools.
  • check-circleProgram Length: Most master’s degrees take two years of full-time study, but some programs offer accelerated timelines, allowing students to graduate earlier. Generous transfer policies for prior learning, training, or work experience can also shorten degree timelines.
  • check-circleIn-Person Requirements: Some online master’s in special education programs have in-person requirements for internships or student teaching, which students should consider before committing.

What to Expect From an Online Master’s in Special Education

Understand Accreditation

Colleges and universities in the United States may voluntarily pursue institutional accreditation, which is awarded by agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education.

Only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions. Additionally, many employers prefer to hire candidates who possess accredited degrees.

Programs within schools may also receive accreditation. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation awards programmatic accreditation for education programs leading to licensure, certification, or endorsement. When searching for the right master’s in special education, always prioritize programs with accreditation.

Explore the Special Education Curriculum

The following list covers common courses, but prospective students should note that offerings vary by program.

  • Applied Behavior Analysis: Students explore ways 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: Coursework builds communication and listening skills, teaches gratitude and mindfulness practices, and trains students to foster character development among their pupils.
  • Classroom Management: Master’s degree students learn techniques for motivating and engaging learners, handling misbehavior, and establishing expectations.
  • Characteristics of Exceptional Learners: Learners explore the capabilities and expectations of exceptional learners, building skills to assist students with behavioral, learning, physical, and social challenges.

Obtain Certifications and Licenses

Licensure requirements vary by state, but most require a special education teacher to hold a bachelor’s degree and relevant teaching experience. Each candidate also typically needs to pass a background check and licensure examinations.

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

Teachers can often transfer their licenses between states, but requirements can differ significantly by jurisdiction. Some teachers may need to complete additional requirements before earning full reciprocity to teach in a new state.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Special Education?

A master’s degree in special education can prepare students for careers inside and outside the classroom. Although many graduates pursue teaching positions, others take on leadership roles in schools or community-based positions to help people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Education Careers and Salaries
JobMedian Annual Salary (2023)
Special Education Teacher$65,910
Instructional Coordinator$74,620
School Counselor or Advisor$61,710
Preschool Director$54,290
Occupational Therapy Assistant$65,450


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Discover 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

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

Learning Disabilities Association of America

LDA assists educators of individuals with learning disabilities by providing resources and access to an active community of like-minded peers. This organization offers guides, webinars, and podcasts informed by up-to-date research in the field. LDA has also created a set of evaluation standards for students with learning disabilities.

Council for Exceptional Children

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

Popular Questions About Master’s in Special Education

What are the benefits of getting an M.Ed. in special education?

An M.Ed. in special education can equip you for a career as a classroom teacher, educational testing specialist, behavioral specialist, or special education instructional coordinator. You may also use your degree to teach pre-service teachers in undergraduate programs or sharpen your skills as a special education consultant.

Which school has the best special education program?

Any institutionally accredited school can offer an excellent special education program that leads to initial licensure or potential advancement in the field. The best program for you depends on your personal and professional goals. Choose a school that can help you meet your objectives according to your budget, timeframe, and learning preferences.

How long does it take to get a master’s in special education?

A master’s in special education usually takes two years to complete, but some schools offer accelerated formats to reduce the time commitment. Additionally, learners who need extra time can look for part-time programs, which can extend the completion time to five years or more.

Is a master’s degree in special education worth it?

Yes — a master’s degree in special education can be worth it for teachers interested in developing their knowledge of various disabilities and instructing students of all abilities. A special education master’s degree can also lead to in-demand careers outside the classroom, like instructional coordinator and school advisor.

How long does it take to become a special education teacher?

The time to become a special education teacher can vary from 1-6 years, depending on a candidate’s experience and education. A special education teacher typically needs to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree to earn state teaching licensure. State-by-state requirements differ, but some require a master’s degree for licensure, adding another 1-2 years.

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