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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 2021
#1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
#2 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX
#3 University of South Florida-Main Campus Tampa, FL
#4 Pennsylvania State University-World Campus University Park, PA
#5 Florida International University Miami, FL
#6 University of Houston Houston, TX
#7 Clemson University Clemson, SC
#8 Georgia Southern University Statesboro, GA
#9 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
#10 University of North Alabama Florence, AL

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 Florida

    Gainesville, FL



    UF's 36-credit master of education of special education provides assistance with fostering leadership in teaching special education students. Taught through the university's Teach Well Online Academy, the degree helps in-service teachers boost their special education knowledge and skills, increasing their classroom effectiveness.

    The Teach Well core consists of inclusive classroom design, struggling student strategies, and family/teacher perspectives. Candidates may select special tracks in autism, dyslexia, disabilities, and early childhood studies.

    Admission requirements include official transcripts, a resume, and three recommendation letters

  2. Texas A & M University-College Station

    College Station, TX



    The master's degrees in special education offered through Texas A&M targets candidates with backgrounds in education, behavior, disabilities, or related fields. The 36-credit curriculum for both the master of science and master of education degrees may be completed in two years.

    Classes include applied behavior analysis, special education consultations, school setting assessments, and literacy for students with diverse instructional needs.

    Application materials must include official transcripts, a purpose statement, recommendation letters, and GRE scores.

  3. University of South Florida-Main Campus

    Tampa, FL



    The master of arts in special education, gifted, provides advanced training for certified teachers. This program prepares teachers to work with gifted and talented children, as well as collaborate and/or consult with other teachers.

    Studies for the 36-credit program include nature and needs of the gifted, advanced educational strategies for the gifted, and teacher research for student learning.

    Applicants must hold a teaching position in a K-12 setting, and submit transcripts, a professional teaching certificate, GRE, and written statement of goals.

  4. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus

    University Park, PA



    The 33-credit master of education in special education offered by Penn State World Campus focuses on special education current issues and topics. The degree targets professionals wishing to support students with disabilities.

    Required core classes consist of teaching learners with disabilities in inclusive settings, and special education research. Students select a course with emphases in either academic and behavioral supports, applied behavior analysis, or autism.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a 3.0 minimum GPA. Submission materials include official transcripts, references, a resume, and personal statement.

  5. Florida International University

    Miami, FL



    FIU's master of science in special education provides candidates with skills for effective supervision, and education about cutting-edge, assistive technologies. The degree leads to a Florida Autism Endorsement.

    Classes for the 36-credit degree include core and autism education courses. Core courses include special education seminars, foundations of educational research, and work with families of disabled students.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution (3.0 minimum GPA), and a valid Exceptional Student Education teacher certificate. Submission requirements include teaching certificate, resume, official transcripts, recommendation letters, and purpose statement.

  6. University of Houston

    Houston, TX



    The UH master of education in special populations targets full-time teaching professionals interested in career advancement into leadership positions.

    Studies include special education, educational diagnostician, gifted and talented, and special education leadership focuses. Core courses tackle educational and psychological measurements, as well as working with individuals who have disabilities.

    Applicants interested in the 30-credit degree must submit transcripts from previously attended institutions (minimum 2.6 GPA for undergraduate coursework; 3.0 GPA minimum for graduate classes), recommendation letters, test scores, and a statement of interest.

  7. Clemson University

    Clemson, SC



    The master of education in special education taught by Clemson's faculty helps educators interested in enhancing their knowledge in special education teaching.

    The 24-month program includes research design, applied behavior analysis, and advanced classroom management. Coursework counts toward eligibility to sit for Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) certification exams.

    Applicants must currently work in a formal or informal educational setting, and hold a bachelor's degree or higher in an educational field. Required submission materials include transcripts, GRE or MAT scores, a current resume, recommendation letters, and a personal statement.

  8. Georgia Southern University

    Statesboro, GA



    The master of education in special education at Georgia Southern is designed for candidates with a Professional Level Four Certificate in Special Education, and appropriate certification. The program focuses on developmentally appropriate practices in working with diverse student populations.

    Courses include: introduction to special education, laws and procedures, language development, and classroom management. Candidates must select a concentration in moderate-severe disabilities-adaptive curriculum, or mild disabilities-general curriculum.

    In addition to appropriate certification, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution (cumulative 2.5 GPA), and submit a purpose statement.

  9. The University of Alabama

    Tuscaloosa, AL



    UA's master of arts in special education (gifted and talented certification) places emphasis on gifted and talented students' special nature and needs. It is offered online through the university's 'Bama by Distance' program.

    Studies include exceptional children diagnosis and assessment, creative problem-solving, teaching thinking skills, and special populations; an internship is offered.

    Applicants must hold an Alabama Class B teaching certificate (or equivalent), with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Additional submission materials include official transcripts, three recommendation letters, and purpose statement.

  10. University of North Alabama

    Florence, AL



    UNA's master of arts in education offers collaborative special education instruction focused on K-6 and 6-12 classrooms. The programs prepare candidates to work in special education settings with differently abled students.

    Coursework follows one of two paths; classes include exceptional learning needs (Path I), and dyslexia, and emotional behavioral disorders (Path II).

    Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree in education, and submit official transcripts from degree-granting institutions. Candidates must also satisfy Alabama Class B professional certificate requirements.

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


Job Outlook (2018-2028)


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


Job Outlook (2018-2028)


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


Job Outlook (2018-2028)


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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