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.
|#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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The UTRGV master of education in special education is for certified teachers interested in preparing for additional special certification credentials. The program offers effective teaching methods to meet the needs of the growing special education student population.
Studies include special education legal foundations, applied behavior analysis, special education assessments, and inclusive settings research.
Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution (3.0 minimum GPA), official transcripts, a personal statement, a resume detailing educational work experience, and two recommendation letters. Applicants must also demonstrate special education knowledge.
The 36-credit master of education in special education offered through U of A ensures candidates gain knowledge to teach students with disabilities.
The program is comprised of courses like inclusive practices, teaching students with autism, research, and family partnerships, among others. The program offers two paths: One for those who have current teaching licenses, and the other for those who need teaching licenses (offered through the Arkansas Department of Education).
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum GPA of 3.0, three reference letters, a statement of purpose, and a resume. Also required are a Praxis Core Exam, GRE, or equivalent.
The UWG master of arts, special education leads to Georgia educational certification; students must complete a year-long internship program.
Students select from two tracks. General curriculum prepares candidates to teach students with mild disabilities, while the adapted curriculum track prepares educators for students with moderate to severe disabilities. Classes include special education requirements and regulations, and classroom behavior management.
Applicants must submit official transcripts from regionally or nationally accredited institutions (2.7 minimum GPA required). Also required is a passing Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) Program Admission Test.
MC's master of education in special education program targets licensed educators who wish to add mild/moderate special education (K-12) to existing educator licenses.
Course requirements for the 30-credit degree include research methods, curriculum development, characteristics of students with mild/moderate learning problems, and special education organizational procedures.
Submission requirements include a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 2.5 GPA, and a teaching license in elementary, secondary or K-12 subject area, and appropriate test scores.
MSU's master of arts, special education helps K-12 educators become experts in educating students with disabilities. Candidates engage in clinical projects and practicums, allowing them to reflect on teaching practices.
The 30-credit program classes include behavior management in the inclusive classroom, literacy instruction for students with mild disabilities, content-area instruction, and assessments. Students select study emphases in learning disabilities, or autism spectrum disorders, and may participate in practicums and internships.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and teaching certificate/license, work experience, a resume, three recommendation letters, and official transcripts from previous schools.
The master of education in exceptional children and youth (special education) program offered through UD develops professional educators interested in working with children, youth, and adults with disabilities.
The 33-credit degree offers two concentrations: elementary special education and secondary special education. Required courses for both concentrations include life transitions and disability, assistive technology, behavior change and positive behavior support, and special education collaborative teaching.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, transcripts, three recommendation letters, a resume, and essay.
UNT's master of education in special education (with a concentration in educational diagnostics) trains candidates to assess and diagnose special learning needs of disabled students through standardized and curriculum-based assessments. Graduates quality for employment as educational diagnosticians.
Courses focus on parent and professional collaboration, behavior management strategies, and educational research. Educational diagnostician areas include statistics, assessments, and practicums.
Admission requirements include a teaching certificate, professional resume, two recommendation letters, and a personal statement. GRE scores may be waived if applicant's undergraduate GPA is at least 3.25.
The UNC Charlotte master of education in special education and child development, with a concentration in special education, teaches professionals who hold an initial professional educator's license in special education.
Coursework focuses on creativity theory and development, gifted student instruction methods, and adapting curriculum materials. A capstone project allows students to demonstrate research skills and competencies.
Admission requirements for the 33-credit degree include a bachelor's degree and educator's license. Submission materials include official transcripts showing a 3.0 minimum GPA, GRE or MAT test scores, three recommendations, and an essay.
The SEMO master of arts in exceptional child education provides instruction for general classroom teachers on working with special education students.
The curriculum includes educational assessment, research, communication interventions, language acquisition, and a practicum. The program offers emphasis areas: mild/moderate cross-categorial, autism, and early childhood special education.
Applicants must have a valid teaching certificate or qualifying state content exam score, and a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75.
The master of science in education in special education degree offered by IU provides research and teaching methods to address high-incidence disabilities in the classroom.
Required classes in the 36-credit program include collaboration and service delivery, action research, assessment and remediation, and families, school, and society. Students also pursue individualized tracks in autism, behavior specialists, early childhood instructional strategies, or intense interventions; a capstone project/thesis, and field experience complete the degree.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree (minimum 2.7 GPA), and submit official transcripts, a personal statement, and two recommendation letters.
The MSU master of science in special education degree prepares educational practitioners to help improve student achievements in academics and behaviors.
The program consists of core classes (including a capstone thesis), and a program emphasis area in deaf/hard of hearing education, specific learning disabilities, early childhood education, or special education strategist. Additional classes include assessments and educational leadership.
Applicants must submit transcripts, a statement of purpose, resume, and recommendations. S bachelor's degree in special education, education, or related field with at least a 2.75 GPA is also required.
The master of education in special education degree at DU offers an emphasis on evidenced-based practices specific to supporting children and youth who exhibit diverse learning needs. The 33-credit degree targets certified educators.
The program consists of core courses (introduction to educational research, behavioral analysis and intervention, and a capstone seminar), and elective classes (reading instruction improvement, gifted and talented education survey and literacy instruction).
Applicants must have a teaching license, and an undergraduate degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA. Other admission requirements include a personal essay, and admission interview.
UND's master of science in special education targets current teachers or those interested in applied behavior analysis (ABA) certification. The program emphasizes scholarly application for practitioners, allowing candidates to continue their education, and pursue a doctor of education.
Course subjects cover inclusive methods, ethical and professional conduct for behavior analysis, and assessment and behavior change systems. Students may also customize their degrees from specializations including early childhood education, learning disabilities, or autism spectrum disorder.
Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree in education with a cumulative 2.75 GPA. Additional submission materials include official transcripts, three recommendations, and an essay.
The Roberts master of education, special education, builds on candidates' pedagogical expertise, allowing them to become specialized teachers for students with diverse learning needs.
Course requirements include collaboration, reading in content areas, advanced assessments, and behavioral programming for students with challenging needs. Students may select from certification tracks and special education extensions, as well.
Applicants must demonstrate proof of teacher certification, and an undergraduate degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Other required admission materials include a resume, writing sample, two recommendations, and GRE/MAT, or NYS certification exam scores.
The master of art in special education degree offered through Ball State prepares candidates to serve children and adults with disabilities. The program is recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children.
The 30-credit degree includes classes such as introduction to disability services in the post-secondary setting, introduction to emotional and behavioral disorders, and introduction to deaf education. Students may also focus on specializations including mild interventions and early childhood special education.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, with a minimum GPA of 2.75. Official transcripts must also be submitted.
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
According to the BLS, special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $61,030 in 2019.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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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.
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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.
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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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