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2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Special Education

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 12/16/2022
2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Special Education Badge

Children of all ages and adults with learning and developmental disabilities rely on the compassion and skills of qualified instructors to help them succeed in school and beyond. To meet this need, we’ve compiled a list of the best online master’s programs in special education by salary score to help you build advanced skills and satisfy your job goals. While a bachelor’s degree in special education can help you start your career, a master’s degree can take it to the next level. Similarly, you may be interested in exploring an online master’s degree in speech pathology, which would enable you to continue building on the skills gained throughout your undergraduate degree program. 

View our methodology for more details about our list, or learn more about OnlineU.

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Online Special Education Master's Degrees You May Be Interested In

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Special Education

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 St. John's University 99 99 $68,426
# 2 #2 California State University - Fullerton 98 $66,000
# 3 #3 University of Washington - Seattle 97 $65,284
# 4 #4 National University 95 $62,820
# 5 #5 Fordham University 94 $62,173
# 6 #6 Bank Street College of Education 93 $61,952
# 7 #7 Touro College 91 $60,927
# 8 #8 University of Hawaii at Manoa 89 $60,025
# 9 #9 The George Washington University 86 $58,749
# 10 #10 Washington State University 84 $58,369

2023 Online Colleges Offering Master's Degrees

Ranking Details

#1 St. John's University

  • Salary Score: 99
  • Median Starting Salary: $68,426
  • Locations: Queens (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

St. John’s University is a private, nonprofit, Catholic faith-based institution offering an online Master of Science in Education - Teaching Children with Disabilities in Childhood Education (1-6) for students holding current New York State teaching certification. Students must complete 33 semester credit hours and a 150-hour practicum to graduate, which may take two years of full-time attendance.

St. John’s delivers online course content and instruction via the Blackboard learning management system (LMS). Distance learners use Blackboard to participate in classes within the Teaching Children with Disabilities curricula, such as Curriculum Adaptation and Modification Planning for Exceptional Students, Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis and Positive Behavior Supports in K-12, and Educational Assessment of Individuals with Exceptionalities. Students must also pass a comprehensive exam to graduate.

#2 California State University - Fullerton

  • Salary Score: 98
  • Median Starting Salary: $66,000
  • Locations: Fullerton (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University - Fullerton (CSUF) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Special Education. This 21-month program requires completing 30 semester credit hours to graduate. Students generally take two or three courses in each of the four semesters, and there is also a summer session. They can concentrate on Individuals with Mild/Moderate Disabilities or Individuals with Moderate/Severe Disabilities.

CSUF uses Canvas as its chosen LMS for asynchronous and synchronous online curriculum delivery. Distance learners in the special education master’s program enroll in courses such as Positive Behavior Support, Current Trends/Issues in Special Education, Research Methods and Statistics, and Advanced Proficiency in Educational Technologies. Students can also choose to complete a thesis, project, or comprehensive exam.

#3 University of Washington - Seattle

  • Salary Score: 97
  • Median Starting Salary: $65,284
  • Locations: Seattle (WA)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

The University of Washington - Seattle (UW) is a public institution offering an online Master of Education in Special Education - Applied Behavior Analysis. Students complete 45 quarter credit hours to graduate, which takes approximately two years of full-time attendance. Credit hours include completing the coursework requirements to sit for tor the Board Certified Behavior Analysts exam. Classes are sequential and require starting the program at the beginning of the school year.

UW distance learners in this program participate synchronously in classes via Canvas. Classes are scheduled late in the afternoons to accommodate most schedules. Students participate in courses such as History and Philosophy of ABA, Designing Comprehensive Behavioral Interventions, Behavior Analysts in Schools, and Supervision in ABA. Completing a comprehensive exam and practicum is also required.

#4 National University

  • Salary Score: 95
  • Median Starting Salary: $62,820
  • Locations: La Jolla (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

National University (NU) is a private, nonprofit institution offering an online Master of Arts in Education - Special Education with accelerated four-week courses enabling students to start at any time throughout the year. Graduating in this emphasis area requires completing 45 quarter credit hours, which may take full-time students less than two years.

NU delivers online coursework and instruction via the Brightspace LMS. Students in the special education program can choose from classes such as Effective Classroom and Behavior Management, Assessment and Intervention, Transition/Community Resources, and Collaborative Partners. They must also complete experiential learning and a research project to graduate. However, some may be eligible to choose a guided study option instead.

#5 Fordham University

  • Salary Score: 94
  • Median Starting Salary: $62,173
  • Locations: Bronx (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Fordham University is a private, nonprofit, Catholic faith-based institution offering an online Master of Science in Teaching - Childhood Special Education for those seeking initial teaching certification for grades 1-6. Students must complete 45 quarter credit hours to graduate, which takes a little over two years of full-time attendance. Those interested in teaching younger children may opt for Fordham’s online Master of Science in Teaching - Early Childhood Special Education.

Fordham provides distance learners with Blackboard so they can complete coursework 100% online. Courses in the childhood special education program include Children’s Literature In a Multicultural Society, Literacy Across The Curriculum In Inclusive Classrooms, and Integrating Technology Into Elementary Education. To graduate, students must also take Reflective Practice and Field Experience In an Inclusive Childhood Classroom.

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Overview of a Master’s in Special Education

An online master's in special education is a graduate-level program, which covers the delicate and increasingly important skill of educating young students with disabilities. During this degree program, you'll learn about the nature of various physical and emotional disabilities, along with the techniques used to teach these students in a classroom environment. You'll also design coursework based on the ethical standards of special ed teaching and take a deeper look at various support methodologies.

You can enroll in a master's in special education online program if you have already completed a bachelor's degree in teaching, psychology, or a similar field. Some programs may require you to have practical teaching experience and, therefore, a teaching license. Once accepted, it will likely take one to two years to graduate, as most programs require a master's thesis, project, or final exam before awarding a degree.

Can You Get an Online Master’s Degree in Special Education?

Yes, you can earn an online master's special education degree from a remote environment. The coursework for online programs will take place using a learning management system (LMS), such as Blackboard or Canvas.

Special education master's programs online often include practicums or in-person experiences, which require you to go into the field and work directly with special ed students.

In some cases, you'll be able to take courses at your own pace, while working on the side. Online programs are especially beneficial for teaching degrees because many employers will ask that you have practical experience before joining the workforce. Furthermore, special education master's programs online often include practicums or in-person experiences, which require you to go into the field and work directly with special ed students. These field-based internships allow you to work under the tutelage of an experienced teacher.


As you begin to apply for school and prepare for your entrance exam, it's important to consider accreditation. This is the process by which schools are vetted to meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Education or other regional accreditation organizations.

All of OnlineU's program recommendations include accredited online schools.

Are Online Degrees Valid?

It's also important to note that online degrees are respected. Modern-day hiring managers generally don't look at online degrees as less legitimate than on-campus programs. In fact, most degrees won't even mention that the courses were taken online.

Common Courses in a Special Education Master's Program

A master's in this field generally includes either mild or intensive intervention courses. This designation relates to the severity of the disabilities you'll be studying.

Intensive intervention courses mean you'll be working with smaller groups of students, sometimes in a one-on-one scenario, where you'll create customized curricula to meet the needs of students with significant cognitive disabilities. These courses may also include learning how to operate special tools and machines that are required for the student's well-being.

Mild intervention courses teach methods and practices for larger groups of students, who generally have less debilitating symptoms related to emotion or communication.

Below are some of the core courses you'll come across in your studies:

Literacy Curricula for Learners with Exceptionalities

This course looks at the different ways classroom lessons and materials can be adjusted to meet the needs of students with disabilities. It will also explore specialty literacy programs for students with communication issues.

Applied Behavior Analysis in School Settings

Behavior intervention is an important aspect of classroom teaching for students with disabilities. This course teaches you how to motivate and reinforce positive learning techniques in students with behavioral complications.

Family and Interprofessional Collaboration in Special Education

As a special education teacher, you'll not only work with students but also their families and fellow professionals in the field. This course teaches you the skills needed to effectively and appropriately communicate with these individuals by focusing on the students' best interests.

Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues Across the Lifespan

This course takes a historical and modern look at teaching students with exceptionalities, alongside the foundations of their education and the latest research in the field. You'll also explore the ethical guidelines surrounding special education.

Transition Education and Services

Transition services are crucial for disabled students who have ambitions of seeking education opportunities into adulthood. Here you'll look at the resources, strategies, and techniques used to guide them into postsecondary and adult education.

Furthermore, practicums are often required to complete special education online programs. These will include in-person field learning, which most often takes place in an actual classroom with students who have a range of disabilities.

What Can You Do With a Special Education Master's?

There are options for graduates of an online masters degree in special education that go beyond becoming a teacher. The coursework helps prepare students to work with young people in various settings, even outside of the classroom. For example, you may find work in government agencies that handle child services or administrative work for larger institutes.

Below are some typical career paths you can achieve with a master's in special education; however, it's important to note that most of these roles don't require a master's degree to get started.

Special Education Teachers

Annual Median Salary:  $61,820
Job Growth Rate: 8%

Special education teachers are licensed educators that specifically work with students with disabilities. This role works primarily with young students ranging from preschool to high school where they design curriculum based on their emotional and behavioral exceptionalities. They earn an average salary of $61,820 and can expect an 8% job growth into 2030.

Adult Basic and Secondary Education Teachers

Annual Median Salary:  $59,720
Job Growth Rate: -5%

These educators work with adults attending postsecondary institutions, helping them to learn English as a second language or achieve their high school equivalency diplomas and GEDs. Adult basic and secondary education teachers are in decline for the next decade and professionals can expect to earn a salary much in line with average occupation salaries across the board.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Annual Median Salary:  $96,910
Job Growth Rate: 8%

Postsecondary education administrators work in colleges and universities where they oversee all micro and macro operations related to student services, faculty research, and academics. They earn a higher salary than special education teachers, however they are responsible for all students attending their school. This role typically requires a master's degree in education.

Special Education Curriculum Specialists

Annual Median Salary:  $63,740
Job Growth Rate: 10%

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes this role under "instructional coordinators." A coordinator's responsibilities are to oversee the curricula and teaching standards that concern students with disabilities, and this can be at elementary or secondary schools. They not only work with teachers but also the principal to ensure that their educational materials and methods are effective. Typically, these specialists need a state-issued license in addition to a master's.

Certification and Licensure

If you plan to teach at a school, college, or university, you will be required to obtain a teaching license. Furthermore, special education teachers may require an additional license allowing them to work with children with disabilities and special needs. Some states, such as Indiana, allow you to add a special education license to your existing teaching license by taking a short 18-credit program from a local university.

Many universities that offer special education master's degrees include licensure within their track. You can complete mild or intense intervention courses in order to teach students with these specific calibers of exceptionalities.

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Online Students

College degrees — especially those at the graduate level — can be very expensive. Applying for financial aid and student loans can help remove the pressure of paying for your degree upfront and allow you to enter a program that might normally be out of reach financially.

Additionally, scholarships are particularly beneficial because students don't have to repay them, and this free money is generally awarded based on academic achievements.

The Bishop Greco Scholarship, for example, is specifically offered to graduate students who are pursuing a career in special education. Applicants must also be members, or related to members, of the Knights of Columbus.

The Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity Scholarship Program is another option. Eligible students must be currently working in childcare while studying at least part-time for a relevant degree at an approved institution.

Is a Master's Degree in Special Education Worth It?

Earning a master's degree is an expensive commitment but one that will allow you to meet the demands of the education market. As of 2018, 49.2% of public school teachers hold a master's degree — making the field even more competitive at higher levels. Above all else, you'll be making a tangible difference in the lives of young students while earning the respect of your peers.

Let's take a look some pros and cons of earning a master's degree in special education:

Potential Benefits

Earning a master's degree in education will put you in line with a growing number of qualified candidates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), public school teachers with a post-baccalaureate degree rose by 11% from 2000 to 2018.

Master's degree holders in education earn a higher salary than bachelor's degree holders. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that education administrators with a master's degree earn $23,000 more per year than those with a bachelor's in the previous decade.

You'll learn leadership skills that you can apply inside the classroom and beyond. These attributes will help you gain employment in upper-level positions as directors or administrators.

Potential Drawbacks

Your salary is largely dependent on your years of experience. According to the NCES, teachers with a master's degree and 5 years of experience make $53,970. Compare this to those with a master's degree and 20 years of experience, who earn a salary of $77,630.

Most teaching roles do not require a master's degree. Hiring managers in education are generally more concerned with practical experience and years spent working within special education classrooms.

Special education teachers may experience burnout. Teaching young students with disabilities can be quite challenging, as you must learn to navigate each individual's emotional and physical needs.

FAQs About a Special Education Master's

Is a Masters in Education the Same as a Masters in Teaching?

A master's degree in education takes a more general look at education as a whole, including education policy, leadership skills for administrators, as well as curriculum and instruction design. A master's in teaching narrows in on the subjects you'll teach as well as the classroom management techniques, methodologies, and styles.

So, is an MA in special education equal to an MEd? In a way, yes. They are both graduate-level programs, and a master's in education can include a special education concentration.

How Many Years Is a Master’s Degree in Education?

In general, master's programs take about two years to complete. Some degrees can be earned in a shorter period of time through accelerated programs or courses; however, this may leave less time for you to work while you study. As mentioned above, gaining real work experience is especially important when it comes to obtaining a position in special education teaching.

What Is the Abbreviation for Masters in Special Education?

The appropriate abbreviation for a master's in special education is MEd in Special Ed. This is the designation you'll use on your resume when applying for jobs or after you sign your name on relevant documents. This distinguishes you as a person who has dedicated a significant portion of their life to learning how to teach students with a disability.

Bottom Line

This specialized degree can set you apart from other candidates. By earning a master's degree in special education, you become a more qualified candidate when entering the job market and rise to the level of the nearly 50% of public school teachers in the U.S. who hold master's degrees.

In general, teachers aren't required to hold a graduate degree. But, teaching students with exceptionalities is a delicate responsibility that requires a great deal of understanding, which a master's degree can help nourish.

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