Best Master's in Special Education Online Programs

By Jordan Beliles | Updated 8/15/2022
2020 Best Online Master's in Special Education Badge

The 24 schools on this list are the best value options for obtaining an online master's program in special education based on alumni salaries and low tuition rates. The George Washington University is ranked #1, offering an MA in Education and Human Development in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners for $14,875 per year. Graduates of the school reported a median salary of $91,400. At #2, Purdue University has a median reported salary of $89,200 for alumni and an annual tuition rate of $11,200 for its MS in Education in Special Education.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 The George Washington University $14,875 $91,400
# 2 #2 Purdue University - Main Campus $11,200 $89,200
# 3 #3 Mercy College $21,528 $89,000
# 4 #4 California State University - Fullerton $13,374 $80,100
# 5 #5 Western Governors University $7,080 $76,900
# 6 #6 Hofstra University $22,368 $80,100
# 7 #7 Portland State University $9,982 $73,300
# 8 #8 National University $10,166 $73,200
# 9 #9 Central Michigan University $12,740 $69,000
# 10 #10 University of South Florida Online $13,131 $67,300
# 11 #11 University of Houston $14,771 $67,000
# 12 #12 University of Virginia $8,115 $63,900
# 13 #13 University of Memphis $10,455 $64,700
# 14 #14 University of Louisville $8,595 $63,600
# 15 #15 Ball State University $9,765 $63,900
# 16 #16 Arizona State University $8,512 $63,100
# 17 #17 University of North Texas $18,219 $66,900
# 18 #18 University of St. Thomas $9,900 $63,000
# 19 #19 Lesley University $11,050 $62,800
# 20 #20 Indiana University - Bloomington $9,273 $61,000
# 21 #21 Xavier University $11,400 $60,500
# 22 #22 Liberty University $9,960 $59,800
# 23 #23 University of Florida $9,457 $59,200
# 24 #24 Stephen F. Austin State University $6,060 $57,000
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering Special Education Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 The George Washington University

  • Annual Tuition: $14,875
  • Median Salary: $91,400
  • Locations: Washington D.C.
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Two concentrations are available for online students in The George Washington University’s (GWU) Master of Arts in Education and Human Development program: the 36-credit interdisciplinary secondary transition services option or the 33-credit special education for culturally and linguistically diverse learners option. Hosted through GWU’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, these options focus on coursework that trains students in classroom-inclusion strategies for children with disabilities. Both programs include an internship component for hands-on experience in the classroom.

#2 Purdue University - Main Campus

  • Annual Tuition: $11,200
  • Median Salary: $89,200
  • Locations: West Lafayette (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Purdue Global, the virtual learning platform through Purdue University’s Main Campus, provides interested students in the special education field with two online graduate degree options: a Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction (Gifted, Creative, and Talented Studies) or the Master of Science in Education in Special Education. The latter includes licensure concentrations in mild and intense behaviors. Online graduate students have the opportunity to complete professional portfolios with the help of faculty members and submit recordings of their personal teaching experience in the classroom. Applicants should be current or former teachers.

#3 Mercy College

  • Annual Tuition: $21,528
  • Median Salary: $89,000
  • Locations: Dobbs Ferry (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Mercy College, a private institution in New York, hosts hundreds of online courses and over 30 degree and certificate programs. Individuals interested in working in the field of special education may consider the Master of Science in Teaching Students with Disabilities, focusing on birth through sixth grade and early childhood. Completing the 48-credit online program qualifies students for classroom teaching positions in preschool and kindergarten up to sixth grade. Successful graduates must complete a capstone requirement. Options for the final project include a student-teaching experience or a seminar in teaching. Students have the chance to study autism spectrum disorders, assessment techniques, and classroom-inclusion methods.

#4 California State University - Fullerton

  • Annual Tuition: $13,374
  • Median Salary: $80,100
  • Locations: Fullerton (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Students pursuing an online Master of Science in Special Education from California State University-Fullerton have a range of specialization options from which to choose: collaborative-consultation, early childhood special education, mild/moderate disabilities, and moderate/severe disabilities. Furthermore, students may select a thesis option or a comprehensive project option to meet degree completion requirements. Housed in the College of Education, the master’s degree requires 30 units, no matter the chosen concentration. The curriculum includes a study into current issues and trends in special education, assessment techniques, and the culminating experience (either a thesis or final project).

#5 Western Governors University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,080
  • Median Salary: $76,900
  • Locations: Salt Lake City (UT)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Western Governors University (WGU) is a nonprofit institution that specializes in online degree programs. Individuals interested in gaining advanced knowledge and skills in working with students with disabilities may consider WGU’s Master of Science in Special Education (K-12). The majority of accepted students complete their master’s degree in two years. The curriculum is entirely online, but 240 hours of supervised teaching hours are required for degree completion. Coursework includes working with students with mild to moderate disabilities, developing individualized education plans (IEPs), and current research in the field.

#6 Hofstra University

  • Annual Tuition: $22,368
  • Median Salary: $80,100
  • Locations: Hempstead (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Hofstra University offers a 31-credit Master of Science in Education - Special Education: International Perspectives that is 100% online. The program is designed for special education specialists around the world. Students can rapidly complete an advanced degree by taking four 7-week courses per semester. The curriculum consists of 16 semester hours of inclusive education courses, 12 hours of disability-focused courses, and a three-semester hour research course. Students study subjects such as assessment and diagnosis, teaching diverse learners, early intervention, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and current issues in special education. All courses are taught from an international perspective. Students learn innovative approaches to special education, but the program is not a pathway to special education certification in New York. The degree is better suited for those currently assisting students with disabilities in their own organization, community, or country. The asynchronous format of online classes offers convenience and flexibility. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 minimum GPA, completed application, two recommendation letters, personal statement of intent, and English proficiency scores, if applicable. Student success is enhanced through access to Hofstra’s extensive online library reserves, career services, academic support services, and 24/7 technical support.

#7 Portland State University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,982
  • Median Salary: $73,300
  • Locations: Portland (OR)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Portland State University offers a 45-credit Master of Arts in Early Childhood: Inclusive Education and Instruction with a specialization in Early Childhood Special Education that students can complete in two years. Newly admitted students may start at the beginning of every term. Students take 18 credits in research-intensive core courses, nine relevant elective credits, and 18 credits in their area of chosen specialization learning how to effectively teach children from birth through age 8. Also offered is a 64-credit MA/MS in Early Intervention Special Education (EISE) that takes two years to finish. This teacher training program starts in the summer. Graduates can pursue an advanced degree along with an EISE license. Students learn instructional methods for teaching students with special needs and apply theory to practice in student teaching. Asynchronous classes are flexible and convenient. Prospective students submit an online application and official transcripts for consideration. Mentoring, one-on-one time with instructors and personalized supervision are built into the program. Faculty have won national awards for their contributions to the field of special education.

#8 National University

  • Annual Tuition: $10,166
  • Median Salary: $73,200
  • Locations: La Jolla (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

National University offers master’s in special education online programs for working professionals. Degree options include the Master of Arts in Special Education and a Master of Science in Special Education limited to California. Also offered for those employed in Nevada is a Master of Science in Special Education with Nevada Licensure and Endorsement for Generalist Resource Room. These programs are appropriate for special education specialists and teachers licensed in those states. The purpose of the degree is to help students deepen their knowledge of special education and hone their instructional skills. Courses cover approaches to inclusive instruction, accommodations, assistive technologies, research methodologies, and more. Asynchronous four-week classes are flexible. Admission standards include completion of a bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 2.5 or satisfactory scores on the GRE, GMAT, or MAT. Prospective students who meet admission criteria can submit an online application and official transcripts. Provisional admission may be offered to students who fall just below the criteria. Experienced faculty with excellent credentials offer advising, support, and encouragement to online students from admission to graduation.

#9 Central Michigan University

  • Annual Tuition: $12,740
  • Median Salary: $69,000
  • Locations: Mount Pleasant (MI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Central Michigan University has a 39-credit Master of Arts in Special Education with the option of an endorsement in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Specific Learning Disability. The post-baccalaureate programs are geared toward Michigan educators seeking expertise as a teacher or consultant in special education. Admission to the program is conditioned upon possession of a current Michigan Teaching Certificate or an endorsement in special education. Admitted students work with an advisor to develop a plan of study that includes classes related to special education issues and trends, behavioral interventions, curricular planning, research, assessment, and program improvement. In addition to 18 credit hours of core courses, students complete 21-credit hours in the Autism Spectrum Disorder concentration. Courses are taught in an asynchronous format via Blackboard, a learning management system that supports online education. Prospective students who qualify for admission should submit an online application, official transcripts, two reference letters, and a 500- to 700-word statement of purpose. Graduate exam test scores such as the GRE are not required. Students can access support services through the CMU Online Learning Resource Center, and the Online Ally peer mentoring program.

#10 University of South Florida Online

  • Annual Tuition: $13,131
  • Median Salary: $67,300
  • Locations: Tampa (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of South Florida - Main Campus offers a Master of Arts in Exceptional Student Education with concentrations in Learning Disabilities, Behavior Disorders, Exceptional Student Education, and Intellectual Disabilities. This online degree does not lead to initial teacher certification. Another option is the Master of Arts in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Severe Intellectual Disabilities. Online special education degrees are geared toward those who already have a background in special education but seek deeper knowledge and advanced skills. Common core curricular requirements include courses such as advanced psychoeducational assessment, instructional methods for exceptional populations, motivation of at-risk students, and practicum experience. Students also study theories and practices specific to their concentration. Readily accessible asynchronous courses via the Canvas learning platform are designed for flexibility to allow students to work full-time while earning an advanced degree. Admission requirements include an earned bachelor’s degree, minimum 3.0 GPA or equivalent indicator of academic potential, letter of intent, recent recommendation letter or evaluation, and a completed graduate school application. USF supports online learners by providing access to tech support, library resources, and the Academic Success Center.

#11 University of Houston

  • Annual Tuition: $14,771
  • Median Salary: $67,000
  • Locations: Houston (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Houston offers a Master of Education in Special Populations - Special Education degree for those interested in assisting individuals with disabilities. Full-time students can finish the degree in one to two years. Students learn to assess and meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. The program also teaches students how to use assistive technology and foster positive learning environments. The curriculum includes foundation courses in educational instruction and content courses in special education. Students pursuing a degree must pass a comprehensive exam. Courses are accessible 24/7 via Courseware or Blackboard. Flexible course delivery helps students work full-time and go to school. Admission to the program requires evidence of scholarly potential such as a GPA of 3.0 or higher, writing ability, and good grades in statistics. Faculty and staff support students throughout the program. Students in the program can tap University resources such as online library databases for research projects and 24/7 tech support.

#12 University of Virginia

  • Annual Tuition: $8,115
  • Median Salary: $63,900
  • Locations: Charlottesville (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Virginia offers a 30-credit Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Special Education. Full-time students can complete the program in two semesters and one summer. Part-time students finish in five years. This online special education degree consists of 15 credit hours of core curriculum and instruction courses, and 15 credit hours in the special education concentration. Core courses focus on four pillars: instruction, curriculum, assessment, and diversity. Special education courses teach students about exceptional learners, adapted instructional methods, and IEPs. Students must also pass comprehensive examinations to earn a degree. Interactive, flexible online classes are delivered via the Canvas Learning Management System. Admission requirements include a completed bachelor’s degree, two recommendations, resume, official transcripts, statement of goals, and GRE or equivalent measure of academic preparedness. The degree provides an overview of non-traditional curriculum and instruction for licensed teachers and trainers in government agencies and the military. The degree does not directly lead to licensure. Faculty are knowledgeable in practices of curriculum design and delivery.

#13 University of Memphis

  • Annual Tuition: $10,455
  • Median Salary: $64,700
  • Locations: Memphis (TN)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Memphis Global offers a Master of Arts in Teaching Special Education geared toward those interested in working with children with mild developmental delays or learning disabilities. This online degree leads to initial Special Education certification – modified license. The curriculum focuses on early childhood development, testing and measurement, educational foundations, adaptive teaching methods, classroom management, and full participation of exceptional students. Courses are asynchronous and accessible 24/7 so students can work full-time while pursuing an online special education degree. Prospective students may seek admission by submitting an online application, recommendation letter, and formal transcripts verifying an earned bachelor’s degree. Enrolled students may ask for help with registration, career planning, technology support, and advising by reaching out to their faculty advisor or UM Global Student Services. Online students can schedule a telephone appointment with Career Services as they near graduation for tips on resume writing, finding job opportunities, and interviewing for jobs in the expanding special education field.

#14 University of Louisville

  • Annual Tuition: $8,595
  • Median Salary: $63,600
  • Locations: Louisville (KY)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Louisville offers several options for those seeking an advanced degree in the field of special education. A Master of Arts in Teaching in Special Education is offered for those interested in Moderate and Severe Disabilities P–12 Alternative Certification. The Master of Education in Special Education degree includes optional concentrations in Moderate and Severe Disabilities. The Master of Education in Teaching Leadership can be customized for specialization in Special Education Assistive Technology, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Applied Behavior Analysis, and Special Education Enhance Content Emphasis. The online special education degrees are for those planning to teach students with disabilities in Kentucky. Classes are generally taught in an asynchronous format for the convenience of working professionals who may only have time to study on weekends and evenings. Formal admission to the program requires an earned bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA, satisfactory scores on the GRE or PRAXIS, teaching resume, three recommendation letters, signed professional code of ethics, successful interview with program faculty, and a short personal essay. Students are mentored by supportive faculty who bring real-world experience to the subjects they teach.

#15 Ball State University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,765
  • Median Salary: $63,900
  • Locations: Muncie (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Ball State University hosts 15 diverse online special education degrees for educators seeking advanced practice in special education. Many programs can be completed in two years or less. The 30-credit Master of Arts in Special Education is highly customizable by adding a certificate or license. Examples include the MA in SPED with an Autism Certificate or a Mild Interventions Teaching License. Other options for earning a master’s degree in business and/or business marketing education with a special education emphasis. The Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis includes an Autism concentration. Successful completion of the program leads to a graduate degree and graduate certification. Designed for working adults, the program offers asynchronous classes with 24/7 access that students can work on as their schedule permits. Admission requirements may vary by program. Minimally, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 2.75 or higher. Those seeking an add-on teaching license should develop a plan of study with the Office of Teacher Education Services and Clinical Practice. Student success is promoted through online academic advising, peer mentoring, technical support, and online courses that meet national Quality Matter standards.

#16 Arizona State University

  • Annual Tuition: $8,512
  • Median Salary: $63,100
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Arizona State University offers a 30-credit Master of Arts in Special Education with concentrations in Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Classes last 7.5 weeks, which allows students to quickly complete the ten classes required for a master’s degree. The purpose of these online special education degrees is to prepare students to assess and address the needs of diverse learners. Core courses focus on educational foundations, ethics, behavioral interventions, measurements, and evidence-based practices. Supervised practicums and field placement with direct contact hours are also required. The program culminates in a capstone project or similar applied research project. Asynchronous courses are designed for flexible and convenient access. Admission requirements include an earned bachelor’s degree, minimum GPA of 3.0, and two or more years of teaching experience. Arizona State has a flexible transfer policy that can save students time and money by awarding credit toward degree completion. ASU provides a range of student services for online learners such as career services, study abroad, online tutoring, military assistance, and success center.

#17 University of North Texas

  • Annual Tuition: $18,219
  • Median Salary: $66,900
  • Locations: Denton (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of North Texas offers a 33-credit Master of Education in Special Education with a concentration in Autism Intervention and Educational Diagnostics. The program is appropriate for teachers, education coordinators, and diagnosticians working in settings such as schools, correctional facilities, and government agencies. Students take six credit hours of core courses, nine credit hours of special education courses, and 18 credit hours in their intended specialization. Courses are taught in an asynchronous format that allows students to engage in-class activities as their schedule allows. Admission to the program requires a personal statement, GRE scores, resume/CV, and two recommendation letters. Applicants interested in the Educational Diagnostics concentration must also have a valid teaching license and at least two years of classroom experience. Nationally recognized faculty are leaders in the field with knowledge of emerging trends. UNT offers a wide range of student services accessible to online learners such as professional development workshops, writing support, help with statistical analysis, digital library collections, career services, and money management assistance.

#18 University of St. Thomas

  • Annual Tuition: $9,900
  • Median Salary: $63,000
  • Locations: Saint Paul (MN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of St. Thomas offers a Master of Arts in Special Education with license and non-license options. Online special education degrees are geared toward teachers at all stages of their careers. Acquiring special education licensure or graduate degree supports professional development and can enhance career mobility. Degree requirements at UST differ depending on how long a teacher has been in the classroom. For example, a new teacher seeking both a master’s degree and a special education license in Learning Disabilities must complete 46–50 credits; whereas, a current teacher completes 30 credits. Classes in special education cover subjects such as equity and inclusion, behavioral interventions, assessment and evaluation, and professional practice. Classes are taught in asynchronous and synchronous formats to give students the experience of a virtual classroom with live discussions, guest speakers, videos, and 24/7 access to course content. Prospective students must submit an online application, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts indicating an earned bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Support for online learners includes academic coaching and advising.

#19 Lesley University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,050
  • Median Salary: $62,800
  • Locations: Cambridge (MA)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Lesley University offers a Master of Education in Individually Designed Program for Educators. With the help of an advisor, students build a plan of study leading to a master’s degree and optional specialization, endorsement, or add-on license. Students earn a master’s degree by completing nine online or face-to-face elective courses and two required action-research courses. Students can also add a graduate certification that will be noted on the transcript. For example, a student could design a Master of Education in Special Education with a graduate certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Certificate requirements include hands-on experience and coursework on topics such as ASD advocacy, behavior, and lifespan transitions. Online classes at Lesley offer students the flexibility to study when convenient while staying connecting with peers through discussion boards and chats. Admission requirements include a completed application, valid teaching license, official transcripts, personal statement, and two letters of recommendation. This program does not require GRE scores. Online classes are taught by experienced faculty who foster an online community.

#20 Indiana University - Bloomington

  • Annual Tuition: $9,273
  • Median Salary: $61,000
  • Locations: Bloomington (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Indiana University – Bloomington offers a 36-credit Master of Science in Education - Special Education. The curriculum consists of 20 credits in the major, 12 credits in an area of emphases (such as autism or behavior disorders), and a 4-credit capstone project or thesis. Students study subjects such as assessment and remediation, behavioral supports, classroom management, and action research. Before starting the program, students must complete a 3-credit prerequisite that introduces students to graduate studies in special education. Online courses are flexible and accessible 24/7 via the easy-to-use Canvas learning management system. Admission to the program requires a completed application, a bachelor’s degree with a 2.75 GPA, GRE scores, personal goal statement, official transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Online classes at Indiana University adhere to the national Quality Matters (QM) framework for excellence in distance education. Like students on campus, online learners can access many resources such as academic advising, career information, orientation, onboarding, financial planning, writing support, and math tutoring.

#21 Xavier University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,400
  • Median Salary: $60,500
  • Locations: Cincinnati (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Xavier University offers an online Master’s of Education in Special Education geared toward licensed teachers seeking to instruct students with disabilities. Also provided is an online Master’s of Science in Special Education designed for non-teachers who want to assist individuals with disabilities in social service and healthcare settings. Both online special education degrees require 21 credit hours of core instruction. Students study human development, Montessori philosophy, M/I assessment, mild/moderate assessment, and more. Students pursuing a Master of Education Degree spend nine credit hours researching the history and organization of American education. Those working on a Master’s of Science spend nine credit hours focused on special education research. Courses are offered via Canvas, a learning platform that offers 24/7 access to course content, email, discussion boards, and video conferencing. Tech support is readily available by phone or live chat. Prospective students apply by submitting an online application, transcripts showing completion of a bachelor’s degree, a brief personal statement, and results of the GRE or MAT, unless the applicant meets criteria for a waiver. Neither degree results in licensure. Teacher endorsements require additional classes.

#22 Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,960
  • Median Salary: $59,800
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Liberty University offers a choice of online special education degrees to meet students’ diverse needs. The 36-credit Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, with a specialization in Special Education, is a non-licensure track designed for teachers who are already licensed, or those working in private settings that don’t require a license. The Master of Art in Teaching (MAT) Special Education has a 36- and 45-hour hour track. The longer plan of study is for those who want to pursue another endorsement area, such as secondary teaching in addition to a special education credential. Along with graduate coursework, students must attain hands-on experience working with students who have special needs. Acquiring expertise in special education may lead to career advancement. Short eight-week courses with flexible scheduling make it possible for students to complete an online special education degree in 18 months. Prospective students must submit an online application and official transcripts verifying an earned undergraduate degree. Admitted students have access to online tutoring, library resources, and the academic advising team throughout the program.

#23 University of Florida

  • Annual Tuition: $9,457
  • Median Salary: $59,200
  • Locations: Gainesville (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Florida hosts the Teach Well Online Master’s Program that offers a Master of Education Degree in Special Education. Students must take 12 credits of core cores learning about inclusive classrooms and schools, and 24 credits from the general track, or an area of concentration. Students may customize their online special education degree by adding a concentration in Autism, Disabilities in Society, Dyslexia, or Early Childhood Studies. All online courses are taught via the Canvas Learning Management System. Websites and tutorials are available to help online learners enjoy the features supported by Canvas, such as flexible 24/7 access to course content and discussion groups. Prospective students apply to the Online Teach Well Academy by submitting a graduate school application, resume, official transcripts, and three letters of recommendation. Each student in the master's in special education online program works with an advisor to develop an individualized plan of study that aligns with professional career goals, such as an Autism Endorsement or Graduate Certificate in Dyslexia to complement the MEd.

#24 Stephen F. Austin State University

  • Annual Tuition: $6,060
  • Median Salary: $57,000
  • Locations: Nacogdoches (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Stephen F. Austin State University has a 36-credit Master of Education Degree in Special Education, with an optional Educational Diagnostic Certification, that focuses on diagnostics, accommodations, and regulatory compliance. A 36-credit MEd in Special Education (with initial certification) is available for those aspiring to become licensed special education teachers in Texas. Also available is a 36-credit MEd degree in Special Education (without certification) for licensed special education teachers in Texas, and state agency specialists looking to deepen their knowledge of special education. Core courses cover topics such as behavioral analysis, measurement and assessment, assistive technology, and instructional strategies. Classes must meet SFA standards for quality online instruction before being offered to students on Brightspace by D2L. Prospective students must initiate the preadmission process before applying to Research and Graduate Studies. Applicants start by informing the graduate program advisor in special education of their desire to enroll. Instructions are provided for uploading documents in a shared folder for review by program faculty. Admission is based on a review of an online application, transcripts, initial teacher certification, resume, personal statement, and a videotaped introduction.

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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