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Preparing to Teach Special Education

An online master's in special education prepares learners for various special education careers. Graduates often work as special education teachers. These educators work with students experiencing mental, physical, and emotional disabilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for these teachers to grow 8% from 2020-2030.

Students interested in earning a master's in special education first need a bachelor's degree. Learners do not need an education-related bachelor's. However, students with an unrelated bachelor's may need to complete prerequisite courses.

This page lists the top online master's in special education programs. Read on to learn about common classes and special education careers.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Special Education

What can I do with a master's in special education?

Graduates may work as teachers with students in preK-12. They may also work as diagnosticians or adjunct professors.

Can I earn a master's in special education online?

Many schools offer master's in special education programs online. However, learners may need to complete in-person practicums.

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

Full-time enrollees can earn a master's in special education in two years. Accelerated programs allow students to graduate sooner.

Featured Online Special Education Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Why Get a Degree in Special Education?

Earning a master's in special education helps graduates pursue rewarding careers. E ducators with a master's degree also earn more than professionals with a bachelor's degree. Teachers with a master's in special education earn an average annual salary of $56,000, according to Dec. 2021 Payscale data. Teachers with a bachelor's in special education earn $54,000.

Pursuing a special education degree online offers flexibility and affordability. Online learners can often watch pre-recorded lectures and complete assignments at their convenience. Many schools charge reduced tuition for online programs.

How Much Does a Special Education Degree Cost?

Special education degree costs vary by school. In general, public schools charge less than private universities. Students pursuing master's degrees at public schools spend an average of $54,500, according to EducationData.org. Learners attending private schools spend $81,100.

Students earning a master's in special education online save on commuting and parking costs. They can complete classes from anywhere with an internet connection. Online learners also do not pay for campus housing or meal plans.

Additional Online Student Fees

In addition to tuition, online students should budget for other expenses. They may need to buy a new computer or software. Some schools charge graduation fees. Others charge fees to access virtual classroom platforms.

Online students must also buy books and class materials. Buying used or digital textbooks can save students money. Learners can also save money by renting books. Reselling books at the end of the semester can help students recoup some of the costs.

How Much Do Special Education Majors Make?

Salaries for special education graduates vary by job title and employer. Special education teachers earn a median annual salary of $61,500, according to the BLS. Instructional coordinators earn $66,970. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to grow 10% from 2020-2030.

Professionals' location also impacts salary. For example, special education teachers in New York earn a mean annual wage of $92,650. These professionals in Utah, North Carolina, and Ohio earn less.

Courses in Special Education

Learners develop hard and soft skills during master's in special education programs. Enrollees learn how to observe students and identify unmet needs. They also learn how to use assistive software and tools.

Online master's in special education programs require 30-40 credits. Learners with a teaching license rarely need to complete student teaching hours. However, some online programs include in-person components.

See below for three common courses in special education master's programs. Keep in mind that class titles and descriptions vary by school.

  • Creating an Individualized Education Program

    This class focuses on the components of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Students learn how special education teachers play a role in creating IEPs. The course also covers the importance of IEPs and how they help students with unique needs.
  • Types of Disabilities

    Enrollees study common physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. The class also covers the legal definitions of these diagnoses. Part of the curriculum covers students' legal rights. Degree-seekers learn effective teaching strategies for corresponding needs.
  • Assistive Technology

    Learners study how to use additional tools to help special education students. They practice using tools like alternative keyboards and personal listening systems. The course also covers software like speech-recognition programs and screen readers.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers first need an accredited bachelor's degree in any subject. Bachelor's degree-holders can pursue a teaching license and begin teaching. These educators may pursue a master's degree part time.

All educators must complete student teaching or a practicum. Most students with an undergraduate education degree have fulfilled student teaching requirements. Some states allow alternative routes to teacher certification. These options may not require student teaching. Aspiring educators should check with their state's licensing board for specific requirements.

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Licensure for Teachers

Licensure requirements vary by state. Colleges and universities usually offer teacher certification programs. These schools tailor the curriculum to meet specific state regulations. Candidates must pass a background check.

Bachelor's degree-holders may seek alternative certification programs. For example, aspiring Missouri teachers without an undergraduate degree in education can begin teaching without a formal certificate. While they teach, they must simultaneously complete 30 semester hours. They may also demonstrate competence by taking the American Board of Certification for Teacher Excellence certification exam.

Many states with similar licensure requirements participate in reciprocity agreements. Eight states offer full reciprocity agreements. This means educators do not need to meet any extra requirements to transfer their licenses between participating states. Other states limit licensing barriers by featuring few requirements.

Top Online Master's in Special Education Programs 2022

true University of Florida $635.46 per credit hour 14 Online MA in Special Education

The University of Florida, at Gainesville, offers Teach Well, a fully online graduate program for practicing teachers under its special education master’s degrees. Teach Well is especially designed to prepare teachers to serve students with special needs in an inclusive setting. It is a 36 credit hour program and all students are required to complete the Teach Well Core, which comprises of 12 credit hours. For the remaining 24 credit hours they can choose from tracks like Early Childhood Studies, General, Autism Focus, Disabilities in Society and Education and Health Care Transition.

These additional 24 credits can be taken through a specific track or in any combination. All Teach Well Online Academy courses are hosted under the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS). The Teach Well program is designed to suit part-time students who can earn their master’s in 2 years by taking two courses every fall, spring, and summer semesters. Application for admission includes GRE scores and for International Applicants, it also requires acceptable scores in TOEFL, MELAB, or IETS

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true North Carolina State University - Raleigh $452.88 per credit hour 13 Online MA in Special Education

North Carolina State University at Raleigh with its special education program prepares students for instructional and pedagogical skills. Core course topics such as teaching, curriculum development, conducting classroom action research, behavior management and interpreting assessment helps students advocate for children and families with diverse learning backgrounds and needs.

The North Carolina State M.Ed. degree in special education has great flexibility as the courses are delivered in person, online, hybrid and through Distance Education. Mostly students complete the 30 credit hours requirement by being full time students in about 1.5 years while it takes a little longer for part-time students. For admission, the school requires a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate study excellent recommendations from others (e.g., educators and employment supervisors) who have worked with the candidate.

This course is not only intended for people who currently possess a valid teaching license but also suited for students who want to pursue deep knowledge in special education but do not want to obtain a teaching license.

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true University of Arkansas $470 per credit hour 13 Online MA in Special Education

U of A Online Fayetteville offers M.Ed. in Special Education programs to prepare teachers with a current license to work with students with disabilities. This 100% online course is delivered via the Internet, allowing students an opportunity to pursue their educational goals, which fits with their schedules of time and place. For their practicum students will need to attend the designated school.

The online M.Ed. in Special Education can have one of several focus areas, like the program in special education for those seeking advanced learning in special education without pursuing an additional license. The second is designed to meet the coursework requirements of an additional license program in Special Education Instructional Specialist (Grades K-12). The third focus is designed to meet the coursework requirements of a Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The fourth focus is designed for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) which, can lead to pursuing the Board Certification in Behavior Analysis. The fifth focus is on an endorsement for dyslexia therapy. The program prepares the teacher as Instructional Specialist in Special Education for grades K-12.

Application for admission requires cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher and a standardized core knowledge test, which could include the GRE, the ACT, or core PRAXIS. Most students complete the 36 credit hour requirements in two years by being full-time students.

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true Texas A&M University $945.00 per credit hour 12 Online MA in Special Education

The Texas A&M online master’s in special education best serves current educators, as well as related professionals such as counselors, clinicians, and therapists. The program lasts approximately two years, and requires 36 credit hours of coursework spread across 12 courses.

Prospective students need not have a teaching certificate or clinical experience, though Texas A&M does prefer students have some background in working with students with special needs before entering the program. The ideal student is interested in either pursuing a special education career or continuing their graduate-level training in the field after graduating from the master’s degree program.

Texas A&M University works with the Quality Matters program, a leader in online quality assurance, to ensure that its online offerings provide the same high quality as its on-campus programs. The Quality Matters program encourages regular evaluation of the school’s courses and recommends changes to ensure students receive excellent educations.

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true Drexel University $949 per credit hour 12 Online MA in Special Education

The accredited online Master of Science in Special Education program equips teaching professionals with the fundamental skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to meet the needs of students with disabilities in multiple settings. The program is a flexible and convenient part-time graduate program that gives current teachers a comprehensive understanding of developing the potential of students with disabilities.

Drexel University offers its students high-quality one-of-a-kind Dual MS in Special Education and Applied Behavior Analysis program. This course is devoted to training students in the science of human behavior and special education to better serve the diverse needs of students who require special attention both in academic and life skills.

The dual course enables learners to develop tools and practices, which are applicable in various special needs settings. This program is divided into four 10-week quarters per year that enables students to take more courses in a shorter time period. Each semester credit is equivalent to 1.5quarter credits. Application for admission includes a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

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University of Washington $927 per credit hour 12 Online MA in Special Education

The University of Washington’s applied behavior analysis program prepares professionals to work with those with developmental disabilities. Applied behavior analysis uses psychological principles regarding behavior to encourage and improve behavior.

The full master’s degree program lasts two years. The first year covers the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) Verified Course Sequence, while the second brings students up to a sufficient credit total for a master’s degree in special education. After the first half of the program, students can sit for the BAC Exam and earn the Board Certified Behavior Analyst designation.

This program requires a practicum component for certification purposes. Students can use the University of Washington supervision option, but can also request to use a current workplace as a practicum site if it meets practicum requirements. A practicum must include at least 25 hours per week of work, and meet additional requirements regarding observation and video recording.

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Ball State University $410 per credit hour; Non-residents – $616 per credit hour 11 Online MA in Special Education

Ball State University, at Muncie, Indiana offers online Masters in Special Education to those who want to add special education to their existing license. Students can choose from nine focus areas and make any one as their focus unit of study. Students can in a variety of ways design their own program of study and choose one of five specializations including graduate-level certificates in applied behavior analysis, autism, response to intervention, emotional and behavioral disorders, or disabilities for post-secondary settings with an emphasis in autism.

Distance learners also avail the benefits of subject tutoring, writing center assistance, library services, and around-the-clock technology support. Ball State offers admission in the fall, spring, and summer semesters and application for admission requires cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 but no GRE.

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Mississippi College $365 per credit hour 11 Online MA in Special Education

Mississippi College’s master’s program in special education takes a comprehensive look at the needs of those with learning and developmental disabilities. The curriculum covers these students’ needs starting at preschool and continuing through high school. Graduates can apply for a Mild/Moderate K-12 endorsement on their teaching license as well as receive an upgrade to a Class AA license.

This program requires the completion of 10 courses, for a total of 30 credit hours of study. Each course lasts seven weeks. Courses cover issues like research development in special education, curriculum planning, and the psychology of exceptional children. The program goes over how to develop individualized programs for learners with special needs in great detail, spending two courses on this topic.

Mississippi College recognizes that special educators are busy professionals, and offers rolling admissions with five start dates each year. Prospective students must already be licensed elementary, secondary, or subject area teachers.

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George Washington University $780 per credit hour 11 Online MA in Special Education

George Washington University’s Master’s in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners provides advanced training for current teachers who want to dive even deeper into improving the education of individuals with special needs. Graduates are eligible to receive a K–12 teaching certification as well as an 18-credit graduate certificate.

In this certificate program, you will focus on the inter-relationships of school, home and community to improve the quality of education for children with diverse needs. A holistic approach to the curriculum utilizes the latest research, theory and data-driven best practices to prepare you to empower and improve the quality of learning for children with diverse needs.

The 33-credit online master’s program in special education incorporates a theory-to-practice approach and a teaching internship while focusing on the diverse cultural, linguistic, social, and learning needs of elementary and secondary students. With the goal of staying current with the latest instructional techniques and cutting-edge research methods, this program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and can be finished in just 18 months.

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Brandman University $650 per credit hour 11 Online MA in Special Education

Brandman University accommodates distance learners with a hands-on curriculum and flexible ways to learn. The California-based school offers several special education master’s programs online, including the 30-36 credit master of arts in special education behavior analysis. The program prepares special ed teachers to design behavior interventions, implement behavior change procedures, and evaluate students’ progress.

The curriculum facilitates understanding of the factors that influence behavior and explores strategies for experimental design. Teacher candidates learn how to use evidence-based practices and educational technology to assess behavior and address students’ needs. The program is aligned with standards established by the Council for Exceptional Children. Distance learners may choose a fully online or hybrid format. The program concludes with a capstone experience. To apply, educators must demonstrate at least part-time employment in a field that uses applied behavior analysis. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA, GRE scores, and a valid special education teaching license.

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Featured Online Special Education Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

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