Best Online Master’s in Special Education Programs

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Special education professionals develop and implement special education programs in a variety of settings. Regardless of whether you would rather teach or pursue a career in research, a master’s degree in special education can help you become a leader in the field.

Students trained in special education are prepared to teach, provide therapy and develop programs for students with special needs. Intensive graduate-level courses introduce students to curriculum design, assessment and communication techniques, and classroom management strategies for students with learning and behavioral disabilities. While many professionals in the field hold a bachelor’s degree, most eventually pursue a master’s and a special education certification.

Below, we’ve ranked the best online master’s in special education programs in the country. These schools offer the most comprehensive training programs for prospective special education teachers, curriculum advisors and education-based therapists. As part of our list, we’ve highlighted the academic strengths, learning goals, innovative courses and online classroom experience at these top schools. If you’re interested in a flexible online master’s degree in special education, be sure to take a look at these top programs.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

University of Florida

 2/587.51%Gainesville, FL


In Florida's master's in special education online degree program, students must complete 36 credits. Students can pursue three tracks: a general track, an autism track, and an educational and health care transition track. Regardless of their focus, all students take 12 credits as part of the Teach Well core curriculum. An additional 24 credits will come from their track, although students do have some flexibility in determining their course load. Core classes cover the design of inclusive classrooms, transition services for disabled students, and teaching strategies. Students are expected to complete a final project as well as oral and written exams.

This program is designed primarily for part-time students, and students can graduate in two years by taking two courses per term. Admissions are based on a rolling deadline, and successful applicants are expected to have a GRE score of 147 for both the verbal and quantitative portions.

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Michigan State University

 3/578.86%East Lansing, MI


MSU offers an online master's in special education with endorsements available in learning disabilities or autism spectrum disorders. Students can also pursue a certificate in applied behavioral analysis. Distance learners must complete 30 credits to graduate; endorsements require an additional six credits. The learning disabilities program emphasizes empirical and theoretical approaches to constructing a curriculum and teaching. Courses explore how to assess students, technology and literacy instruction, behavioral management, and classroom policies. Both endorsements require a hands-on practicum where students interact with special-needs children under faculty supervision.

Students normally take two courses per semester, and the program can be completed in two years. Successful applicants are required to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0. They are also encouraged to submit GRE scores as part of their application.

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Texas A&M University

 2/579.34%College Station, TX


Texas A&M's online master's in special education program is a 36-credit offering. Students complete the degree in about two years, and they also graduate with an applied behavior analysis certificate. Introductory courses in this cohort program cover evidence-based consultation and bilingual special education, before moving on to literacy, behavior management, and more. Distance learners also learn to develop support systems for students with challenging behavioral issues, and they'll receive insight on how to help students with disabilities transition from school to work. The curriculum culminates with a research project on student behavior and a final exam.

Special education courses are offered both synchronously and asynchronously in the fall, spring, and summer. The application deadline is February 15th. Forty students are granted admission into the program; five more are waitlisted. Texas A&M also values strong GRE scores and letters of recommendation when assessing applicants.

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Indiana University – Bloomington

 3/577.64%Bloomington, IN


Indiana’s online master's in special education is a comprehensive 36-credit program. Students can pursue one of five available course tracks. These include autism, behavior specialists, early childhood, instructional strategies, and intense interventions. Students can customize their curriculum by combining courses from different tracks. Course content introduces students to research and teaching methods in the field, and prepares graduates to develop inclusive learning environments for children with special needs. Previous experience in the field is required, and students are expected to find a mentor and a practicum site in their first year of study. A capstone or thesis project is required to complete the degree.

This program begins in the fall. Students register and complete courses in a cohort to encourage a collaborative and communal atmosphere. Most students finish this program in two years.

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Ball State University

 2/559.45%Muncie, IN


Ball State's master's in special education online degree program allows students to focus in one of eight subfields, most of which can be completed entirely online. The online-only focuses are:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Autism
  • Director of Special Education/Exceptional Needs
  • Response to Interventions
  • Severe Interventions

The accelerated program can be completed in just 18 months. Students take 16-week courses in the fall and spring and 10-week classes in the summer. Most courses are offered asynchronously, though a handful of classes may require students to adhere to a more rigid schedule. Applicants should have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75; prospective students with a lower GPA may qualify for probationary admission. Application deadlines are April 15th, July 10th, and November 15th for the summer, fall, and spring semesters respectively.

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University of Louisville

 2/553.53%Louisville, KY

Louisville's online master's in special education offers specializations in assistive technology, moderate and severe disabilities, and autism. All three focus areas require students to complete 36 credits to graduate. The moderate and severe disabilities emphasis is available only to students with a teaching certificate. The remaining focus tracks do not require prior certification, and students will not receive any licensure for completing the program. All three focus tracks do require students to take some residential courses, though at least 80% of classes are available exclusively online.

Online courses are offered synchronously through webcam from 4:30 to 7 PM Eastern on select weekdays. Successful applicants will have an undergraduate GPA exceeding 2.75, two letters of recommendation, and a combined pre-2011 GRE score of at least 800. Up to six credits may be transferred from an accredited institution pending faculty approval.

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Florida State University

 2/579.13%Tallahassee, FL

FSU's online master's in special education requires students to complete at least 11 classes. Distance learners are required to observe, assess, and develop intervention programs for students with disabilities. They work closely with faculty members to learn collaborative, empirical methods for analyzing and educating students. Regardless of specialization, students must take 21 credits on general special education subjects. The remaining courses will cover one of the five specializations that students can pursue. These include:

  • Autism
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Severe Disabilities
  • Transition
  • Literacy and Response to Intervention/Differentiated Instruction/High Incidence Disabilities

Most coursework can be accessed asynchronously, though some activities will require coordinated participation. Applicants must have graduated with a 3.0 GPA or better. As part of their application, they should also submit two letters of recommendation and have a cumulative GRE target score of 286 or better.

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Virginia Commonwealth University

 3/559.18%Richmond, VA

VCU’s master's in special education online degree program allows students to specialize in three different subfields. These include early childhood education, general education, or severe disabilities. Those specializing in severe disabilities must complete 42 credits, while the general education and early childhood concentrations need 37. Core classes cover classroom management, curriculum construction, and relationships with family. Each focus requires an externship, where students gain valuable first-hand teaching experience, and a capstone portfolio. Students must earn a C+ grade or higher to receive credit for a class; students earning a C or below in more than one course will be dismissed from the program.

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University of Kansas

 3/560%Lawrence, KS

Distance learners pursuing an online master's in special education at KU can concentrate in a number of programs. These include:

  • Secondary Special Education & Transition
  • High Incidence Disabilities
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Leadership in Special and Inclusive Education

The admissions deadline is May 2nd, and the program commences on May 16th. Successful applicants will have earned a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and submit three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose and a professional resume.

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University of Arkansas

 2/5N/AFayetteville, AR

Arkansas' master's in special education online degree program can be tailored for students seeking licensure as certified special education instructors, or certification in applied behavior analysis or autism spectrum disorders. The program is also suitable for students not pursuing certifications or teaching licensure. Regardless of your focus, students must complete 36 total credit hours to graduate.

All concentrations require students to take nine semester hours of core courses, three semester hours of cognate study, and 24 semester hours in special education. Core classes cover curriculum development, communicating with special needs students, behavior management, and developing creativity. Students seeking certification will be required to to pursue a practicum or internship to gain experience with special needs students in a classroom setting.

Applicants must have earned a 3.0 cumulative GPA during their last 60 hours of undergraduate instruction. They should also submit GRE minimum scores in the 49th percentile for the verbal portion and at the 54th percentile for the writing segment. Application deadlines are December 1st for the spring semester, April 15th for summer, and August 1st for Fall.

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Emporia State University

 2/538.74%Emporia, KS

Distance learners in Emporia’s online master's in special education program can concentrate in adaptive learning or gifted, talented, and creative students. Both programs require students to take 36 credits, including six electives; a 24 credit endorsement option is also available. The curriculum prepares students to work with K-12 students. Adaptive concentration students learn to identify and plan curriculums and classrooms for students with disabilities, while effectively monitoring behavioral patterns and collaborating with family members. The curriculum for gifted, talented, and creative students covers identifying gifted students, assessing their needs, and building creative environments.

Students are expected to maintain a 3.0 GPA, with no grade lower than a ‘B’ in core courses. Applicants to the adaptive concentration must have a 2.75 GPA in the last 60 hours of coursework, while applicants to the gifted, talented, and creative concentration are expected to have earned a 3.25 GPA or better over their final 60 credits.

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University of Nebraska at Kearney

 2/556.43%Kearney, NE

UNK's online master's in special education is a 36-credit program designed for teachers looking to work with special education students. Distance learners can obtain certification to teach special education, and those who already have special education licensure can become advanced practitioners. UNK also offers a concentration on gifted learners that instructs teachers on the best educational practices for talented students.

All students adhere to the same core curriculum, taking 12 credits in educational research, philosophy of education, and curriculum development, and assistive technology. The remaining 24 credits are concentration-dependent. Here, students can examine Behavior Intervention, Inclusive Collaboration, Functional Academics and Independent Living Skills, and Assistive. Each area of emphasis includes a final practicum. Students seeking licensure work closely with advisors to meet all requirements.

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University of Michigan – Dearborn

 3/550.06%Dearborn, MI

The online master's in special education at Michigan-Dearborn is a 30-credit program with three concentrations available. Students can focus on emotional impairments, learning disabilities, or mild disabilities, with endorsements and certificates available for all three. The emotional impairments and learning disabilities concentrations require students to attend some classes in-person; the mild disabilities program can be completed entirely online. Mild disabilities certification requires students to complete 10 total courses, covering a variety of topics including strategies for impairments and disabilities, classroom management, learning assessments, and collaboration.

Admissions are considered on a rolling basis, with courses commencing in the fall, spring, and summer. Students can transfer up to six credits from outside institutions towards their degree, pending faculty approval. Students must finish with a GPA exceeding 3.0 to graduate.

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University of Missouri – Columbia

 2/569.48%Columbia, MO

Missouri's online master's in early childhood special education is a 30 credit-hour program focusing on students eight years old and younger. Students may also pursue a special education degree with a focus on autism. Regardless of their emphasis, students receive comprehensive instruction on foundational special education topics ranging from collaboration with student families to appropriate classroom and behavior management. Distance learners must also complete a comprehensive final exam to graduate. Courses are semester-long and are based on weekly formats with interactive lectures, readings, and collaborative assignments. Summer classes are taught on an accelerated schedule.

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Saint Joseph’s University

 5/573.13%Philadelphia, PA

Saint Joseph's online special education program was designed based on the Response to Intervention program, a research-based strategy used to measure and monitor student performance. This 36-credit program focuses on Pre K-12 students; distance learners can pursue concentrations in autism studies or the Wilson Reading System. Regardless of your area of focus, the core curriculum covers diagnostic assessment and progress monitoring, inclusive classrooms, emotional and behavioral disorders, and family collaboration.

Most students will complete this program in about two years. While GRE scores are not required for admission, about 98% of applicants submit them. The application deadline is rolling and students can enroll in the summer, spring, or fall semesters. Saint Joseph's offers a military tuition discount for any prospective students who have served.

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The University of Arizona

 3/560.26%Tucson, AZ

Students in Arizona's online master's in special education program can pursue three areas of emphasis as part of the program: behavioral support, deaf and hard of hearing, or disabilities. The disabilities program can be further concentrated on particular student needs, such as autism spectrum students, gifted students, or students with challenging behavior. All these programs require 36 credit hours for graduation, and with so many course options available, the curriculum can be customized to suit a student's particular needs and preferences. All students are required to conduct in-person research and gain hands-on experience in an appropriate educational setting. Students also complete a master's report.

Applicants must have earned a 3.0 undergraduate GPA over their last 60 hours of coursework. They should also submit three letters of recommendation and have completed the prerequisite foundations of special education and rehabilitation course. GRE scores are not required.

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West Virginia University

 2/557.25%Morgantown, WV

The online master's in special education program at West Virginia allows students to concentrate in one of six specializations: autism, early childhood, gifted, visually impaired, multicategorical education, or severe/multiple disabilities. Each concentration leads to endorsements, certificates, or licensure. Students are required to undertake field research and complete a practicum to gain professional experience working with disabled students, regardless of their chosen area of emphasis.

WVU's online classes are taught synchronously and some courses feature interactive video lectures. Students can be admitted for the spring, summer, or fall term, and all students qualify for in-state tuition regardless of where they live. Applicants should have obtained a 3.0 undergraduate GPA or better and an 850 or better on the GRE.

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University of North Dakota

 2/555.49%Grand Forks, ND

UND's online master's in special education program requires students to complete at least 32 credit hours; some students graduate in just 18 months. There are nine concentrations available, including autism, visual and hearing impairment, intellectual and learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, and early childhood special education. Each concentration requires distance learners to take four or five specific courses, and they round out their schedule with related electives. Students in all concentrations are required to complete a thesis and a final project to demonstrate their understanding of class materials. These curriculums can be tailored for students seeking certifications, licensures, or endorsements, though this will require additional courses.

Courses are offered online, and students receive lectures and assignments each week. All students qualify for in-state tuition regardless of where they live.

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Old Dominion University

 2/551.58%Norfolk, VA

Old Dominion's online master's in special education program requires students to complete 30 credits and a practicum. The school also offers concentrations and certificate programs for students looking to narrow their focus. Application deadlines for summer, fall, and spring terms are March 1st, June 1st, and November 1st respectively. ODU requires applicants to have earned a 291 on the GRE and a 4.5 on the analytical writing section. Courses are delivered both asynchronously and synchronously, with some course materials and activities requiring live participation.

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Washington State University

 3/567.24%Pullman, WA

WSU's online master's in special education is designed for licensed teachers striving to work in PreK-12 special education. The program requires students to complete 37 credit-hours of coursework, and the curriculum includes all courses needed for the Washington State Special Education Teaching Endorsement. Course content covers assessment and curriculum development, secondary education, early childhood education, inclusion strategies, and reading disabilities. A directed study course or a final examination are also prerequisites for graduation. Classes are taught asynchronously, though some specific assignments may require live participation. Most students will finish this program in two years.

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Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

 2/567.45%Slippery Rock, PA

Slippery Rock offers four different master's degrees in the field of special education, all conducted exclusively online. Two of these programs focus on specific age groups, birth to eighth grade and seventh grade through high school. A third option in school supervision is geared toward teachers and specialists who want to pursue leadership roles. The final special education master's concentrates on methods for instructing and assisting students with autism. Students may be able to complete any of these master's programs within one academic year. Courses explore innovative teaching techniques, classroom collaboration strategies and other theory-based methods for educating students with special needs.

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Arizona State University-West

 2/559.18%Glendale, AZ

ASU West offers master's degrees in special education concentrated in two distinct areas. A pathway focused on students with autism/spectrum disorders is held completely online, while the program in applied behavior analysis combines online coursework with supervised on-site practicum sessions in accordance with requirements of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Additionally, ASU West students may obtain a specialized master's degree in teaching gifted students; the program explores early intervention techniques and classroom management strategies for this equally demanding student population.

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University of Alabama

 2/565.66%Tuscaloosa, AL

Bama's master's in special education program is available in a convenient weekend format, allowing students to earn all 33 required credit hours outside the work week. Three specializations are available with the master's credential: 'Gifted and Talented'; 'Early Childhood B-8'; and 'Collaborative K-12'. The curriculum stresses faculty collaboration and diverse instruction as two critical aspects of effective special education, so enrollees should expect a fair amount of group assignments and project work. A rolling admission deadline allows students to sign up and begin their coursework throughout the academic year.

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University of Nebraska at Omaha

 2/544.62%Omaha, NE

Nebraska's Omaha branch is home to an online Master of Science in Special Education program concentrated in the field of behavior intervention. Courses delve into topics like child abuse/neglect, behavior disorders and classroom management; the coursework will be supplemented with an on-site internship at a nearby education center. Students explore various strategies for establishing rules, as well as rewarding and disciplining students using these standards. Those who complete the program's 36 credit hours will meet the requirements for a Pre-6 or 7-12 endorsement by the Nebraska Department of Education.

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Arkansas State University

 2/539.3%Jonesboro, AR

Arkansas State's Master of Science in Education for special education professionals is geared toward K-12 teachers. This 36-credit program can be completed in 16 months. Additionally, the university offers a Master of Science in Education for 'gifted, talented and creative' students. Although 30 credits are required for this credential, most students require at least 18 months to complete the coursework. Both programs require supervised, on-site practicum sessions at a local learning institution; additionally, the MSE for gifted students culminates in a capstone project.

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Graduates from online special education programs learn a variety of skills. Students are taught to develop curriculums and teach age-appropriate material, and they’re also prepared to be patient and resourceful educators capable of communicating effectively with special needs children. These professionals are essential to enhancing classroom instruction and child development resources nationwide.

Special Education Teacher: Teachers educate small groups of developmentally challenged students. As part of their job, they assess and evaluate the learning and behavioral disabilities inhibiting development in their students. These teachers tailor the curriculum to suit their students, making adjustments to compensate for everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. They should also track the efficiency of their programs and help their students transition into life outside of the classroom.

Instructional Coordinator: Instructional coordinators are responsible for developing and implementing special education curriculums in conjunction with local school boards and state and federal regulations. This position is ideal for professionals passionate and knowledgeable in the field, and is a good match for graduates who may not want to pursue a career in teaching. Coordinators must have strong analytical skills and be capable of teaching instructors how to incorporate new education models into their curriculum.

Occupational Therapist: Occupational therapists with a background in special education may work with school staff to help students with special needs function in and out of the classroom. With a combination of clinical and educational skills, most professionals work in schools, but others may practice at medical facilities or clinics specializing in therapy for students with special needs.

The above positions are just a few of the job opportunities available to graduates. While professionals with a background in special education may work in a number of positions, the career opportunities profiled above offer a window into the kind of salary and job-growth graduates can expect to find in the field:

PositionMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate
Special Education Teacher$55,9806%
Insructional Coordinator$61,5507%
Occupational Therapist$78,81027%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Most online master’s programs in special education combine online academic courses with a hands-on field component. Because candidates must complete a minimum number of field hours in special education classrooms to obtain their degree, many schools deliver as many courses as possible online. For students interested in the field, an online program can provide you with the theoretical and practical skills needed to secure a rewarding career in special education.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, the need for financial aid is still a reality for most students. But rest assured, loans aren’t your only option. Explore our collection of financial aid resources or dig into one of the following guides to read more about financing your education.

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