Best Online Special Education Programs of 2022

Our experts at BestColleges have ranked the best special education programs out there. Read on to learn how you can pursue a career working with kids by becoming a special education teacher. Explore the best online bachelor's in special education programs.

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by Marisa Upson

Published on January 26, 2022 · Updated on April 22, 2022

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An online bachelor's in special education program teaches students how to help children who are managing physical, mental, and emotional disabilities adapt and thrive in learning environments despite these challenges. By assessing a student's abilities, they develop Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that may include adaptive devices for children with physical disabilities or special learning applications for students with autism spectrum disorders.

Many special education graduates pursue careers as teachers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 8% job growth for these teachers between 2020 and 2030 — about as fast as the national average for all occupations. In May 2020, special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $61,500.

Most online bachelor's in special education programs take about four years of full-time study to complete, although some accelerated online programs lead to reduced completion times.

What Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program?

An online bachelor's in special education program propels students to careers helping children achieve academic goals despite their disabilities. Success in this rewarding career requires patience, compassion, acceptance, and the ability to explain concepts and develop lesson plans that align with each student's unique needs.

Most online bachelor's in special education programs require 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete.

Some schools offer a bachelor's in special education as a degree completion program. Applicants must hold an associate degree or about 60 transfer credits and complete required prerequisite courses. These programs lead to a degree in two years, and students who earned their transferable credits at a community college can save a substantial amount of money.

Most programs require teacher internship experiences in special education settings at the elementary or middle school level, depending on a student's area of interest. Some programs may allow learners interested in non-teaching careers to forego student teaching and take additional courses.

Programs may also feature concentrations, allowing students to align their education with their career goals. Possible options include physical disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, adaptive curriculum, and emotional and behavioral disorders.

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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program?

Assistive Technology

This course teaches students about the technological advancements that help learners with disabilities increase their learning skills and engage with classmates. These advancements may help students with writing, reading, math, note-taking, and other challenges.

Curriculum Development

Students learn strategies for developing a special education curriculum or IEP based on students' disabilities. This course covers several theories in learning and how to adapt learning techniques for different physical, emotional, and behavioral disabilities.

Assessment

This course covers various ways to assess students with disabilities and determine the best approach to support them in an academic environment. Participants learn about gathering information and screening instruments, as well as the positive impact and limitations of these tests.

Introduction to Exceptional Children

This class discusses why it's important for students managing disabilities to gain meaningful access to classrooms, including learning and participation models. Participants learn about appropriate classroom modifications and accommodations for exceptional children.

Supporting Children With Significant Behavior Challenges

This course explores support and intervention strategies for students managing significant or multiple disabilities. Covered topics include adapting the environment, maximizing independence, and functional behavioral assessment.

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Are Admission Requirements for an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program?

The admissions process for online bachelor's in special education programs typically mirrors the traditional on-campus process. In addition to the following requirements, some colleges require an interview with an admissions representative, which can be carried out virtually or in person. Some programs also require applicants to possess a certain amount of experience working with children.

Application

Many colleges and universities accept the Common Application, allowing students to apply to multiple institutions through one online portal. Some schools, however, still require students to submit their applications directly, and most accept online or paper applications.

Test Scores

Many four-year colleges require students to submit their official ACT or SAT scorescollege entrance exams that are used to assess college readiness. Some online bachelor's in special education programs waive this requirement for students with exceptional GPAs. Non-native English speakers also need to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores that demonstrate a high level of proficiency in English.

Letters of Recommendation

Most special education programs require 1-3 letters of recommendation that speak to a student's potential and abilities that would help them support and teach children with disabilities. Applicants should ask for letters of recommendation well in advance and address requests to academic instructors or workplace supervisors.

Essays

This portion of a college application demonstrates a student's writing abilities. It also allows them to explain why they chose a specific college, what they bring to the table, and their career goals. Colleges may ask different essay questions, so read the instructions carefully and address the questions in a compelling and clear voice.

Official Transcripts

Colleges and universities require official transcripts from high school and any postsecondary institutions a student has attended. Bachelor's in special education programs may require a minimum GPA, such as 2.0 or higher. Many also accept transfer credits, which can reduce costs and completion times.

What Can I Do With an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Degree?

Career Outlook

Because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools must ensure that children managing disabilities receive the same quality public education as nondisabled children. This law covers people from birth to age 21, offering speech and occupational therapy services and IEP custom learning plans. Schools in the U.S. must attract and retain special education teachers to fulfill this requirement.

Because of this need, as well as early detection of disabilities and the rising number of students with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and other disabilities, the demand for special education services continues to grow. While most special education degree-holders pursue careers in elementary or secondary school systems, jobs with government agencies, educational support services, and community organizations are also available.

The BLS reports that primary and secondary schools employed more than 400,000 special education teachers in 2020. Salaries vary based on a worker's level of education, employer, and location. For instance, special education teachers at the primary level earned an annual average salary of $64,790 in May 2020, while those working for individual and family services made an average wage of $84,510.

See where a bachelor's in special education can take you. Learn more about special education careers and check out the 10 most popular college majors.

Career Paths

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers plan lessons and instruct children with disabilities, helping them succeed through modified curricula and supportive technology. They track their students' progress and meet with parents to discuss children's needs and challenges. To qualify for licensure and teach in public schools, prospective teachers must complete a student teaching experience and pass the state's required exams.

Median Annual Salary: $61,500 (May 2020)

Community Directors

Community directors determine community programs' effectiveness, evaluate their impact, and implement changes that support the community. In addition, they may supervise staff, maintain budgets, and raise funds. Graduates with a bachelor's in special education are particularly qualified to work on programs that support children.

Median Annual Salary: $69,600 (May 2020)

Special Education Advocates

Special education advocates improve conditions for children with special needs, ensuring they get the special education services required by law. They may lobby for a more inclusive educational system or work on behalf of a child and their family, steering them toward agencies and community services that can provide support. Some employers may require a master's for this position.

Average Annual Salary: $40,870 (September 2021)

Recreational Therapists

Recreational therapists develop recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities and injuries. These programs may include therapeutic activities like community outings, exercises, sports, and games. Graduates with a bachelor's in special education may choose to specialize in providing therapy for children with disabilities.

Median Annual Salary: $47,710 (May 2020)

Special Education Teacher for Gifted Learners

Students pursuing an online bachelor's in special education may specialize in gifted students. These professionals provide instruction for students whose abilities surpass the standard curriculum. In addition, these special education teachers assess students and develop accelerated learning programs. They may also support families in developing their child's potential through advanced placement classes and other programs.

Median Annual Salary: $61,500 (May 2020)

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Continuing Education

Requirements for special education roles vary by state, with some requiring a master's degree in special education before candidates may apply for teacher certification. Additionally, special education consultants who help teachers develop IEPs and act as advisors for government agencies, school boards, and families typically need a graduate degree.

Students looking for advancement opportunities or leadership roles in administrative positions may also need a master's degree to qualify. Graduates interested in these roles may pursue a master's in educational administration.

Additionally, many teachers need to earn a certain number of continuing education credits each renewal cycle to maintain their license. These requirements also vary by state.

How Do I Choose an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program?

Cost

According to the College Board, the average annual tuition and fees for online and on-campus bachelor's programs ranged from $10,560-$37,650 for the 2019-20 academic year. In-state students attending public colleges and universities tend to pay less, while private nonprofit institutions cost more. Some online programs may also offer cost savings, including no out-of-state tuition fees, no relocation costs, and reduced campus-based student fees.

Program Format

Online learning program formats vary and can influence degree completion times. For instance, asynchronous learning formats offer students the greatest flexibility by eliminating set class times. Alternatively, synchronous learning models require students to attend virtual class sessions in real time — this may appeal to students wanting more direct contact with peers and professors.

Location

While many online bachelor's in special education programs do not require on-campus participation, some programs may include in-person weekend intensives or on-campus orientations. Therefore, students should consider these requirements when choosing potential programs. Additionally, some students may want to have access to on-campus networking opportunities and student activities.

Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that colleges and universities meet certain educational standards. Proper accreditation can lead to credit transferability, financial aid opportunities, and employment and licensure opportunities. Look for schools with regional accreditation and programs approved by your state. Online bachelor's in special education programs accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation are highly regarded.

Student Support

Make sure to look for special education programs that provide support services for online students. Support programs play a significant part in a student's success and can include academic advising, career services, college mentorship opportunities, and networking programs. Many online programs also offer internship placement services, helping students find opportunities close to home.

2022 Best Accredited Online Bachelor's in Special Education Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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#1 Online College in Virginia

Liberty University

School Information
Location Lynchburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 51%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $390

Out of State | $390

Credits to Graduate

120

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

Liberty's bachelor's in special education program runs fully online. Students can transfer up to 75% of the required 120 credits. Coursework covers topics like behavior management and special education law. Enrollees can earn the degree in 3.5 years. Online degree-seekers gain hands-on experience at local schools. Students receive free digital textbooks.

Applicants submit high school or college transcripts. Prospective students need a minimum cumulative 2.0 GPA to receive admission in good standing.

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#2 Online College in Alabama

University of West Alabama

School Information
Location Livingston, Alabama
Admission Rate 35%
Graduation Rate 35%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 77% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $325

Out of State | $325

Credits to Graduate

127

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education; Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

UWA's bachelor's in special education program runs mostly online. The program prepares students for certification from the Alabama State Department of Education. Degree-seekers can apply to the bachelor's in special education collaborative teacher certification program after completing 45-60 semester hours, including all required basic curriculum courses. 

Students can complete the degree in 3-4 years. Applicants need a minimum 2.75 GPA and a passing score on the Praxis. UWA requires three recommendations and a background check.

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#3 Online College in Colorado

Colorado Christian University

School Information
Location Lakewood, Colorado
Graduation Rate 55%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Self-Paced Classes 

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $469

Out of State | $469

Credits to Graduate

120

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | N/A

CCU offers a non-licensure online bachelor's in special education degree. The program prepares students to work as special education teachers in schools that do not require licensure. The program does not require student teaching. However, enrollees must complete 130 hours of field experience. 

Students complete classes one at a time in five-week blocks. Applicants need a high school or GED diploma. 

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#4 Online College in Hawaii

Chaminade University of Honolulu

School Information
Location Honolulu, Hawaii
Admission Rate 95%
Graduation Rate 59%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $565

Out of State | $565

Credits to Graduate

132

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Chaminade offers an online bachelor's in special education. Designed for learners transferring from Leeward Community College, students need at least 90 credits before transferring. During their senior year, degree-seekers complete 33 credits, including 18 major credits and 15 credits of upper-division classes.

Major requirements include mild and moderate disabilities and a student-teaching seminar. Graduates meet the requirements for licensure to teach special education K-12, K-6, or 6-12 in Hawaii. 

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#5 Online College in Arizona

Prescott College

School Information
Location Prescott, Arizona
Admission Rate 97%
Graduation Rate 33%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 65% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $498

Out of State | $498

Credits to Graduate

40

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | No

Program Accreditation | N/A

Prescott's teacher certification in special education requires an on-campus orientation and in-person work with mentors. Designed for students with a bachelor's degree, this online teacher-preparation program lets learners earn a teacher certification. 

Learners without any prior education credits take about two years to complete the program. Graduates can qualify for a teaching license in Arizona. Out-of-state students must research teaching requirements in their home state.

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#6 Online College in Florida

The University of West Florida

School Information
Location Pensacola, Florida
Admission Rate 31%
Graduation Rate 46%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 66% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $219

Out of State | $219

Credits to Graduate

132

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

UWF offers a fully online bachelor's in special education program. The degree qualifies students for a Florida educator's certificate in exceptional student education (K-12) and elementary education (K-6) with endorsements in reading and English for speakers of other languages. Degree-seekers can transfer up to 90 credits.

The program includes two 100-hour field experiences in K-12 classrooms. Applicants must submit official transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. 

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#7 Online College in Nebraska

Chadron State College

School Information
Location Chadron, Nebraska
Graduation Rate 45%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 75% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $299

Out of State | $299

Credits to Graduate

120-128

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

CSC's online bachelor's in special education program qualifies graduates for a teaching endorsement in special education generalist (K-12). The curriculum includes classes like language and learning disorders and introduction to adaptive physical education. 

Applicants need passing scores on the Praxis I CORE basic skills test. They also need an overall 2.75 GPA and a C or better in prerequisite education classes.

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#8 Online College in North Carolina

St. Andrews University

School Information
Location Laurinburg, North Carolina
Admission Rate 45%
Graduation Rate 39%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 36% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $460

Out of State | $460

Credits to Graduate

120

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | N/A

St. Andrews offers an online bachelor's in special education degree that leads to initial licensure in teaching special education. The program maintains close relationships with nearby school districts where graduates often find jobs.

Applicants must submit official college transcripts. Those with less than 48 transferable credits must submit an official high school transcript. St. Andrews accepts transfer credit with a C or better from regionally accredited institutions.

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#9 Online College in Georgia

University of Georgia

School Information
Location Athens, Georgia
Admission Rate 45%
Graduation Rate 87%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 14% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Semester

In State | $326 

Out of State | $326

Credits to Graduate

120

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | N/A

UGA's bachelor's in special education program follows a cohort model. Students work their way through the program as a group. Learners complete a supervised practicum experience in a PreK-12 Georgia school each semester.

Applicants need a minimum 2.8 GPA and completion of 60 transferable college credits. They also need a passing score on an admission assessment and a grade of C or better in education prerequisites.

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#10 Online College in Georgia

University of West Georgia

School Information
Location Carrollton, Georgia
Admission Rate 59%
Graduation Rate 45%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 63% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $182

Out of State | $182

Credits to Graduate

123

Program Information

Degree-Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | N/A

UWG offers an online bachelor's in special education program that requires an internship and practicum. Coursework covers behavior and classroom management and special education policies and procedures. 

Graduates meet the requirements for certification in Georgia as teachers of special education in grades PreK-12. Applicants must submit official transcripts from all previously attended schools.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Bachelor's in Special Education Programs

Is a bachelor's in special education worth it?

For individuals looking to make a significant difference in the lives of children with disabilities, an online bachelor's in special education provides the knowledge needed to excel in this field. Graduates can go on to careers as teachers, advocates, and community directors.

The BLS projects 8% job growth for special education teachers between 2020 and 2030, including 12% growth for special education teachers working in preschools. Due to early detection and an increasing number of students diagnosed with autism, the demand for these specialists is expected to increase in the coming years.

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

Many graduates pursue careers as special education teachers. These teachers may instruct students with disabilities in their own classroom, developing IEPs specific to each student's needs. Others work in traditional classrooms, adapting learning formats and helping children integrate with their peers. To teach in public schools, students must complete a student teaching experience and pass their state's teaching licensure exams.

Special education degree-holders can also work for government agencies, nonprofit community organizations, student support services, and as independent operators. In these positions, they may find support and community resources for children with disabilities and help parents navigate the available options for their children.

Are special education majors in demand?

The BLS projects 8% job growth for special education teachers between 2020 and 2030, which is about as fast as the average projected rate for all occupations. Due to federal law and increasing awareness of certain disabilities, the demand for special education majors is expected to increase.

Some students use a bachelor's in special education as a stepping stone to a master's in special education or education administration. These graduate degrees may increase a worker's potential earnings and career opportunities. For example, special education consultants and education administrators typically need a master's degree and can earn higher wages.

How much money can I make with a bachelor's in special education?

PayScale reports that graduates with a bachelor's in special education earned an average annual salary of $54,000 in September 20121. Keep in mind that salary potential varies based on position, employer, location, and experience level.

According to the BLS, special education teachers in secondary schools earned a median annual wage of $62,320 in May 2020, while those in preschools made $61,400 and those in kindergarten and elementary schools earned $60,620. The top 10% of special education teachers made more than $100,000 per year.

What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with a bachelor's in special education?

Wages for special education teachers also vary by state. For example, special education school teachers at secondary schools in New York boast some of the highest earnings, with an annual average salary of $84,370.

Graduates may also pursue careers in other fields, such as community service. The BLS reports that community service managers earned a median annual salary of $69,600 in May 2020, with the top 10% making more than $115,800 per year.

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Many schools plan to hold online classes this fall due to COVID-19. Staying open minded about online education can help you make the most of the upcoming term. President-elect Joe Biden promises free community college to all, free four-year college to some, and improved student debt repayment plans. Online education presents many options, including what have become known as "mega-universities." Explore what these options mean for students.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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