Best Online Master’s in Special Education Programs 2022

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by Doug Wintemute

Updated August 9, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Fecich

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The better we understand disabilities, the earlier we can identify them in children and begin providing appropriate support.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over 14% of all students were enrolled in special education programs in the 2018-19 academic year. Since 2011, the number of students in these programs has steadily increased.

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Ready to start your journey?

To prepare the next generation of special education teachers, many of the top online schools have introduced special education programs, including an online master's in special education. With this degree, you can pursue teaching, consulting, and supervisory roles within school and school boards.

Job projections for special education professionals look promising. Still, you should weigh the pros and cons of graduate school before committing. To help with that process, we examine the master's in special education and the different postgraduate paths available. We also rank the best programs in this discipline and highlight some additional factors to consider.

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

Master's in special education programs vary among schools. Typically, these programs entail 30-45 credits and take 1-2 years to complete. The training equips you with the skills and knowledge to work with special education students, practices, and programs.

Special education master's programs usually emphasize research and practical training. Students observe and model proper teaching methods and practices in active classrooms. They also develop their own teaching skills by leading classrooms under watchful supervision.

When preparing for graduate school, you should decide which type of degree you want. Options include the MA, MS, MS.Ed, and M.Ed.

The MS.Ed. and M.Ed. are primarily practitioner degrees, best suited for students aiming for instructional positions. Conversely, the research-based MA and MS degrees offer more interdisciplinary and academic opportunities for graduates.

Regardless of degree type, master's in special education students can usually specialize in a subject area of their choice. They might concentrate in a specific age group or student disability, such as high school or elementary school, or teaching children with vision impairments. Special education professionals may also need state-issued teaching licenses.

Best Accredited Online Master's in Special Education Programs

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1. Campbellsville University

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Location: Campbellsville, Kentucky

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $299; Out of State: $299

Credits to Graduate: 30

View School Profile

Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Located in Campbellsville, Kentucky, CU offers an 18-month master's in special education program for certified teachers. The university partners with local school district personnel. The online master's in special education program prepares learners for preK-12 teaching roles.

The curriculum comprises 15 core credits and 15 professional proficiency credits. Learners complete an action research practicum. Applicants need a minimum 2.75 cumulative GPA or at least a 3.0 GPA in the last 30 credits of their undergraduate program.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 70%
  • Graduation Rate: 36%
  • Institution Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 77%


2. Liberty University

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Location: Lynchburg, Virginia

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $415; Out of State: $415

Credits to Graduate: 36

View School Profile

Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Liberty's online master's in special education program qualifies graduates to pursue initial teaching licensure. The program features eight-week courses, and most students graduate in about 18 months.

Students explore curriculum fundamentals and learn to create inclusive classroom settings. Coursework examines educational philosophy and theories of learning. Students specialize in one of six areas.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree from a regionally or nationally accredited institution and a minimum 2.5 GPA.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 51%
  • Graduation Rate: 47%
  • Institution Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 92%


3. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

100% Online

Location: Edinburg, Texas

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $458; Out of State: $458

Credits to Graduate: 30

View School Profile

Program Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Located in Brownsville, UTRGV offers an online master's in special education. The program is ideal for learners with or without teaching licensure. The curriculum comprises 10 seven-week courses. Most learners graduate in about 10 months.

Courses cover topics including action research for inclusive settings and strategies for developing communication and social skills.

Degree-seekers fulfill some requirements to add a special education certification to a current teaching license. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 80%
  • Graduation Rate: 46%
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 51%


4. University of Alaska Southeast

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Location: Juneau, Alaska

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $513; Out of State: $513, if taking fewer than five credits

Credits to Graduate: 33-39

View School Profile

Institution Accreditation | Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

UAS delivers an online master's in special education focused on Alaska's diverse communities. Students learn about educating children with disabilities. The curriculum emphasizes strategies for teaching in rural, urban, and Indigenous communities.

The program offers evening courses year round. Students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. The master's in special education program requires an approved research project and a passing grade on the Praxis II exam.

Applicants need a current Alaska teaching license and a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 61%
  • Graduation Rate: 26%
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 66%


5. Touro College

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Location: New York, New York

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $615; Out of State: $615

Credits to Graduate: 36-42

View School Profile

Institution Accreditation | Middle States Commission on Higher Education

A private college in New York City, Touro offers online master's degrees in early childhood special education, childhood and special education, and teaching students with disabilities. These programs cover birth-grade 2, grades 1-6, and grades 7-8, respectively.

In addition to coursework, students complete practicums, seminars, and workshops. These master's degrees partially fulfill the requirements for a New York special education certification.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree and prerequisite science courses. Prospective students need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and sufficient GRE or MAT scores.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 69%
  • Graduation Rate: 61%
  • Institution Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 17%


6. Minot State University

100% Online

Location: Minot, North Dakota

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $375; Out of State: $375

Credits to Graduate: 32-45

View School Profile

Institution Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

A public institution in North Dakota, MSU offers an online master's in special education. The curriculum aligns with the Council for Exceptional Children's professional standards. Students take core classes, choose an emphasis area, and complete a capstone thesis.

Available emphasis areas include deaf/hard of hearing education, specific learning disabilities,

early childhood special education, and special education strategist. Applicants need a bachelor's degree in education and a minimum 2.75 GPA in their last 60 undergraduate credits.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 67%
  • Graduation Rate: 45%
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 42%


7. University of West Alabama

100% Online

Location: Livingston, Alabama

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $429; Out of State: $429

Credits to Graduate: 34

View School Profile

Institution Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

UWA offers an M.Ed. in special education. Degree-seekers prepare to obtain a special education certification and teach K-6 learners. This online master's in special education program requires 16 credits of professional courses and 18 credits in the certification area.

Coursework covers educational research techniques. Learners prepare to counsel multicultural populations and teach students with severe disabilities. Degree-seekers who have not already completed a practicum must do so.

Applicants need an Alabama teaching license. Students can apply up to nine transfer credits toward the degree.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 35%
  • Graduation Rate: 35%
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 77%


8. Drury University

100% Online | Self-Paced and Scheduled Classes

Location: Springfield, Missouri

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $320; Out of State: $320

Credits to Graduate: 33

View School Profile

Institution Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

A private institution in Springfield, Missouri, DU offers an online master's in special education program. The program trains teachers to support students with diverse learning needs.

The M.Ed. requires 21 credits of coursework, including 12 elective credits. The curriculum explores educational technology and behavior analysis and intervention. Degree-seekers complete two clinical experiences. Available specializations include special education and dyslexia and reading.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.75 GPA. This degree does not lead to initial teaching licensure.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 64%
  • Graduation Rate: 58%
  • Institution Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 22%


9. University of Northern Colorado

100% Online

Location: Greeley, Colorado

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $572; Out of State: $572

Credits to Graduate: 34-43

View School Profile

Institution Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

UNC has offered special education degrees since 1954. Today, the university delivers eight online master's in special education programs. Available degrees include teaching diverse learners, gifted education, deaf/hard of hearing, and visual impairment.

Graduation and admission requirements vary by degree. For example, students in the deaf/hard of hearing program take courses including auditory skill development and foundations of deaf education. Degree-seekers in this program must pass a sign language proficiency test.

Applicants to UNC's graduate programs typically need a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 91%
  • Graduation Rate: 52%
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 32%


10. University of North Dakota

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Average Cost per Credit: In State: $547; Out of State: $547

Credits to Graduate: 30

View School Profile

Institution Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

Located in Grand Forks, UND offers an online master's in special education program. UND designed the program for current teachers and individuals seeking an applied behavior analysis specialization.

Students can choose from 10 specializations. Options include autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, and visual impairment. UND offers the only fully online visual impairment program in the country.

Prospective students need a bachelor's degree in education. Applicants should have a minimum 3.0 GPA in their last two years of undergraduate studies.

School Information

  • Admission Rate: 81%
  • Graduation Rate: 61%
  • Accreditation: Yes
  • Percent Online Enrollment: 45%


Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Popular Online Online Master's in Special Education Programs

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

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

Assessment and Planning

This course teaches students to formally assess individuals with varying types and levels of disabilities. Course participants examine methods for curriculum and lesson planning based on the evaluations. Students in this course learn about differentiating, accommodating, and modifying instruction methods.

Early Intervention

Students in this course learn how early intervention can help students with disabilities. They explore available resources, assessment strategies, and communication methods for the individual students and their families.

Instructional Design

In this course, students learn to create curricula and lessons for students with disabilities. The class may cover content types, delivery formats, and teaching methodologies.

Classroom Management

Students in this course learn to manage classrooms and individual learners. They may explore methods for developing behavior plans, techniques for deescalating disruptions, and supporting learners. Course participants learn about social and emotional support methods as well.

Teaching Language and Reading

In this course, students learn to approach language and reading lessons for students with diverse needs. The training examines methods of identifying individual student needs and modifying the curricula to better support these learners.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

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

Admission requirements vary among graduate programs, but most require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. Some online master's in special education programs may require applicants to have an education degree and an adequate GPA. A valid teaching license may also be required.

The sections below highlight the most common application components per our graduate admissions guide.

Application

Every application looks a little different. Most include some combination of the items below. At the master's level, prospective students usually apply to schools and programs directly. College application systems like Common App can sometimes streamline the application process, though, so candidates should check to see whether these options are available.

Test Scores

Graduate applications have traditionally asked applicants to submit standardized test scores, such as the GRE or GMAT. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, however, many schools have waived these test requirements. Candidates who still need to submit test scores can follow our GRE prep guide for help.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation usually come from prospective students' current and former teachers and employers. These letters address candidates' academic and professional strengths and their most promising qualities and characteristics. Most applications require three references. Students should begin asking for letters of recommendation as early as they can.

Resume and Work Experience

Many schools require prospective students to submit a college application resume. This provides some insight into the applicant's professional activities during their studies. Some graduate programs require resumes to show a minimum amount of relevant work experience.

Essays

Prospective students may need to submit an essay along with their application. Essays may address the applicant's personal journey, their research and professional interests, or a specific question related to the discipline. Degree-seekers can find more details on this component in our guide for grad school essays.

Official Transcripts

Nearly every application includes official transcripts, which highlight the applicant's previous training and grades. These records can also help schools determine whether candidates have the appropriate prerequisites to enter the program. As per our college transfer guide, transcripts are also required to transfer credits among institutions.

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

Career Outlook

The growing number of students using special education programs and an increase in early interventions has created a demand for special education teachers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for these professionals to grow by 8% between 2020 and 2030. This is on par with the national projected growth rate for all occupations.

With a master's in special education, you can pursue teaching credentials and positions in most schools below the college and university level. You can also take on leadership roles within schools and school boards, designing curricula and developing more inclusive policies and practices.

Uncover the professional possibilities of an online master's in special education. Learn more about special education careers.

There will most likely be an interlink here.

Career Paths

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers lead classrooms of students with various disabilities. They provide student assessments and develop personalized lesson plans based on their findings. These teachers work with diverse groups of students who require specialized and attentive support.

Median Annual Salary: $61,500

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators develop curricula, lesson plans, and materials for student groups, schools, and school boards. These professionals also evaluate current programs and practices looking for improvements. Instructional coordinators may provide implementation training and assistance as well.

Median Annual Salary: $66,970

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

Principals manage the staff and operations in elementary, middle, and high schools. They help develop and implement curricula, oversee school budgets and progress, and run professional development programs. Principals also ensure their schools adhere to standards and policies set by their regions and school boards.

Median Annual Salary: $98,490

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Postsecondary education administrators handle various tasks in colleges and universities, Responsibilities include working with student services, the registrar's office, and admissions. These professionals may manage records, communications, and applications. As provosts or deans, these administrators develop policies and manage faculty research.

Median Annual Salary: $97,500

Childcare Center Directors

Childcare center directors manage their centers' staff and administrative duties. They take charge of implementing policies, handling budgets, and creating communications. Center directors must comply with local and industry regulations while integrating the proper support channels for staff and students.

Median Annual Salary: $49,160

Special Education Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

Master's in special education graduates who want to continue their training can choose from several doctoral degree paths. Many pursue a doctorate in special education, a doctorate in education, or a doctorate in higher education. These programs lead to postsecondary teaching and research and development careers.

Graduates can also choose a more specialized degree, such as a doctorate in reading and literacy or a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. These designations can lead to teaching careers and education specialist positions.

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

Cost

The average graduate student paid $19,792 in tuition and fees for the 2019-20 school year, according to the NCES. To get the most accurate price estimate, prospective students should find the true program cost. This considers all program fees and lost income during the training. Learners might also compare online and on-campus program costs, public and private school prices, and in-state and out-of-state rates.

Program Format

Online students may see two delivery format options: synchronous and asynchronous delivery. Distance learners can also choose between full-time and part-time course loads, depending on how flexible their schedules are.

Location

After choosing between online and on-campus studies, students should consider their ideal location. On-campus students should live on or near their school's campus. Many online schools have on-campus requirements as well, so distance learners should take this into account.

Accreditation

As our college accreditation guide notes, prospective students should pay close attention to each school's accreditation status. Institutional accreditation can determine whether learners qualify for federal financial aid and certain employment opportunities. Applicants should also look for programmatic accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education or the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Student Support

Student services, including online student services, can influence a learner's experience. Access to career services, academic support, and college mentors can foster student success. As our internships guide describes, work experience programs also play a big role in students' postgraduate opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Special Education Programs

Is a master's in special education worth it? Yes. A master's in special education offers many benefits to graduates, including promising and flexible work and continuing education opportunities. Graduates can access both general and specialized teaching careers, along with doctoral programs. Many learners find great value in online degrees. Distance learning offers flexible schedules and a wider selection of schools and programs. Prospective students can find programs offering the training they want during the hours they are free.

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

With a master's in special education, graduates qualify for special education teaching roles in kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary schools. They can also take on school leadership roles like principal. Graduates may also work as curriculum and instructional coordinators. Master's graduates have the option to continue their training in a doctoral program. With a doctorate, graduates qualify for postsecondary teaching positions to train the next generation of special education teachers. They can also pursue research and development roles.

Are special education graduates in demand?

Yes. The BLS projects an 8% growth in special education teacher occupations 2020-2030. Much of this demand results from earlier identification of disabilities and an increase in the number of special education programs. According to the NCES, the number of students in special education programs increased each year from 2011-2019. The BLS projects a 10% growth for instructional coordinators between 2020 and 2030. These professionals help design specialized curricula in special education programs.

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

A master's in special education can lead to various careers, each with its own earning potential. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for special education teachers is $61,500, nearly $20,000 more than the median annual salary for all occupations. The top 10% of earners in the field earn more than $100,570. Median annual wages vary by school type. As of May 2020, public elementary and secondary schools paid $62,010, whereas private elementary and secondary schools paid $56,680. Instructional coordinators earned a median annual salary of $66,970. The top 10% of earners among these professionals made more than $105,650.

What are the highest paying jobs with a master's in special education?

The highest-paying jobs for graduates with a master's in special education depend on employer, location, and experience level. According to the BLS, principals tend to earn the highest wages, earning a median annual salary of $98,490 as of May 2020. The top 10% of earners among principals made over $152,500. In public schools, the median annual wage was $99,690. In private schools, it was $89,350.

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