Online Master’s in Special Education Programs

You can make a difference in a special education classroom. Earn your online master's in special education and help your students achieve success.
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Updated on May 2, 2024
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Special education professionals help students with disabilities learn, grow, and achieve success. These professionals can specialize in specific areas, such as serving students with low vision, autism, or multiple disabilities, or gifted and talented education. Special education teachers can work in preschools, K-12 settings, hospitals, residential facilities, and students' homes.

A master's degree can help current teachers move into special education or provide a pathway for non-teachers to achieve initial licensure.

This guide compares five popular special education master's degrees and answers common questions about what these programs can do for you and your career.

Benefits of Earning a Master's in Special Education

  • Check Circle
    Increase your earning potential in the special education field.
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    Gain insight into different learning disabilities.
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    Learn how to customize lesson plans to maximize kids' success.
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    Make a difference in the lives of special education students.

Featured Online Master's in Special Education Programs

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

Popular Master's in Special Education Online Programs

We chose to highlight the following schools based on several factors, including top position in organic or paid search results (as of March 2024), relevancy of program offerings, and categorization as a nonprofit. These programs are listed alphabetically by school and not weighed against each other in our methodology.

Popular Master's in Special Education Online Programs
School Degree Offered Cost per Credit Required Credits Months to Complete GRE Required Leads to Initial Teacher License Leads to Endorsement or Other License
SUNY Potsdam M.S.Ed. $471 (in-state), $565 (out-of-state) 36 24 No Yes Yes
Texas A&M University M.Ed., MS $1,070 (in-state), $1,600 (out-of-state) 36 24 No No No
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater MS $611 36 24 No Yes Yes
West Chester University M.Ed. $516 (in-state), $526 (out-of-state online students) 33 24 Only for students with undergrad GPAs under 3.0 No No
Western Governors University MA $3,975/term N/A 21 No Yes Yes

SUNY Potsdam

  • Public university in New York
  • M.S.Ed. in Special Education
  • 36 credits | $471-$565 per credit

SUNY Potsdam's online master's program in special education trains teachers to meet the learning needs of students with disabilities. You learn about specialized instructional strategies, educational diagnostic and assessment techniques, and principles of inclusive classrooms.

Multiple agencies, including the New York State Education Department, the Council for Exceptional Children, and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, endorse the program's quality.

Texas A&M University

  • Public university in Texas
  • M.Ed. or MS in Special Education
  • 36 credits | $1,070-1,600 per credit

Texas A&M's degree program in special education prepares you to work with diverse populations in clinical and educational settings. In addition to the standard curriculum, you can add a certificate in applied behavior analysis (ABA). You should hold considerable work experience both with people with disabilities and linguistically and culturally diverse groups.

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (UWW)

  • Public university in Wisconsin
  • MS in Special Education
  • 36 credits | $611 per credit

The University of Wisconsin - Whitewater's online MS in special education offers specializations in adaptive education, applied behavior analysis, and evidence-based practice. Learners seeking initial teacher certification can follow a cross-categorical emphasis track that satisfies educational requirements for licensure. All concentrations offer self-pacing and a rigorous pedagogical philosophy rooted in professional practitioner standards.

West Chester University of Pennsylvania

  • Public university in Pennsylvania
  • M.Ed. in Special Education
  • 33 credits | $516-526 per credit

WCU's online M.Ed. in special education equips you with advanced insights into specialized pedagogies and instructional techniques for special-needs students. The program also emphasizes educator self-awareness, prompting you to improve your professional effectiveness through personal reflection.

The program offers four concentrations: autism, universal design for assistive learning technology, trauma-informed education, and a special education certification track that requires additional credits.

Western Governors University (WGU)

  • Private university in Utah
  • MA in Teaching: Special Education
  • Competency-based | $3,975 per term

WGU's online master's degree program prepares graduates to become licensed special education teachers in their state. This 26-course program emphasizes content mastery in special education and effective teaching practices. The program includes a pre-clinical experience course, supervised teaching experiences, and a professional portfolio. Courses are available anytime and from any location with internet access.

What Is a Master's in Special Education?

A master's in special education is a graduate degree that equips graduates to provide instruction and assessment in common educational settings. Students learn tools and techniques to assess special needs students, instructional methods for students with disabilities, and technologies for assistive learning.

Special education degrees vary according to what they emphasize, whom they serve, and how their programs are structured. Common degree types associated with special education programs include:

Common Courses in Online Master's in Special Education Programs

  • Designing Elementary Instruction for Learners with Disabilities
  • Executive Function and Study Skills
  • Multicultural and Bilingual Special Education
  • Assessment in School Settings
  • Universal Design for Learning
  • Promoting Positive Behavior
  • Special Education Practices: Professional, Ethical and Legal Guidelines
  • Math Instruction for Students With Disabilities

How long does an online master's in special education take?

A master's in special education typically requires students to complete 30-36 credits and takes 1-2 years to complete. Students in accelerated programs and full-time learners may complete their programs more quickly.

Schools that require classroom-based teaching assessments may call for a longer time in the program to complete this requirement.

How much does an online master's in special education cost?

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the average graduate program costs about $20,510 in annual tuition.

Online master's in education programs cost an average of $8,155 per year in tuition and fees. In-state public institutions typically charge the lowest, followed by out-of-state public schools and private institutions.

Do Online Master's Degrees in Special Education Lead to Licensure?

Teachers often start their careers with initial teaching licensure, allowing them to teach in the public school system.

With their initial licensure, teachers can add endorsements or certifications in other areas. For example, a teacher may gain initial licensure as an elementary instructor and then add an endorsement in special education.

Some master's programs prepare graduates for initial licensure, while others equip current teachers with the qualifications to add on a special education endorsement.

Licensure Tracks of Popular Master's in Special Education Online Programs

TAMU

TAMU's program offers a path to satisfying the educational requirements for Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification.

WCU

The program does not lead to teaching licensure, but students have the option to earn special education certification by completing additional course sequences.

WGU

  • Initial Licensure
  • Special Education

Does Accreditation Matter for Online Special Education Master's Programs?

Yes. In the U.S., if a school or program is accredited, it meets certain quality standards set by third-party organizations. When a college or university holds institutional accreditation, it means an accreditor has reviewed the entire institution and asserts that it meets high educational standards. Students must attend an accredited school to access federal financial aid, transfer credits, and be taken seriously by employers.

Programmatic accreditation means that a specific program within a school is certified for its standards of education. This kind of accreditation is not essential, but it can provide an additional marker of quality.

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP) are the main accreditors for special education master's programs.

Accreditation of Popular Online Master's in Special Education Programs
School Institutional Accreditation Programmatic Accreditation
SUNY Potsdam Middle States Commission on Higher Education CAEP
TAMU Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges none
UWW Higher Learning Commission none
WCU Middle States Commission on Higher Education CAEP
WGU Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities CAEP, AAQEP

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

When applying to any program, you have to meet the minimum requirements to be considered for admission.

For a master's in special education program, most schools require that you hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a cumulative GPA of at least 2.75-3.0. Official transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose are commonly required as part of your application package.

Additionally, some schools may require or prefer that you hold a valid teaching license, have experience working with people with disabilities, or submit Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores.

"When I was young, my mother started and ran a school for students with learning disabilities in South Florida, where I grew up. I spent many years working with special education students at her school and learning about best practices for helping students with special education needs. I emphasized this experience in my application, along with my true passion for working with and helping special education students."

Dr. Emily Levy, founder and director of EBL Coaching

What Can I Do With a Master's in Special Education?

A master's degree in special education can open the door to more opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for special is not projected to change over the next decade for special education teachers, who earned a median salary of $65,910 in 2023.

While a degree in special education can qualify you to work as a teacher, you may also work as a tutor, education consultant, or curriculum adaptation specialist. You may be able to find a job in a clinical setting.

"Receiving my master's degree in special education — and later my doctoral degree in education — has absolutely advanced my career. I started out personally tutoring special education students myself, including students with dyslexia, other learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, and executive functioning challenges, and eventually expanded to bring on other special education teachers to help more students."

Dr. Emily Levy, founder and director of EBL Coaching

Average Annual Wage by Degree Type

MA in Special Education

$63,000

Source: Payscale

M.Ed. in Special Education

$61,000

Source: Payscale

MS in Special Education

$66,000

Source: Payscale

Why Should I Get a Master's in Special Education Online?

Online learning can offer a chance to schedule school into your life instead of scheduling your life around school. The option appeals to busy professionals and active parents. It also allows people to get their degree sooner or take a bit longer to complete their courses.

Losing in-person contact with professors and classmates can have its drawbacks. But despite the sacrifices, students have found that meshing an online degree with life and career goals is worthwhile.

"Because of the time commitment involved in growing my business, it would have been very hard for me to commit to an in-person program. For me, an online master's program was absolutely the right choice. It allowed me to both grow my [special needs education] business and add to my credentials at the same time."

Dr. Emily Levy, founder and director of EBL Coaching

Is a Master's in Special Education Worth It?

A master's degree in special education requires a sacrifice of time, effort, and finances. While it can lead to increased job prospects and earning potential, that's not always guaranteed. Below, hear from three students who pursued this degree online and felt it was a solid investment.

"I believe it is [worth it]. There are so many areas of special education you can operate in. We have a lot of students who need services that only special education can offer. A master's will afford you the opportunity to be employed as a valuable employee, and most people with a master's are in desperate need in the school system."

Antonia Gray, middle school paraprofessional

"I was divorced, and I had two teenagers, so I wanted to have something where I could be available for them. There's such a high demand. With my degree, I could get a job anywhere in special education."

Terry Grady

"It is absolutely worth it! It not only brings you more respect, but it opens additional job opportunities, including those with higher salaries, and sets you on a path to success within the field of special education."

Dr. Emily Levy, founder and director of EBL Coaching

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed April 8, 2024.

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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