Most Affordable Online Master’s in Special Education Programs

Explore the most affordable online Master's in Special Education programs. Earn your degree from a value-driven school.

portrait of Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.
by Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.

Updated August 3, 2022

Edited by Taylor Gadsden
Share this Article

Special education focuses on students with special needs, such as developmental disabilities, behavioral or emotional disorders, reading disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and physical disabilities. A master's in special education prepares graduates for work beyond what a bachelor's degree typically requires. These advanced opportunities include administration, curriculum development, government, and leadership roles in special needs residential facilities.

A master's degree typically takes two years to complete. Individuals who lack specific core courses might need extra classes to satisfy their programs' curricular requirements. Some online schools offer accelerated schedules that allow students to graduate in less time.

www.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.

Ready to start your journey?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for special education teachers will grow 8% between 2020-2030. The demand for master's graduates exists in states that require an advanced degree to get a teaching license in special education.According to the BLS, special education teachers made a median of $61,500 in 2020, with educators in the 90th percentile earning $98,480.

How Much Does an Online Master's in Special Education Cost?

Students wanting an affordable online master's in special education might enroll in an accelerated online program, which can cost as low as $12,000. In contrast, tuition at private schools can cost over $700 per credit hour. Taking classes off-campus can help students save money that would normally go toward parking and on-campus housing.

Although some online degrees offer affordability, students should not overlook all the expenses for any graduate diploma. These costs include books and supplies and fees for student services. Also, an online program might charge extra technology fees that on-campus students typically do not have to pay.

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

Individuals interested in an online master's in special education should possess strong communication skills for interacting with diverse students. They also need resourcefulness and patience to adapt traditional teaching methods to accommodate learners with different abilities.

Most master's in special education degrees take about two years to complete, and they require 30-40 credit hours. Students with a bachelor's degree in another field might need to enroll in additional classes to meet core requirements. Students wanting to take less than two years can enroll in accelerated online programs.

Students can choose concentrations in elementary or secondary education, gifted, or special education technology. Depending on the program, they might specialize in curriculum development, applied behavior analysis, severe developmental disabilities, or trauma-informed education and intervention.

Some programs offering an online master's in special education require a practicum or internship that gives students real-world experience. Graduates who plan to teach need to obtain a teaching license and accumulate a number of student teaching hours.

Students' career objectives might influence which track they pursue in graduate school. For example, individuals seeking a master of science (MS) typically want to work in educational settings, possibly occupying administrative roles. Master of arts (MA) students possess more interest in scholarship and theory, typically preparing for academic work after graduation.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Popular 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?

Applied Behavior Analysis

This class exposes students to basic principles, behavioral techniques, and research methods about teaching special education among diverse settings and learners. Students also learn about professional ethics, positive intervention methods, and ways to access support systems.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Courses on autism spectrum disorders typically cover evaluation and assessment methods. They also address intervention approaches that reflect cultural sensitivity and family-centeredness. Students learn the criteria that professionals use to diagnose conditions on the spectrum.

Educational Statistics

Students learn quantitative methods that behavioral and social scientists typically use. In particular, this course covers descriptive and inferential statistics, sampling procedures, data collection, and interpretation of data analyses.

Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities

Students learn how to identify dyslexia and various reading disabilities. This class also exposes learners to teaching strategies and methods that help children and adults who find reading challenging.

Research Methods in Special Education

Students learn about quantitative and qualitative methods that scholars implement in special education research. More specifically, learners get exposure to the scholarly contributions of this field and the limitations of its methods of inquiry.

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?

Most programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in education or related fields. Individuals with psychology or education degrees other than special education might need to take additional courses to meet curricular requirements.

Many graduate programs request GPAs and scores from entrance exams like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Even if a program does not require it, students with low GPAs might consider submitting their high GRE scores.

Application

The application form and fee represent standard components of the graduate school admissions process. Most schools use an online application platform, such as the Common Application (CommonApp), which streamlines the process for students and admissions officials. Individuals can use the online form to send their applications to many schools.

Test Scores

Entrance exams like the GRE partially capture a prospective student's preparedness for and ability to succeed in graduate school. A high GRE score might make up for a relatively low GPA on a graduate school application. Students should allow enough time between taking their exams and submitting their scores before application deadlines.

Letters of Recommendation

Programs offering a master's in special education typically request up to three letters of recommendation. These documents should speak to an applicant's accomplishments, work ethic, and ability to succeed in an academic environment. Letters can come from former professors, employers, and mentors who can write extensively about a student's strengths.

Resume and Work Experience

Some programs offering an online master's in special education require prior work experience. An effective resume includes clear bullet points and action verbs describing accomplishments and outcomes. Regardless of whether schools ask for it, students should consider submitting a resume or curriculum vitae on a graduate school application.

Essays

Graduate school applicants should expect to submit an application essay that outlines their academic achievements and career objectives. This essay, sometimes called a personal statement, should include a strong introduction, body, and conclusion. It should also clearly respond to the prompt or question it addresses.

Official Transcripts

Most graduate schools request official transcripts from accredited bachelor's programs. Applicants who lack some prerequisite courses might need to enroll in extra classes to fulfill their core requirements. Professionals transitioning into special education should determine if some of the credit hours on their transcripts can transfer to another school.

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

Career Outlook

The 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act entitles individuals with special needs to a quality education, which drives the demand for educators. School enrollments and requirements for special education services also impact the job outlook. The BLS projects that jobs for special education teachers will grow 8% between 2020-2030, on par with the growth rate for all occupations.

Annual salaries vary by location, employer, education, and previous work experience. According to the BLS, special education teachers earned a median wage of $61,500 in 2020, exceeding the median of $41,950 for all occupations in the same year.

Teaching reflects a common career path for graduates with a master's in special education. Educators typically work with administrators, parents, counselors, and other teachers. Graduates can also pursue jobs in education administration, curriculum development, and early intervention. Other careers exist in state and federal government, nonprofit agencies, and residential facilities.

An online master's in special education prepares graduates to help students achieve their potential.

Learn more about special education careers

Career Paths

Intervention Specialist

Intervention specialists work in classroom settings with students with learning disabilities, emotional challenges, autism, cognitive disabilities, sensory impairments, and many other conditions. These professionals manage learners' academic, social, and emotional development. Licensing for these specialists typically falls into one of three categories: early childhood, mild to moderate for K-12, and moderate to intensive for K-12.

Median Annual Salary: $41,610

Director of Special Education

These directors typically oversee several special education programs in a district. Their primary responsibility rests in students' academic success and personal development. These professionals also manage staff hiring and training, allocate budgets, recommend changes to curricula, and establish and assess learning objectives.

Median Annual Salary: $73,080

Education Specialist

Educational specialists provide input on curriculum development and recommend changes to improve learning outcomes. These professionals work to maximize the positive impacts of programs on student learning. They also collaborate with educators and program directors to ensure that activities and classes fit children according to age and ability.

Median Annual Salary: $50,980

Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers work with students from preschool through high school. These educators hold state-mandated licenses to work with children with physical, learning, developmental, or emotional disabilities. They adapt general education curricula to teach various subjects to children with special needs. These educators also teach essential life skills to learners with more severe disabilities.

Median Annual Salary: $61,500

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators develop educational material and oversee teaching standards and school curricula. They work with administrators and educators to ensure that lesson plans help students meet learning objectives. Other duties include observing teaching, discussing curricula with school staff, and analyzing student data. These professionals might also go by the title Curriculum Specialists.

Median Annual Salary: $66,970

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

Continuing Education

People who teach special education need a state-mandated license to work in the classroom. Each renewal of the license includes a specific number of continuing education credits. In addition to licensing, professionals can get an Autism Certificate (AC) or Board Certification in Special Education.

The master's in special education can provide a springboard to a more advanced degree like a doctorate in special education. Doing so can position graduates for high-level administrative jobs or postsecondary education jobs.

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

Cost

An affordable online master's in special education can serve as an alternative to an on-campus degree. Taking online courses typically means not paying for housing or parking. Some online programs also charge lower tuition or in-state rates for out-of-state students. However, online learners might pay extra for technology services like tech support.

Program Format

Business professionals pursuing an online master's in special education can maintain full- or part-time course schedules, depending on their work or personal demands. Some online classes offer an asynchronous format, allowing learners to work through assignments and readings at their own pace. Individuals who prefer an interactive classroom experience might find synchronous courses more suitable.

Location

Online programs expand educational opportunities for students who do not live close to a college or university. However, online learners might benefit from enrolling in a school close by if their master's in special education program requires them to attend on-campus meetings and seminars. Also, people who want the college campus experience might opt for a traditional school.

Accreditation

Students attending an accredited program can count on receiving an education that meets rigorous academic standards. Individuals seeking an online master's in special education at an unaccredited school typically cannot transfer their credit hours to another institution. They also will not likely get access to financial aid.

Student Support

An affordable online master's in special education should come from programs that offer student services to supplement the college experience. These support offices help students find internship opportunities, job placement, writing assistance, and academic advising. Learners can also turn to student services for help building mentoring relationships.

How Do I Pay for an Online Master's in Special Education?

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Students who need help to pay for college should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form provides access to various sources of support, such as grants,

which borrowers do not have to pay back. The FAFSA also helps students gain access to loans and work-study opportunities.

Loans

Many students find it challenging to finance a master's in special education without student loans. Unlike grants, borrowers of loans must pay them back with interest. Some individuals find it best to seek loans when they cannot access other forms of financial assistance.

Grants

Unlike loans that students have to pay back with interest, grants provide free money. Applicants who might not have the grades to qualify for scholarships can use federal sources like the Pell Grant to obtain an affordable online master's in special education.

Work-Study Programs

Federal work-study allows students who demonstrate financial need to receive funding that they do not have to pay back. Instead, they work jobs on or off campus, and their pay goes directly to their tuition balances or bank accounts.

Scholarships

Access to scholarships can influence where students choose to earn their postsecondary education. Applicants with the right academic qualifications can earn scholarships to fund their degrees or attend the school of their dreams.

Most Affordable Accredited Online Master's in Special Education Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

Most Affordable Online Master's in Special Education Programs

  1. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Tuition

    $11313

    The University of Florida maintains facilities in all 67 state counties, as well as an online division. Students may choose from more than 300 traditional and online graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs across 16 academic colleges.

    UF's 36-credit master's in special education can be completed online. This program offers tracks focused on autism, disabilities in society, dyslexia, and early childhood studies. Students may earn an autism endorsement or certificates in other track options.

    Students can enroll in this program through the Office of Distance Learning at the beginning of any semester. Each online course spans 16 weeks. The program requires applicants to submit their GRE scores.

  2. University of Washington
    Location

    Seattle, WA

    Tuition

    $9765

    With locations in Seattle and around the state, as well as an online division, the University of Washington enrolls more than 54,000 students and oversees nearly 200 graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs.

    UW offers an online master of education in special education with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis (ABA). The curriculum explores topics like concepts and principles of ABA, evidenced-based instructional strategies in ABA, and methods of ABA research. The program culminates in a capstone project, and students must also complete a supervised practicum.

    Graduates qualify to pursue licensure as board-certified behavior analysts by sitting for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board exam. Students begin the program as part of an online cohort in the fall. UW utilizes synchronous course delivery, and students can graduate in 2-3 years.

  3. Purdue University
    Location

    West Lafayette, IN

    Tuition

    $11898

    Purdue University has graduated more than 130,000 online students. Learners at the school may choose from more than 250 online graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs in more than a dozen disciplines.

    Purdue's online master's in special education offers six concentration options, including licensure and non-licensure tracks. Students in licensure programs may need to complete a practicum and/or student teaching to earn their degree. All participants must complete a course in foundations of online learning.

    Admission requires a regionally accredited bachelor's degree. Students complete online courses asynchronously. Graduates of credentialing programs qualify for teaching licensure in Indiana. Purdue charges the same tuition rate for online graduate coursework, regardless of a student's home state.

  4. Indiana University Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    Tuition

    $11931

    In addition to its flagship campus, Indiana University Bloomington oversees six other campuses and two regional centers across the state, as well as an online division. Students may choose from more than 550 graduate and undergraduate programs, including one of the top online master's in special education.

    This special education program requires 36 credits of major and emphasis area coursework, a field practicum, and a thesis or capstone project. Students select an emphasis area, choosing from options like autism, early childhood education, and behavior disorders. The program also offers optional certifications in mild or intense intervention.

    Students who want to earn this online master's degree in special education must complete prerequisite coursework in introduction to special education for graduate students. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and a GPA of at least 2.75. Students may begin the program in the fall, spring, or summer, completing work online as part of a cohort group.

  5. Florida International University
    Location

    Miami, FL

    Tuition

    $9180

    Among the nation's largest providers of online education since 1998, Florida International University enrolls more than 42,000 distance learners each year. Students may choose from more than 100 graduate and undergraduate programs and thousands of courses offered online.

    FIU offers an online master's in special education. This program comprises 36 credits and covers subjects like assistive and instructional technology, nature and needs of students with autism, and behavioral management and positive behavioral supports.

    Students may start this online program in the fall or summer semester. Faculty deliver classes through six eight-week terms, enabling students to graduate in one year. Graduates qualify for autism endorsement in Florida.

  6. North Carolina State University
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Tuition

    $14771

    Founded as a land-grant institution, North Carolina State University currently ranks among the top research colleges in the nation and enrolls more than 34,000 students. NC State offers more than 300 graduate and undergraduate programs across 65 departments — on campus and online.

    NC State's master's in special education comprises 30 credits of required special education and special education methods coursework. Requirements include seminars in special education literacy and teaching numerical concepts, as well as an internship in special education. The online program suits students who aspire to lead high-incidence special education classrooms.

    Full-time students can complete the program in roughly 1.5 years. Applicants should possess a GPA of at least 3.0 and provide excellent recommendations from professors and employers.

  7. Michigan State University
    Location

    East Lansing, MI

    Tuition

    $16227

    With a campus in East Lansing and an online division, Michigan State University enrolls nearly 50,000 students from around the world. Students can choose from more than 200 graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs.

    MSU's online MA in special education comprises 30-36 credits, including a practicum and an internship. Students may choose an emphasis in autism spectrum disorders or learning disabilities. Additionally, students pursuing their online master's in special education may concurrently earn a certificate in applied behavior analysis. They also earn an endorsement in their emphasis area.

    This online master's program suits aspiring special educators in K-12 classrooms. Most students take two classes per semester and complete the program in two years.

  8. Oakland University
    Location

    Rochester Hills, MI

    Tuition

    $12384

    Oakland University enrolls nearly 20,000 students online and at its campus in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Students may choose from more than 260 graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs across seven schools and colleges, including 15 online programs.

    OU's online master's in special education includes a concentration in autism spectrum disorder. The curriculum comprises 44 credits and covers topics related to learning, instruction, and development of education for special populations. Students must also complete a field practicum.

    Most students earn their online master's degree in special education in 24-36 months. OU charges in-state tuition rates for distance learners enrolled in eligible online programs, regardless of their state of residence. The university offers academic advising, career services, and disability support services to online learners.

  9. University of Houston
    Location

    Houston, TX

    Tuition

    $16002

    One of four schools in the city's university system, the University of Houston comprises four physical campuses, several extension learning centers, and an online division. UH enrolls over 46,000 students and oversees more than 250 graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs on campus and online.

    UH offers an online master of education in special populations. Students may choose an online emphasis track in special education or gifted and talented. The program also offers three hybrid tracks: special education certification, educational diagnostician certification, and special education leadership.

    Each track culminates in a comprehensive final exam. Applicants with a GPA of at least 2.8 may waive the GRE requirement for admission consideration.

  10. University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    Location

    Lincoln, NE

    Tuition

    $17315

    The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one of four locations that make up the UN system. The university offers hundreds of graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs, including more than 100 online options.

    UNL's online master's in special education comprises 36 credits of core and elective coursework, including a student teaching experience. Students may choose to pursue an MA or M.Ed. in special education, each with a specialization in early childhood education. The program also offers an optional early childhood special education endorsement pathway.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA and a current teaching license or certificate. The program requires GRE scores for admission consideration and accepts applications on a rolling basis. Students complete most online courses asynchronously.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Special Education Programs

Is a master's in special education worth it?

An online master's in special education can prepare graduates for a meaningful and rewarding career helping students with special needs. Educators who enjoy working with students from diverse backgrounds might also find this career path suitable. The ability to harness their creativity and knowledge of child development enables these professionals to make significant impacts on the lives of children with special needs. Also, earning a master's degree online can create a worthwhile experience given the flexible course schedules that many working students appreciate.

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

A master's in special education enables professionals to help diverse students with special needs reach their potential and achieve their academic goals. Many graduates work in school settings and collaborate with administrators, counselors, and other teachers to deliver the best possible educational experience. A graduate degree can qualify individuals for leadership positions that often command higher salaries and career advancement. A master's can also allow a professional to pursue a doctorate in special education, enabling them to work in higher-level administration, academic research, or postsecondary education.

Are special education graduates in demand?

Regardless of ability or intellectual capacity, all students deserve a quality education. Schools throughout the United States demand special educators to meet these students' academic needs. The BLS projects about 37,600 new jobs for special education teachers between 2020-2030, an 8% growth. This increase in positions likely originates from growing school enrollments and better methods of identifying children who need special services. The demand for professionals in special education typically varies by location and district funding.

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

Compared to a four-year degree, an online master's in special education can increase a person's earning potential and career opportunities. The BLS reports that special education teachers made a median salary of $61,500 in 2020, with educators in private schools earning slightly more teachers in private schools. Location and schools' public or private status can also affect annual salary.

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

According to the BLS, special education teachers working in public schools earned a median of $62,010 in 2020, with the highest 10% making a median of $100,570 in the same year. Educators in public schools typically command higher pay than teachers in private institutions. Top earners in special education, who tend to acquire more work experience, can make more than $100,000 each year.

Image Source: FG Trade, Getty Images

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.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.