Master's in Special Education Program Information

Society learns more about developmental disabilities every day, and with more knowledge comes a higher demand for special education professionals who can develop and share innovative ideas. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the growth rate for special education teachers is an impressive 8%, keeping pace with growth in other careers.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the growth rate for special education teachers is an impressive 8%, keeping pace with growth in other careers.

Professionals have the chance to better the lives of those with developmental disabilities by understanding disorders and practicing constructive techniques. Some of the best special education master's programs allow students to specialize their degree according to their career goals. Students should explore different job opportunities in the field to determine which programs suit their goals and interests.

The ideal candidate for a master's in special education program is passionate about helping individuals with a variety of disabilities. When making the decision to pursue the degree, students need to evaluate if they are better suited for an online or on-campus program. Online master's programs are great for working professionals with limited free time or individuals looking for a career helping others, whereas on-campus programs are ideal for students coming straight from an undergraduate program. On-campus programs also tend to cost slightly more than the online counterparts due to the costs of room, board, and transportation.

The benefits of a master's in special education degree include a large job pool and access to a wider network of special education professionals. The best time for networking is while you are enrolled in school. Once students get closer to graduation, connections made through networking can help with job or internship applications and placement. Professional organizations also provide networking and job opportunities in special education.

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

Professionals with their special education master's degree have many job opportunities available to them. Students in the field often pursue careers as special education teachers. Depending on their interests, special education teachers can focus their efforts on preschool, elementary, middle school, or high school students. Each grade level presents its own set of challenges and features. Some teachers, depending on the school, may be able to teach multiple grade levels at a time. Aside from teaching, many master's in special education graduates pursue careers in counseling or social work.

Elementary Special Education Teacher

Elementary special education teachers work with educationally and physically handicapped students. They also work with hearing and visually impaired students and teach students academic and life skills. Though special education teachers at this level are only required to have a bachelor's degree, a master's in special education increases job opportunities and may lead to higher salaries.

Median Annual Salary: $58,600
Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Secondary School Special Education Teacher

Secondary school special education teachers work with high school students who have a physical or mental disability. They review different tools and resources helpful to their students' development.

Median Annual Salary: $60,180
Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Preschool Special Education Teacher

Preschool special education teachers focus their efforts and offer their support to preschoolers. They understand how early childhood development and disabilities interact and explore different techniques to help every child learn.

Median Annual Salary: $53,640
Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Middle School Special Education Teacher

Middle school special education teachers teach students who are in middle school and who are physically or intellectually handicapped. Since students are between elementary and high school, these teachers focus on the most appropriate tools and tactics to prepare students to advance from one grade level to another.

Median Annual Salary: $59,510
Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Social Worker

Social workers in the special education field manage the wellbeing, development, and care of special needs people and clients. They work in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation centers, homes, schools, and hospitals.

Median Annual Salary: $47,980
Projected Growth Rate: 16%

Program length, characteristics, and curriculum should all cross a student's mind when deciding on a master's program. Students need to look at the length of the program, which may conflict with personal obligations, and whether full- or part-time enrollment or both are offered. Specialization opportunities are also important features to note. Not every program offers students the chance to pursue a specialization. If students want to tailor their degree to their interests or career goals, such as working with students with autism, they should research specialization options before committing to a program.

Program length, characteristics, and curriculum should all cross a student's mind when deciding on a master's program.

Another deciding factor for students is the overall cost of a program, including tuition, room and board, and books. Additionally, they will want to pay attention to the location, noting the cost of living and employment opportunities. These factors all impact the cost of the program which the student may or may not be able to afford.

Research curricula, final project, and thesis requirements to get a better picture of the cumulative program experience. Before making their decision, students should gather as much information about the curriculum as possible to determine if it is the right fit. Accreditation is extremely important. An accredited program allows students to transfer credits easily from previous college work. Students should also determine if they would like to attend online or on-campus courses, since not every master's program is offered online.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Special Education Programs

Also referred to as specialized or professional accreditation, programmatic accreditation recognizes specific programs as exceptional in their fields. Programmatic accrediting agencies recognize what separates one program from another, such as an outstanding teaching staff, curriculum, or internship placement system. When a special education program has programmatic accreditation, it means that the program holds unique and impressive features above its peers.

Employers have a stronger interest in graduates of programmatically accredited programs because they understand that prospective employees received a quality education from an outstanding, prestigious program. It is very important that students earn their degree from an accredited institution, and it is even better if their program is programmatically accredited.

The admissions process is different for master's in special education programs depending on the school. On-campus admissions often require students to meet a minimum GPA requirement, have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, and a current teaching license in the student's state of residence.

Online admissions calls for a more involved process, including but not limited to multiple letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement. Since not everyone is suited to the rigors of online coursework, admissions tend to be more complicated. Admissions departments want to feel confident that the students admitted to online programs have the drive and commitment to working independently. High GRE scores, impressive GPAs, extensive experience, and solid references all indicate the independence required for online program coursework. Students often submit additional admissions materials beyond what the college requires. This can help set students apart and strengthens their chances of being admitted.


  • Bachelor's Degree: To be admitted to a master's in special education program, students must first earn a bachelor's degree, which does not always have to be in special education.
  • Professional Experience: Many special education master's programs programs require students to possess a current teaching license, and some programs ask for a number of years of experience.
  • Minimum GPA: Minimum GPA requirements are typically between 2.5 and 3.0 and can sometimes be offset by test scores, professional experience, and personal statements.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Each college provides a unique application system easily accessible online. Students can access CommonApp to apply to more than 700 participating colleges and programs.
  • Transcripts: Transcripts from your undergraduate program must be provided during the admissions process.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Some programs ask students to submit letters of recommendation from professional or educational contacts that can vouch for their work ethic and qualifications for a master's program.
  • Test Scores: The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the most commonly requested test score for graduate admissions, but not all programs call for it.
  • Application Fee: When students submit their application, they must pay an application fee, which averages around $60.

To further specialize their degree, special education students may be able to choose a concentration depending on the program. Select a specialization that appeals to your personal interests and career goals.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Special Education
Concentration Description Careers
Applied Behavior Analysis Students pursuing a concentration in applied behavior analysis address the variety of behaviors that arise in special education settings. This concentration prepares students to pursue their Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification.
Autism Spectrum Disorders An autism spectrum disorders specialization allows students to focus on how to accurately diagnose and understand students across the autism spectrum. Students with an ASD concentration work with autistic children and adults in a variety of settings as occupational therapists, residential technicians, and assistants in autistic centers and classrooms.
Early Childhood The early childhood concentration focuses on teaching young children with special needs who may have difficulty communicating. Students with a master's in special education and an early childhood concentration often work with young children in a school, social work, or counseling setting.
Visual Impairment In the visual impairment concentration, students learn how to help visually impaired students navigate a classroom, conceptualize objects, and use educational tools. Many different classrooms and centers offer jobs for professionals with a visual impairment concentration along with their master's in special education.
Severe Disabilities Students with severe disabilities often have a unique set of specific needs and accommodations. In the severe disabilities concentration, students will learn about different types of disabilities and methods they can use to effectively help, accommodate, and teach their students. With a severe disabilities concentration, students are prepared to work with adults and children who struggle with a variety of different severe disabilities. These jobs exist in several settings including hospitals, schools, and mental health facilities.

Courses in a Master's in Special Education Program

Students pursuing their master's degree in special education take courses that cover a variety of topics. They learn about different disorders on the autism spectrum, how to be an effective leader, and how to connect with students with a variety of developmental disabilities.

Applied Behavior Analysis

Students in this course learn about the philosophy and concepts of behavior analysis, which involves recognizing behavior problems in applied settings and situations. Applied behavior analysis also covers different behavioral intervention procedures.

Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities

Autism and developmental disabilities have similarities and differences. This course will explore them all and teach students how to recognize signs of all types of developmental disabilities. They will learn different teaching methods and approaches depending on the disability and practice ways to approach various situations.

Foundations, Trends, and Issues in Special Education Leadership

This course explores the different trends and issues that exist within special education leadership. They learn about the history of special education, its trends, and its evolution as a field.

Collaboration and Teaming

In this course, students learn how to effectively work as a team in a special education environment. They share ideas and collaborate with others to deliver quality care and education to special education students.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorders have a significant range difficult to describe to people outside of special education. This course dives into the variance of people on the spectrum, teaching students specific characteristics associated with each end of the spectrum while also emphasizing each person's unique experience of ASD.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Special Education?

A master's in special education varies in length, but generally takes two years of full-time study to complete. Master's programs average around 35 credits total. Students can either enroll part or full time, and some programs can also be accelerated. Students can work with an adviser to choose how many credits and what courses they would like to take each semester.

How Much Is a Master's in Special Education?

The cost of a master's in special education depends on several factors. Colleges have different tuition rates depending on a student's residency status. Sometimes, colleges with online programs offer a discounted rate for online students or grant them in-state tuition rates.

Tuition for in-state students in special education master's programs can be around $400 per credit hour, or around $15,000 in total cost. For out-of-state students, tuition may be as high as $750 per credit hour or $26,000 for the total program cost.

Tuition is not the only thing to consider when figuring the cost of a master's in special education. Students must also consider room and board costs, which includes housing and a meal plan if living on campus. To plan for this, students should research the cost of living where they are planning to attend school. Consider parking and gas costs if you intend to live off campus. Both online and on-campus students pay for books, materials, and technology costs, which may include access to online materials, library services, and tutoring services. Students can review what fees exist for their program on the university's website or through an admissions counselor.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Special Education Prepares For

General Teacher Certification

Each state has its own requirements for certification, but individuals need to complete a formal degree at an accredited learning institution to be eligible for certification, which includes passing a skills assessment.

Special Education Credential Program

For students whose major in education, a special education credential program covers any missing coursework.

Board Certification for Teaching Special Education

To get this certification, individuals must join the National Association of Special Education Teachers and pass a test through the American Academy of Special Education Teachers. The certification qualifies individuals to practice special education under a specific set of standards. State licensing is also required to earn a BCSE.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst

BCBA certification qualifies individuals to work in applied behavior analysis to treat patients by anticipating troublesome behaviors and providing healthy alternatives. BCBA professionals must have a degree from an accredited institution, complete 1,500 hours of in-the-field experience, and have one year as a college teacher or a doctoral degree.

Autism Certification

Autism certification allows individuals to teach autistic children. During the certification program, individuals learn about the different characteristics associated with autism, diagnosis, and available therapeutic methods. discusses inclusion in the classroom for special needs students and is a great resource for students enrolled in master's in special education programs.

National Center for Learning Disabilities

Students can find many resources within the National Center for Learning Disabilities including articles, videos, tips, and strategies.


Facebook provides several discussion pages and private groups that master's in special education students can access to connect with other students and professionals in their field. Groups are a great place to ask questions, share tips, and make connections.

Learning Disabilities Online

Learning Disabilities Online serves as a space students use to learn more about instructional strategies for teaching and information regarding learning disabilities and how to relate to students.

National Education Association

Students can access the website for the National Education Association to discover a variety of news and guides about special education.

Professional Organizations in Special Education

Joining a professional organization in the special education field benefits professionals in all stages of a special education career. Organizations offer networking opportunities through events, seminars, and conferences. Professionals can network with others in their field to learn more about different specialized areas of interest. Professional organizations also provide career services such as job boards and job fairs, giving members access to a variety of useful resources.