An online master's in special education offers graduates rewarding employment opportunities helping learners with autism, individuals with behavior disorders, and other students with unique needs. K-12 schools need professionals who cater to the needs of special education students by applying differentiated instructional techniques and adhering to special needs policies.
This page can help aspiring special education instructors understand program requirements, common coursework, concentrations, and admission requirements. This page also highlights the top 10 universities and the best accredited programs for special education, as well as potential career paths and frequently asked questions.
What Are the Best Special Education Programs of 2020? Here Are Our Top 10:
Some master's in special education programs prepare professionals without teaching experience to earn an initial teaching license, while others help practicing general educators learn how to teach students of all learning abilities. Furthermore, special educators who possess an advanced degree often receive higher salaries.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 3% increase in employment of special education teachers between 2018 and 2028. While schools often hire educators with a bachelor's degree, states may require candidates to hold a graduate degree to earn advanced certification.
How We Rank Schools
At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you will make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering school rankings that are transparent, inclusive, and relevant for online students. Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read more about our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that's best for you.
2020 Best Accredited Online Master's in Special Education Programs
University of Florida
Graduation Rate: 90%
Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education School Status: Public Available Concentrations: General; autism focus; disabilities in society; dyslexia; early childhood studies Tuition: $528/credit in-state; $631/credit out-of-state Credit Requirements: 36 credits Program Length: 2 years
Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education: Applied Behavior Analysis School Status: Public Tuition: $18,501/year in-state; $33,363/year out-of-state Credit Requirements: 45 credits Program Length: 2-3 years
Program Name: Master of Arts in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners School Status: Private Tuition: $875/credit Credit Requirements: 33 credits Program Length: 1.5 years
Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education School Status: Public Available Concentrations: Autism; applied behavior analysis; deafblindness; deaf/hard of hearing; educational diagnostician; generic special education; orientation and mobility; visual impairment Tuition: $8,606/year in-state; $15,693/year out-of-state Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Name: Master of Arts in Special Education School Status: Public Available Concentrations: General track; autism spectrum disorders; learning disabilities; graduate certificate in applied behavior analysis Tuition: $898/credit Credit Requirements: 30-36 credits Program Length: 2 years
Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education School Status: Public Available Concentrations: Autism spectrum disorders; applied behavior analysis Tuition: $790/credit Credit Requirements: 30 credits Program Length: 2 years
Program Name: Online Master of Science in Education in Special Education School Status: Public Available Concentrations: Non-licensure; initial mild only licensure; initial mild and intense licensure; additional mild only licensure; additional mild and intense licensure; additional intense only licensure Tuition: $379/credit in-state; $700/credit out-of-state Credit Requirements: 31-45 credits Program Length: 2 years
Format: 100% online Instruction Style: Asynchronous and synchronous
Program Name: Master of Science in Education - Special Education School Status: Private Available Concentrations: Applied behavior analysis; autism spectrum disorders; Wilson Reading System certification; special education Tuition: $480/credit Credit Requirements: 36-39 credits Program Length: 3 years
Program Name: Master of Education - Certified Teacher Additional Certifications School Status: Private Available Concentrations: Special education (PK-8 or 7-12); principal certification; reading specialist; ESL program specialist; autism endorsement Tuition: $505/credit Credit Requirements: 31 credits Program Length: 2 years
Format: 100% online or hybrid (online/on campus) Instruction Style: Asynchronous
Program Name: Master of Education in Special Populations School Status: Public Available Concentrations: Special education; educational diagnostician; gifted and talented; special education leadership Tuition: $386/credit in-state; $908/credit out-of-state Credit Requirements: 30 credits Program Length: 2 years
Format: 100% online and hybrid (online/on campus) Instruction Style: Synchronous
Program Name: Master of Science in Education in Special Education School Status: Public Available Concentrations: Autism; behavior disorders; early childhood education; instructional strategies Tuition: $10,080/year in-state; $30,652/year out-of-state Credit Requirements: 36 credits Program Length: 2 years
Format: 100% online and hybrid (online/on campus) Instruction Style: Synchronous
Program Name: Master of Arts in Special Education School Status: Private Available Concentrations: Applied behavior analysis; dyslexia; mild/moderate disabilities; positive behavioral interventions and supports; severe developmental disabilities; trauma-informed education and interventions Tuition: $780/credit Credit Requirements: 33 credits Program Length: 2 years
Program Name: Master of Science in Special Education School Status: Public Available Concentrations: Applied behavior analysis; autism spectrum disorder; early childhood special education; general special education; emotional behavioral disorders; intellectual disabilities; learning disabilities; special education strategist; visual impairment Tuition: $464/credit Credit Requirements: 32 credits Program Length: 1.5 years
Program Name: Master's Degree in Special Education School Status: Public Available Concentrations: Licensed teachers can select from the following: applied behavior analysis; autism; disabilities for postsecondary settings with an emphasis in autism; emotional and behavioral disorders; multitier system of supports/response to intervention. Students earning an initial teaching license can select from the following: director of exceptional needs; early childhood special education; deaf and hard-of-hearing; intense interventions; mild interventions. Tuition: $449/credit in-state; $661/credit out-of-state Credit Requirements: 27-30 credits Program Length: 2 years
Program Name: Special Education Master of Arts School Status: Private Available Concentrations: Emotional and behavioral disorders; autism spectrum disorders; academic behavioral strategist; developmental disabilities Tuition: $535/credit Credit Requirements: 41 credits Program Length: 15-18 months
Format: Hybrid (on campus/online) Instruction Style: Synchronous
Program Name: Master of Science Degree in Special Education School Status: Private Available Concentrations: Early childhood and special education (birth-2); childhood and special education (1-6); teaching students with disabilities (7-12) Tuition: $590/credit Credit Requirements: 36-42 credits Program Length: 2 years
Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education School Status: Public Available Concentrations: Birth-grade 8; grades 7-12; supervisor; autism Tuition: $516/credit in-state; $526/credit out-of-state Credit Requirements: 36 credits Program Length: 2 years
Online Master's in Special Education Program Overview
A master's in special education prepares graduates to work with students who need additional instruction beyond general education classrooms. Coursework covers topics such as special education policy, assessment and evaluation strategies for students with mild to advanced disabilities, intervention, and behavior analysis.
Depending on the program, students may need to complete practicum and student teaching experiences. By contrast, some schools develop programs for experienced teachers who already possess a teaching license. Special education programs may also offer endorsements, which provide additional knowledge about niche areas in the field. Endorsements can also provide graduates with a competitive advantage in the job market.
While requirements vary by state, earning an advanced degree in education typically qualifies graduates for a master teaching license and may lead to increased salaries. Professionals interested in academic or administrative roles may consider earning their Ph.D. However, schools usually do not require a doctorate.
Common Master's in Special Education Degree Courses
Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities
This course offers an overview of reading disabilities and dyslexia, and students explore common indicators of dyslexia. Students also learn appropriate teaching strategies, tools, and resources for struggling readers. Throughout the course, learners come to understand federal and state laws regarding reading disabilities, elements of multisensory structured language teaching, and ethical teaching standards.
Applied Behavior Analysis
This course outlines basic learning principles, research methods and techniques, and common behavioral procedures. Students also consider diverse populations and settings. Additionally, the course introduces positive behavior intervention; key concepts, techniques, and vocabulary; professional ethics related to special education; and schoolwide systems of support.
Research Methods in Special Education
Learners explore common methodological concerns, internal and external validity, and relevant variables that influence modern approaches. Students also evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of special education research, learn to design innovative research methodologies, and examine basic procedures for single subject or group-experimental research methodologies.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
This course introduces current research on neurodevelopmental problems associated with autism and discusses the diagnostic criteria used to identify children on the spectrum. Students learn methods of assessment, evaluation, and appropriate evidence-based screening strategies, as well as application of culturally competent and family-centered intervention.
Educational statistics focuses on quantitative methods for inquiry in behavioral and social sciences. Students explore fundamental concepts and procedures for inferential and descriptive statistics. This course also emphasizes the interpretation and use of SPSS. Course objectives include understanding the role of inferential and descriptive statistics, describing quantitative results, and designing research hypotheses for testing.
Related Master's in Special Education Degree Concentrations
Applied Behavior Analysis
A concentration in applied behavior analysis introduces learners to diverse behavioral health needs. Coursework focuses on data-driven methodologies used to effectively guide human behavior. Students learn to create, implement, and assess quality techniques that lead to positive behavioral change for special needs students.
This concentration focuses on K-12 students with mild to moderate disabilities who participate in general education classrooms. Topics emphasize specially designed intervention, social and emotional functioning, and non-cognitive skills. Other topics include contemporary issues and roles of scientific research in theory development.
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
Universities may offer positive behavioral interventions and supports as a concentration and a certificate program. Students learn causes and characteristics of emotional and behavioral disorders. Courses emphasize evidence-based practices in social, academic, and behavioral interventions. Topics include research design, intervention methods, behavioral analysis, and data methods.
Severe Developmental Disabilities
A concentration in severe developmental disabilities examines federal requirements and legal issues within the field. Students use data to make evidence-based decisions and assess development interventions. Students also learn to create ability-appropriate individualized lessons. This concentration teaches students to effectively collaborate with students' families, specialists, and general education teams.
Trauma-Informed Education and Intervention
A trauma-informed education and intervention concentration prepares graduates to manage crisis intervention and trauma. This concentration emphasizes informed care and community resources. Courses focus on indicators of trauma, risk of secondary trauma, and the impact of trauma. Other topics include social-emotional learning strategies and developing trauma-conscious classrooms.
Online Master's in Special EducationAdmission Requirements
Official Transcripts From Bachelor's Degree
Students considering a master's in special education must submit official transcripts from an accredited bachelor's program. Students without sufficient prerequisite undergraduate credits may need to complete additional coursework before gaining admission.
Students with a bachelor's degree in a field other than special education, K-12 education, or psychology may need to complete additional coursework prior to applying to a master's in special education program. Learners who hold a degree in a relevant field may automatically satisfy prerequisite coursework.
Graduate Record Examination
Admissions departments often require GRE scores to determine each student's potential for success. However, an increasing number of online programs do not require the GRE, while other universities allow students to choose if they want to submit their scores. Students with a low undergraduate GPA may want to consider submitting GRE scores.
Letters of Recommendation
Colleges and universities typically require up to three letters of recommendation. These provide detailed information about an applicant's work ethic, ability to perform, or adaptability in diverse situations. Students should consider asking former professors or academic counselors to write letters. However, students applying to graduate programs often possess professional experience and may also ask their employers to write recommendations.
Test of English as a Foriegn Language
International students can usually expect to complete the TOFEL exam, which evaluates their mastery of the English language and their ability to study at a college level. The four-hour exam contains four sections: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
Regardless of their career path, all special education professionals must hold a valid, unencumbered state license. Once licensed, educators with a master's in special education can pursue careers such as a behavior intervention specialist. This role requires professionals to collaborate with administrators, general education teachers, and students' families. Additionally, graduates may serve as the head of a special education department.
Other career paths include special education instructional coordinators, special education diagnosticians, and K-12 special education generalists. Professionals interested in academia or senior-level administrator roles may need a Ph.D. in the field. However, K-12 schools typically only require candidates to hold a master's degree.
What can you do with a master's degree in special education?
Graduates with a master's in special education are prepared for rewarding careers helping students with diverse needs. Professionals can work alongside general education teachers to assist students in the classroom or become full-time special education classroom teachers. An advanced degree and experience also create opportunities for leadership positions.
How much can you make with a master's degree in special education?
BLS data indicates that special educators earn an average salary of $61,030. However, professionals who hold a master's degree generally receive higher wages than professionals who only hold a bachelor's degree. Professionals should also consider geographic location as they review average salaries. Private schools may also offer higher or lower pay.
How long does it take to get a master's in special education?
Students can earn a master's in special education in approximately two years. However, students who do not hold a bachelor's degree in a related field may need to complete prerequisite coursework, which can lengthen time to completion. Conversely, online programs may offer year-round coursework or accelerated options, which can shorten time to completion.
How do you abbreviate master's in special education?
Typically, professionals who hold a master's in special education write their title as M.Ed., special education.
Why would you need a master's degree in special education?
Professionals who already hold a bachelor's in another field — but who wish to become special educators — need to earn a master's degree that leads to an initial licensure. By contrast, professionals already working in the field may earn a master's in special education to gain additional skills, improve salary prospects, or obtain more advanced and specialized roles.
Discover Similar Degree Programs
Looking for something else? Explore these other online degrees.